crmd

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Rise to power


In 1614, the clergymen of Poitou elected Richelieu as one of their representatives to the States-General. There, he was a vigorous advocate of the Church, arguing that it should be exempt from taxes and that bishops should have more political power. He was the most prominent clergyman to support the adoption of the decrees of the Council of Trent throughout France; the Third Estate (commoners) was his chief opponent in this endeavour. At the end of the assembly, the First Estate (the clergy) chose him to deliver the address enumerating its petitions and decisions. Soon after the dissolution of the States-General, Richelieu entered the service of King Louis XIII's wife, Anne of Austria, as her almoner.

Richelieu advanced politically by faithfully serving Concino Concini, the most powerful minister in the kingdom. In 1616, Richelieu was made Secretary of State, and was given responsibility for foreign affairs. Like Concini, the Bishop was one of the closest advisors of Louis XIII's mother, Marie de Médicis. Queen Marie had become Regent of France when the nine-year old Louis ascended the throne; although her son reached the legal age of majority in 1614, she remained the effective ruler of the realm. However, her policies, and those of Concini, proved unpopular with many in France. As a result, both Marie and Concini became the targets of intrigues at court; their most powerful enemy was Charles de Luynes. In April 1617, in a plot arranged by Luynes, King Louis XIII ordered that Concini be arrested, and killed should he resist; Concini was consequently assassinated, and Marie de Médicis overthrown. His patron having died, Richelieu also lost power; he was dismissed as Secretary of State, and was removed from the court. In 1618, the King, still suspicious of the Bishop of Luçon, banished him to Avignon. There, Richelieu spent most of his time writing; he composed a catechism entitled L'Instruction du chrétien.

In 1619, Marie de Médicis escaped from her confinement in the Château de Blois, becoming the titular leader of an aristocratic rebellion. The King and the duc de Luynes recalled Richelieu, believing that he would be able to reason with the Queen. Richelieu was successful in this endeavour, mediating between Marie and her son. Complex negotiations bore fruit when the Treaty of Angoulême was ratified; Marie de Médicis was given complete freedom, but would remain at peace with the King. The Queen was also restored to the royal council.

After the death of the King's favourite, the duc de Luynes, in 1621, Richelieu began to rise to power quickly. Next year, the King nominated Richelieu for a cardinalate, which Pope Gregory XV accordingly granted on 19 April 1622. Crises in France, including a rebellion of the Huguenots, rendered Richelieu a nearly indispensable advisor to the King. After he was appointed to the royal council of ministers in April 1624, he intrigued against the chief minister, Charles, duc de La Vieuville. In August of the same year, La Vieuville was arrested on charges of corruption, and Cardinal Richelieu took his place as the King's principal minister.

Early life

Richelieu was the fourth of five children and the last of three sons, born in Paris in 1585. His family, although belonging only to the lesser nobility of Poitou, was somewhat prominent: his father, François du Plessis, seigneur de Richelieu, was a soldier and courtier who served as the Grand Provost of France; his mother, Susanne de La Porte, was the daughter of a famous jurist. When Armand was only five years old, his father died fighting in the French Wars of Religion, leaving the family in debt; with the aid of royal grants, however, the family was able to avoid financial difficulties. At the age of nine, young Richelieu was sent to the College of Navarre in Paris to study philosophy. Thereafter, he began to train for a military career, following in his father's footsteps.

King Henry III had rewarded Richelieu's father for his participation in the Wars of Religion by granting his family the bishopric of Luçon. The family appropriated most of the revenues of the bishopric for private use; they were, however, challenged by clergymen who desired the funds for ecclesiastical purposes. In order to protect the important source of revenue, Richelieu's mother proposed to make her second son, Alphonse, the bishop of Luçon. Alphonse, who had no desire to become a bishop, instead became a monk. Thus, it became necessary that Armand end his ambitions for a military career and instead join the clergy. Richelieu was not at all averse to the prospect of becoming a bishop; he was a frail and sickly child who preferred to pursue academic interests. He did not want to be a bishop but it was in his best interests.

In 1606, King Henry IV nominated Richelieu to become Bishop of Luçon. As Richelieu had not yet reached the official minimum age, it was necessary that he journey to Rome to obtain a special dispensation from the Pope. The agreement of the Pope having been secured, Richelieu was consecrated bishop in April 1607. Soon after he returned to his diocese in 1608, Richelieu was heralded as a reformer; he became the first bishop in France to implement the institutional reforms prescribed by the Council of Trent between 1545 and 1563.

At about this time, Richelieu became a friend of François Leclerc du Tremblay (better known as "Père Joseph" or "Father Joseph"), a Capuchin friar, who would later become a close confidant. Because of his closeness to Richelieu, and the grey colour of his robes, Father Joseph was also nicknamed l'Éminence grise ("the Grey Eminence"). Later, Richelieu often used Father Joseph as an agent during diplomatic negotiations.