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Cultures of Political Counsel from Antiquity to the Present Day

Political decisions are made within specific political, institutional, intellectual and cultural contexts. They are informed by contemporary perceptions of politics, society and humanity. They are constantly negotiated among stakeholders and communicated to varying audiences. They are subject to challenge and need to be explained and defended. Throughout history, governments, communities and individuals have relied on the services of counsellors - political advisors or ‘spin doctors’ – when it comes to making, communicating and implementing decisions. Throughout history, much depended on the quality of advice and whether and how it was received.

What we do

We gather together researchers from a wide range of disciplines keen to explore the theories and practice of political advice from the ancient to the modern world. We investigate the ways in which political advice was conceived, conveyed and received in the private and public sphere – in the bedchamber or the confessional, the royal court or the municipal council, from the pulpit or in confidential correspondence, through deliberation in ecclesiastical tribunals or in parliamentary debate. 

The honour of lords is largely concentrated in the hands of secretaries, and this is sometimes their ruin.

- Francesco Priscianese, 'Del governo della corte d’un signore in Roma' (Rome, 1543), cap. xxviii.

Our research questions

Our joint investigation follows three main strands: 

  • The person and profile of the political counsellor
  • The rhetoric of counsel 
  • The fields of knowledge or expertise that feed into political counsel and decision. 

We investigate these strands through a number of closely related questions, including: 

  • Who does provide, request and receive counsel?
  • What training, experience and standards of professionalization do counsellors bring to the task?
  • Which are the institutions, networks and modes of communication through which political advice is offered?

Currently, the emphasis of the project is on political counsel in European societies from late antiquity to the early modernity (c. 300 – c. 1700).


The project and network provides researchers from History, Political Science, Literary Studies, Theology, Philosophy, Sociology and Anthropology with the opportunity to explore cultures of counsel through informal meetings as well as workshops, conferences and publications.  

  • Dr. Saúl Bermejo (Universidad Carlos III, Madrid, Spain)
  • Dr. Harald E. Braun (University of Liverpool, UK)
  • Dr. Erik De Bom (KU Leuven, Belgium)
  • Professor Manuel Herrero (Universidad Pablo Olavide, Spain)
  • Professor Dame Janet Nelson (King’s College London, UK)
  • Dr. Xavier Gil Pujol (UAB, Spain)
  • Professor Diogo Ramada Curto (Universidade Novoa de Lisboa, Portugal)
  • Dr. Nicole Reinhart (Durham University, UK)
  • Professor Rudolf Schüssler (Universität Bayreuth, Germany)


For a very brief introduction to the history of political advice and advisors, see:

Back to: Department of History