2.3 France and Richelieu
Cardinal Richelieu emerged as an advisor to the Queen of France. After Henry IV died his Queen became the regent. She desired to unite the royal families of France and Spain. The treaties of Marriage were signed (1612). Louis XIII (2 years) was betrothed to Anne of Austria, daughter of King of Spain, Philip III. The Prince of Spain, Philip IV was betrothed to Elizabeth of France. It was at this juncture that Richelieu appeared on the political stage.
The year 1624 was an eventful year for France and, by extension, Europe. Right from 1624 till his death in 1642, Richelieu was the most influential person in France during his time. Richelieu, although a bishop and a staunch Catholic, was intensely detested in Rome. He was a man of poor physique and health. Richelieu worked with two main objectives: The desire to make France supreme in Europe and to establish the absolute supremacy of the French King within the French borders. For this he had to overcome rival authorities, nobles, Protestants, as well as the provincial assemblies of France. He had a thorough understanding of the French political situation and also knew adequately well the importance of France in European politics. He was a great statesman and probably the greatest diplomat that France had known.
Richelieu had a proper understanding of European politics. He efficiently handled the affairs at home and abroad. The policies that he applied within the nation were as under:
2.3a Domestic Affairs
Richelieu had a deep understanding of the French psyche. He brought the nobles under his control. The nobles were annoyed, and reacted strongly against this. They plotted to kill Richelieu and overthrow the King but the plot failed. The nobles who were responsible for this were executed. This was a lesson for other erring nobles.
The Protestant Huguenots were creating trouble and disturbance. The political privileges given to them were against the absolute power of the crown. Richelieu crushed them and formulated a treaty by which they were allowed to enjoy only religious liberty. All powers relating to political independence were denied to them.
Richelieu intended to centralize the government. With this in mind he appointed Intendants in each province. These royal officials inspected the country on behalf of the king. The Intendants were given the financial, police, judicial etc. charges. In other words, they were royal spies. This assured the absolutism of the King. All opposing nobles were totally destroyed.
Richelieu reduced the State-Generalís importance in the national
issues. He made it defunct. He also forced the French Parliaments
to confine themselves to their judicial duties only and did his
best to suppress the representative assemblies in the Province.
2.3b Foreign Affairs advocated by Richelieu
The aim of Richelieu was to make France a very important and powerful country in Europe. For this he concentrated more on European politics. According to the historian Grant, "It was upon foreign, not upon domestic policy that Richelieuís eyes were more constantly fixed, and his influence upon the great contract of the Thirty Yearsí War and the international relations of Europe generally was decisive. It may be questioned that any other diplomat, until the time of Bismarck, has ever exercised so far-reaching a power."
The aim of Richelieu was the joint defeat of the Hapsburg powers of Spain and Austria. He did all that was in his power to make the contact between Spain and Austria more difficult. Besides watching the struggle in Germany with the most anxious care, he also influenced it at the moment of crisis. This apart, when Gustavus Adolphus invaded Germany, he relied largely on the French support. Richelieu made a treaty with him in 1630. According to this, the Swiss army led by Bernard of Weimar was practically taken into French pay. After the death of Bernard, this army was then taken into the direct service of France.
Richelieu paved the way for monarchical absolutism in France under Louis XIV as also the dictatorship of Napoleon in the future. Richelieu was unscrupulous and lacked political principle. He sacrificed the happiness of the people of France for the glory of the King.