Prince Edward in Piedmont: a case study

The sources examined in this study on Prince Edward’s journeys and stays in Piedmont allow us to learn many aspects that characterised the experience of the Italian Grand Tour made by some members of European royal families during the second half of the eighteenth century and to understand how the parties involved in this kind of experience interacted with each other, following the ceremonial rules, and what opinions on their respective behaviours and habits they developed.

While, as noted above, there are no direct sources on Edward’s reasons for travelling to Italy, it is possible to speculate based on the nature of his activities. It appears that Edward’s prime purpose of travelling to Italy - and that of other early grand tourists — was to visit exotic places, take in their culture, and experience the pleasures of the Mediterranean way of life, and in this, at least according to Vacca di Piozzo’s accounts, the prince’s sojourn in Piedmont apparently must be considered a success. His hosts went to great lengths to make a good impression and make their guest feel welcome. Particularly Vacca di Piozzo’s planning to this end was extremely meticulous, and it seems that his arrangements worked out perfectly, thanks, no doubt, to the hard work of a whole pool of experts that also made sure that the rules were minutely observed. The 1763-64 letter-book of the Regia Segreteria di Guerra of the Kingdom of Sardinia relates that the Governors of the Piedmontese cities on Prince Edward’s itinerary were promptly informed and provided with detailed instructions about the personnel, furniture, and victuals that would have to be procured, and about the rituals, gestures, and expressions they were expected to employ to greet and entertain the honoured guest. These included, as has been seen, escorts of high-ranking officials during his journey and excursions; gracious words, cannon salutes, and military displays of welcome; privileged accommodation in noble and royal palaces; introductions to each city’s leading citizens and ambassadors; preferential seating arrangements; provision with refreshments; countless invitations to entertainments (such as gala dinners and suppers, balls, concerts, visits to the theatre, or excursions) and to the houses of royal hosts; and many smaller courtesies. Vacca di Piozzo’s ceremonial accounts record that Prince Edward much appreciated the welcome and the treatment accorded to him during his journey and stays.90 In much the same way, the local hosts - whether city officials, noblemen, or members of the Sabaudian royal family -are recorded as having been delighted to meet the cultured young guest from England, enjoying the excellent opportunity to socialise, discuss issues of mutual interest, and obtain reciprocal cultural enrichment in a semi-official situation.

The British prince, again according to Vacca di Piozzo’s reports, proved himself equal to the potential minefield of diplomatic etiquette. In the official reports, he is described as a congenial and charming young man with a notable interest for military architecture and a passion for social events and amusements, who was open and jolly and liked to consider everyone as a friend. Certainly, the many times he sought out his hosts and especially the king to express his gratitude will not have gone unnoticed. And although he disliked the restraints of court ceremonial rules, he strictly observed them out of due respect and courtesy: for example, he did not invite his guests to sit down due to the lack of appropriate easy chairs, or insisted on pouring the wine for his host himself. There is only one (minor) occasion on record when there was the risk of a diplomatic incident, but thanks to grace and tact by all parties involved, mutual goodwill and appreciation prevailed. At the same time, we must be careful to accept Vacca di Piozzo’s favourable image of Prince Edward’s character and behaviour too quickly, as it is in stark contrast to several negative opinions by diplomats and personalities from the world of European culture, such as Edward Gibbon, Johann J. Winckelmann, or Horace Walpole.91 Thus, there may be reasonable doubt that all noblemen and officers were as happy to oblige during their dealings with Edward as suggested in the reports by Vacca di Piozzo - who, it must be kept in mind, was far from being an unbiased chronicler of the events concerning the prince’s sojourn in Piedmont: it certainly was very much in his and his king’s interest that, at least officially, everything was to the satisfaction of the honoured visitor.

To some degree, this aim must have been made more difficult by the fact that Prince Edward had asked to travel incognito, under the alias of the Earl of Ulster. The use of the ceremonial to honour an important guest was considered an essential tool and expression of good manners in the world of the early modern courts, which could not be discarded without being discourteous. Toeing a narrow line, it seems that, while not cancelling them altogether, Charles Emmanuel III of Sardinia devoted more attention to the task of reducing some of its showiest and most public manifestations, in order to respect his guest’s request for anonymity than, for instance, the Doge of Genoa, at least during Edward’s stay in Turin: at his arrival, he was not greeted with cannon salutes, and the guards of the Royal Palace pretended not to recognise him. In contrast, in Alessandria, Asti, Susa, Chivasso, and Novara, he was given a rousing welcome with many cannon shots and drum rolls.92 Probably, it was thought that this would not bother him, because of the brevity of his presence and the fact that he would not be able to roam through these cities, anyway.

This reluctance to forego the chance to celebrate - and flatter - the honoured guest adequately appears to be mirrored in the desire by other Italian rulers to welcome the British prince in their own states. Envoys arrived in Turin to invite Edward to Milan and to Parma,93 and Francesco III d’Este, Duke of Modena and Reggio, was eager to be informed in detail about the courtesies the Sabaudian Court would afford the Duke of York, in order not to be outdone should the prince decide to visit Milan.94 In particular, he wanted to know whether the Sabaudian Court would pay all the expenses, at what cost and with which apparatus, where the Duke would sojourn, with which ceremonial the court would approach him, the entertainments organised for him, and the duration of his stay.95

However, the matter of expenses is not documented: nothing is known about the amount of the costs of Prince Edward’s travel and transport, but it must be assumed that they were high (the Piedmontese post inns, for example, were notorious for being expensive), ’ not counting the costs for his luxurious accommodation in the towns and cities as well as activities (such as gala dinners and balls), sightseeing and excursions, and various other expenses his visit must have incurred. The only information on this point is provided by the official report, which ends with the statement that all sendees rendered to the Duke of York during his stay in Piedmont were paid by the King of Sardinia.97

This kind of generosity appears to indicate that instead of merely fulfilling the requirements of the societal courtesy of a host to an honoured visitor or even to a particularly welcome personal guest, the King of Sardinia indeed wanted ‘to express the greatest Pleasure at this Opportunity of testifying their perfect Regard and cordial Friendship for His Britannic Majesty and His Royal Family’.98 It seems that more important diplomatic issues were at stake and that the king had a clear political motivation for his actions.

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