Cardinal Richelieu


Armand-Jean du Plessis was the son of François du Plessis, seigneur de Richelieu. François had been a close friend and advisor of Henry III but had died young.
Armand-Jean was being trained for a career in the army, when family plans changed. He was sent to study theology and became Bishop of Luçon. He was then so young that a papal dispensation was needed for him to take the post; he went to Rome to obtain it and greatly impressed the Pope with his intelligence and scholarship.
Richelieu was a forceful bishop, active in his diocese and eager to suppress heresy. In the Estates General of 1614-1615, he was one of the clerical representatives.
Richelieu insinuated himself into the service of Marie de Medici and Concini, but when they fell he was sent back to his bishopric on Louis's orders.
Louis XIII allowed Marie de Medici to return to court (1621) and she persuaded him to advance Richelieu. In September 1622, the pope made Richelieu a Cardinal at Louis' request. Louis distrusted the clever Richelieu but he recognized his great abilities and employed him on the royal council, conseil d’en haut (1624.)
Richelieu entered government as Marie de Medici's client, but he found himself increasingly at odds with her and the dévot faction she led. They placed the suppression of heresy at the head of their priorities and saw the Hapsburgs as their greatest allies in this crusade.
One of the leading dévots was Michel de Marillac (1563-1632.) His main concern was encouraging economic growth, and his key proposals were embodied in the Code Michaud (1629.)
Gaston d'Orléans, Louis' brother and Marie's favorite child, also promoted dévot ideas.
The bons français faction, in contrast, placed national interest before Catholic solidarity, and feared Hapsburg imperialist domination.
Louis XIII's earlier campaign against the Huguenots had ended unsuccessfully with the Peace of Montpellier (October 1622). This had allowed the Protestants to keep their fortified strongholds.
In 1627-28, La Rochelle - the most important Protestant town - rebelled. All factions at court agreed that the rebellion must be suppressed. Despite England's incompetent attempts to help them, this was achieved with the capture of La Rochelle (October 1628). At the Peace of Alais (June 1629) the Huguenots were forced to accept the destruction of their military power.
The dispute over the Mantuan succession pushed Louis into an open breach with the Hapsburgs. French troops invaded and captured Pinerolo (March 1630).


Richelieu wanted to retain this important fortress, but Marillac feared the economic consequences of a long war with the Hapsburgs.
The conflict between Richelieu and Marie de Medici came to a head on the Day of (the) Dupes (10-11 November 1630.) Marie de Medici demanded Richelieu's dismissal, but Louis (after some apparent hesitation) refused and instead had her and his brother Gaston arrested. Marie escaped to the Spanish Netherlands.

"The Queen Mother [Marie de Medici] has come to throw herself into the arms of Her Highness [the Infanta, Governor of the Spanish Netherlands], cast out by the violence of Cardinal Richelieu. He has no regard for the fact that he is her creature, and that she not only raised him from the dirt but placed him in the eminent position from which he now hurls against her the thunderbolts of his ingratitude."

(Peter Paul Rubens, August 1631)

Marillac was tried by a court of judges hand-picked by Richelieu and died in captivity in 1632. Marillac's brother, who had served as a general of the French army in Italy, was beheaded that same year.
Gaston d'Orléans went to Luxembourg, raised an army and invaded (June 1632;) he was defeated, imprisoned, escaped, fled, and finally returned to a reconciliation with Louis XIII in October 1634.

Richelieu's domestic policy

(i) The nobles

Gaston d'Orléans and his antics were typical of French noblemen, who had taken the opportunity offered by the Religious Wars and Louis XIII's minority to increase their power and independence. Richelieu was determined to put a stop to this.
Gaston d'Orléans was aided in his rebellion of 1632 by Henri, Duke of Montmorency, governor of Languedoc and a last representative of one of the noblest families in France. Richelieu had him executed, 3 October 1632.
Louis de Bourbon, Count of Soissons also plotted against Richelieu, fled to Sedan and then invaded France (with the help of an army provided by the Hapsburgs) in 1641. He was winning the battle (at La Marfée on July 6, 1641) but died from a gunshot wound (probably from his own gun).


Henri Coiffier-Ruze D'Effiat, Marquis of Cinq-Mars (1620-42), a handsome favorite of Louis XIII who resented Richelieu's power, was probably involved in the Soissons rebellion. In 1642 he returned to plotting Richelieu's overthrow. Richelieu was able to show that Cinq-Mars had secretly reached an agreement with Spain - at war with France at the time. Cinq-Mars was executed, September 1642.


(ii) Representative assemblies

In 1617 Louis XIII called an Assembly of Notables, consisting of eleven clerical representatives, thirteen nobles (nine Catholic, four Protestant) and twenty-seven senior officials. Louis and Luynes used the Assembly as a sounding-board for their new plans for reform.
Another Assembly of Notables was summoned by Richelieu in 1626. He wanted it to approve his plans for fiscal reform, the expansion of the French navy, and the promotion of commerce. The Assembly also asked for the abolition of the purchase and sale of government offices (with which Richelieu agreed) and for an expansion of education (the usefulness of which Richelieu doubted).
Marie de Medici (under pressure from the nobility) had summoned the national Estates General in 1614. The Estates General represented the three estates of France - clergy, nobility and commons. It came closest to expressing the views of the political nation. Richelieu had saw the Estates-General merely as an inefficient institution and a potential focus of opposition and never summoned it.
Richelieu did permit various provincial Estates to continue assembling, but stopped others meeting when they proved recalcitrant (e.g. Normandy, Burgundy).
Parlements (of which the Parlement of Paris was the most important) were not political or representative bodies but courts of justice where the king's edicts, ordinances, and declarations were registered. They were a final court of appeal in judicial matters and could temporarily hold up (though not prevent) royal legislation. The King could always enforce registration of an edict he wanted by appearing in the Parlement himself in a lit-de-justice.
The Parlement of Paris protested on various occasions about onerous new taxation, venality of offices and Richelieu's summary justice against his enemies. Finally in 1641, Louis XIII forbade the Parlement to discuss matters "that might concern the State, and its administration and government". However, the crown could not abolish the Parlement because its members owned their offices.


(iii) intendants

The sale of offices (which Richelieu was forced for financial reasons to continue) produced an average of 20 million livres per year under Richelieu, but there was a price to pay. Those who had purchased offices were naturally eager to recoup their outlay by making as much money as possible from their posts. This did not make for efficient and economical government. To keep tabs on local governors and tax collectors, Richelieu appointed intendants.
Intendants were both judges and administrators, sent to the provinces to ensure that taxes were fairly levied and promptly collected. Directly appointed by and directly answerable to central government, Richelieu made sure that they only served short terms in any particular area so that they did not become too friendly with the officials they were overseeing. The 120-150 intendants could call on military force and had extensive, vaguely-defined powers, but their decisions could be revoked and they could be dismissed at the king's pleasure. Intendants greatly increased central government efficiency and control and so - naturally - were intensely disliked by the local officials they supervised.

(iv) economy

Richelieu was eager to increase the prosperity of France and devised various schemes for encouraging economic growth.
France had only a small merchant fleet and many of these ships were built in the United Provinces, not in French shipyards; French ports were poorly maintained, and there were too few French seamen. Richelieu attempted to remedy these problems. He directed a significant increase in the size of the French navy (from 11 Mediterranean galleys to 24, and from no Atlantic warships to 46.)

La Couronne, a vessel of 74 guns, launched in 1637 with a ship's complement of 620 men.


Richelieu also did his best to promote trade. He encouraged the establishment of the Compagnie de Morbihan and the Compagnie del la Nacelle de St Pierre Fleurdelysée to trade on the Atlantic and Mediterranean respectively, in the hopes of rivaling the Dutch and English East India companies.

Richelieu himself contributed to a venture in the West Indies, where the French had established colonies in the Lesser Antilles, especially Martinique and Guadeloupe.
Richelieu established another company
to revive the failing New France (Canada) colonies.
Unfortunately, none of these colonial ventures did well. Moreover, little was done for industry; indeed excessive government regulation strongly discouraged its development.
Richelieu also tried to discourage the increase in the number of students being given education in the liberal arts, and instead pressed for technical training.
Richelieu faced an uphill battle in a country where retail trade was regarded with contempt and a secure income could be obtained without effort from land or government bonds.

Foreign policy and reason of state

The foreign policy of Louis XIII and Richelieu took France into war. This was enormously expensive. The military budget was five times as much in 1635 as in 1618.
[Expenditure on war rose as a proportion of total state expenditure, which also went up sharply.]
Revenue also increased but not as rapidly as expenditure, so Richelieu borrowed heavily and constantly anticipated revenue.
The rapidly increasing levels of taxation produced evasion and even revolts in Languedoc (1632) and Normandy (1639.)
War cost France an enormous amount in men and money with few territorial rewards, yet it is arguable that only war could have ended the looming threat of Hapsburg encirclement

"Louis was responsible for the war, its continuation, the resulting warfare state, and his government's heavy-handed suppression of revolts against wartime innovations" (Moote.)

"Disintegration or survival: these were the alternatives with which France was confronted. Louis XIII and Richelieu chose survival" (Le Tapié.)


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