The Accomplishments of Cardinal Richelieu

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Up until the mid 17th century, it was evident that France was by no means a major player in the field of European affairs. Spain was still the most powerful state as it held a dominant monopoly over European commerce and economics. However, by 1648, this power would shift, and France would come into it?s own in terms of political and economic influence. The transfer of power was aided by a weakening of the Spanish Empire, along with the establishment of an increasingly strong French state. This establishment of France would begin to occur prior to the religious wars, and would be spearheaded by a strengthening of the centralized government through the development of royal absolutism. The most significant contributor to this movement was Cardinal Armand du Plessis de Richelieu, political advisor to the king, Louis XIII, and head of the French Roman Catholic Church. The Cardinal?s capable leadership, ambition and strong will fortified France?s move from a second rate country to a European powerhouse. During his reign as first minister, Richelieu would accomplish numerous tasks, and establish himself as a symbol of power and leadership in France.

Born in Paris in 1585, Armand du Plessis de Richelieu is considered by many to have been "the most important single figure in the building of French absolutism" . Despite his role in distinguishing France on the European map, some of the Cardinal?s greatest personal accomplishments lie before his reign as first minister. To best understand these accomplishments, in particular how a "middle ranking ecclesiast" of little influence would become the most successful of the King?s political advisors, it is best to look into his personal background. Probably the Cardinal?s greatest assets in his rise to the top were his strong ambition and will. These characteristics can be traced back to his father, Francois Richelieu, whose own ambition and military accomplishment helped gain him the reigning King?s, Henry III, favor. This rise in favor, along with the establishment of important family connections, would allow Francois to "tap into royal ecclesiastical patronage" . Armand eventually benefited from this by gaining the title of Bishop of Lucon. Unfortunately, before Richelieu?s father could create any form of financial establishment, he died, and left the family in debt. However, the message he left his sons, in particular Armand, was not one of failure, but rather one of what could be accomplished when one was willing and ambitious. This attitude would set the stage for the son of Richelieu, who would use his religious status as bishop and educated background along with some important family connections to help ?pull? his way to the top. It took Richelieu a full decade to accumulate the title of Cardinal and he would suffer a number of political setbacks along the way. But, by the year 1624, Richelieu had gained entrance into the king?s council, and soon after became the king?s personal advisor. His decade long assent provided him with the education needed to maintain an 18 year reign (until his death in 1642) which would see the beginnings of French dominance in Europe.

Although King Louis XIII and Richelieu would eventually work together to create a politically dominant France, it is important to note that their relationship was not always as such. Prior to his roles as political advisor and Cardinal, Richelieu entered the queen mother?s court by becoming the secretary of state during her regency. At this point, Richelieu would suffer a major upset in his political assent when Louis overthrew his mother?s court and took political control of France in 1617 . Affiliation with the Queen Mother?s court and suspected implication in attempted rebellions against Louis kept the future Cardinal in exile for a number of years. However, the Queen Mother and her son would eventually come to a temporary peace settlement, and when she was reinstated, so was Richelieu. More importantly, as advisor to the Queen Mother, Richelieu had shown a "political shrewdness and wisdom" that had gained Louis? favor . The king was willing to overlook Richelieu?s earlier associations and an overbearing administrative style that he had once likened to tyranny, and appointed him to council in 1624. The Cardinal soon became the king?s advisor through his ability to provide help in relation to conflicting religious and secular interests and his display of able political decisions. Although the