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Journal > Volumes > 47 (2016) / 4 (Winter)
Immobile Ambassadors: Gout in Early Modern Diplomacy
Megan K. Williams
University of Groningen

Gout was among the most common physical complaints encountered in the dispatches of early modern ambassadors, yet ambassadorial illnesses have received little more than anecdotal asides in the literature on early modern diplomacy and statecraft. This article argues that diplomats’ experiences of negotiating gout had profound effects on the conduct and rhetoric of early modern diplomacy. Not only were early modern statesmen believed particularly susceptible to gout, but many diplomats claimed to be afflicted in ways which hindered or prevented them from fulfilling their diplomatic duties. Perhaps most troubling to early modern statesmen, though, was gout’s all-too-easy instrumentalization to suit or subvert political purposes. Diplomats’ negotiation of their own or interlocutors’ gout demonstrates that gout was as much political as medical condition, underlining both the social construction of early modern illness and the rhetorical construction of the era’s diplomatic correspondence, where gout emerges as diplomatic disease par excellence.

Pages: 939 - 969