Table of Contents
- Who Was Cardinal Richelieu?
- Cardinal Richelieu: Background and Context
- Cardinal Richelieu: Early Life
- What Did Cardinal Richelieu Do?
- Cardinal Richelieu: Significance and Impact
- Lesson Summary
Armand Jean du Plessis de Richelieu, better known as Cardinal Richelieu, was born in September 1585 in Poitou, France. Born to a lesser noble house, Cardinal Richelieu became a prominent statesman, and is best known for being the chief minister and advisor to King Louis XIII.
France in the 16th century was one of the most powerful nations on earth with Paris being the most populated city in Europe. Ruled by a king with absolute power, there were few elected positions and political appointments largely relied on favor from the reigning monarch. Though the nation as a whole flourished, one of the biggest problems of the time were the series of religious conflicts between the traditional Catholic Church and the recently established Protestant Church. Known as the French Wars of Religion, these bloody conflicts divided France both politically and religiously. From an early age these religious wars had a significant impact on Cardinal Richelieu, from the death of his father to an eventual tool to further his political agendas.
At the beginning of Cardinal Richelieu's political career, King Henry III of France was assassinated and since his heir Louis XIII was not old enough to take power, the authority in the government was passed to his mother Marie de Medici until he was of age. As regent to King Louis XIII, Marie de Medici's policies were seen as corrupt by the lower classes, and caused numerous issues both in court as well as among the common people. Cardinal Richelieu spent most of his early career as advisor to Marie de Medici, and eventually to King Louis XIII.
The Protestant Reformation began in 1517 and was a political, religious, and cultural fracturing of the Catholic Church and Europe as a whole. Based on the ideas of Martin Luther, the Reformation questioned the authority of the Pope and the practices of the Catholic Church at the time. This schism broke Europe into various pro-Catholic and pro-Protestant factions, which would spend the next several hundred years warring between one another for religious dominance. France in particular was heavily influenced by The Reformation, and numerous wars would be fought in the 16th and 17th century. As a high ranking member of the Catholic Church, Cardinal Richelieu resisted the advancements of The Reformation, and used his political power to prosecute and eliminate Protestant citizens of France, called Huguenots.
From the early 16th century France, much like the rest of Europe, spent a good deal of time exploring the New World, in particular the St. Lawrence River and Canada. Though France had attempted small settlements in Brazil and Florida, the first truly successful colony began in modern day Nova Scotia and Quebec at the beginning of the 17th century. Cardinal Richelieu played a pivotal role in the regulation of colonies, and created the Council of Marine to administer existing colonies as well as expand into new territories. While Cardinal Richelieu served as Chief Minister, France expanded to the Caribbean and toward the end of the 17th century had made some smaller colonies in India.
Armand Richelieu was born in September 1585 in Poitou, France during the reign of King Henry III. Often described as thin, weak, and sickly, he was the third son of a noble family of limited renown and was from an early age inclined toward education and schooling. This inclination is what eventually required Armand to be a member of the Catholic Church and pave the way for his future political career.
Traditionally the family history of Richelieu was that of an insignificant noble house that gained some prominence just prior to Armand's birth in 1585. Armand Richelieu's father was a relatively important individual, as he was the Grand Provost of France under Henry III in charge of certain duties such as taxation and administering justice. One of five children, Armand was the youngest son which meant he was of little political importance to his house which was reserved for the eldest son in 16th century France.
Armand was five years old when his father died during a campaign against the Protestants, and his family quickly went into debt. It was only through a royal grant issued by King Henry III that the Richelieu family was able to avoid complete political and financial destruction. This early brush with poverty motivated Armand to restore family honor and wealth which were immensely important at the time.
With the help of a royal grant from King Henry III, Armand was able to attend the College de Navarre in Paris at nine years old. Noted as being particularly gifted, Armand began studying theology at 17 years old. At 20 years old King Henry III nominated Armand to be Bishop of Lucon, though he was well below the minimum age of 35. Armand traveled to the Vatican to receive special permission from the Pope, and was made Bishop in April 1607 at 22 years old.
Cardinal Richelieu was one of the most powerful men in France during the mid 17th century. Though he was considered at one point to be second only to the King of France, he had numerous accomplishments both during and after his rise to extreme power. From his early career as a member of the Estates-General to his highest position as Chief Minister, Cardinal Richelieu had immense influence in the political and religious decisions of 17th century France.
After becoming Bishop of Lucon, Cardinal Richelieu quickly gained favor with local clergy and was elected as a member of the Estates-General in 1614. The Estates-General was an assembly of three different Estates made up of political or socioeconomic groups.
As a member of the Estates-General, Cardinal Richelieu was a supreme advocate of the church and argued for the advancement of the Council of Trent; a series of responses to the questions raised by the Protestant Reformation. Though this stance caused numerous conflicts with the Third Estate, his fervent defense of Catholicism gained him favor in other noble families.
After the Estate-General was dissolved in mid 1616, Richelieu was appointed as the personal chaplain of Anne of Austria, the soon to be queen of France. From this position Richelieu was made Secretary of State by Concino Concini, the most powerful minister in France. As Secretary of State, Richelieu was in charge of many foreign affairs and a close advisor to Marie de Medici. This did not last very long, because in 1617 Marie de Medici was overthrown, and her son Louis XIII officially took power as King of France.
With Marie de Medici imprisoned, Richelieu was removed as Secretary of State and was banished to Lucon. However in 1619, Marie de Medici would again gain political favor and would directly oppose her son King Louis XIII threatening a civil war in France. King Louis XIII recalled Richelieu to be a moderator between himself and his mother Marie de Medici. These negotiations resulted in Marie de Medici regaining her spot as a member of the court, and Richelieu being nominated to be made a cardinal in 1622.
These negotiations put Cardinal Richelieu again in favor with King Louis XIII and he was again gaining power. Within a year of his appointment to the king's council, Cardinal Richelieu was named Chief Minister.
The role of Chief Minister gave Cardinal Richelieu immense power in France that included military and economic decisions. Chief Minister Cardinal Richelieu's primary political agenda was the consolidation of power in France under an absolute monarch.
Cardinal Richelieu quickly earned a reputation as being brutal and decisive as the Chief Minister. During the first few years of his appointment, Cardinal Richelieu became increasingly worried about the Huguenots in France. He was not worried about their religious views, but rather that they were a political power in France that could eventually fight against the king as the dominant political power.
Cardinal Richelieu was an absolutist, meaning he believed that power should be with the crown and no one else. He completed this by using his powers as Chief Minister to increase the powers of the king, thereby removing powers from the noble classes. This idea created a centralized government that evolved into an absolute monarchy. Through his endeavors, Cardinal Richelieu shifted France from a kingdom with a power distributed through the noble class, to an absolute monarchy where King Louis XIII held almost total power.
At first, Cardinal Richelieu tolerated the Huguenots, but as their political power increased he began to despise them. Tensions between the Huguenots and French Catholics increased over the years, and further intensified when other Protestant countries such as England became involved. England openly supported the Huguenots in France, and this support culminated in war between the two factions in the early 1620s. During this time the Huguenots took control of the islands of Re and Oleron, angering many Catholic citizens of France. In 1626 King Louis XIII and the Huguenot leaders of La Rochelle along with their English allies, made a peace treaty which gave the Huguenots certain religious freedoms. Though this treaty was viewed as fair by many, Cardinal Richelieu disliked it immensely because England played an integral role in the negotiations. As an absolutist, Richelieu believed that internal French political discussions should involve France and no others.
Cardinal Richelieu waged war on the Huguenots at La Rochelle, and after two years of fighting ended with the Edict of Grace which stripped the Huguenots of all political power, military organization and land holdings, but gave them religious freedom.
Cardinal Richelieu began his career as a member of the clergy and a lower house of legislation, and ended as one of the most powerful men in France. His policies and actions lead to the creation of an absolute monarchy in France and the end to a series of religious wars between Catholics and Protestants. His actions further motivated French power and influence well after his death.
Cardinal Richelieu's persecution of the Huguenots and theories of absolutism reshaped France and created political and economic growth. With the power of the king secure, France was able to look outward and become one of the most powerful nations in Europe until the late 18th century.
After the conflicts with the Huguenots ended, Cardinal Richelieu began a military campaign to weaken France's European opponents, in particular Spain and Austria. A series of wars known as the Thirty Years War erupted in Europe at the time with a majority of the continent taking part. France arose from this conflict as a supreme power rivaled only by England.
In order to expand France's influences around the globe, Cardinal Richelieu emphasized the benefits of colonization. Through his policies France expanded to modern day Canada and the Caribbean. These colonies created an influx of wealth in France for the next several hundred years.
Cardinal Richelieu was one of the most influential political men in 17th century France. Through a mix of political savvy and military, he helped create an absolute monarchy in France and ended years of religious conflict. His focus on foreign colonization expanded France's borders and wealth for centuries, and he helped build France into one of Europe's most powerful nations.
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Cardinal Richelieu waged a series of wars against the Huguenots in the 17th century. These conflicts ended in the Edict of Grace that removed all military and political power from the Huguenots, but gave them religious freedom.
Cardinal Richelieu was Chief Minister to King Louis XIII. He served as his advisor, and had power of military and economic decisions.
Cardinal Richelieu was famous for his persecution of the Huguenots. Also, his focus on the creation of an absolute monarchy.
Cardinal Richelieu was Catholic. Although many of his policies aided the Protestants, and he made numerous allies with Protestants over his tenure, he was a member of the Catholic faith.
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