Navigating the Society of Princes

The first international conference organised by our project was held in Budapest on the 30–31st of May 2023. Titled Navigating the Society of Princes: The Strategies of Early Modern Small States in Their Foreign Policy, the event welcomed researchers from a wide range of countries, presenting papers on a variety of topics.

Attendees had the opportunity to listen to political scientist and founder of the Centre for Small State Studies (University of Iceland), Baldur Thórhallsson’s keynote speech. Professor Thórhallsson analyzed the patterns and motivations present in small states’ diplomatic strategies, from the perspective of political science, providing a framework encompassing the upcoming topics and presentations.

The conference’s first panel entreated the question of neutrality, reflecting both on its discussion in the era’s political thinking and some states’ attempts to achieve it. Aspiring for neutrality was not the only possible strategy for small states, however – on the second day, both the opening and the closing panel extrapolated on further possibilities, examining how small states tried to achieve power and importance. Marriage alliances, the rise of principalities and dynasties, or self-positioning during peace treaties were some of the discussed strategies.

A pair of panels on the first day explored how small states fared when trying to negotiate power dynamics with their more powerful partners. Researchers introduced case studies on states or formations that tried to stand firm in the face of a greater challenge, using the special diplomatic tools at their hands. The other way to tame the beast was also explored in depth, as the delicate steps of diplomacy striving for patronage were studied in the closing session of the first day.

The case of Maghreb was entreated in a whole panel, with researchers focusing on specific parts of the region, analyzing diplomatic agents’ possibilities and the tools they had to utilize to negotiate Spanish-Muslim relations and situations, both with their sender state and the local power holders, exploring how the smallest units sent by the Spanish Monarchy served as diplomatic centers in the region.

The second day also contained a double panel, as the topic of states trying to make themselves accepted on the stage of international politics proved to bring together many fascinating papers. From the Crimean Khanate to cities of the Hanseatic League, states faced similar need for international acceptance, and researchers had the chance to compare the differences or identify the similarities in their strategies.

The conference proved to be a colorful forum for the history of Early Modern diplomacy, where attendees had the opportunity to exchange thoughts, compare results and explore similarities, and identify further questions and opportunities for research. The conference also served as an opportunity for the SMALLST project not just to bring together scholars but also to introduce ourselves: eight members of our research group presented their most recent results.

The fruits of the discussions will soon be published, as work is already in progress to bring out several collections based on the proceedings of the conference. Follow our website and Facebook page for news, and explore our website for further info on our research group.