Retz, Jean François Paul de Gondi de
RETZ, JEAN FRANÇOIS PAUL DE GONDI DE
Prelate, controversial churchman and politician, rival and opponent of Cardinal mazarin; b. Montmirail, Sept. 20, 1613; d. Paris, Aug. 24, 1679. Paul, as well as others of the De Gondi children, was tutored by Vincent de Paul. Against his inclinations, Paul was marked for the priesthood at an early age, being given a canon's stall at Notre Dame when he was 13 years old. His intelligence and excellent education were attested when at age 18 he published a book called La Conjuration du Compte Jean-Louis de Fièsque, which disclosed his love of intrigue. His subsequent support of the Count of Soissons in his plots against richelieu indicated the turn his career was to take.
Ecclesiastical Career. In 1643 he was appointed coadjutor to his uncle, Archbishop Gondi of Paris, and he was consecrated as titular archbishop of Corinth. As coadjutor of Paris he continued his political activities, became the power behind the Fronde, and openly patronized the Jansenist party. He hoped to supplant Cardinal Jules Mazarin, and so the two churchmen were involved in mutual hostilities for some 20 years. In the contest with Mazarin, he showed his "fine Italian hand," taking delight in Machiavellian tactics, intrigue, and clandestine meetings, and appealing to the emotions of the Parisians, with whom he was very popular. Despite his excessive involvement in politics, Retz's opposition to Mazarin did endear him to Pope Innocent X, who offered him in 1650 the opportunity to become cardinal. His efforts to obtain approval of the French court for the cardinalate forced him into a temporary rapprochement with Mazarin. This Retz accomplished by siding with Mazarin against Prince Louis II de Condé, leader of the Fronde, who was pressing for a final test of strength with the crown. On Sept. 21, 1651, Retz's actions bore fruit; the council, under Mazarin's control, approved his nomination as cardinal.
The expected allegiance of Retz in the feud with Condé was not forthcoming, for he now resumed his opposition to Mazarin despite the fact that he continued to revile Condé at court. Matters were brought to a head when Mazarin was exiled temporarily to appease the Fronde and the populace. Upon his return in late 1652, Mazarin became more powerful than ever; he broke the power of the Fronde and turned to the disposal of Retz. The ambitious Cardinal de Retz was offered the post of representative to Rome, a type of face-saving exile, but he delayed too long in making up his mind and Mazarin had him imprisoned on Dec. 19, 1652. The years of Retz's imprisonment paradoxically proved to be two very important years of his life. During that time, while he languished in the dungeons of Vincennes, he was championed by Pope Innocent X, who knew it was Retz's colleague, Mazarin, who had imprisoned him. Innocent X urged Louis XIV to free Retz, but meanwhile he re ferred the matter to the College of Cardinals. Protests from French bishops and from Rome failed to move Mazarin, who was now firmly established in power. Mazarin at one point offered Retz freedom if he would resign as coadjutor of Paris, an offer Retz declined, saying he would rather die in prison than resign. The imprisoned cardinal became the subject of a new controversy between Mazarin and the Jansenists, who expressed sympathy for Retz. The situation was radically changed when on March 21, 1654, the archbishop of Paris died, and Retz automatically became archbishop. Retz was then pressed by Louis XIV to resign and was offered in recompense the income of seven abbeys yielding 120,000 livres. Retz resigned but Innocent X refused to accept the resignation knowing it was under pressure.
On Aug. 8, 1654, Retz succeeded in breaking out of prison and escaping to Spain. The pope approved of his escape and assured him of his protection. Mazarin, on the other hand, ordered the rearrest of Retz and took measures to deprive him of the archiepiscopal see of Paris, but Pope Innocent X in November of 1654 received the exiled cardinal with full honors in Rome. Retz then retracted his resignation of the Paris see and took up residence in Rome, whence he assailed Paris with letters that were publicly burned by Mazarin. While in Rome between 1654 and 1662 Retz continued to engage in ecclesiastical affairs and in European politics.
Last Years. After Mazarin's death on March 9, 1661, Retz wished to return to France, but Louis XIV refused to receive him unless he resigned the archbishopric of Paris. This he did in 1662; he then received the previously mentioned income and took up residence at the Abbey of Saint-Denis. His career became one of loyal service to Louis XIV, especially in the latter's relations to the Holy See. He succeeded in warding off condemnations and excommunications resulting from the Gallican controversy. As cardinal, he traveled to Rome for three conclaves, those that elected Clement IX in 1667, Clement X in 1670, and Innocent XI in 1676. Retz received eight votes at the last-mentioned conclave. The last four years of his life gave evidence of a remarkable spiritual conversion. In 1675 he became a penitent at the Benedictine Monastery of Saint-Mihiel, and that same year he resigned his cardinalate. In a letter to the pope he stated that he wished by becoming a monk at Saint-Mihiel to make up for the harm done to the Church by his evil conduct in the past. Pope Clement X refused his resignation, but Retz remained in isolation at Saint-Mihiel for three years, scarcely leaving the monastery. He spent the last year of his life at Saint-Denis. During his last years he founded an institute for young girls attached to the Ladies of Charity. He also completed his Mémoirs, a valuable source of information about court and ecclesiastical life during his times.
Bibliography: h. r. guggisberg, Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, 7 v. (3d ed. Tübingen 1957–65) 5:1073. f. albertbuisson, Le Cardinal de Retz: Portrait (Paris 1954). l. batiffol, Le Cardinal de Retz (Paris 1927). f. r. de chantelauze, Le Cardinal de Retz et l'affaire du chapeau, 2 v. (Paris 1878); Le Cardinal de Retz et ses missions diplomatiques à Rome (Paris 1879). a. gazier, Les Dernières années du Cardinal de Retz (Paris 1875). p. g. lorris, Le Cardinal de Retz, un agitateur au XVII e siècle (Paris 1956). d. ogg, Cardinal de Retz (London 1912). j. t. de castelnau, Retz et son temps (Paris 1955).
[j. w. bush]