Eminence: Cardinal Richelieu and the Rise of France

Eminence: Cardinal Richelieu and the Rise of France

3.8 5
by Jean-Vincent Blanchard

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Chief minister to King Louis XIII, Cardinal Richelieu was the architect of a new France in the seventeenth century, and the force behind the nation's rise as a European power. Among the first statesmen to clearly understand the necessity of a balance of powers, he was one of the early realist politicians, practicing in the wake of Niccolò Machiavelli. Truly

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Chief minister to King Louis XIII, Cardinal Richelieu was the architect of a new France in the seventeenth century, and the force behind the nation's rise as a European power. Among the first statesmen to clearly understand the necessity of a balance of powers, he was one of the early realist politicians, practicing in the wake of Niccolò Machiavelli. Truly larger than life, he has captured the imagination of generations, both through his own story and through his portrayal as a ruthless political mastermind in Alexandre Dumas's classic The Three Musketeers.

Forging a nation-state amid the swirl of unruly, grasping nobles, widespread corruption, wars of religion, and an ambitious Habsburg empire, Richelieu's hands were always full. Serving his fickle monarch, he mastered the politics of absolute power. Jean-Vincent Blanchard's rich and insightful new biography brings Richelieu fully to life in all his complexity. At times cruel and ruthless, Richelieu was always devoted to creating a lasting central authority vested in the power of monarchy, a power essential to France's position on the European stage for the next two centuries. Richelieu's careful understanding of politics as spectacle speaks to contemporary readers; much of what he accomplished was promoted strategically through his great passion for theater and literature, and through the romance of power. Éminence offers a rich portrait of a fascinating man and his era, and gives us a keener understanding of the dark arts of politics.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Cardinal Richelieu (1585–1642) may be best known from Alexander Dumas's The Three Musketeers as a man even more powerful than the French king. In this gripping new biography, Blanchard, associate professor of French literature and politics at Swarthmore, brings Richelieu to life and demonstrates that the cardinal's power grew out of his dependence on and loyalty to the king. Blanchard's chronicle traces Richelieu's life and career from his birth in Paris to a nobleman and high-ranking court official. In 1606 King Henry IV nominated Richelieu to become bishop of Luçon and thus began his rapid ascent to power as confidante of Louis XIII, who named him the duc de Richelieu; named a cardinal in 1622, he became known as l'Éminence rouge ("the Red Eminence") for his noble style and red cardinal's robes. Through various political and military intrigues, Richelieu strove to consolidate the monarchy's power and make France less dependent on foreign nations. A patron of the arts, Richelieu built a theater in his palace, funded the work of Pierre Corneille, and founded the Académie française, the paramount French literary society. Blanchard's captivating biography vividly captures the rise to power of a seminal figure who was instrumental in creating France as we know it. (Sept.)
Booklist Margaret Flanagan

Cardinal Richelieu receives a more nuanced portrayal from Blanchard…. [he] excels in digging deep beneath the surface to reveal the extraordinary man who spawned the legend.

A richly rewarding study of both an early student of absolute state power, and how his influence built the foundation for France's domination of seventeenth-century Europe.
Library Journal
For his first English-language work, Blanchard (French literature & politics, Swarthmore Coll.) takes on the biography of one of the most legendary and infamous statesmen of France, Armand-Jean du Plessis, otherwise known as Cardinal Richelieu. Using a wealth of manuscripts, correspondence, and other primary sources, Blanchard paints a riveting picture of the scope of Richelieu's career amid the melodramatic intrigues of the main figures of the early Bourbon dynasty. As it was a career thoroughly enmeshed in the horrifically destructive Thirty Years' War, the book could prove complex reading for those not somewhat versed in the convoluted political and military history of the period. However, Blanchard has provided a chronology, family trees, a list of principal characters, and ample endnotes to assist the reader. VERDICT While the life of the notorious cardinal is hardly untouched material for writers, Blanchard's biography is one of few recent treatments of the subject in English and should be well received by scholars and general readers with a serious interest in French military or political history.—Tessa L.H. Minchew, Georgia Perimeter College Lib., Clarkston
Kirkus Reviews

A tightly focused, fresh appraisal of the shrewd, ambitious minister for King Louis XIII.

In his first English-language book, Blanchard (French Literature and Politics/Swarthmore Coll.) gives Cardinal Richelieu a tremendous depth of character through the re-creation of key, decisive moments over the course of his courtly career. The astute cardinal, who acted as key advisor to Louis XIII, skillfully manipulated religious and political insurrections and effectively created a French navy and a beefed-up administrative state. He asserted the king's power, in spite of the king's resentment of the cardinal's influence, and even though he found his advice indispensable. Blanchard writes that Richelieu "allowed his countrymen to think of a grand future for themselves," thus laying the foundation for the Sun King's subsequent reign of glory (and profligacy). The coup d'état of 1617, in which the overbearing queen mother's Italian confidant, Concino Concini, was murdered by the kings' jealous princes, would forever spot Richelieu's reputation, as he had been chief of the queen's council. Yet Richelieu managed to negotiate a tender rapprochement between mother and son; he was awarded the position of cardinal in 1622 after the death of the king's influential favorite, Duc de Luynes. He would have to manage further traitorous machinations involving the king's younger brother, Gaston, and later favorite, Cinq-Mars. Richelieu was the key in maneuvering the crown through a landmine of political insurrection among the warring Protestants, and he made himself master of maritime development. However, in continuing a series of pot-boiling wars with the Hapsburgs, he drained the country's coffers. Blanchard dwells on Richelieu's passion for building and the theater, though too rarely quotes from his own cerebral writing.

Despite deliberately pared-down, somewhat stilted language, a well-organized work that would make an indispensable supplement for students of the period.

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Eminence 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Jean-Vincent Blanchard breaks down and show the truth behind the truth of Richelieu brilliantly. Richeliue is a political genius and one of the most successful politicians ever and this book is an amazing tribute to him. I thank the author, I have been waiting for a biography on Richelieu for month's now
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
JurgenSchulze More than 1 year ago
Blanchard has tackled a difficult subject since both the life and times of Richelieu were reflective of the complexities of the late Middle Ages, partly because of the geopolitical structure of western Europe, partly because of the multitude of rulers and regents involved. Apart from the fact that Blanchard's style is slightly wooden (probably in part resulting from the fact that many translations are incorporated in the text), his biography is reminiscent of a sightseeing tour on a fast moving bus: you have the opportunity to see virtually everything of interest, but no time to absorb what you see or put anything in context. The absence of contemporaneous maps (as already mentioned by another reviewer) is a distinct disadvantage. Most readers will associate "France" with the country in its 21st century borders, and to guide the reader through the maze of what was an independent kingdom at the time, and what was actually part of Louis XIII's France, is better illustrated by maps than casual text references (of which many also lack clarity). More importantly, the real political strategy behind Richelieu's acting as First Minister is kept vague and is rarely addressed. What was actually the reason for the constant wars in any corner of the realm - was it to quash rebellions, to expand the realm, to secure it? Blanchard has been given a wealth of information and sources, and he has managed to place it into a timeline, but instead of evaluating Richelieu in the six pages of the "Conclusions" (which also fails to display any significant depth), the reasoning behind his actions as well as the assessment of the person as such could (and should) have been a more central theme. The title "Cardinal Richelieu and the rise of France" is also somewhat confusing since it appears that during Richelieu's time, a nearly equal number of battles were lost and won - and why did this lead to the "rise" of France?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago