Cardinal Richelieu

by ariellep ~ April 22nd, 2010. Filed under: Chapter 14: The Early Modern State.
“If you give me six lines written

by the most honest man, I will find

something in them to hang him.”

—Cardinal Richelieu
Born in September of 1585, Armand Jean de Pleissis was consecrated as a bishop in 1608. He then moved on to politics, becoming the French Secretary of State in 1616.  When Louis XIII came in to power in 1610 his mother, Marie de Medici, appointed Richelieu as the principal advisor to the crown.
Cardinal Richelieu
From this position he launched a full scale political rejuvenation in France. He started trying to make France a more centralized government.  Richelieu began this by consolidating all of the power into the hands of very few, very high up, people, like the king and himself.  He placed major restrictions on the nobility, and maintained them through the use of intendants.  Intendants were government officials who were assigned to each French province to make sure that the nobility followed all orders. For example, in 1626 Richelieu ordered the destruction of all feudal castles that weren’t completely necessary.  Thus ruining the only defenses the nobles had against the monarch in case of a rebellion.  The nobles weren’t exactly thrilled by this idea, therefore the intendants were necessary to make sure they followed through.  By 1631 he had crushed Huguenot resistance, severely punished nobles who plotted against the king, and replaced his enemies in the government. He had also replaced anyone who he saw as a political threat.
Richelieu was also interested in curbing the power of the Austro-Spanish Habsburg dynasty. In order to bring them down he made many alliances and agreements with important Protestant leaders. Because of this alliance many Catholics, in France and all around Europe, believed he was a traitor to the church during the Thirty Years War.
Richelieu at the Siege of La Rochelle
Throughout his “reign” Richelieu employed the “reason of state” principle. This was the idea that all the rules of the king must be followed to the letter, and deviance punished severely. And the glory and power of France always came before the interests of the nobles, local officals, and even the Catholic Church. This annoyed the church so much that at the time of his death, in 1642, Richelieu and Pope Urban VIII were just beginning to patch up their relationship, that was rocky at best. The Cardinal had been alienating himself from the church by keeping his main focus on the monarchy of France. And the Pope was incredibly displeased by this.  Although when the Pope granted Jules Mazarin, one of Richelieu’s close political allies, a cardinalate they began the long road to recovery.  Not only was he alienating himself from the Pope, but Richelieu was also inadvertenly distancing himself from King Louis XIII.
This occured as a result of the foiling of a plot to strip him of his power(Richelieu, that is). Henri Coiffer de Ruze was an ally of Richelieu’s, one which he hoped to use in controlling Louis XIII. However this proved difficult.  Henri became a favorite of the King, like the Cardinal had planned, but he was far from easy to control. In fact Henri had planned to overthrow Richelieu, and take the power for himself, after realizing that Richelieu would not be giving him all the power he had previously promised him. Henri’s first plan was a bust, but he remained undetected. So he tried again in 1642 he was scheming with other nobles to raise a rebellion in France, and had already signed a secret contract with the King of Spain to aid this rebellion.  Richelieu’s spies uncovered the plot, and Henri was arrested and executed for all his hard work. In 1642 Richelieu died from a combination of tuberculosis, infection, exhaustion and lung problems, but before he went into the light he named Jules Mazarin as second Chief Minister of the French monarch.

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