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( Originally Published Early 1900's )
THE KING'S WILL SHALL BE LAW
France has given to history four characters, who may be regarded as typical of the classes to which they severally belonged. Napoleon Bonaparte stands as the greatest of military geniuses of modern, perhaps, of all times. Robespierre typifies the vengeance of a people ground to the dust by long and intolerable oppression; Louis XIV was the most courtly, yet most absolute of tyrants, and the Cardinal Richelieu, who for a quarter of a Century ruled France, was the most able, the most unscrupulous, the most successful of ministers. These four characters stand in close relation one to another. Without a Richelieu, to consolidate the royal authority in France and to destroy all opposition to it, there could have been no Louis XIV. Without the "Grand Monarque," who declared himself the State, there would have been no call for a Robespierre, and without the horrors of the French Revolution a Napoleon could hardly have arisen. The story of Richelieu is therefore one of a peculiar interest.
Armand Jean du Plessis, of Richelieu, was born in Paris on the 5th of September, 1585. His family was noble, but not wealthy. His father was distinguished in arms and held several important posts at the court of Henry IV of France; his mother, the daughter of an ancient house, was a woman endowed with strong natural sense and was well educated. Five years after the birth of Armand his father died, leaving three sons, of whom he was the youngest, and two daughters, who were married early to nobles of the French court. In those days the Church and the Camp were the usual resources of the younger branches of noble houses, and as the bishopric of Lucon, which the family of Plessis could command for one of the sons, was destined for Alphonso, the second, Armand, the youngest of the three, was dedicated from his infancy to the profession of arms.
Having completed the course of his education, begun at home under the guidance of his mother, and rounded off in the colleges of Navarre and Lisieux, Richelieu, at as early an age as possible, entered the army. But an unforeseen event soon changed his plans. His brother Alphonso, who had been appointed to the bishopric, and who was of a melancholy temperament, suddenly formed the resolution of abandoning the world. Giving up his charge, he retired to a monastery. It was desirable that the See, thus left vacant, should be kept in the family; and accordingly Richelieu was induced to quit his profession of arms, and to apply him-self to the study of theology.
His theological studies seem to have been quickly completed. In 1606, while still considerably below the age which the Church had fixed for consecration to the episcopal office, he made his formal application to the Pope for appointment to the vacant See. His age being an obstacle in his way, he found it necessary to visit Rome, and have a personal interview with the Pope. The story of this interview has been told variously. The point of it is that the youthful applicant deceived the Pope as to his age, obtained the appointment, then confessed the lie he had told, and begged and obtained an absolution for his fault. The story goes on to say that the Pope, Paul V, instead of evincing any indignation at the deceit, admired the cleverness of the person who had practiced it.
A clever person indeed young Richelieu proved to be. Having obtained the bishopric, he decided to push his fortunes at the court. Here he found an ample field for the exercise of his peculiar talents, one of which, mendacity, has already been exemplified. To this may be added cunning, hypocrisy, a long head and a total lack of principle. Add to these virtues, every one of which became conspicuously prominent in the course of his career, an oily tongue and a suave manner, and we have the secret of his first successes. France had long been rent by factions which had been quietly but not wholly suppressed by the power of Henry IV, and the court of that monarch was still filled with jealous and intriguing leaders, each bent on promoting his own interests. To none of these parties did the far-sighted bishop of Luçon attach himself. He selected as the person most likely to aid in his advancement an Italian adventurer, Concino Concini, who stood in especial favor with the Queen, Mary de' Medici, and to him he paid court.
Fortune, in a very unexpected way, proved propitious to Richelieu in this first move. On the 14th of May, 161o, Henry IV was assassinated, and the regency of the Kingdom fell immediately into the hands of Mary de' Medici. The schemes of the great monarch were abandoned as soon as his eyes were closed. An instant scramble took place at court for power and favor, among the turbulent nobles, the chief of whom were the Prince of Condé, the Duke of Bouillon, the Count of Soissons; but this period of the regency may be dismissed with the simple statement that during it Riche-lieu made himself so serviceable to the Queen that she appointed him one of the counselors of the State, and that he also succeeded in making himself heartily hated by the nobles of all factions.
Louis XIII was a weak and irresolute Prince, who found his chief pleasure in the chase, and was well content to leave to his mother the trouble of ruling the Kingdom. There was, therefore, some surprise at court when, on attaining his majority, he resolved to take the Government into his own hands. He chose as his first counselor Luines, a young man of no very high qualifications, who had been his favorite comrade; and he signalized the beginning of his reign by causing the assassination of Concini, the favorite of his mother, and making her an honorable prisoner in the Castle of Blois. The Ministers who had been appointed by Mary were dismissed, with the exception of Richelieu, who, with his usual sagacity, had taken good care to secure the friendship of Luines, who now interceded for him with the King. Finding, however, that the King, though he retained him in his council, was not disposed to be particularly gracious, Richelieu retired from the court to his bishopric at Luçon.
A plot was formed to release the Queen-mother and restore her to power. She was taken from Blois by the Duke of Epernon and was conducted to Angoulême. Negotiations followed between the King and his mother, in which Richelieu was invited to take a leading part. Terms of reconciliation were agreed upon, and a meeting between the King and his mother, at which Richelieu was present, took place at Tours. The Queen refused, however, to return to Paris with her son, and presently their harmony was again disturbed by the failure of the King to perform all the stipulations of their agreement. A revolt of Normandy in the Queen's behalf followed, which was put down by Condé. Then there were fresh negotiations, Richelieu again acting as the Queen's friend and counselor. Matters were finally adjusted and the Queen returned to Paris.
One of the stipulations of this new treaty of Mary with the King was that he should apply to the See of Rome for a Cardinal's hat for her favorite, Richelieu. The application was made, but the Pope was given to understand that the King was not particularly interested in the matter, and it was not until after many subterfuges had been resorted to by the King to pre-vent the fulfilment of the wishes of his mother that Richelieu was finally created a Cardinal.
Before this event occurred Luines, the King's favorite adviser, died. Luines had from the first been a firm friend of Richelieu, and by his death all the hopes which the prelate had conceived from this friendship were destroyed in a day. But the King was now without a favorite, and Richelieu determined to force himself into the vacant place. The task would not be easy, for Louis had on every occasion evinced toward him a personal dislike and distrust, which were carefully fostered by all who dreaded the prelate's superiority. But Richelieu schemed and waited, anticipating that the machinations of one weak courtier against another would, in the end, render his powerful aid necessary to the monarch, and the event justified his sagacity.
Richelieu was made a Cardinal on the 25th of September, 1622, and a few days afterward, was, through the solicitation of the Queen-mother, again admitted to the Privy Council, in which his ecclesiastical rank gave him precedence over all the other members. Louis had had a number of favorites since the death of Luines. At this time that station was filled by Vieville, a man who had shown some caution before his rise, but had subsequently so far presumed upon his influence with the King as to have signed orders, corresponded with Ambassadors, agreed to treaties, without the sanction of the monarch or the council. Vieville hated Riche-lieu, and once when the King repeated to him some of the praises of the Cardinal, which were constantly poured into his ears, the favorite had the imprudence to reply that the Cardinal was certainly a man of talent; but, if he were to be intrusted with authority, the King would soon have to ask his mother's permission before he went out to hunt. The monarch was offended, and the Queen still more so, and every art was employed to work the downfall of the rash favorite. He was not long in affording himself an occasion by omitting an article from the treaty relating to the marriage of Charles I of England and Henrietta of France, without the knowledge of the King. Louis himself, overcoming his natural timidity, reproved him so severely that Vieville resigned the offices which he held. A few days afterward he was arrested and imprisoned in the castle of Amboise. From that moment Richelieu assumed the entire direction of the council, and his authority knew only a brief interruption until the end of his days.
One of Richelieu's first measures as virtual Prime Minister of France brought him into direct collision with the Pope. Austria had seized upon the territories of the Grisons, thus securing her communication between the Tyrol and the Milanese. France, in connection with Switzerland and Savoy, had objected, and pre-pared to oust the Austrians by force. Austria had made over the territory in trust to the Pope. Negotiations had followed which the Pope had craftily prolonged. Thus stood the transaction when Richelieu was admitted to the council of France, and from that moment the aspect of affairs was changed. He menaced, as former Ministers had menaced, but did more; he began to act. When the papal nuncio remonstrated with him personally, asking how he, a prelate of the Church of Rome, could reconcile it to his conscience to make war against the head of that Church, he at once defined the line between the spiritual and secular dominion of the Holy See, and intimated that he would be always ready to meet all her secular operations with secular means. He added that if the Pope impugned this doctrine, he would have it supported by a hundred doctors of the Sorbonne. The reply was followed up by sending rapidly through Switzerland a small French force into the territory in dispute. The Austrians and Papal troops were taken by surprise and retired without resistance, while the French occupied the abandoned forts. Then Richelieu listened to the appeal of the Holy See, and granted a suspension of hostilities.
An attack made by the French upon Genoa, which nearly produced a rupture between France and Austria, occurred soon after this event; but it led to no important consequences, and may be passed over. It would appear that from his first accession to power Richelieu meditated war with both branches of the house of Austria, partly from the personal motive of rendering himself necessary to the King and partly because to snatch from the Emperor some portion of his great power was necessary to the safety of France and of Europe. But before he could-venture upon foreign war it was essential to secure the internal tranquillity of France.
The turbulent state of the French court after the death of Henry IV, the daring insolence of the nobles, have already been referred to. To this source of danger must be added the more justifiable movements of the Huguenots. There can be no doubt that Richelieu both clearly discerned the causes and had considered the best means of putting an end to disorders which arose in the abused power of some classes and tended to the ruin of the whole. Throughout his ministry we shall find but one general plan pursued for crushing all resistance to the royal authority, on whatever ground it was raised. The plan itself and the means employed for executing it speak strongly of the arbitrary and despotic nature of the man, though it must be admitted that there was necessity for the intervention of a strong hand to regulate the disorganized state of France. The principal bodies with which he had to deal were the nobility, the Parliaments, and the Huguenots. He determined to crush them all; he determined that the King should be absolute master in his Kingdom, with the saving clause that he, Riche-lieu, should be master of the King. Such was the ambitious aim of Richelieu, and such was the work which he actually accomplished.
His first success was won over the nobility. The opportunity was afforded by the famous conspiracy of Chalais. Gaston of France, Duke of Anjou, and after-ward Duke of Orleans, the King's only brother, was a young man of a vacillating character, easily led by men of stronger purpose. The Duke was gradually involved by the enemies of Richelieu in an intrigue which, though at first it seemed to have no other purpose than to secure for him and his friends recognition which had been refused them in the counsels of the State, ended in a conspiracy to assassinate the Cardinal. The plot was discovered through the imprudence of one of the conspirators, the Marquis de Chalais, who revealed all its details to a friend whom he expected to draw into it, but who, to his dismay, not only refused to lend his aid, but insisted that Chalais should accompany him to Richelieu and make a complete disclosure, which he did. And now we have an example of the finesse of the wily Cardinal. Instead of ordering the arrest of the conspirators, Richelieu simply took care to foil by his movements the concerted attack, in which the Duke of Anjou himself was to have taken a part, and allowed the conspiracy to run on, Chalais being ordered to keep up his relations with the plotters.
At length, in the month of May, 1626, the court removed to Blois, and the intrigue proceeded so rapidly, and had extended so far, that Richelieu found it was necessary to cut it short. Already it comprehended almost all the great nobles whom he had cause to fear. Accordingly, the net was drawn in. The great majority of those who were caught, from being allied by blood to the King, were sheltered from the extreme of Riche-lieu's vengeance. But he had the satisfaction of causing the arrest of the powerful Duke of Vendome and his brother, and stripping both of their dignities. The Duke of Epernon and his son, the Marquis la Valette, took warning in time and fled to Metz. Against the Duke of Anjou nothing, of course, could be done, but he was used as an instrument for discovering and punishing his confederates. Chalais had foolishly involved himself more deeply in the conspiracy. The King was brought to believe that he had entertained the design of poisoning him at the instigation of the Duke of Anjou. Chalais was arrested and executed, but not until he had made a confession so serviceable to Richelieu that it was generally believed to have been extorted from him by a promise of pardon.
This confession of Chalais was held by Richelieu as a club with which to keep the most powerful of his enemies at a distance from the court. He also made it a means of publicly insulting the young Queen, Anne of Austria, and of giving the King that aversion and distrust toward her which he henceforward showed to the end of his life. No children had hitherto proceeded from the royal marriage, and in the declaration of Chalais it appeared that one of the objects of the conspiracy had been to declare the King impotent, to confine him to a monastery and, marrying the Duke of Anjou to his brother's wife, to place him on the throne of the deposed monarch. The young Queen was brought before the council, was compelled to listen to the recital of this absurd story, and was then reproached and threatened by the King on account of plans in which there was not the slightest probability of her having taken any part.
The danger incurred by Richelieu from this conspiracy was made the pretext for obtaining from the King a' guard to protect his person. Henceforward, besides being Prime Minister, he became Grand Master of the Navigation and Commerce of France.
Richelieu next turned his attention to the Huguenots, who were even more objectionable in his sight than the nobles, because they had justice on their side and the sympathy of all who loved justice throughout Europe. The Huguenots formed, in a certain sense, a State within a State. They had their own nobles, their own leaders, their own magistrates; they possessed their own towns, had their own fleets and their own armies; they were an enterprising and industrious people, united in a bond of union which gave energy to small means. There were two ways of dealing with them. The first was to do them justice, to fulfill all that had been promised by the edict of Nantes, and in subsequent treaties, and thus gradually to attach them to the Government of France. The second was to crush them and take away their means of defense. Richelieu chose the latter course.
The great stronghold of the Huguenots was the town of Rochelle, on the southwest coast of France. Without detailing the earlier operations in a war into which they had been forced by the persistent failure of the King to keep his promises to them, and which was carried on both in this section of France and in Languedoc, where they were also strong, we may come at once to the famous siege of Rochelle. England had espoused the cause of the Huguenots, and an English fleet under Buckingham was already off Rochelle prepared to throw provisions and reënforcements into the place, when Richelieu, resorting to his peculiar tactics of diplomacy, induced the authorities of the town to close their gates to their English allies, by holding out to them the prospect of an advantageous peace. Bucking-ham, excluded from Rochelle, made some demonstrations at different points on the French coast, and then returned to England.
Already Rochelle had been invested on the land side by an army commanded by the Duke of Orleans, yet very little had been accomplished. But at length the King, who had been detained by a fever, arrived, accompanied by Richelieu, and affairs soon assumed a different aspect. This was late in the autumn of 1627. During the winter the works against the town proceeded, while the royal army, with the King and Cardinal at the head, passed the whole of the inclement season in the field. Richelieu had assumed a new character, that of General, and a certain portion of the works was placed under his command.
But while on the land side Rochelle was completely invested, its port was still open, and through this avenue supplies were continually carried into the city. To close the port Richelieu conceived a plan, which, while it was worthy of his daring and energetic mind, was so vast in conception that both friends and enemies prognosticated its failure. Choosing a spot on which the cannon of the town could not be brought to bear, Richelieu deter-mined there to construct a dyke across the mouth of the long and narrow port of Rochelle. The work was one of immense labor, and its progress was slow; yet day after day the people of Rochelle found themselves more and more straitened, till at length the whole work was completed, shutting up the port by a mound across its mouth three-fourths of a mile in length, eighty feet in breadth at the base and twenty-five feet broad at the causeway on the top.
After the construction of this gigantic piece of engineering the surrender of the town was only a question of time. The terms granted were far less severe than might have been expected. A general pardon was granted for the past, the exercise of the Protestant religion was guaranteed to all; and all rights to their property in or out of the town were secured to the Protestants. But the King reserved the regulation of their magistracy to himself, and announced his determination of raising the fortifications of the town.
Fifteen thousand persons are said to have died of hunger, or of disease during the siege of Rochelle. In many of the houses whole families were found dead. Large quantities of provisions, however, were brought into the city, by order of Richelieu, and the starvation was arrested.
While the siege of Rochelle was still in progress an event occurred in Italy which led to hostilities between France and Austria. The Duke of Mantua died without children, and two persons laid claim to the right of succeeding to his Dukedom, one of whom the Duke of Nevers, a Frenchman, succeeded in getting possession of the duchy. France espoused the cause of Nevers, while the Duke of Savoy, aided by the Spaniards, took up the cause of the rival claimant. The Pope was drawn into the controversy and also the Emperor of Austria. The war which followed was confined to Savoy, whither the King and Richelieu together led an army of 30,000 men, and it ended after little more than a demonstration of hostility on the part of France, in a treaty which ensured the Duke of Nevers the possession of Mantua.
In connection with this war there occurred incidents of much greater interest than the military operations occurrences which led to the final rupture of Richelieu with his benefactress, Mary de' Medici. Persuaded by the predictions of astrologers that the King was drawing near his end, and that the Duke of Orleans, his brother, would soon mount the throne of France, Mary sought earnestly to force her younger son into a marriage with Anne, daughter of the Grand Duke of Tuscany, a Princess over whom she hoped to establish a permanent influence. But Orleans objected, for two excellent reasons, first, because Anne was ugly, and, second, because he was deeply in love with the beautiful Mary de Gonzague, daughter of the Duke of Nevers, the same who had just inherited the duchy of Mantua. A family quarrel was the consequence, into which the King and finally Richelieu were drawn.
Without going into all of the particulars of a matter which ran on for a year or more, we may come to the catastrophe. Mary had become furious both at the continued obstinacy of her son, the Duke of Orleans, and at the opposition which she had sustained from Richelieu in the course of her maneuvers. She had on one occasion taken the bold step of arresting and confining the Princess Mary and her aunt, an abuse of authority which greatly incensed the King, who lost no time in liberating the prisoners. Richelieu is said to have expressed himself strongly to the monarch in regard to his mother's views, pointing out that if he suffered her to extend her influence in such a manner, her domination must soon become insupportable, and from this time forward the Minister used all his power gradually to deprive Mary de' Medici of the authority which he had formerly contributed to restore.
At last came the crisis. The King, desirous of effecting a reconciliation between his mother and his Minister, obtained her permission to introduce to her presence Richelieu and his niece, Madame de Combalet, who was one of the ladies of her household, with a promise that she would treat them civilly. But she had determined on this occasion to bring her influence over the King to a last trial against that of the Cardinal. When the Minister and his niece arrived, she ordered them to be admitted separately. As soon as she beheld Richelieu's niece all her passions broke forth, and she assailed her with such low and violent invective that Madame de Combalet retired from her presence in tears.
Richelieu saw from the countenance of his niece, as she passed through the room in which he waited, the reception she had met with, and soon found that his own was not to be milder. The Queen forgot the dignity of her station and the softness of her sex, and in language more fitted for the market than the court, called him rogue and traitor, and perturber of the public peace; then, turning to the King, she endeavored to persuade him that Richelieu wished to take the crown from his head, in order to place it upon that of the Count of Soissons.
When Richelieu, at the King's command, withdrew from the Queen's presence, he was in such uncertainty as to how the affair would end, that he ordered preparations to be made for his immediate departure from Paris. He felt sure of the King's regard, but distrusted the King's firmness, and his perplexity was increased when the King, at the close of the interview with his mother, left Paris for Versailles without seeing his Minister. These proceedings had been watched by the courtiers, and every one now believed the rule of Richelieu at an end. Directly the salons of the Luxembourg, where this scene had taken place, were crowded with eager nobles ready to worship the rising authority of the Queen-mother and to triumph with her over the fall of the favorite. Lucky were the few who were more circumspect and preferred to wait. It was not long until the news was circulated in whispers that the King had summoned Richelieu to Versailles.
The Cardinal was received by Louis with abundant expressions of regard and confidence. Rumors every moment reached Versailles of the immense concourse that was flocking to pay court to the Queen-mother, while the King himself was nearly deserted. Nothing could have better served the interests of Richelieu, since all that he had said of the Queen's ambition was thus confirmed in the monarch's mind. Measures were at once concerted for punishing the principal personages of the Queen's cabal. Richelieu had carried the day.
The news spread quickly. On the following day the halls of the Luxembourg were deserted. The Queen-mother found herself abandoned by all those fawning sycophants, whose confidence and disappointment procured for the day preceding the day of St. Martin, 1630 the title in French history of The Day of Dupes.
The outcome of this breach between the King and his mother was that not long after these occurrences Mary de' Medici was removed from court. She was at first banished to Compiegne. From this place she made her escape, with the connivance of Richelieu, and failing to find an asylum in France, crossed the borders into Flanders. The Duke of Orleans, aided by the Duke of Lorraine, raised a revolt in behalf of the banished Queen, which was quelled, however, with but little difficulty. The Duke of Lorraine made his peace with the King, while Orleans joined his exiled mother in Flanders. The adherents of the Queen and of Orleans were declared guilty of treason and their property was confiscated.
The power of Richelieu was now as nearly absolute as it well could be. There was but one opposing power left the Parliament. But this obstacle was easily brushed aside. The Parliament was declared to be incompetent to deal with the matters of State. For disposing of all cases in which the King was interested a Chamber of Justice was created, subservient wholly to his will which was that of his Minister.
Richelieu had, however, another rebellion to sup-press before his position was fully secure. In the beginning of July, 1632, the Duke of Orleans entered France on the side of Burgundy, and marching through Auvergne, proceeded toward Languedoc, which was the only province that openly favored his cause. The young Duke of Montmorency, son of the constable, commanded there as Governor, and dissatisfied with Richelieu as well as attached to the Queen-mother, he had engaged to give his support to the Duke of Orleans. In a battle near Castelnaudary, Montmorency was taken prisoner. The engagement had been a mere skirmish, and the Duke of Orleans, who commanded the main body of the insurgent army, instead of attempting a rescue, cowardly withdrew from the field. Orleans soon after made his peace with Richelieu, submitting to the most humiliating conditions. Montmorency was summarily tried, condemned, and executed in spite of the most strenuous efforts in his behalf. Neither the King nor Richelieu could be moved to extend mercy to one who, though taken in arms, had on more than one occasion rendered signal service to the State, and who, more-over, was the last of a long line of noble ancestors who had served with distinction on the staff of the monarchy. This execution of Montmorency was one of the most heartless of Richelieu's many cold-blooded deeds, far less effective toward restoring harmony in the State than would have been the pardon, which all the nobles of the realm solicited, and peculiarly odious from the circumstance that Montmorency had once offered to stand by Richelieu in a moment of extreme peril. Only two years before this time the King lay dangerously ill at Lyons. His death was momentarily looked for. Richelieu was in despair. In the event of the King's death his situation would be desperate indeed. The King himself realized this fact and obtained a promise of Montmorency, then Governor of Languedoc, to convey Richelieu in this event to a place of safety. What was the motive of the Cardinal's implacability toward the unhappy Duke now, does not appear, but there can be no doubt that Richelieu counseled the King to severity, and Louis was willing to follow his advice.
After pacifying Languedoc, Richelieu rearranged the governorships of the provinces, removing hostile or suspected Governors and putting his own friends in their places. By the end of 1632 he had crushed all the serious elements of resistance throughout France.
The Duke of Orleans returned to Brussels, where, however, he was for a time shunned by his mother, who was justly offended that in the treaty he had concluded her interests had been totally forgotten. The unhappy Mary de' Medici still hoped to make some arrangement with Louis which would enable her to return to France, nor did she ever abandon this hope, notwithstanding the cold and unfilial treatment of her son. This seems a convenient place for concluding her story. Having remained for some years in Flanders, eagerly and vainly pressing for readmission to the court of France, and ever making her terms more moderate, she proceeded to England, arriving there just at the time when her son-in-law, Charles I, had entered upon his disastrous struggle with his Parliament. Thence she renewed her petitions to the King of France and the Cardinal. But Richelieu had from the first determined that the Queen-mother should never return to France; he had offended too deeply to forgive or to be forgiven. The King, whose scruples were only those instilled by his confessor, was easily prevailed upon to reject all her petitions. But even this did not satisfy the hatred with which Richelieu persecuted his former benefactress. He found an excuse for withholding her dowry and thus depriving her of almost every comfort, and moreover, he procured her dismissal from England. Abandoned by her own children and trampled on by the creature of her bounty, the unhappy Mary de' Medici found herself deprived of every honorable refuge. The States of Holland dared not give her an asylum; the Regent of the Low Countries refused to receive her again. Betaking herself to the old city of Cologne, she lived there for a short time longer in indigence and neglect, and died an object of pity to all, but of affection to few.
Having regulated satisfactorily the internal affairs of France, having crushed opposition to his authority with an iron hand, Richelieu was able now to devote all his energies to the work of making great the Nation of which he had obtained control. His ambition was to enlarge her territory, to bring out her strength, and to make her the dominant power among the Nations. To do this he must humble the house of Austria, whose preponderating influence was a menace, not only to France, but to all Europe. To this one end was directed his whole foreign policy. Even the interest of his Church was subordinated to his politics, and he who cordially hated the' Protestants and who had crushed them in France, was ready when the interest of France demanded to extend his aid to the Protestants of Germany.
The policy of Richelieu with relation to Austria was a simple one in conception, though not always easy of execution. It was to give aid to her enemies, without entering into actual hostilities, and without calling down upon himself the indignation of all the Catholics of Europe by giving too open support to the Protestants. He assisted the Netherlands in their struggle with the Spaniard, and he formed an alliance with the famous Gustavus Adolphus, who had espoused the cause of the German Protestants.
In the same year (1632) in which Richelieu was engaged in putting down the revolt of the Duke of Orleans occurred the battle of Lützen, in which Gustavus Adolphus lost his life. Richelieu saw with alarm that Austria might soon be free to retaliate on France the many insults which she had been obliged to bear patiently while engaged with her struggle with the Swedish monarch. He applied himself therefore diligently, not only to impede the progress of all negotiations for either a truce or a peace, but also to encourage her enemies in other quarters. He formed an alliance with the Swedes, now commanded by Oxenstiern, the Minister of the late King, in which he stipulated to pay Sweden a subsidy of 1,000,000 livres per annum, in order to continue the war against the Empire. At the same time, as a negotiation was in progress at The Hague for a peace, or at least for a truce, between the United Provinces and the Spaniards of Flanders, Richelieu applied himself to put a stop to such a proceeding, by offering a million per annum to the States as long as they continued the war in that quarter, together with a secret reinforcement of 6,000 foot and 1,000 horse, to be sent as privately as possible by sea.
While Richelieu in this underhand way kept the hands of Austria tied, he availed himself of the opportunity to make the conquest of the Duchy of Lorraine, which he annexed to France. Various other encroachments upon the Empire were also made upon the same line, so that France bid fair soon to have nothing for her boundary but the Rhine. But presently the tide of affairs turned. The Swedes were unfortunate. Austria gained successes in Germany which left her free to turn her attention to France. The Cardinal then saw that the time for petty encroachments had passed, and he advised the King to give the most powerful support that the country could afford to the enemies of the house of Austria. He prepared at once to carry war into Germany, Flanders, and Italy.
This was in 1634. From now on, until the close of his life a period of seven years Richelieu was engaged in foreign warfare. To give details of the various campaigns would be impracticable here; a statement of general results must suffice. The first campaigns in 1635 were generally disastrous to the French. They were worsted on the sides of Savoy, Lorraine, and Flanders, though a few successes were gained elsewhere. The people murmured, and the whole blame was thrown upon the Cardinal. In the next year matters became still worse. The Spaniards entered France from the Low Countries and advanced toward Paris as far as Compiègne. The Parisians imagined that the Spanish troops were already at their gates; the King gave him-self up to despair, and the lower orders made the streets ring with execrations upon the Cardinal. Richelieu was in poor health, but though suffering in body, and, we may well believe, in mind, he showed all the firmness which the situation required. He came to the capital, and by extraordinary efforts, he succeeded in raising an army of 50,000 men, with which he marched out to meet the enemy. The Spaniards, unable to keep the field against the superior power of France, retreated before it, throwing strong garrisons into Roye and Corbie, in the hope that reinforcements from the Low Countries would enable them to return and relieve those places, if besieged. Roye soon surrendered, and not long after Corbie, also, capitulated and Richelieu returned triumphant to Paris.
The military operations of the next four years may be dismissed with the statement that no great battles were fought, and that the successes and defeats were quite fairly apportioned between France and her enemies.
We come to the year 1642, the last year of the life of Richelieu. He is feeble in body, though still as vigorous in mind as ever. There is a perceptible coldness in the King's demeanor toward him, for Cinq-Mars, grand écuyer, one of the creatures of Richelieu, has become weary of the domination of his master, and having established himself in the favor of Louis, has formed the design of the effecting the ruin of the Cardinal. The French army is to operate against Rousillon, on the lower border of France, and the Minister has deter-mined, notwithstanding his bodily infirmities, to super-intend the operations of the army in person; but not daring to leave the King exposed to the machinations of those who envied his power, he determines to carry the monarch with him.
Before setting out on this campaign, Richelieu gave to the court and the officers of the army one of those sumptuous entertainments by which from time to time he had displayed both his love of ostentation and a taste of a higher and more refined kind; then accompanied by the King, he set out for Rousillon, proposing ultimately to carry the war into the heart of Spain.
The most careful preparations had been made for this expedition by the forethought of Richelieu, and in its conduct he took the chief part. His main operation was against the town of Perpignan. The town was strongly fortified and garrisoned, and was able to hold out for some months. During the progress of the siege Richelieu was taken ill; an abscess formed upon his arm; his lungs became affected, and leaving the King in command of the army he remained at Narbonne. All this while Cinq-Mars was working his conspiracy; he had drawn into it the Dukes of Bouillon and Orleans, had won popularity with the army, and accustomed the King to listen to bitter charges against the Minister. On his bed of sickness at Narbonne Richelieu heard rumors of his own loss of favor and of the ascendency of his enemies, and so despondent did he become that he is believed at one time to have meditated flight. But fortune favored him on this as it had done on many similar occasions. A copy of a treaty which the conspirators had made with Spain fell into his hands and was communicated to the King. Cinq-Mars, with others, was arrested, and the adroitness of Richelieu succeeded in drawing out all the details of the plot Again the Minister had triumphed over his enemies, The King, convinced, though against his will, that treason had been meditated, humbly begged his Minister's forgiveness for having doubted his loyalty.
The King now returned to Paris, and Richelieu, having gained a little strength, soon followed him thither. borne in a magnificent litter, and thus, though ill, entered Paris with the pomp of an Eastern monarch-In due time Cinq-Mars was tried, convicted, and executed, together with one of his confederates. The Duke of Orleans was forgiven, as usual, and, as usual, was made to testify against his associates. Bouillon saved his life by surrendering up in exchange for it to France the principality of Sedan. This cession of Sedan and the capture of Perpignan, which fell in September, says Michelet, "were the last present made by Richelieu to France."
Upon reaching Paris Richelieu's health failed steadily. By the end of November it became apparent to all, himself included, that his case was hopeless, and all the rites were performed which the Catholic faith required for the dying. During his last hours the King came to see him twice. Richelieu is said to have bidden his friends adieu with calmness and serenity. He appeared to regret no act of his life, and declared that all that he had done was undertaken for the benefit of the State and the Catholic faith. On the 4th of December, 1642, an abscess, which had long been advancing in the chest, broke, and in less than half an hour Richelieu expired.
No man was ever so cordially hated, nor by so many, as Richelieu, and no man ever stood so long on so slender a platform and so defiantly fought off his assailants. A single false step, or the accident of the King's death, would instantly have hurled him from his towering height, and only a miracle could have saved his life; yet he continued to the end to stand in this perilous position and to fight for himself and for France.
That Richelieu honestly believed that he was serving the best interests of his country that his ambition was not purely personal there is no reason to doubt. But history, seeking to render an impartial verdict, has declared that, while some of his acts were beneficial, on the whole his work did France a lasting injury. He found France in a state of anarchy; he introduced into it order and peace. But instead of simply checking the turbulent nobility and bringing them into a just subordination to the King, he aimed to destroy them by taking away their fortunes and thus reducing them in the end to the condition of dependants on the King's will. By taking away the privileges of the Parliament, where a wise statesman would have been content with reforming abuses, he took away from the people their means of defense against the arbitrary will of the sovereign. The wide gap between what Richelieu did for Frame and what, with his power, he might have done, may be seen in the subsequent history of France as contraste(' with that of England.