Richelieu was a French cardinal and statesman, who more than anyone else promoted absolutism in France and laid the foundations of the country\’s 17th-century grandness. He was born in Paris on September 9, 1585, and set out on a military career. In order to retain the bishopric of Lu on in the family, however, Richelieu switched to theology and at age 22 was ordained a bishop. As a representative to the Estates-General in 1614, he found a grip in political life and soon won the favor of the queen mother of France, Marie de M dicis. Richelieu became Secretary of State in 1616 but fell into political disfavor the following year and, along with the queen mother, was banished from court. Reconciliation in 1622 brought him a cardinal\’s hat, and in 1624 he became King Louis XIII\’s chief minister. After 1630, when Marie de M dicis unsuccessfully intrigued to have her former prot g removed from his position, Richelieu was the virtual ruler of France.
To assure friendly relations with England, Richelieu\’s first important measure was to arrange a marriage between the king\’s sister, Henrietta Maria, and the Prince of Wales, Charles I of England. To restore the prestige of France in the affairs of Europe and to limit the further growth of Habsburg power, already entrenched in Spain and Austria, Richelieu next made alliances with and gave encouragement to the Dutch and German enemies of the dynasty. To gain strategic strongholds in Italy and frustrate the Habsburgs there, he involved France in a fight with Austria and Spain when the succession to the throne in Mantua was in question. In 1631 he subsidized the invasion of Germany by the defender of the Lutheran cause, Gustav II Adolph, king of Sweden. Still later, Richelieu made France an active ally of the German Protestants by committing French troops to fight in the Thirty Years\’ War. Meanwhile, viewing the power of the French Huguenots as a threat to the absolute power of the king, Richelieu laid siege to the Huguenot stronghold of La Rochelle in 1628. The Huguenots thus were broken militarily and politically, although they were guaranteed religious freedom.
Richelieu, by vigorous and effective measures, succeeded in breaking the political power of the great families of France-making the king an absolute ruler-and in establishing France as the first military power of Europe. He encouraged French exploration and colonization in Canada, where there is a river named for him, and the Indies. A liberal patron of literature, Richelieu was the founder of the French Academy. He died in Paris on December 4, 1642.