Published in Archivum Historicum Societatis Iesu, vol. 88, fasc. 175, 2019

This article uses an unpublished collection of letters and documents held at the Jesuits’ Roman archive to trace the development of the friendship between prominent Jesuit Antonio Possevino SJ (1533-1611) and Philippe de Canaye (1551-1610), the French ambassador to Venice and a recent Catholic convert. Using these documents, the article shows that Canaye and Possevino used the conversion of Canaye’s Protestant family to forge an important relationship of obligation between the French ambassador and popes Clement VIII and Paul V. These popes granted private absolutions and various other favours to the Canaye household whilst Canaye used his position and network to help to promote the Catholic cause in Venice and France. 

The article shows how this friendship was dramatically ruptured when Paul V placed an interdict on the Republic of Venice, sparking a diplomatic crisis and a fiery debate over the nature and extent of papal authority. Possevino and the pope thought that Canaye would prove to be a valuable ally. But in the event the ambassador sided enthusiastically with the Venetians. 

Canaye’s choice has led some historians to suggest that he was false in his friendship with Possevino and Rome. However, this article uses the ARSI documents along with Canaye’s edited letters to argue that Canaye sided with Venice because did not believe that papal authority could infringe on temporal sovereignty in civil matters and, crucially, that this position was entirely consistent with Canaye’s dealings with Rome from the start.

By considering the nature of Canaye’s relationship with Possevino and the papacy from its beginnings, this article illustrates that, at the turn of the seventeenth century, the religious and political significance of conversion to Catholicism varied radically for both converts and their convertors and that this variation could shock even worldly and experienced missionaries such as Possevino and even the pope himself.