Henry’s death left the state in the unsteady hands of Marie de Médicis. She was appointed regent for her eldest son, Louis XIII, who was nine years old. Marie leaned in the direction of the parti dévot (devout party), a loose regrouping of league elements plus the Jesuits and other monastic orders. Benefiting from a widespread resurgence of Catholic devotion in Europe, the dévotsfavored renewed efforts to eradicate Protestantism. They thus supported an alliance with the Habsburgs, champions of the Counter Reformation who had also been partners with the Holy League.
After relying upon more moderate ministers, Marie turned to dévot Concino Concini as her chief adviser. The result was Louis’s marriage to Anne of Austria, daughter of the Spanish king, and his sister’s marriage to Anne’s brother. Concini’s rise irritated many nobles, some of whom began courting the Protestants. A meeting of the Estates-General in 1614 failed to resolve outstanding issues. This failure is one reason why the Estates-General did not meet again until 1789. In 1617 Louis seized control of the state. He had Concini imprisoned and later killed, exiled his mother to Blois, and recalled many of Henry IV’s advisers. But these measures hardly helped the Protestants, for Louis now took the initiative against them.
Between 1620 and 1622, he personally led several military campaigns against Protestants, with the result that by 1625 all Protestant strongholds, except La Rochelle, had collapsed.
In 1624 Armand Jean du Plessis, duc de Richelieu, was appointed to the royal council. Acting much like a prime minister, he immediately became a commanding figure and soon formed a lasting partnership with Louis.
Strongly influenced by the Holy League, Richelieu was a protégé of Marie de Médici and supported further measures against the Protestants. In 1628 La Rochelle, a Protestant stronghold fortified by the English, was successfully assaulted. This success paved the way for the long-sought unification of the kingdom and imposition of the Catholic faith.
After 1629 Richelieu left the Protestants alone, and during succeeding decades they were victimized far less than they had been during the previous century. But their situation again deteriorated in the 1660s under pressure from the monarchy.
Richelieu’s restraint against the Protestants infuriated the dévots, and so did his foreign policy. Because the Habsburgs threatened France’s eastern and southwestern borders, Richelieu concluded that France had to support the Protestant German princes, who since 1618 had been battling the Catholic Habsburg alliance in the Thirty Years’ War. Richelieu resorted to force abroad only gradually. In the 1620s he fought for French interests in Savoy against the Spaniards, but France did not openly declare war on Spain and the Habsburg Holy Roman emperor until 1635. The war went badly at first. In 1636 Spanish forces invaded eastern France—the second Spanish intervention in France in 50 years. But Spain was eventually driven out, and the French went on the offensive in the late 1630s.
By Richelieu’s death in 1642, France had conquered Alsace in the east and Roussillon in the south. Under Richelieu’s successor, Jules Cardinal Mazarin, France made peace with the Holy Roman Empire in the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 and with Spain in the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659. These treaties recognized French acquisitions in Alsace, Artois, Picardy, Lorraine, and Roussillon. They also established the legal basis for continued French interference in the empire. Henceforth, France had the authority to thwart any Habsburg effort to expand imperial control of Germany. Of all the major participants, France clearly lost the least and gained the most from the Thirty Years’ War. From 1659 to 1713 France dominated Europe in much the same way that Spain had a century earlier.
Religious conflict and foreign war provided the occasion and the excuse to build the French state. Following no preconceived, coherent plan, Richelieu extended many well-established practices, but he also promoted bureaucratic procedures that were more modern. Thus, he created a large clientele of officials immediately loyal to him. He increased the number of venal officeholders, who in some years provided as much as 40 percent of all royal revenues. At the same time, he made important innovations. For example, he regularized the use and extended the responsibilities of nonvenal administrators called intendants, who oversaw the monarchy’s operations within provincial districts known as généralités.
Richelieu was very much aware of the cultural dimensions of building the state. He established the Académie Française (see French Academy), an organization of 40 literary scholars responsible for standardizing the French language. The Académie produced the official French dictionary. Richelieu was also a master propagandist who employed a stable of writers to justify French policies at home and abroad.
Richelieu’s achievements and his policies won him important enemies, particularly among the dévots, of whom he had once been a member. In 1630 a group of dévots—including Marie de Médicis; the king’s brother Gaston, duc d’Orléans; and the minister Michel de Marillac and his brother, Louis de Marillac—lobbied Louis to dismiss Richelieu. After wavering temporarily, Louis instead turned on the dévots during the Day of Dupes in November 1630. Michel de Marillac was imprisoned and his brother was beheaded. Gaston went into temporary exile, while Marie left France forever. Gaston was involved in two more coups directed against Richelieu—one in 1632 and one in 1642—but neither was any more successful than the first. Richelieu died in 1642, master of France, and his patron and partner, Louis XIII, died a year later. "France" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.
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