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Armand Jean du Plessis Richelieu, duc de

Richelieu, Armand Jean du Plessis, duc de (Cardinal Richelieu)ärmäNˈ zhäN dü plĕsēˈ dük də rēshəlyöˈ, 1585–1642, French prelate and statesman, chief minister of King Louis XIII, cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church. Consecrated bishop of Luçon (1607), he was a delegate of the clergy to the States-General (1614). In 1616, through the favor of the king's mother, Marie de' Medici, he became a secretary of state. He went into exile with Marie after the king freed himself from her influence with the aid of the duc de Luynes. The death (1621) of Luynes and the reconciliation of Louis XIII and Marie restored Richelieu to favor. In 1622 he was made cardinal, and he became chief minister in 1624. The growing jealousy of Marie and the great nobles endangered his position, and in 1630 Marie supported a conspiracy against Richelieu. She was unable to win the king's support, however, and was exiled. Richelieu then had full control of the government. His domestic policy aimed at consolidating and centralizing royal authority, which had as its corollary the destruction of the power of the Huguenots and the great nobles. The Huguenots were humbled by the capture of La Rochelle (1628); the peace of Alais (1629) ended their special political privileges—without, however, denying them religious toleration. Conspiracies of the nobles, who invariably found a figurehead in the king's brother Gaston d'Orléans, were rigorously suppressed. In foreign affairs, Richelieu reacted against Marie de' Medici's pro-Hapsburg diplomacy in favor of the traditional French anti-Spanish and anti-Austrian policy. To this end he strengthened the army and the navy, made alliances with the Netherlands and the German Protestant states, and subsidized Gustavus II of Sweden against the Holy Roman Emperor in the Thirty Years War. In 1635 he formed an active alliance with Sweden and Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar, and France entered the Thirty Years War. Although Richelieu died before the peace was signed (1648; see Westphalia, Peace of), the terms agreed to were in general conformity to his aims. In France, the war resulted in heavy taxation; this, combined with Richelieu's poor management of finances, depleted the treasury and caused dissatisfaction with his rule. Overseas, however, he encouraged commercial capitalism, organizing companies to trade in the Indies and Canada. He was a patron of the arts and the founder of the French Academy. Among his literary works are his memoirs (1650) and the Testament politique (1688, tr. 1961).

See biographies by R. Lodge (1896, repr. 1970), C. Burckhardt (tr. 1940), and J.-V. Blanchard (2011); studies by F. C. Palm (1922, repr. 1970), C. V. Wedgwood (1949, rev. ed. 1962), G. R. R. Treasure (1972), E. W. Marvick (1983), and J. Bergin (1985).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: French History: Biographies


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