I have just completed the final publications from my Renaissance diplomacy research project. My book Diplomacy in Renaissance Rome will be published by Cambridge University Press in 2015.

Renaissance diplomacy

My research project, 'Our men in Rome: Ambassadors and agents at the papal court, c. 1450-1530', analysed changing diplomatic practices at Rome in the period between the return of the popes and the 1527 Sack of the city. These years saw the formation of a system of permanent resident diplomacy in Europe, and Rome, as the seat of the Catholic Church, attracted the largest group of envoys of any European court. Such men – ambassadors, orators and agents – dealt not only with church business but increasingly with secular matters. However, to date only minimal scholarly research has been undertaken on the Roman diplomatic corps during this important period. My work responds to that neglect and, more broadly, to recent calls from scholars including Daniela Frigo and John Watkins for a 'new diplomatic history' of early modern Europe.

This project built on my doctoral research, which examined the structures and practice of diplomacy in the 1520s and 30s through a microhistorical study of Gregorio Casali, an Italian nobleman in the diplomatic service of Henry VIII of England. It outlined and analysed the key elements of the resident ambassador's role, shifting the focus of study from the traditional emphasis on official negotiations and such formal sites for the exercise of power to investigate informal relationships and arenas for diplomacy. Chapters considered the diplomat’s role in Rome; family and friendship networks; hospitality and liberality; gift-giving and 'bribery', and drew on recent scholarship on these issues to situate Renaissance diplomacy in its broader social context. The case-study further drew attention to issues around the meaning of the 'nation' in this period, a theme on which I carried out some additional research during my Max Weber fellowship in 2010-11. Overall, the thesis contributed to the new trend among historians of diplomacy to adopt methods from social and cultural history, but, in applying the methodology of microhistory, took this to a new level. Throughout, my research has drawn on hitherto unexploited archive material, including treatises, trial records, family documents and notarial archives: these often illustrate aspects of ambassadors’ activities that more conventional sources do not.

Public histories of the Italian Renaissance

Since completing my doctorate in 2008, I have undertaken additional research to inform a number of publications. I wrote a book entitled Our Man in Rome, a study of Casali’s career aimed at a broad audience. The experience of writing this book, combined with my professional experience of the television industry and of teaching at Hampton Court Palace, has sparked my interest in public histories of the Renaissance and in the role of academics outside the 'ivory tower' more generally.

In summer 2013 I will begin work on a new book focused on the life and times of Alessandro de' Medici,to be published by Bodley Head. Alessandro's ethnicity has been the subject of debate since the nineteenth century. The illegitimate son of Lorenzo, duke of Urbino, his mother is rumoured to have been a slave. Alessandro ruled Florence from 1531 until his assassination in 1537. I am particularly interested in the material culture of Alessandro's court and the fashions and fabrics that helped establish him as a new prince.

I also have a side research interest in the reception of the Italian Renaissance in England. I have been researching uses of Renaissance history in nineteenth-century Sheffield with particular reference to the Ruskin Collection in Museums Sheffield.