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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A major new biography of one of history's most powerful and fascinating statesmen.

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A major new biography of one of history's most powerful and fascinating statesmen.

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.)
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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