Duc de Richelieu Armand-Jean Duplessis
1585-1642. French cardinal and statesman. Born in Paris of a noble family, he was trained for the army at the Collège de Navarre (Paris). The family needed money, however, and instructed him to seek ordination to become bishop of Luçon-a see at their disposal. In 1606 he was consecrated bishop, and spent nearly ten years building up the parish. In 1616 he managed to insinuate himself into political life, being appointed secretary of state. Until 1624 he served intermittently as Marie de Medici's principal adviser; with her assistance he was created cardinal in 1622. In 1624 he was made head of the royal council, and for the next eighteen years virtually ruled France, although not in full control as first minister until the “Day of Dupes” (1630).
Richelieu was ambitious and ruthless, but not so much for personal gain as for the state. Above all, he labored to make France great. He supported Gallicanism* and pursued an anti- Hapsburg foreign policy designed to centralize power in the king. A centralized state required destruction of the political and military power of the Huguenots* and the nobility. The Huguenots were taken care of at the Siege of La Rochelle (1628), but the struggle with the nobility was protracted and bitter. He systematically nullified their privileges by demolishing their fortresses (1626), by forbidding dueling (1627), by creating officials (called intendants) directly responsible to the king, and by attempting a national army. Recalcitrant nobles were mercilessly executed. Internationally he opposed the Hapsburgs by building a navy and by bringing France into the Thirty Years' War* on the “Protestant” side. France emerged from the conflict the dominant power in Europe, but Richelieu died before seeing this lifelong dream fulfilled. A patron of the arts and literature, he founded the French Academy (1635), supported playwrights (e.g., Corneille), and built great edifices (e.g., the Palais Royal and Sorbonne Chapel). He wrote widely, but not brilliantly.
Lettres... (8 vols., 1853-77); Mémoires... (10 vols., 1908-31): critically edited for the Société de l'Histoire de France; Testament politiques (1947): best critical ed. Biographical studies in English include those by C.V. Wedgwood (1954); O. Ranum (1963); and D.P. O'Connell (1968).