A tightly focused, fresh appraisal of the shrewd, ambitious minister for King Louis XIII.
In his first English-language book, Blanchard (French Literature and Politics/Swarthmore Coll.) gives Cardinal Richelieu a tremendous depth of character through the re-creation of key, decisive moments over the course of his courtly career. The astute cardinal, who acted as key advisor to Louis XIII, skillfully manipulated religious and political insurrections and effectively created a French navy and a beefed-up administrative state. He asserted the king’s power, in spite of the king’s resentment of the cardinal’s influence, and even though he found his advice indispensable. Blanchard writes that Richelieu “allowed his countrymen to think of a grand future for themselves,” thus laying the foundation for the Sun King’s subsequent reign of glory (and profligacy). The coup d’état of 1617, in which the overbearing queen mother’s Italian confidant, Concino Concini, was murdered by the kings’ jealous princes, would forever spot Richelieu’s reputation, as he had been chief of the queen’s council. Yet Richelieu managed to negotiate a tender rapprochement between mother and son; he was awarded the position of cardinal in 1622 after the death of the king’s influential favorite, Duc de Luynes. He would have to manage further traitorous machinations involving the king’s younger brother, Gaston, and later favorite, Cinq-Mars. Richelieu was the key in maneuvering the crown through a landmine of political insurrection among the warring Protestants, and he made himself master of maritime development. However, in continuing a series of pot-boiling wars with the Hapsburgs, he drained the country’s coffers. Blanchard dwells on Richelieu’s passion for building and the theater, though too rarely quotes from his own cerebral writing.
Despite deliberately pared-down, somewhat stilted language, a well-organized work that would make an indispensable supplement for students of the period.