Visual History of the World




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Dictionary of Art and Artists


The Early Modern Period

16th - 18th century


The smooth transition from the Middle Ages to the Modern Age is conventionally fixed on such events as the Reformation and the discovery of the "New World," which brought about the emergence of a new image of man and his world. Humanism, which spread out of Italy, also made an essential contribution to this with its promotion of a critical awareness of Christianity and the Church. The Reformation eventually broke the all-embracing power of the Church. After the Thirty Years' War, the concept of a universal empire was also nullified. The era of the nation-state began, bringing with it the desire to build up political and economic power far beyond Europe. The Americas, Africa, and Asia provided regions of expansion for the Europeans.

Proportions of the Human Figure by Leonardo da Vinci (drawing, ca. 1490)
is a prime example of the new approach of Renaissance
artists and scientists to the anatomy of the human body.



France: From the Wars of Religion to the Eve of the Revolution


Historical Context

1589 - 1610 Henry XIV King of France
1610 - 1643 Reign of Louis XIII
1643 -1715 Reign of Louis XIV
1715 - 1774 Reign of Louis XV
1774 - 1792 Reign of Louis XVI
1793 Loius XVI & Marie Antoinette tried for treason and beheaded

The Rise of France under Henry IV and Cardinal Richelieu

Under the leadership of the cunning strategist Cardinal Richelieu, France was able to weaken the power of the Habsburgs in the Thirty Years' War and to centralize the French state.


After the turmoil of the Wars of Religion, Henry IV and his minister Sully set about reconstructing France.

But in 1610 the king was murdered by the Catholic fanatic 1 Ravaillac.

Ravaillac, the murderer of Henry IV, is quartered,
colored copper engraving, early 17th century

Maria de Medici, the mother of Henry's son who was still a minor, ran the affairs of state for him.

In 1616, she brought the future Cardinal Richelieu into the court.

He won the confidences of the reserved 3 Louis XIII and rose to become the leading minister in 1624.

4 Triumph of the regent Maria de Medici,
painting by
Peter Paul Rubens, 1623

see also collection:

Peter Paul Rubens

3 King Louis XIII, by Peter Paul Rubens

Such was his power that, following a conspiracy, he even forced the queen mother to flee the country.

Internationally, the gifted and unscrupulous power broker Richelieu sought to make France the leading power in Europe, while domestically he worked to strengthen the monarchy. He began by abolishing some of the special privileges of the nobility and oversaw a military campaign to crush the power of the French-protestant Huguenots. Provincial revolts against tax rises were also brutally suppressed.

5 The chapel of the Sorbonne, sponsored by Richelieu

At the same time, he was a generous patron of the 5 arts and founded the Academie francaise.

In foreign affairs, he seized the chance offered by the Thirty Years' War to weaken France's major rival, the Habsburgs. With cool calculation, he supported the Protestant princes against the Catholic emperor with both money and weapons. He also persuaded Gustav II Adolf of Sweden to fight the Habsburgs. Richelieu died in 1642, followed a year later by the king he had served, Louis XIII. France profited from the cardinal's aggressive policies in the Peace of Westphalia signed in 1648. The country gained territories in Alsace and the Pyrenees at the expense of the Habsburg Empire.

After his death, another Cardinal, the Italian 2 Mazarin, became first minister of the French government.

He initially ruled with Anna of Austria, Louis XIII's widow, who acted as regent for her son, Louis XIV.

2 Cardinal Mazarin



The Three Musketeers

Today, Richelieu is less known for his political achievements and services to the arts and culture - he was elected principal of the Sorbonne in 1622 - than for the role heplays in Alexandre Dumas' novel The Three Musketeers.

In it the young guardsman d'Artagnan fights together with the three inseparable musketeers Athos, Porthos, and Aramis against the sinister Richelieu. With the help qfthe mysterious lady de Winter, the jealous cardinal is determined to uncover a love affair between
Queen Anna of Austria and the English prime minister, Buckingham.


Louis XIII on horseback, with Cardinal Richelieu.



Louis XIII

Portrait of Louis XIII by Philippe de Champaigne

king of France
byname Louis the Just, French Louis le Juste

born September 27, 1601, Fontainebleau, France
died May 14, 1643, Saint-Germain-en-Laye

king of France from 1610 to 1643, who cooperated closely with his chief minister, the Cardinal de Richelieu, to make France a leading European power.

The eldest son of King Henry IV and Marie de Médicis, Louis succeeded to the throne upon the assassination of his father in May 1610. The queen mother was regent until Louis came of age in 1614, but she continued to govern for three years thereafter. As part of her policy of allying France with Spain, she arranged the marriage (November 1615) between Louis and Anne of Austria, daughter of the Spanish king Philip III. By 1617 the king, resentful at being excluded from power, had taken as his favourite the ambitious Charles d’Albert de Luynes, who soon became the dominant figure in the government. Louis exiled his mother to Blois, and in 1619–20 she raised two unsuccessful rebellions. Although Richelieu (not yet a cardinal), her principal adviser, reconciled her to Louis in August 1620, the relationship between the king and his mother remained one of thinly disguised hostility.

At the time of Luynes’s death (December 1621) Louis was faced with a Huguenot rebellion in southern France. He took to the field in the spring of 1622 and captured several Huguenot strongholds before concluding a truce with the insurgents in October. Meanwhile, in September Richelieu had become a cardinal. Louis still distrusted Richelieu for his past association with Marie de Médicis, but he began to rely on the cardinal’s political judgment. In 1624 he made Richelieu his principal minister.

Although Louis had displayed courage on the battlefield, his mental instability and chronic ill health undermined his capacity for sustained concentration on affairs of state. Hence Richelieu quickly became the dominant influence in the government, seeking to consolidate royal authority in France and break the hegemony of the Spanish and Austrian Habsburgs. Immediately after the capture of the Huguenot rebel stronghold of La Rochelle in October 1628, Richelieu convinced the king to lead an army into Italy (1629); but his campaign increased tensions between France and the Habsburgs, who were fighting the Protestant powers in the Thirty Years’ War. Soon the pro-Spanish Catholic zealots led by Marie de Médicis began appealing to Louis to reject Richelieu’s policy of supporting the Protestant states. During the dramatic episode known as the Day of the Dupes (November 10–12, 1630), the queen mother demanded that Louis dismiss Richelieu. After some hesitation, the king decided to stand by his minister; Marie de Médicis and Gaston, duc d’Orléans, Louis’s rebellious brother, withdrew into exile. Thereafter Louis adopted the cardinal’s merciless methods in dealing with dissident nobles.

In May 1635 France declared war on Spain; and by August 1636 Spanish forces were advancing on Paris. Richelieu recommended evacuation of the city; but Louis, in a surprising display of boldness, overruled him. The king rallied his troops and drove back the invaders. Late in 1638 he suffered a crisis of conscience over his alliances with the Protestant powers, but Richelieu managed to overcome his doubts. Meanwhile, Anne of Austria, who had long been treated with disdain by her husband, had given birth (September 1638) to their first child, the dauphin Louis (the future Louis XIV).

In 1642 Louis’s young favourite, the marquis de Cinq-Mars, instigated the last major conspiracy of the reign by plotting with the Spanish court to overthrow Richelieu; revelation of Cinq-Mars’s treason made Louis more dependent than ever on the cardinal. By the time Richelieu died in December 1642, substantial victories had been won in the war against the Spaniards, and Louis was respected as one of the most powerful monarchs in Europe. The king succumbed to tuberculosis five months later. He was succeeded by his son Louis XIV.

Encyclopaedia Britannica




Anne of Austria

queen of France
French Anne D’autriche
born Sept. 22, 1601, Valladolid, Spain
died Jan. 20, 1666, Paris

queen consort of King Louis XIII of France (reigned 1610–43) and regent during the opening years of the reign of her son King Louis XIV (from 1643).

The eldest daughter of King Philip III of Spain and Margaret of Austria, Anne was married to the 14-year-old Louis XIII in November 1615. Throughout his life Louis treated her with a cool reserve. In 1625 the English George Villiers, 1st duke of Buckingham, created a scandal at the French court by revealing his passion for the Queen. Her plight worsened as the powerful Cardinal de Richelieu, Louis XIII’s chief minister from 1624 to 1642, sought to prevent her from exercising any influence over her husband. Anne took as her confidante the scheming Marie de Rohan-Montbazon, duchesse de Chevreuse. Anne and the queen mother, Marie de Médicis, failed in their attempt to persuade Louis to dismiss the Cardinal (the Day of Dupes, 1630).

After Richelieu declared war on Anne’s brother, King Philip IV of Spain, in 1635, she remained sympathetic to the Spanish cause. Richelieu’s spies kept her under surveillance, and in 1637 the Cardinal humiliated her by proving that she had been visiting the nunnery of Val-de-Grâce in order to conduct treasonable correspondence with Philip. Her status at court was enhanced, however, by the birth of her two sons, the dauphin Louis (the future Louis XIV) in 1638, and Philippe (later duc d’Orléans) in 1640. Through the provisions of his will, Louis XIII attempted to deprive her of her right to be sole regent for Louis XIV. Louis XIII died in May 1643, and shortly thereafter Anne had the will annulled by the Parlement of Paris.

As soon as she was declared sole regent, the leading nobles demanded the restoration of the privileges they had lost under Richelieu. Determined that her son should succeed to the absolute power that Richelieu had won for Louis XIII, she resisted these demands and took as her first minister the Italian-born Cardinal Jules Mazarin, one of Richelieu’s most able associates. Anne and Mazarin were devoted to one another, and some historians have concluded that they were secretly married. Together they faced the series of revolts known as the Fronde (1648–53). The rebels forced Anne to dismiss Mazarin in February 1651, but, by faithfully following the Cardinal’s instructions, she was able to divide her enemies. The rebellion virtually collapsed in October 1652, and Mazarin returned to Paris.

Anne’s regency officially ended in 1651, when Louis XIV was proclaimed of age to rule. In 1659 France finally made peace with Spain, and the following year Louis XIV was married to Anne’s niece, Marie-Thérèse, the daughter of Philip IV.

Encyclopaedia Britannica


Anne of Austria by Peter Paul Rubens


see also collection:

Peter Paul Rubens


Anne of Austria by Peter Paul Rubens


Anne of Austria




Armand-Jean du Plessis, cardinal and duke de Richelieu

French cardinal and statesman
byname The Red Eminence, French L’éminence Rouge
(, (cardinal and duke of ),: )
born September 9, 1585, Richelieu, Poitou, Fr.
died December 4, 1642, Paris

chief minister to King Louis XIII of France from 1624 to 1642. His major goals were the establishment of royal absolutism in France and the end of Spanish-Habsburg hegemony in Europe.

Heritage, youth, and early career.
The family of du Plessis de Richelieu was of insignificant feudal origins but by intermarriage with the legal and administrative classes had risen to some prominence and had acquired the seigneury of Richelieu in Poitou. Armand-Jean’s father, François du Plessis, seigneur de Richelieu, was grand provost (chief magistrate) to Henry III, and his mother, Suzanne de la Porte, was the daughter of a councillor of the Parlement of Paris (the supreme judicial assembly). In his intelligence, administrative competence, and instinct for hard work, he resembled his middle-class ancestors.

He was five years old when his father died, leaving estates that had been ruined by inflation and mismanagement during the Wars of Religion (1562–98), and he was conscious from his earliest years of the threat of penury. This inspired in him the ambition to restore the honour of his house and evoked in him the sense of grandeur he was to attribute vicariously to France. His provident mother, with three boys and two girls, set about reorganizing the family’s precarious resources. The principal of these was the benefice of the bishopric of Luçon near La Rochelle, which had been granted by Henry III to the Richelieus under the Concordat of 1516. Unrest of the cathedral chapter threatened a revocation of the grant, and it became necessary for a member of the family to be consecrated bishop as soon as possible. Henri, the eldest son, was heir to the seigneury of Richelieu; and Alphonse, the second son, had become a Carthusian monk; so the obligation fell on Armand-Jean, who was a student.

The prospect of a career in the church was not displeasing to the thin, pale, and at times sickly boy, for he had an inclination toward learning, a facility for debate, and a relish for the prospect of governing the lives of others. Because he was below the canonical age for consecration upon the completion of his studies, he needed a papal dispensation. To gain it he went to Rome, where Paul V fell victim to the young man’s skill as a charmer. On April 17, 1607, at the age of 22, he was ordained priest and consecrated to the see of Luçon. He found on his arrival a diocese ruined by the Wars of Religion, a hostile chapter, and a demoralized clergy, but his opponents quickly succumbed to the unaccustomed authority that radiated from the episcopal palace.

Richelieu was the first bishop in France to implement in his diocese the reforms decreed by the Council of Trent, and he was also the first theologian to write in French and to establish the conventions of vernacular theological exposition. He was a hard-working, conscience-stricken man, combatting forces dedicated to divisive political and social ends—a man obsessed with order as a superior moral end.

Rise to power.
The France on which the Bishop of Luçon pondered gave every indication of falling again into the disorder of the Wars of Religion. The assassination of Henry IV in 1610 released separative forces that were endemic in the administrative system. The government of the queen mother, Marie de Médicis, as regent for Louis XIII, was corrupt, and the magnates of the realm, motivated by personal self-interest, struggled to control it. Their disobedience was accompanied by predatory expeditions of armed men and complex negotiations with the court, and on one of these occasions the Bishop of Luçon found himself an intermediary, which led to his being elected one of the representatives of the clergy of Poitou to the States General of 1614. He put all his energy into persuading the assembly of his talents and the court of his support for royal authority. In a clash between the clergy and the Third Estate (the middle classes, artisans, and peasants) on the subject of the relationship between the crown and the papacy he played a conciliatory role, and he was prominent in moves of the clergy to persuade the Third Estate that the decrees of the Council of Trent should be promulgated.

Some months later he was appointed chaplain to the new queen, Anne of Austria, which held the promise of eventual entry into the royal council, which, Richelieu had argued at the States General, should accord first place to prelates of distinction. Clever negotiations with another disobedient faction led to his appointment as a secretary of state in 1616.

Up to this time Richelieu had had no insight into international relations, and the regard for Spain with which he was credited was probably genuine because he had had no occasion to question Spain’s ambitions. His year of office, however, coincided with war between Spain (ruled by a Habsburg dynasty) and Venice, which invoked its alliance with France. The resultant involvement persuaded Richelieu of the vulnerability of France to Habsburg political and economic encirclement, the domestic ramifications of various European movements in the religious controversy between Catholics and Protestants, and the dependence of the small states in France’s borderlands upon an equilibrium of power between France and Spain.

Richelieu’s tenure of office was terminated in April 1617 when a palace revolution overthrew the regency of Marie de Médicis. Richelieu was banished to Luçon and then exiled to the papal city of Avignon, where he sought distraction from his melancholy in writing. A rebellion of the princes, gravitating this time to Marie de Médicis as the focus of opposition to the royal council, led in 1619 to the King recalling Richelieu to his mother’s entourage on the assumption that he would exercise a moderating influence. The ascendency that he gained over her, however, did not lead to her submission. There followed four years of intricate negotiation and even overt hostilities during which the King’s nomination of Richelieu for a cardinal’s hat became one of the issues involved in a settlement. A revolt of the Huguenots and the death of the King’s favourite brought about Marie de Médicis’ recall to the council and Richelieu’s promotion.

First minister of France.
In 1624 another crisis, over the Valtellina in northern Italy, led to a ministerial reconstruction and to the Cardinal’s appointment as secretary of state for commerce and marine and chief of the royal council. Four years later the title of first minister was to be created for this office. The controversy occurred when the Protestant Swiss canton of Grisons invoked a treaty of protection with France against Spanish ambitions in the Valtellina valley. The struggle had ramifications throughout Europe as the Protestants made common cause with Grisons and the Catholics with the Habsburgs. Richelieu recognized that vacillation would threaten domestic stability, and so he struck, expelling the papal troops. It was an action that gained for Richelieu an instant reputation for decision and ruthlessness. It also disillusioned those who had seen in him a defender of Catholic interests and of a Franco-Spanish alliance.

From his first days in office Richelieu was the object of conspiracies to remove him, and the success of his security organization in ferreting out the disaffected and his manipulation of state trials made him misunderstood, feared, and detested. Yet according to the standards of the age, his administration of justice did not depart from the moral principles that he believed to underlie all government.

The goals that Richelieu set himself were to counter Habsburg hegemony in Europe, which threatened France’s independence of action, and “to make the king absolute in his kingdom in order to establish therein order,” but at no time was Richelieu powerful enough to achieve his domestic ends by overt measures. A respecter of law and history, he accepted the necessity of working with the traditional framework of administration. His sense of the feasible and his gift for seeing both sides of a question resulted in a pragmatism in practice that often contradicted his proclaimed theories, and he confused his critics by unexpected compromise and moderation.

Richelieu’s great intellectual capacity enabled him to penetrate to the essence of events, and his tremendous willpower drove him to incessant work. In his theory of politics he shared the rationalism of contemporary philosophers, believing in “the light of natural reason.” While he did not doubt the capacity of the mind to know what is naturally enjoined, he participated in the prevailing pessimism about man’s will to act accordingly. A twofold view of moral causes, the natural and the divine, provided a philosophical axiom for state supervision of conduct in both the secular and the spiritual spheres. Sin and civil disobedience were, to Richelieu, but two aspects of disorder.

The gravest divisive factor in French society was religion. To Richelieu the Huguenots constituted a state within a state, with the civil government of major cities in their hands and considerable military force at their disposal. Yet Richelieu was prepared to tolerate this religious dissent so long as it did not amount to a political challenge. In this attempt to preserve social harmony at the expense of confessional difference he failed at first, for the Huguenot community was foolishly drawn into the intrigues of the Protestant magnates, who instigated England to war with France. Richelieu laid siege in 1628 to La Rochelle, the Huguenot centre, but it took a year to reduce the city, during which time Spain took advantage of the distraction to extend its hegemony in northern Italy at the expense of France’s allies. While promising Richelieu help to combat the Protestants, Spain in fact subsidized their leaders in order to keep the French government preoccupied, and seized the strategic fortress of Casale in northern Italy. Again Richelieu acted with surprising vigour. The moment La Rochelle fell, he led the army in winter over the Alps and checked the Spanish design. This reverse was countered by the Habsburgs with the introduction of imperial garrisons into parts of the duchy of Lorraine, which were claimed as fiefs of France. There followed intricate diplomatic maneuvers, culminating in Richelieu’s dramatic refusal to ratify the peace Treaty of Regensburg in 1630, and the Habsburgs’ appeal to Pope Urban VIII to excommunicate Louis XIII for this supposed breach of faith.

This was Richelieu’s moment of greatest political insecurity. His relationship with the king was distant, and Catholic zealots provoked Marie de Médicis into a state of hysteria concerning the man who she believed had deprived her of influence. On Richelieu’s return from Italy in 1630, she tried to influence her son to dismiss his minister. The king, however, perceived that the issue was his own independence or his mother’s domination and that there was no one but Richelieu who could relieve him of the responsibility of decisions at a moment of bewildering complications. After a day of suspense, he supported the cardinal and thereafter did not waver in his support. Marie de Médicis and the king’s brother Gaston fled to the Spanish Netherlands, there to constitute a focus of sedition that Richelieu countered by a fatal involvement with the enemies of the Habsburgs. The central objective of his foreign policy was to restore the equilibrium in the empire that Habsburg victories had disturbed. Although Bavaria was disposed to seek French protection, the emperor’s military successes and the Edict of Restitution occasioned a new mutual antagonism of Catholics and Protestants, which made neutrality of the Catholic League an impossibility.

Richelieu’s German policy fell into ruins as a result of his grant of subsidies to Gustav II Adolf of Sweden, who was then engaged in the conquest of Pomerania. The subsidies liberated Gustav Adolf from constraint, and he fell on southern Germany, became embroiled with the armies of the Catholic League, and so consolidated the imperial and Catholic causes. The war spilled over the Rhine, and France’s client states were by degrees drawn into the Habsburg orbit. The seizure by Spain in 1635 of the archbishop of Trier, who was under French protection, led to France’s alignment with the Protestant powers in the Thirty Years’ War.

This involvement on behalf of the Protestants was regarded by many Catholics in his own time and later as a betrayal of the church by one of its princes, and Richelieu has been criticized for intensifying a war whose horrors have rarely been equaled. That Richelieu was drawn unwillingly by events into the vortex is clear, just as it is clear that the cost paid in social suffering and economic decline, leading to more frequent agrarian revolts, was high. Almost as soon as war broke out with Spain in 1635, Richelieu initiated secret peace negotiations and renewed them repeatedly. His justification for war was the same as that for rigorous domestic discipline: only the statesman, furnished with all available information and equipped for judicious appraisal of events, is competent to judge policy.

In economic matters Richelieu was an amateur. He committed war expenditure with little regard for the difficulties of raising revenue, and he was given to economic improvisation that was often unsound, but he eschewed doctrinaire views and retained flexibility of mind. Whereas he was early influenced by the theories of the economist Antoine de Montchrestien, who argued for economic self-sufficiency so as to conserve specie, he was later persuaded that the drain of specie could be compensated for by trade. He promoted products and industries that could give France an export advantage and discouraged imports of luxury goods. Glassmaking, tapestry and silk, sugar, and the extractive industries attracted his interest. He planned canal systems and promoted overseas trading companies, in which he was a shareholder and which began the process of French colonization in Canada and the West Indies, and he gained economic footholds in Morocco and Persia.

His vast horizon reflected in part his concern with the French religious missions, which spread in Africa, the Middle East, and America and which extended French influence and created a vast intelligence network that fostered his political and economic designs. He laid the foundations for the French navy by buying ships from the Dutch, and, though he failed to have much influence on seapower, he developed shipping connections with the Baltic. The legal reforms of his period were spasmodic and often frustrated by the Parlement, and how much of their content is due to him is questionable. The Code Michaud of 1629—which regulated industry and trade, companies, public offices, the church, and the army and standardized weights and measures—was promulgated under his authority, although he may not have been its architect.

Later years in the church.
In his last years Richelieu found himself involved in religious conflict, in opposition to the pope, and in a struggle with the French church over the allocation of revenues to the financing of the war. His relationship with Urban VIII became strained over diplomatic grievances, church administration, and his own ambitions to extend French political influence by acquiring benefices for himself in the Holy Roman Empire. In spite of these conflicts, Richelieu remained orthodox in his views on the relationship between church and state and resisted the Gallican challenge to the absolutism of papal authority.

The theocratic concept of the state that resulted from his notion of kingship caused Richelieu to regard heresy as political dissidence, and he harried the apparently unorthodox, such as the first Jansenists, on the ground that they disturbed the spiritual and secular orders, just as he harried the recalcitrant nobles and stamped out dueling. Although there were canonical irregularities in his life, notably in the matter of pluralism (the multiplication of ecclesiastical benefices), there is no evidence of a serious departure from the principles or practices of the church. His accumulation of wealth was excessive even by the standards of the age, but it was largely dedicated to public service and to patronage of the arts and of the University of Paris. Richelieu was a playwright and musician of some talent, and his establishment of the French Academy is one of his best-remembered achievements.

His last months were agitated by the most dangerous of all the conspiracies against his life, that of the youthful royal favourite Cinq-Mars, who was exposed by Richelieu’s secret service and died on the block. The cardinal’s health, bad for some years, had deteriorated, and it was virtually from his deathbed that he was compelled to dictate to the king five propositions respecting royal behaviour toward ministers that he considered essential for proper government. He died in 1642 and was buried in the chapel of the Sorbonne, which he had financed.

Both as statesman and churchman, Richelieu was the acknowledged architect of France’s greatness in the 17th century and a contributor to the secularization of international politics during the Thirty Years’ War. While in detail he was only moderately successful, Richelieu in substance attained his goals of orderly government under the royal authority and the defeat of Habsburg hegemony. Whether the centrifugal forces in Germany that he promoted—and which the Peace of Westphalia institutionalized—were advantageous to Europe in the long run is questionable, but the political fragmentation of the empire and the military eclipse of Spain made possible the grandeur of France that Richelieu foresaw and his successors realized. This mystical aspect of his designs is difficult to articulate but is essential to his greatness. The conspiracies that erupted under his successor, Cardinal Mazarin, failed as much because Richelieu had wrought a fundamental psychological change in favour of the moral ascendency of the crown as because, by the destruction of castles and city walls and the centralization of military authority, he had eliminated the power base of both aristocratic and religious dissent.

Daniel Patrick O’Connell

Encyclopaedia Britannica


Portrait of Cardinal Richelieu 
by Philippe de Champaigne, 1636.

see also


Philippe de


Portrait of Cardinal Richelieu 
by Philippe de Champaigne, 1637.


Portrait of Cardinal Richelieu 
by Philippe de Champaigne


Armand Jean du Plessis Cardinal-Duc de Richelieu
by Philippe de Champaigne
, 1637.



Jules, Cardinal Mazarin

Giulio Raimondo Mazarini

French cardinal and statesman
original Italian in full Giulio Raimondo Mazzarino, or Mazarini

born July 14, 1602, Pescina, Abruzzi, Kingdom of Naples [now in Italy]
died March 9, 1661, Vincennes, France

first minister of France after Cardinal de Richelieu’s death in 1642. During the early years of King Louis XIV, he completed Richelieu’s work of establishing France’s supremacy among the European powers and crippling the opposition to the power of the monarchy at home.

Service as papal diplomat.
Born a papal subject at Pescina, in the Abruzzi, near Rome, Giulio Mazzarino spent his childhood in a region whose temperament, ways of thought, and Roman Catholic outlook were to permeate his whole existence. His father, Pietro, was a Romanized Sicilian in the household of the constable Filippo I Colonna; his mother, Ortensia Bufalini, of a noble Tuscan family, was related to the Colonna house by marriage. From the beginning Mazzarino recognized the benefits of having powerful patrons and learned to exploit them to his advantage. Thus, in spite of financial difficulties and the expenses of a large family (another son, who became a monk, and four daughters), the Mazzarinos were able to send Giulio to the Jesuit school in Rome, where he was an excellent student.

Accompanying a young member of the Colonna family to Spain, he completed his education at the university at Alcalá de Henares (now the University of Madrid), where he studied law and then returned to Rome eager to learn more about aristocratic ways of life and secular affairs. From the Colonna he obtained a captaincy in the papal army in 1624, and, while serving in Loreto, on Christmas night 1625 he underwent an unusual mystical religious experience, or “tranquility of soul,” which was to exert a certain influence on his life. He entered the diplomatic service of the Holy See and in 1628 was appointed secretary to the papal legate of Milan, G.F. Sacchetti; in this post he had his first opportunity to play an active political role.

In January 1630, during the war between Spain and France over the succession to the crown of Mantua, Sachetti’s successor, Antonio Cardinal Barberini, sent Mazarin to France to negotiate with the great cardinal de Richelieu. The young man was fascinated by the powerful minister: “I resolved,” he wrote, “to devote myself to him entirely.” Soon afterward the young secretary acquired an international reputation when he dramatically galloped between the two opposing armies about to do battle at Casale in Monferrato on Oct. 26, 1630, shouting “Peace, peace!” as if peace had been concluded. For the rest of his life he would be remembered as the intrepid knight who risked his life between two armies in order to stop the fighting. Though the Spaniards raised their siege at Casale, much remained to be done in order to bring about a general settlement. By the Treaty of Cherasco (June 19, 1631), negotiated by Mazarin, the French candidate was installed in Mantua, but the agreement settled only the differences between France and Savoy.

Mazarin’s resolution to devote himself to Richelieu did not prevent him from also obtaining the patronage of Cardinal Barberini, the youngest nephew of Pope Urban VIII. After Mazarin’s return to Rome in 1632, Barberini included him in a circle of artists, painters, and musicians, before obtaining for him a mission as extraordinary nuncio (ambassador) to the French court in 1634. There, at Richelieu’s side, Mazarin acquired the favour of those in power and became devoted to the French nation, whose “openness of heart and of mind” impressed him. He did not forget his mission, however, which was to negotiate the peace between Spain and France sought by Urban VIII; hence it was with despair that he watched Richelieu bring France openly into the Thirty Years’ War in May 1635.

Recalled to Avignon in his capacity as legate, then to Rome (December 1636), he continued to exert an influence on French politics through his correspondence with Richelieu and his adviser, Father Joseph. With his friends cardinals Barberini, Nicholas Bagni, and Alessandro Bichi, Mazarin directed the French faction within the papal court. Louis XIII of France rewarded his efforts by recommending him as the royal candidate for a cardinalate in 1638, gave him ecclesiastical pensions and benefices (in order to be eligible for them Mazarin was granted French naturalization papers in 1639), and finally invited him to return to Paris, where he arrived on Jan. 5, 1640. Disappointed because his ambitions in Rome had been frustrated by the Spanish faction, Mazarin left the papal service to enter the service of France. It was to France and, in particular, to Richelieu that he owed the cardinal’s hat bestowed upon him by the Pope on Dec. 16, 1641, though Urban VIII had himself been favourably impressed by the efforts his former subject was making in favour of the general peace.

Career as first minister of France.
Mazarin’s ambition was to put an end to the rivalry between the Catholic powers of Europe. On Richelieu’s death, however (Dec. 4, 1642), and especially after that of Louis XIII (May 14, 1643), he became first minister of France, an office that the regent, Anne of Austria, entrusted to his experience and his ability in the name of the child Louis XIV. Mazarin used this new power to promote the peace negotiations that opened at Münster, in Westphalia, on April 10, 1644, although he now had to subordinate his ideal of peace to French foreign policies and ambitions. He was aided by a good diplomatic team, over which he exercised firm control, and by extremely competent generals, Louis II de Bourbon, prince de Condé, and Henri de Turenne. Their brilliant victories over the Spanish and imperial troops helped bring about the Peace of Westphalia (October 1648), a general European settlement that established peace in Germany.

As the war between France and Spain still continued and as grave issues were developing in the north and east, Germany could easily have been involved again in a general war. No one believed in the power of the Emperor to safeguard the empire from this danger. Mazarin took advantage of the weakened imperial power of the Habsburgs to organize a defensive alliance between France and the German states closest to the French frontier (the League of the Rhine, August 1658). Spain, however, encouraged by the defection of the United Provinces of the Netherlands, who had signed a separate peace in January 1648, refused to agree to the peace. In order to force Spain to make a settlement, Mazarin continued the war and formed an alliance with England (March 23, 1657), surrendering to the English the fort of Dunkirk, which had been captured from the Spaniards after the Battle of the Dunes (June 14, 1658).

Peace with Spain was finally negotiated in a general treaty signed on Nov. 7, 1659, at the Pyrenees frontier. Mazarin completed this settlement by arbitrating the “northern peace” (the treaties of Oliva and of Copenhagen on May 3 and May 27, 1660) and by returning Lorraine to its duke (Treaty of Paris, Feb. 28, 1661). Thus, at his death, the former diplomat of the Holy See could rejoice at having “returned peace to Christendom.” He would have liked to have seen Europe take advantage of this peace by uniting in a crusade against the Turks and, above all, to have “let these peoples enjoy the fruits of the tranquility” they had regained now that fighting had ended in their home territory.

France, indeed, needed a rest. Mazarin therefore had to limit his activities within the realm to thwarting intrigues at court and multiplying financial expedients to meet war expenditures. The new taxes imposed upon leading Parisians contributed to the discontent that precipitated the revolts known as the Fronde. These rebellions, which lasted more than five years, originated in the judicial oligarchy of the Parlement of Paris; they spread to the upper nobility and soon found popular support even in the provinces largely because of “Mazarinades,” inflammatory pamphlets written against the Cardinal. Mazarin was obliged to leave the court twice and was only able to maintain his post because he was in favour with Anne of Austria and the boy king Louis XIV, whose education he had carefully directed.

The Fronde was finally suppressed in 1653, and Louis XIV was crowned the following year. Mazarin increasingly involved the young sovereign in affairs of government, encouraging him to stand firm against the Parlement and helping him train a staff of great administrators for his reign: Jean-Baptiste Colbert, Nicholas Fouquet, Hughes de Lionne, and Michel Le Tellier. He reestablished the role of the intendants or commissaries of the king, who administered the provinces; they gradually assumed the power of the provincial governors who had shown themselves to be unreliable during the rebellions. He thus succeeded in sustaining order through a policy of moderation, which he applied even to popular revolts such as the peasant uprising of Sologne in 1658.

Reputation and character.
Mazarin’s enemies reproached him for his greed. He had accumulated offices and benefices and had sometimes confused royal income with his own. Yet, on several occasions, when the state faced desperate financial situations, he put his own fortune at its disposal. A lover of the arts, he acquired fine collections, decorated his Parisian mansion (today the home of the Bibliothèque Nationale) with works by Italian artists, and brought the Roman opera into favour in France. His library remains in the palace (now called the Institut de France) that he ordered built to house the College of the Four Nations, intended for the education of young men from the four provinces that had been acquired by France during his ministry: Alsace, Roussillon, Flanders-Artois, and the region of Pinerolo. He founded the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture (1648) and gave pensions to several men of letters.

According to the Roman tradition of nepotism, Mazarin offered rich dowries and arranged noble marriages for his nephews and especially for his Mancini and Martinozzi nieces. Yet he did not allow his affection as an uncle to win out over political considerations; thus, he thwarted the desire of Louis XIV, who by treaty was bound to marry the Spanish infanta, to marry Marie Mancini. Anne of Austria felt a strong attraction for him: he was a handsome man, eloquent and charming; devoid of political experience herself, she accepted his advice unquestioningly. The “Mazarinades” accused them of having an illicit relationship, but the evidence is conflicting. The hypothesis of a secret marriage between the Regent and her minister is also unlikely, for the cardinalate, even that of a layman, implied the obligation of celibacy. Mazarin was not an ordained priest (in 1632 he had received only minor orders), though he thought of entering the priesthood on several occasions, especially in 1651 and even in 1660 shortly before his death. Faithful to the Catholicism as he had practiced it in his youth, he had defended Roman orthodoxy against the heterodox Jansenist movement, yet without advocating persecution of the Jansenists.

Georges Dethan

Encyclopaedia Britannica



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