crmd

Saturday, December 02, 2006

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.