- Identify Cardinal Richelieu’s main goals and his successes and failures in achieving them
- Cardinal Richelieu was a French clergyman, nobleman, and statesman, serving as King Louis XIII’s Chief Minister (sometimes also called First Minister) from 1624. He sought to consolidate royal power and strengthen France’s international position.
- Although initially Richelieu was closely affiliated with Marie de Médicis, Louis XIII’s mother, and did not enjoy the king’s trust, his role as a successful mediator in the power struggle between Louis and Marie helped him reach the position of the king’s principal minister.
- Cardinal Richelieu’s policy involved two primary goals: centralization of power in France and opposition to the Habsburg dynasty.
- Richelieu’s decisions to suppress the influence of the feudal nobility and levy taxes targeted mostly at the commoners made him a hated figure among both the nobility and the peasantry.
- Richelieu was instrumental in redirecting the Thirty Years’ War from the conflict of Protestantism versus Catholicism to that of nationalism versus Habsburg hegemony, which allowed France to emerge from it as the most powerful state in continental Europe.
- Richelieu’s tenure was a crucial period of reform for France. At home, local and even religious interests were subordinated to those of the whole nation and the king. Internationally, France triumphed over declining Spain and the Holy Roman Empire. Richelieu’s successes were extremely important to King Louis XIV’s absolute monarchy.
Thirty Years’ War
A series of wars in Central Europe between 1618 and 1648. Initially a war between various Protestant and Catholic states in the fragmented Holy Roman Empire, it gradually developed into a more general conflict involving most of the great powers.
Battle of Lens
A 1648 French victory against the Spanish army in the Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648). It was the last major battle of the war and was critical to the eventual triumph of the French over the Spanish Habsburgs.
Council of Trent
Council held between 1545 and 1563 in Trent and Bologna, northern Italy. It was one of the Roman Catholic Church’s most important ecumenical councils. Prompted by the Protestant Reformation, it has been described as the embodiment of the Counter-Reformation.
It issued condemnations of what it defined to be heresies committed by Protestantism and, in response to them, key statements and clarifications of the church’s doctrine and teachings.
Peace of Alais
A treaty negotiated by Cardinal Richelieu with Huguenot leaders and signed by King Louis XIII of France in 1629. It confirmed the basic principles of the Edict of Nantes, but differed in that it contained additional clauses, stating that the Huguenots no longer had political rights and further demanding that they relinquish all cities and fortresses immediately. It ended the religious warring while granting the Huguenots amnesty and guaranteeing them tolerance.
Members of a French Protestant denomination with origins in the 16th or 17th centuries. Historically, they were French Protestants inspired by the writings of John Calvin in the 1530s. The majority endorsed the Reformed tradition of Protestantism.
Cardinal Richelieu (1585–1642), was a French clergyman, nobleman, and statesman, serving as King Louis XIII’s Chief Minister (sometimes also called First Minister) from 1624. He sought to consolidate royal power and crush domestic factions. By restraining the power of the nobility, he transformed France into a strong, centralized state. His chief foreign policy objective was to check the power of the Austro-Spanish Habsburg dynasty and ensure French dominance in the Thirty Years’ War that engulfed Europe. Although he was a cardinal, he did not hesitate to make alliances with Protestant rulers in attempting to achieve his goals.
Rise to Power
Richelieu was consecrated bishop in April 1607. Soon after he returned to his diocese in 1608, he was heralded as a reformer. He became the first bishop in France to implement the institutional reforms prescribed by the Council of Trent. Richelieu advanced politically by faithfully serving the Queen-Mother’s favorite, Concino Concini, the most powerful minister in the kingdom. In 1616, he was made Secretary of State responsible for foreign affairs. Like Concini, the bishop was one of the closest advisers of Louis XIII’s mother, Marie de Médicis. The queen had become Regent of France when nine-year-old Louis ascended the throne. However, her policies, and those of Concini, proved unpopular with many in France. In 1617, in a plot arranged by Charles deLuynes, King Louis XIII ordered that Concini be arrested, and killed should he resist. Concini was consequently assassinated and Marie de Médicis overthrown. With the death of his patron, Richelieu also lost power. He was dismissed as Secretary of State, removed from the court, and banished to Avignon.
In 1619, Marie de Médicis escaped from her confinement. The king and de Luynes recalled Richelieu, believing that he would be able to reason with the queen. Richelieu succeeded in mediating between the king and his mother, and after de Luynes’ death in 1621, he began to rise to power quickly. Crises in France, including a rebellion of the Huguenots, rendered Richelieu a nearly indispensable adviser to the king. In 1624, as a result of court intrigues, Cardinal Richelieu took the place of the king’s principal minister.
Goals and Policies
Cardinal Richelieu’s policy involved two primary goals: centralization of power in France and opposition to the Habsburg dynasty (which ruled in both Austria and Spain). Shortly after he became Louis’s principal minister, he was faced with a crisis in Valtellina, a valley in northern Italy. To counter Spanish designs on the territory, Richelieu supported the Protestant Swiss canton of Grisons. This early decision to support a Protestant canton against the pope was a foretaste of the purely diplomatic power politics he would espouse in his foreign policy.
To further consolidate power in France, Richelieu sought to suppress the influence of the feudal nobility. In 1626, he abolished the position of Constable of France and ordered all fortified castles razed, excepting only those needed to defend against invaders. Thus, he stripped the princes, dukes, and lesser aristocrats of important defenses that could have been used against the king’s armies during rebellions. As a result, most of the nobility hated Richelieu.
Another obstacle to the centralization of power was religious division in France. The Huguenots, one of the largest political and religious factions in the country, controlled a significant military force, and were in rebellion. Moreover, the king of England, Charles I, declared war on France in an attempt to aid the Huguenot faction. The conflict ended with the 1629
Peace of Alais, which permitted religious toleration for Protestants to continue, but the cardinal abolished their political rights and protections.
Before Richelieu’s ascent to power, most of Europe had become enmeshed in the Thirty Years’ War. France was not openly at war with the Habsburgs, who ruled Spain and the Holy Roman Empire, so subsidies and aid were provided secretly to their adversaries. In 1629, Emperor Ferdinand II subjugated many of his Protestant opponents in Germany. Richelieu, alarmed by Ferdinand’s growing influence, incited Sweden to intervene, providing money. In the meantime, France and Spain remained hostile due to Spain’s ambitions in northern Italy—a major strategic item in Europe’s balance of powers. Military expenses placed a considerable strain on the King’s revenues. In response, Richelieu raised the salt tax and the land tax. The former was enforced to provide funds to raise armies and wage war. The clergy, nobility, and high bourgeoisie were either exempt or could easily avoid payment, so the burden fell on the poorest segment of the nation. This resulted in several peasant uprisings that Richelieu crushed violently.
Richelieu was instrumental in redirecting the Thirty Years’ War from the conflict of Protestantism versus Catholicism to that of nationalism versus Habsburg hegemony. Through the war, France effectively drained the already overstretched resources of the Habsburg empire and drove it inexorably towards bankruptcy. The defeat of Habsburg forces at the Battle of Lens, and their failure to prevent French invasion of Catalonia, effectively spelled the end for Habsburg domination of the continent. Indeed, in the subsequent years it would be France, under the leadership of Louis XIV, who would attempt to fill the vacuum left by the Habsburgs in the Spanish Netherlands and supplant Spain as the dominant European power.
Richelieu died of natural causes in 1642. His tenure was a crucial period of reform for France. Earlier, the nation’s political structure was largely feudal, with powerful nobles and a wide variety of laws in different regions. Local and even religious interests were subordinated to those of the whole nation and of the embodiment of the nation—the king. Equally critical for France was Richelieu’s foreign policy, which helped restrain Habsburg influence in Europe. Richelieu did not survive to the end of the Thirty Years’ War. However, the conflict ended in 1648, with France emerging in a far better position than any other power, and the Holy Roman Empire entering a period of decline.
Richelieu’s successes were extremely important to Louis XIII’s successor, King Louis XIV. He continued Richelieu’s work of creating an absolute monarchy. In the same vein as the cardinal, he enacted policies that further suppressed the once-mighty aristocracy and utterly destroyed all remnants of Huguenot political power. Moreover, Louis took advantage of his nation’s success during the Thirty Years’ War to establish French hegemony in continental Europe. Thus, Richelieu’s policies were the requisite prelude to Louis XIV becoming the most powerful monarch, and France the most powerful nation, in all of Europe during the late 17th century.