Richelieu, Armand Jean du Plessis de
RICHELIEU, ARMAND JEAN DU PLESSIS DE
Cardinal, minister, and head of the royal council of Louis XIII from 1624 to 1642; b. Paris, Sept. 9, 1585; d. Paris, Dec. 4, 1642. He prepared the way for absolute monarchy in France and for French predominance in Europe.
His father, Francois du Plessis, was at the court of Henry III and died in 1590 in the service of henry iv.
His mother, Suzanne de la Porte, was the daughter of a lawyer in Parlement and lady in waiting to the queen. On his father's death Richelieu's mother withdrew from Paris to begin the education of her five children. In 1597 Armand began his studies in the humanities at the University of Paris and then, after studies in philosophy, went to the military academy to prepare for a military career. In 1605 his older brother Alphouse, destined for the bishopric of Luçon, which Henry IV reserved to the family, became a Carthusian, and Richelieu began studies in theology to prepare himself for the bishopric. In 1606 he went to Rome and obtained his bulls of institution with a dispensation for his age (21). After being consecrated bishop on April 17, 1607, he returned to defend a thesis in theology at the Sorbonne. The next year he left for Luçon, where he worked to restore the material and moral ravages of the Wars of Religion. He convoked a synod, began a seminary, called in the Capuchins and Oratorians, and wrote his Instruction du chrétien, with lessons on the articles of the Credo to be read by pastors in Sunday instructions and notes for the clergy as well. He was elected deputy of the clergy for the Estates General of 1614 and gave the concluding address to the King, calling for acceptance of the Council of Trent, the naming of ecclesiastics to the royal council, and religious toleration for Protestants. After gaining the good graces of the queen mother, marie de mÉdicis, he became secretary of state in 1616. With the fall of her favorite, Concini, Richelieu was exiled to Avignon but then recalled to work for her reconciliation with King Louis XIII. He received the cardinal's hat in 1622 for his success. In April 1624 Louis XIII yielded to his mother's request and reappointed Richelieu to the council, of which he became head a few months later, coming into the trust and esteem of the King. The first successes of his policy strengthened his position, which at first was uncertain, but also aroused the ill will of the queen mother, who in 1630 asked the King to choose between Richelieu and her. Richelieu was on the point of being dismissed when he definitely regained the confidence of Louis XIII (Nov. 11, 1630, journée des dupes ). Marie de Médicis went abroad and Richelieu governed without a rival.
Although his health suffered from his work and his excessive nervous tension, Richelieu brought to the King's service an incomparable intelligence and an adamant will. When he took office, France was threatened with internal division and confronted abroad by the House of hapsburg and its gains in Europe. In 18 years these dangers were overcome.
Domestic Policy. Henry IV had to give Protestants not only freedom of conscience but considerable political privileges as well, in particular garrisoned fortresses, such as the port of La Rochelle. The Protestants constituted a kind of federated republic within the monarchy and prepared to receive foreign help. In 1628, after a 14-month siege that he personally directed, Richelieu took La Rochelle, and the next year occupied the last Protestant strongholds. The Edict of Alais in 1629 abolished the political privileges of the huguenots while leaving them religious freedom.
The fight against the rebellious nobility took longer. Richelieu and the King mercilessly eradicated the plots of discontented nobles, which often were supported by the King's brother, Gaston d'Orlélais. Chalais in 1626 conspired against Richelieu, Montmorency in 1632 raised a rebellion in Languedoc, Cinq-Mars in 1642 signed a treaty with Spain, and his friend, de Thou, failed to denounce him—and they were beheaded. Richelieu also had the King enforce laws that made duelling punishable by death (Montmorency-Bouteville was executed in 1626). Apart from the punishment of conspiracy, in the provinces, where commissaires en mission or intendants kept an eye on governors, parlements, and provincial Estates, several castles were razed in conformity with the wishes of the Estates General. Crushing taxation frequently gave rise to popular revolts fostered or tolerated by local notables. In 1639 Chancellor Séguier himself was dispatched to Normandy to put down the revolt of the va-nu-pieds, and for a while the parlement of Rouen was suspended. Finally the Parlement of Paris, which tended to control royal authority by its remonstrances and the modification of royal laws, had to yield. An edict of 1641 placed strict limitations on Parlement's traditional right of remonstrance.
Foreign Policy. Amid this tension of national energies Richelieu began the fight to bring to a halt Hapsburg successes. His aim was to weaken the house of Austria and restore equilibrium in Europe to the advantage of France and her allies—not, as one often reads, to give France a frontier on the Rhine. He began by giving diplomatic support and subsidies to all the enemies of Spain. In England in 1625 he arranged the marriage of Louis XIII's sister and Charles I, who earlier had sought a Span ish Infanta. In Switzerland, Richelieu restored Protestant Grisons to power in the Valtelline, where Catholic inhabitants had rebelled with Spanish support. Valtelline Pass gave Milan communications with Spanish possessions to the north. In Italy, Richelieu sought to unite all the independent states, including the papacy, in an anti-Spanish league, and he forced a passage through the Duchy of Savoy to assure the duke of Nevers the inheritance of Mantua, which the Emperor Ferdinand II contested (1629–30). He supported the Dutch against Spain, and Mansfeld and Christian IV, King of Denmark, against the Emperor. He loosed the King of Sweden, Gustavus II Adolphus, against the Emperor (Treaty of Bärwald, January 1631). At the same time he sought to detach Catholic Bavaria from the Emperor's cause (Treaty of Fontainebleau, May 1631). The incursion of Gustavus into Germany with his consequent victories put an end to ferdinand ii's efforts for monarchial centralization and Catholic restoration. Gustavus's death at Lützen (November 1632) freed Richelieu of an ally who had become dangerous but forced him to go to war openly. Louis XIII had already occupied Lorraine when the Swedish defeat at Nordlingen forced Richelieu to send French armies not yet prepared into combat (war declared on Spain, May 19, 1635). Burgundy was invaded and Paris threatened (1636). For several years victory and defeat alternated on land and sea. But Richelieu reorganized the army and gradually built a navy, which was nonexistent when he came to power. Military success came after 1640: Spain was busied with revolts in Portugal and Catalonia, and French armies advanced in Artois to the north and in Rousillon to the south. The treaties of westphalia and the Pyrenees, concluded by Jules mazarin, later brought to fulfillment the political work of Richelieu.
These successes were not the result of armed force alone. The cardinal's diplomacy probably played a greater role. Richelieu as a matter of principle negotiated ceaselessly. His agents crossed Europe constantly on all kinds of missions: to strengthen old alliances and gain new ones and to bring back reports. His most noteworthy aide in this was Father Joseph (le clerc du tremblay).
Richelieu's political work was not limited to Europe. The navy allowed him to send expeditions overseas and to found French settlements in the Antilles, Senegal, Madagascar, and especially in Canada. England had taken advantage of the break with France at the time of the capture of La Rochelle to occupy French settlements in the St. Lawrence Valley. Richelieu regained them in 1632 and founded the Company of 100 Associates to develop the new lands (New France). He sent Capuchins and Jesuits to convert the natives, who were to be treated as Frenchmen.
The World of Letters. Richelieu's respect for public opinion and the power of the press was still more modern. He was concerned with the press and himself wrote works and accounts of events to defend his policy before France and the world. The Mercure François and the Gazette under his control and with his collaboration became quasi-official journals. His concern for French letters was more disinterested. He founded and was the first protector of the Académie Française. In 1622 the Sorbonne made him guardian, and he rebuilt all its buildings and endowed it with the chapel in which he is buried.
Religious Character. The religious character of the cardinal, the ally of Protestants, has been much debated. As bishop of Luçon, he was a model pastor. When he became minister, he resigned his see but considered himself somewhat the head of the Church in France. One of his first concerns was to reunite the Protestants. Devout Catholics were disappointed in his religious policy, for Richelieu felt that in matters of conscience, constraint should be avoided, and he maintained the religious liberties of the Edict of nantes. But he worked, and had others work, to win Protestants by persuasion, fostering missions in Calvinist areas and protecting the controversialist Veron. After publishing in 1618 Les principaux points de la foi catholique défendus contre … les quatre ministres de Charenton, he worked through his whole ministry at his Traité … pour convertir ceux qui se sont séparés de l'Église, which appeared only after his death and in which he sought to convert Protestants with the help of Scripture, the Fathers, and Protestant authors as well. His relations with Rome were at times strained, due to his Protestant alliances, his attempts to obtain a cardinalate for Father Joseph and later for Mazarin, his attempt to consolidate the orders of Cluny, Cîteaux, and the Premonstratensians under one head, his plan to dominate the French clergy by obtaining a long-term legate in Paris, and the taxation he imposed on the clergy.
He was fortunate to have to deal with Urban VIII, who was favorable to France and only reluctantly put up with Spanish hegemony in Italy. Besides, Richelieu had given testimony of his faith. He made E. richer retract his anti-Roman theses, he made peace between the bishops and the religious orders, and he looked for a middle way in the dispute between Gallicans and Ultramontanes. He ordered the imprisonment at Vincennes of the abbot of Saint-Cyran, a reformer with imprecise and suspect doctrines. Richelieu's Traité de la perfection du chrétien (a rather dry expression of the traditional doctrine of Catholic asceticism) and the consecration of France to the Blessed Virgin (by Louis XIII in 1637, but inspired by Richelieu) open perspectives on his religious character, which remains to be studied.
Richelieu left a Political Testament (ed. Paris 1947); Memoirs (3 v. 1837–38, 10 v. 1907–31); and letters, instructions, and papers (8 v. 1853–77).
Bibliography: g. hanotaux and de la force, Histoire du Cardinal de Richelieu, 6 v. (Paris 1893–1947). h. belloc, Richelieu: A Study (Garden City, N.Y. 1929). k. j. burckhardt, Richelieu: Der Aufstieg zur Macht (Munich 1936). v. l. tapiÉ, La France de Louis XIII et de Richelieu (Paris 1952).