His policy embraced three great objects: First, the overthrow of the Huguenot power; secondly, the subjugation of the great nobles; thirdly, the destruction of the undue might of Austria.
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
Such were the plans of Richelieu at the outset. Let us see how he wrought out their fulfilment.
First of all, he performed daring surgery and cautery about the very heart of the court. In a short time he had cut out from that living center of French power a number of unworthy ministers and favorites, and replaced them by men on whom he could rely. Then he began his vast work. His policy embraced three great objects: First, the overthrow of the Huguenot power; secondly, the subjugation of the great nobles; thirdly, the destruction of the undue might of Austria.
First, then, after some preliminary negotiations with foreign powers, he attacked the great politico-religious party of the Huguenots. These held, as their great center and stronghold, the famous seaport of La Rochelle. He who but glances at the map shall see how strong was this position; he shall see two islands lying just off the west coast at that point, controlled by La Rochelle, yet affording to any foreign allies, whom the Huguenots might admit there, facilities for stinging France during centuries. The position of the Huguenots seemed impregnable. The city was well fortressed, garrisoned by the bravest of men, mistress of a noble harbor open at all times to supplies from foreign ports, and in that harbor rode a fleet, belonging to the city, greater than the navy of France. Richelieu saw well that here was the head of the rebellion. Here, then, he must strike it.
Strange as it may seem, his diplomacy was so skillful that he obtained ships to attack the Protestants in La Rochelle from the two great Protestant powers — England and Holland. With these he was successful. He attacked the city fleet, ruined it, and cleared the harbor.
But now came a terrible check. Richelieu had aroused the hate of that incarnation of all that was and is offensive in English politics — the Duke of Buckingham. Scandal-mongers were wont to say that both were in love with the Queen, and that the Cardinal, though unsuccessful in his suit, outwitted the Duke and sent him out of the kingdom; and that the Duke swore a great oath that if he could not enter France in one way, he would enter in another; and that he brought about a war and came himself as a commander. Of this scandal believe what you will, but — be the causes what they may — the English policy changed, and Charles I sent Buckingham with ninety ships to aid La Rochelle.
But Buckingham was flippant and careless; Richelieu careful when there was need, and daring when there was need. Buckingham’s heavy blows were foiled by Richelieu’s keen thrusts, and then, in his confusion, Buckingham blundered so foolishly and Richelieu profited by his blunders so shrewdly that the fleet returned to England without any accomplishment of its purpose. The English were also driven from that vexing position in the Isle of Ré.
Having thus sent the English home, for a time at least, he led King and nobles and armies to La Rochelle, and commenced the siege in full force. Difficulties met him at every turn; but the difficulty of all was that arising from the spirit of the nobility.
No one could charge the nobles of France with lack of bravery. The only charge was that their bravery was almost sure to shun every useful form, and to take every noxious form. The bravery which finds outlet in duels they showed constantly; the bravery which finds outlets in street fights they had shown from the day when the Duke of Orleans perished in a brawl, to the days when the “Mignons” of Henry III fought at sight every noble whose beard was not cut to suit them. The pride fostered by lording it over serfs, in the country, and by lording it over men who did not own serfs, in the capital, aroused bravery of this sort and plenty of it. But that bravery which serves a great good cause, which must be backed by steadiness and watchfulness, was not so plentiful. So Richelieu found that the nobles who had conducted the siege before he took command had, through their brawling propensities and lazy propensities, allowed the besieged to garner in the crops from the surrounding country, and master all the best points of attack.
But Richelieu pressed on. First he built an immense wall and earthwork, nine miles long, surrounding the city, and to protect this he raised eleven great forts and eighteen redoubts. Still the harbor was open, and into this the English fleet might return and succor the city at any time. His plan was soon made. In the midst of that great harbor of La Rochelle he sank sixty hulks of vessels filled with stone; then, across the harbor — nearly a mile wide and, in places, more than eight hundred feet deep — he began building over these sunken ships a great dike and wall; thoroughly fortified, carefully engineered, faced with sloping layers of hewn stone.
His own men scolded at the magnitude of the work; the men in La Rochelle laughed at it. Worse than that, the ocean sometimes laughed and scolded at it. Sometimes the waves, sweeping in from that fierce Bay of Biscay, destroyed in an hour the work of a week. The carelessness of a subordinate once destroyed in a moment the work of three months.
Yet it is but fair to admit that there was one storm which did not beat against Richelieu’s dike. There set in against it no storm of hypocrisy from neighboring nations. Keen works for and against Richelieu were put forth in his day: works calm and strong for and against him have been issuing from the presses of France and England and Germany ever since; but not one of the old school of keen writers, or of the new school of calm writers, is known to have ever hinted that this complete sealing of the only entrance to a leading European harbor was unjust to the world at large or unfair to the besieged themselves.
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