He saw from the beginning that Austria and her satellite Spain must be humbled if France was to take her rightful place in Europe.
Continuing Cardinal Richelieu’s Administration,
our selection from Special Article to Great Events by Famous Historians, Volume XI. by Andrew D. White published in 1905. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages. The selection is presented in nine easy 5 minute installments.
Previously in Cardinal Richelieu’s Administration
There was now in France no man who could stand against the statesman’s purpose. And so, having hewn through all that anarchy and bigotry and selfishness a way for the people, he called them to the work. In 1626 he summoned an assembly to carry out reforms. It was essentially a people’s assembly. That anarchical States-General, domineered by great nobles, he would not call; but he called an “Assembly of Notables.” In this was not one prince or duke, and two-thirds of the members came directly from the people. Into this body he thrust some of his own energy. Measures were taken for the creation of a navy. An idea was now carried into effect which many suppose to have sprung from the French Revolution; for the army was made more effective by opening its high grades to the commons.
A reform was also made in taxation, and shrewd measures were taken to spread commerce and industry by calling the nobility into them.
Thus did France, under his guidance, secure order and progress. Calmly he destroyed all the useless feudal castles which had so long overawed the people and defied the monarchy. He abolished also the military titles of grand admiral and high constable, which had hitherto given the army and navy into the hands of leading noble families. He destroyed some troublesome remnants of feudal courts, and created royal courts; in one year, that of Poitiers alone, punished for exactions and violence against the people, more than two hundred nobles. Greatest step of all, he deposed the hereditary noble governors, and placed in their stead governors taken from the people — “Intendants” — responsible to the central authority alone.
We are brought now to the third great object of Richelieu’s policy. He saw from the beginning that Austria and her satellite Spain must be humbled if France was to take her rightful place in Europe.
Hardly, then, had he entered the council, when he negotiated a marriage of the King’s sister with the son of James I of England; next he signed an alliance with Holland; next he sent ten thousand soldiers to drive the troops of the Pope and Spain out of the Valtelline district of the Alps, and thus secured an alliance with the Swiss. We are to note here that fact, which Buckle wields so well, that, though Richelieu was a cardinal of the Roman Church, all these alliances were with Protestant powers against Catholics. Austria and Spain intrigued against him, sowing money in the mountain districts of South France which brought forth those crops of armed men who defended La Rochelle. But he beat them at their own game. He set loose Count Mansfeld, who revived the Thirty Years’ War by raising a rebellion in Bohemia; and when one great man, Wallenstein, stood between Austria and ruin, Richelieu sent his monkish diplomatist, Father Joseph, to the German Assembly of Electors, and persuaded them to dismiss Wallenstein and to disgrace him.
But the great Frenchman’s masterstroke was his treaty with Gustavus Adolphus. With that keen glance of his he saw and knew Gustavus while yet the world knew him not — while he was battling afar off in the wilds of Poland. Richelieu’s plan was formed at once. He brought about a treaty between Gustavus and Poland; then he filled Gustavus’ mind with pictures of the wrongs inflicted by Austria on German Protestants, hinted to him probably of a new realm, filled his treasury, and finally hurled against Austria the man who destroyed Tilly, who conquered Wallenstein, who annihilated Austrian supremacy at the battle of Lutzen, who, though in his grave, wrenched Protestant rights from Austria at the treaty of Westphalia, who pierced the Austrian monarchy with the most terrible sorrows it ever saw before the time of Napoleon.
To the main objects of Richelieu’s policy already given, might be added two subordinate subjects. The first of these was a healthful extension of French territory. In this Richelieu planned better than the first Napoleon; for while he did much to carry France out to her natural boundaries, he kept her always within them. On the south he added Roussillon, on the east Alsace, on the northeast Artois.
The second subordinate object of his policy sometimes flashed forth brilliantly. He was determined that England should never again interfere on French soil. We have seen him driving the English from La Rochelle and from the Isle of Ré; but he went further. In 1628, on making some proposals to England, he was repulsed with English haughtiness. “They shall know,” said the Cardinal, “that they cannot despise me.” Straightway one sees protests and revolts of the Presbyterians of Scotland and Richelieu’s agents in the thickest of them. And now what was Richelieu’s statesmanship in its sum?
1. In the political progress of France his work has already been sketched as building monarchy and breaking anarchy. Therefore have men said that he swept away old French liberties. What old liberties? Richelieu but tore away the decaying, poisonous husks and rinds which hindered French liberties from their chance of life and growth. Therefore also have men said that Richelieu built up absolutism. The charge is true and welcome. For evidently absolutism was the only force in that age which could destroy the serf-mastering caste. Many a Polish patriot, as he to-day wanders through the Polish villages, groans that absolutism was not built to crush that serf-owning aristocracy which has been the real architect of Poland’s ruin. Anyone who reads to much purpose in De Mably, or Guizot, or Henri Martin knows that this part of Richelieu’s statesmanship was but a masterful continuation of all great French statesmanship since the twelfth century league of the king and commons, against nobles, and that Richelieu stood in the heirship of all great French statesmen since Suger. That part of Richelieu’s work, then, was evidently bedded in the great line of divine purpose running through that age and through all ages.
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