A critical interpretation of Prince Edward's journeys: strategies of appearance and 'Shortcut-Diplomacy' between Britain and Italy in the second half of the eighteenth century
In the period following Edward’s journeys, the British court heard word of the generosity and benevolence shown by the King of Sardinia in Turin. The London Gazette praised the magnificence of the treatments accorded to Prince Edward and extolled on the ‘warmth of regard’ with which he had been received by the King of Sardinia and his family, who had afforded to his honoured guest every ‘Mark of Attention and Esteem’. The same journal also emphasised ‘the Cordial Friendship which exists between the Two Courts’.99 We can assume that King George III appreciated the courteous treatment of his brother and that consequently he was inclined to look with a friendly eye at the relationship between Great Britain and Sardinia. The Sabaudian state was wise to seek English support. For centuries, it had been able to survive due to a skilfully opportunistic policy,100 ‘to exploit the rivalry between France and first Spain and the Austria in north Italy’.101 Because of a now unfavourable geo-political situation after the middle of the eighteenth century, Turin failed to press its claim for Piacenza, for example, and grudgingly was obliged to accept the French occupation of Corsica. It is important to note that during this period, Savoy as well as the other Italian states were in a much weaker position than their European neighbours, such as France, Spain, Austria, Prussia, and also Britain. As a result, Savoyard policy aimed to maintain a scrupulous equilibrium in the political and diplomatic relationships with these states, ‘driven by fear of a general European war which was expected to be disastrous for Sardinia’.102
In contrast, Britain’s position in Europe had been greatly enhanced after the conclusion of the Seven Years’ War in 1763, at the expense of France. As a consequence, many Italian rulers were interested in the advantages a powerful ally like Britain could offer. The Doge of Genoa, for example, hoped for British help in preserving the domain of his Republic on Corsica,103 the Grand Duke of
Tuscany and the Doge of Venice had a stake in maintaining the intensive trade between their states and Britain,104 while in Rome the Anglophile Cardinal Alessandro Albani (1692-1779) acted as mediator between the English Crown and Pope Clement XIII, in order to ease the tensions regarding the issue of the Jacobites then still existing between both parties.105
Furthermore, the Duchy of Parma and Piacenza, the Duchy of Modena and Reggio, and the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, which were linked to Austria politically or dynastically, were now interested in establishing lucrative ties with Britain after a war that had been very expensive in both financial and human terms. None of them, however, had the same advantage as the house of Savoy to be able to build on a traditional good relationship. Britain’s ships and subsidies during the recent military conflicts had been invaluable for Sardinia, and Britain offered lucrative opportunities for the export of Piedmontese silks and wines and the import of English cloth at the expense of the trade with France. These factors meant that Turin could hope to benefit greatly, if circumstances played out well.
One means to achieve this was, of course, through official diplomatic channels.106 In 1751, for example, Carlo Baldassarre Francesco Perrone di San Martino (1718-1802), who held the post of Sardinian Extraordinary' Envoy' at the British court in London between 1749 and 1755, sent to Charles Emmanuel III of Sardinia in Turin a manuscript, titled Pensées diverses de monsieur le comte de Perron sur les moiens de rendre le commerce florissant en Piémont [‘Various thoughts of the Count of Perron on how to make trade flourish in Piedmont’], with the epigraph ‘Look after good patterns and follow them’. In it, he recommended the development of an industrial and commercial plan for Piedmont based on the models offered by the Netherlands and, above all, by England, which he personally' had been able to observe and appreciate. He also suggested increasing the production of Piedmontese wines and brandies, for which, in his opinion, there was a big market in England.107 In the same way, Piedmont could also have sold its silk, for which it was famous, in Britain.108
Beyond these considerations and beyond the official procedure, however, it appears that there was high-class international communication and diplomacy yet conducted on a personal, non- or semi-official level. They' offered the Italian rulers a chance to gain favour with or a certain degree of access to British decision-makers or even King George III himself by ‘buttering up’ visitors like Prince Edward during their stays in Italy, in order to promote their own political, diplomatic, and commercial issues. Charles Emmanuel III of Sardinia is reported to have been eager to court guests from England: George, Viscount Sunbury', who visited Turin in 1737, notes that he ‘had an audience with the King, as he insists upon all English noblemen’s having, by way of paying them a compliment’,109 and John Holroyd, in 1764, ‘found the Turin court pro-British’.110 The desire to ‘satisfy' Prince Edward at all costs’ clearly' responded to a codified ‘appearance strategy’, which aimed to enrapture the illustrious foreign guest and to gain his esteem and respect - and Edward, being both King George Ill’s brother and a member of his Privy Council, would have been an influential ally' to have in one’s camp.
Although Vacca di Piozzo’s accounts do not provide details of the conversations between Prince Edward, the members of the House of Savoy, and the Sardinian officers and nobles, we can confidently assume that at least some of the topics discussed were agriculture, trade, and commerce. Certainly, during those breakfasts, lunches, and dinners that Prince Edward joined in, Piedmontese food and drink were served, and during the conversations, the members of the House of Savoy and the Sardinian officers and nobles would have tried to sing the praises of these and other local products, in order to promote their export to the booming British market. After the end of the Seven Years’ War, a global recovery' of trade and commerce made arrangements like these even more lucrative.
According to the available sources, the plan to establish and maintain a cordial relation to Britain appears to have worked: an article of The London Gazette relates that ‘the Duke of York is [...] greatly satisfied with the Manner of his reception’, while other articles, Vacca di Piozzo’s reports, and some letters of the Sardinian Regia Segreteria di Guerra often comment on the excellent diplomatic relations between the Kingdom of Sardinia and the Kingdom of Great Britain.111 In fact, polite expressions and words of praise abound in them, highlighting the affectionate treatment accorded to the honoured guest by the members of the House of Savoy.112
Beyond declarations of goodwill, however, direct and tangible results of the prince’s visit in Turin and the Sabaudian efforts seem to have been limited: they did not give any concrete advantage to the Kingdom of Sardinia from the point of view of its territorial expansion, due to the protraction of the stalemate of the Italian political scenario;113 moreover, the increase in trade with Britain in wines, silks, and cloth (along with greater commercial independence from France) did not come through, and by 1784, England’s commercial capabilities had seriously declined due to difficulties both at home and on foreign soil.114 It can only be speculated that as far as the role of Prince Edward himself was concerned, further proceedings were cut short by his untimely death in Monaco in 1767, aged only 28, on his way to a second visit in Italy. In these regards, the investment of planning and effort and money did not yield the outcome Charles Emmanuel III might have hoped for, but it can be assumed that Prince Edward’s presence in Piedmont contributed to renew the bonds of friendship between the Courts of George III of the United Kingdom and Charles Emmanuel III of Sardinia and brought closer together two countries in a Europe recovering from years of warfare.