Vol. 2 - August - No. 41Cardinal Richelieu
The outstanding and most influential leader in French history, in the reign of Louis XIII and Louis XIV.
Richelieu was an ambitious prelate when in 1614, by a speech made in the presence of the young Louis XIII, he attracted the attention of the Queen Mother, Marie de' Medici, the ambitious, corrupt and incompetent regent. Given first a minor appointment in court circles, the rise of Richelieu was rapid until in 1616 he became Secretary for War and Foreign Affairs in the royal council, and after temporary reverses brought about by the King's favorite, De Luynes, he was again restored to the council, appointed a cardinal in the Church and given the position of Prime Minister. From this point to the end of his life he remained the real head of France, king in everything but name.
His varied activities and abilities were marvelous - seventy-four treaties were negotiated by him; he wrote ably; encouraged art; founded the French Academy; started the first French political newspaper, and fostered culture so successfully that the development of the fine arts, so striking a characteristic of the reign of Louis XIV, became possible. Indeed, many of the achievements usually ascribed to the latter King were the direct results of the plans and designs of Richelieu. Although an invalid the greater part of his life, he never gave up to pain nor fell before the plots of his enemies, plots which, numerous and dangerous, followed each other in rapid succession; but always Richelieu met them with courage, and disposed of the plotters with a stern disregard for mercy. He brought France into the Thirty Years' War and finally obtained for her the natural boundaries, defensible because of the contour of the country - the boundaries which have prevailed practically to the present time.
While Louis XI had freed himself from the control of his nobles, they had continued to be a troublesome factor in the government of the kingdom, but Richelieu in a series of contests wholly subdued them, destroyed their castles or opened such great breeches in their walls as to make them easy of capture, and gave Louis XIV an absolutism in government which he was ready to assume. As the great cardinal is said to have remarked, he died leaving no enemies but those of France, and his whole career had embodied but the one idea, the aggrandizement of his fatherland.
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