Cardinal Richelieu and his Influence on the World

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  • 0:05 16th Century Europe
  • 0:52 Who Was Richelieu?
  • 1:41 Richelieu's Career
  • 3:53 Richelieu Versus the Huguenots
  • 6:53 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Elam Miller

Jessica has taught college History and has a Master of Arts in History

Cardinal Richelieu was a powerful man in secular matters. This lesson explores how he came to power and the battle with the Huguenots that dominated most of his career.

16th Century Europe

Richelieu was one of the most important French politicians of the 1600s

In the 1500s Europe was experiencing tremendous changes. A resurgence in classical education, which is education based on writings by ancient philosophers and scientists, led to a trend in questioning established norms. The Protestant Reformation led to masses of people questioning the doctrines and power of the Catholic Church. Meanwhile, explorers were discovering new lands across the Atlantic. The more changes occurred, the more important it became for those in power to expand their reach and cling to their authority. Politics became imperative in the lives of those who craved influence. We'll see how the subject of this lesson, Cardinal Richelieu, helped the French monarchy hold tightly to its authority in this tumultuous time.

Who Was Richelieu?

Armand Jean du Plessis, who would become Cardinal Richelieu, was born in 1585. He was a dominant figure in French history. He is considered to be one of the greatest politicians in 17th century France.

Richelieu was the third son of the Lord of Richelieu. He received his education in Paris, France at the College de Navarre. After attending college he attended a military school. He then studied theology at the College de Calvi. Richelieu's family had planned for him to take over the family bishopric at Lucon in Poitou. A bishopric is a governing council over a congregation. He was ordained as a priest and a bishop in 1607. At the time, he was only 21 years old.

Richelieu's Career

Richelieu was a very ambitious man. In the wake of the changes sweeping Europe, he saw the opportunity to become a powerful man. By the time he was 28, he already had a good reputation within his diocese, or church district. He was skilled at speaking in public. He also strongly supported Roman Catholicism. Richelieu was also public about his support for Spain.

Currently, Marie de Medici was acting as ruler in France for her young son Louis XIII. De Medici was impressed with Richelieu's reputation and made him the official Chaplain to Anne of Austria. Anne was betrothed to de Medici's son, King Louis. Richelieu's reputation soon earned him an appointment of Secretary of State for War and Foreign Affairs.

Richelieu aided the reconciliation of Louis XIII and his mother
Louis XIII Marie de Medici Reconciliation

Richelieu had been strongly supported by a popular Italian politician named Concino Concini. Concini was killed in 1617. Then, when Louis was declared old enough to rule, his mother excluded him from political affairs to keep her own influential status. Louis, now old enough to act as king without his mother as regent, ordered his mother exiled. Richelieu joined her. Without his two biggest supporters, Richelieu faced a possible end to his career.

De Medici rebelled against her son after being exiled. She trusted few people to aid her in communicating with Louis during these times. Richelieu became her most trusted mediator. He helped communication between Louis and his mother become strong enough for them to reconcile. In 1621, she was allowed to return to her royal court with Richelieu's help.

De Medici praised Richelieu's skills as a politician. Europe was in the midst of the Thirty Years' War, a battle that began early as a fight between Catholics and Protestants but grew into power plays for European countries and rulers. Louis knew France was becoming more involved in the war and needed someone to advise him on foreign policy. With the encouragement of his mother, he appointed Richelieu a spot on the Royal Council in the spring of 1624. Later that year he made him Chief Minister.

Richelieu Versus the Huguenots

Richelieu's most notable achievement was his victory over the Huguenots. It is here that he won a major victory for centralized political power in France. The Protestant Reformation movement had spread throughout Europe and created many new religious sects. One of these groups was called Calvinists and followed the teachings of John Calvin. Calvinists believed the Bible held all the information needed for salvation rather than relying on Catholic Church officials for guidance. Calvinists in France were called Huguenots.

Louis made Richelieu Chief Minister during the Thirty Years War
Chief Minister Richelieu

Richelieu loathed the Huguenots. However, he initially tolerated their existence in France as long as they were loyal to the French king. Richelieu supported absolutism, that all power should be vested in one person, the French king. As the Huguenots grew stronger, they rebelled against the king. Richelieu saw the need to stamp out their presence in France.

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