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Monarchy and Society in Early 17th Century

Info: 3558 words (14 pages) Essay
Published: 8th Feb 2020 in History

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“Richelieu could see Mazarin as his successor, if not as First Minister then certainly as the director of the great diplomatic effort that would be needed to bring peace to Europe and security to France.” [1]

Cardinal Jules Mazarin, successor of the widely held and prevalent Cardinal Richelieu, attained the position of chief minister of France from 1643 until his death in 1661 has faced vast and varied opinions portrayed in the works of both contemporary and modern historians. The Fronde of 1648-1653 produced prejudice pamphlets titled as Mazarinades which portrayed Mazarin as a vacillator who encouraged an extremely unpopular war throughout France to augment himself and his family. He was an accomplished diplomat who utilised his alliance and favour with the Regent Anne of Austria and an unethical foreigner who aimed to taint the young king through his guidance and influence. However, while exiled from France twice due to difficulties from the Parlement of Paris and the Prince of Condé, Mazarin was able to ensure he maintained his position through the support of the regent, King Louis XIV and a well established band of alliances and clientele. Throughout his time as chief minister Mazarin obtained lasting peace treaties with the Holy Roman Empire and Spain in which gained both defensive and dynastic rights. [2]Mazarin consolidated the achievements of Richelieu and brought his foreign policy to fruition by preserving his “absolutist” ideas and taught those who would then navigate France through their most spectacular reign.[3] 

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Jules Cardinal Mazarin known as Giulio Raimondo Mazaarino was born a papal subject in Pescina, Italy. The principles of the region in which Mazarin grew up in their ways of thought and Roman Catholic stance were pivotal to him and were to be infused in his existence of his political life. From the outset Mazarin recognised the advantage that a conscious marriage alliance upheld and prevailing patrons through his mother and father could be exploited in his favour. In 1624 Mazarin acquired the captaincy of the papal army through the Colanna family after completing his time at the University of Alcala de Henares. Mazarin was fanatical and passionate to learn about the aristocratic and secular affairs. In 1628 he then entered the diplomatic service of the Holy See to which allowed him to advance and secure secretary of the papal legate of Milan under G.F Sacchetti in which allowed him to play his first active political role. The war between Spain and France in January 1630 regarding the succession of the crown of Mantua is where Mazarin would first encounter the formidable first chief minister of France, Richelieu. Upon meeting him, Mazarin wrote; “I resolved, to devote myself to him entirely.” Mazarin saw great success and advancement throughout the war which allowed him to acquire an international reputation he so greatly desired. Mazarin found himself between the two opposing armies negotiating battle in Monferrato at Casale on October 26th 1630. One of Mazarin’s greatest achievements was his success in negotiating the Treaty of Cherasco on June 19th 1631, although it only resolved the issue between France and Savoy. Mazarin’s declaration of loyalty to Richelieu did not thwart him from achieving patronage of Cardinal Baberini and awarded ‘nuncio’ to the French Court in 1634. [4]

Now at the side of Richelieu, Mazarin understood the importance of acquiring the favour of those in power to consolidate and preserve your position, thus he became devoted to this and the French nation. However Mazarin was focused on his initial mission in whom he was sent by Pope Urban VIII in relation to negotiating peace between France and Spain. Therefore Mazarin watched in anguish as Richelieu led France to enter the Thirty Years War in May 1635. [5]

Mazarin exerted authority on French politics through Richelieu. Mazarin used alliances such as cardinals Barberini, Alessandro Bichi and Nicholas Bagni to manoeuvre French divide in the papal court.   In 1638 as a result of this of his efforts, Mazarin was granted ecclesiastic annuity and other monetary gains by Louis XIII. He also advocated his recommendation as royal candidate for a cardinalate. Mazarin had been left frustrated and dissatisfied as his aspirations in Rome had been hindered by Spanish factions. Mazarin made the conscious decision to leave the papal service in Italy and go into the service in France. Consequently, Mazarin was granted a cardinal by Pope Urban VIII in December 16th 1641, much of which he owes to Richelieu for securing this as well as Pope Urban VIII’s recognition of the steps he was taking in order to assure harmonious peace. [6]

 Nevertheless, despite the successes Mazarin attained he was still subject to criticism by historians who have aligned their view with the opinions of Mazarin’s seventeenth century detractors. Historian A. Lloyd Moote maintains in his book “The Revolt of Judges: The Parlement and The Fronde” that Mazarin was an “emotional, unbalanced man, who provided poor leadership for the monarchy and became a personal symbol of royal tyranny.”  Moote argues that it was “Mazarin’s duplicity and disastrous method of governing which made harmony within the state and the administration virtually impossible.”[7] J. Russell Major makes his opinions of Mazarin by exploring the contrast of his character to that of Richelieu in his book; “From Renaissance to Absolute Monarchy: French nobles and Estates” claiming Mazarin to be a “suave and ingratiating man in the way Richelieu never was, who sought to govern by persuasion, flattery and bribes. When this strategy did not work, he tried to divide his opponents by lies, false promises and appeals to their diverse interests. Few were fooled for long by his outwardly obliging conduct, and he soon became as distrusted as he was hated.” [8]Interestingly the critics of Mazarin all comment upon his unconcern in both governmental economic reforms. Again Moote highlights that “all Mazarin wanted from France was money to peruse the wars he had inherited and to line his pockets. He died the richest man in France and was very likely the biggest thief who ever served a French king.” [9]

Now historians have come to question and explore such depictions by these historians for a more favourable opinion of the ideas of Mazarin. Georges Dethan suggests in “Mazarin: un homme de paix a l’age baroque” as a diplomat who worked relentlessly, fully immersing and committing himself to re-establish peace in France. He was enthused by a “heart animated by a generous passion and lofty ideal.”[10] Richard Bonney alleges in his article; “Cardinal Mazarin and the Great nobility during The Fronde” that Mazarin simply carried on the aims of Richelieu to which he remained loyal to, bringing them to fulfilment. Unlike the critics of Mazarin who blame the troubles of The Fronde on him, Bonney suggest Mazarin did not wish for or cause The Fronde but simply just understood it to  be the price to pay for a beneficial peace with Spain. The question of Mazarin’s vast fortune was not an inheritance of fraudulent trivial venality but an award bestowed upon him by the king for remaining a loyal servant. Bonney concludes that although Mazarin may have been “an Italian adventurer” he portrayed all the elements of a “devote and loyal French statesman.” [11]

The most prominent factor debated among historians is Mazarin owes his ability to retaining his position as chief minister to the devoted relationship that existed between himself and the Regent Anne of Austria.  Upon the death of Richelieu on December 4th 1642 and the death of Louis XIII on May 4th 1643 Mazarin was entrusted with the position of chief minister as royal favourite of the queen mother to guide the child king, Louis XIV. Despite securing a lucrative position in authority, Mazarin as an Italian by birth knew he was bound to encounter difficulties.[12] Omer Talon comments that Mazarin was subject to “toute sorte de mauvaises impressuins que les peuples lui vouloient imposer”[13], meaning all sorts of bad impressions were imposed upon him. Mazarin faced vehement expressions of grievances towards him even from respectable institutions such as the Parlement of Paris who blamed all evils of the political body on Mazarin which showcased the xenophobia of the allegations and highlighted the difficulties facing Mazarin in which he would have to overcome to retain his position.  Denunciation of the position of foreigners had been seen before through Henri de Montmorencey in 1574 who rebuked the influence of Chancellor Birague and Retz through powerful propaganda whom both were Italians.[14] Historian Guy Patin alluded to Mazarin as becoming the object of public hatred and would have a similar downfall to that of Concino Concini and his wife Léonora Galigaí who tried to dominate royal patronage through their position as favourites to Marie de Medicis which in fact resulted in rebellion of the upper nobility.[15] Mazarin greatly feared assassination and the implementation of the decree from the Parlement of Paris forbidding foreigners from holding office and governships in France.[16] Geoffrey Treasure claims that despite this Anne of Austria allied to Mazarin as they were two foreigners leading France in a time of military, fiscal and social crisis and it was to be expected that they were to need one another for understanding and support which agrees with Moote’s claim that the relationship that existed between Anne of Austria and Mazarin mirrored the relationship that had existed between Richelieu and Louis XIII. Treasure explores how both had something to gain from their alliance. Anne required Mazarin’s expertise in politics to guarantee the protection of her sons’ throne and monarchy from pretence from institutions of the Parlement of Paris and the nobility of by consequences of the closing stages of the Habsburg Wars. Mazarin primarily needed the regent’s support to tolerate and endure the hostility at court so he could carry out such tasks. This dependence and alliance between the two showed it strength with the survival of two exiles, with Anne maintained his positions security and implementing the Cardinal again once the political situation had ceased.[17] This conveys the crucial role this alliance and relationship held to how Mazarin retained his position as chief minister of France.

Another factor in which is constantly questioned is the matter in which Mazarin secured his vast wealth in which he acquired throughout his lifetime. After his death in 1661, it was uncovered Mazarin held a fortune of nine million livres which was the largest monetary legacy under the ancien regime. A query surrounding what some believed was a corrupt inheritance on Mazarin’s part began to be explored. However historians argue that Mazarin was building his fortune as a direct response to the ordeal he had endured in The Fronde. Mazarin kept money at his residence and close to borders in case of an abrupt departure following his sudden exiles. Nonetheless his fortune remained a contentious issue in the view of the French aristocracy. Bonney again refers to the vital importance of the alliance between the regent and Mazarin. He recalls the events surrounding how Concini and his wife’s had secured their wealth and the response they received which bore extremely similar relevance to Mazarin. While on trial for the wealth they had acquired by “voyes extraodinaires at illicites” judges were angered when it was uncovered that Léonora Galigaí transferred money abroad to Florence and Rome. Their monetary funds were confiscated and bestowed to Luynes – the new favourite, further highlighting the strength in alliances to advance to power. In 1651 Mazarin faced a similar trial for similar reasons, although due to the favour he held with the regent the case did not advance very far as it lacked the support they needed from her. Although it remains uncertain to just how Mazarin received his wealth he used it to further consolidate and retain his power in France. The French public were divided in their opinion on how they believed was the best outcome of the matter in question. One side his opponents wished for the same outcome of Concini and his wife and for the money to be confiscated, on the other side his followers held a more traditional approach and wished for him to use it in marriage and inheritance. Mazarin saw an opportunity to further advance and strengthen his position Mazarin used his nephew who he had brought to France, Paolo Mancini and his seven nieces – five Mancini nieces and two Matinozzi nieces. Mazarin had no wife or son as he was cardinal of the church. Mazarin sought after admirable and respectable partners in which he was able to endow significant dowries. This approach to retain power was common, as royal favourites always sought to establish a marriage alliance into the French nobility to strengthen their position. The duc de Vendome suggested to Mazarin in 1649 the idea of a marriage alliance. Even though the duc of Vendome had a troublesome past, as the illegitimate child of Henri IV and the loss of his authority of Brittany at the hands of Richelieu, he was viewed as an enemy of Mazarin. However the marriage alliance agreed was to be between duc de Mercoeur, his son and Laura Mancini which was met with a furious reaction from Condé as he had a marriage alliance he himself wished to fulfil which would give him access to Le Harve, completely undermining Mazarin. Mazarin assured that Le Harve would remain firmly in his control and it resulted in the arrest of Condé. This paved the way for a personal alliance to be established between the unlikely pair in Vendome and Mazarin. Mazarin bestowed the title of admiral and governor of Burgundy which was once the province of Condé. [18]

Treasure believes that Mazarin understood through the reign of Richelieu the vital importance in establishing a strong band of clienteles and use of patronage to ensure and strengthen authority as chief minister. This is highlighted firstly in Mazarin granting duc de Mercoeur governor of Le Harve in 1652.[19] Richelieu was governor of Brittany and understood he could not retain his power when he could not be present in the province and thus implemented his cousin Charles de la Porte duc de La Meilleraye governor. Richelieu now was confident his authority would be upheld. Mazarin kept La Meilleraye in the position as a strategic alliance who kept Brittany loyal during the troublesome period of The Fronde and held powerful offices.  Mazarin recognised that loyalty where he could attain it through titles, monetary gains and political advancement was worth having, but establishing this proved to be difficult. To undermine the threat of the province of the Fronde La Vieuville, lieutenant-general of Champagne returned to the crown pledging his loyalty after being promised superintendent of finances and granted a title of duc for his loyalty. Harcourt who led the royalist armies Normandy was disappointed in his rewarded from Mazarin and signed treaties with Spain transferring Alsace to Spanish control. This hindered any chance of reconciliation with the powerful family. Loyalty of several nobles could be bought like Bouillon and Turenne with offers of reinstating status, powerful positions like Turenne commanding the royalist who served gave importance and compensation of monetary fund’s that had been lost which solidified the reconciliation. This concluded in 1662 with the marriage alliance between Mazarin’s niece Anna Mancini and Bouillons son. Although Bonney also argues that not all of Mazarin’s supporters had to be bought such as the governors of Sedan and Lorraine who displayed the utmost loyalty, but simply supported what he stood for and encouraged him through his tribulations.[20]

Mazarin proved to be a complex character and one of which historians will continue to differ in their opinion and critique of how they believed he retained his power as chief minister of France from 1643 to 1661. At large the consistent support of the regent Anne of Austria which allowed him to rise through the ranks and secure a powerful authority position is to whom he owes his most success. He also depended on his position to bestow titles and funds as a clause to free himself from troubles he found himself in. Mazarin was successful in fulfilling the domestic and diplomatic aims of the former chief minster Richelieu and played a central role as part of the most celebrated and renowned era of Bourbon France. The ferocious determined son of an Italian noble family was the redeemer and saviour of French absolutism.


  • Lloyd Moote, “The Revolt of the Judges: The Parlement of Paris and the Fronde”, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1971), p.68
  • Geoffrey Treasure, “Mazarin: The Crisis of Absolutism in France.” (London and New York: Routledge, 1995), p.55, 283, 321
  • George Dethan, “Mazarin: un homme de paix a l’age baroque 1602-1661” (Paris, 1981), p.342
  • Georges Dethan, ‘Jules Cardinal Mazarin: French Cardinal and Statesman’, Encyclopaedia Britannica accessed 17th April 2019.
  • Guy Patin, “Lettres pendant la Fronde”, ed. A Thérive  (1921), p.139
  • Omer Talon, “Mémoires”, ed. J.F Michaud and J.J.F Poujoulat (1839), p.300
  • Robert Bonney, ‘Cardinal Mazarin and the Great Nobilty during The Fronde’, The English Historical Review, Vol. 96, No.1 (1981), p. 818-833
  • J. Russell Major, “From Renaissance to Absolute Monarchy: French nobles and Estates”, (Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 1994), p294-295.

[1] Geoffrey Treasure, “Mazarin: The Crisis of Absolutism in France.” (London and New York: Routledge, 1995), p.55

[2] Treasure, “Mazarin: The Crisis of Absolutism in France,” p. 1

[3] Robert Bonney, ‘Cardinal Mazarin and the Great Nobilty during  The Fronde’, The English Historical Review, Vol. 96, No.1 (1981), p. 821

[4] Georges Dethan, ‘Jules Cardinal Mazarin: French Cardinal and Statesman’, Encyclopaedia Britannica accessed 17th April 2019

[5] Georges Dethan, ‘Jules Cardinal Mazarin: French Cardinal and Statesman’, Encyclopaedia Britannica accessed 17th April 2019.

[6] Georges Dethan, ‘Jules Cardinal Mazarin: French Cardinal and Statesman’, Encyclopaedia Britannica accessed 17th April 2019.

[7] A. Lloyd Moote, “The Revolt of the Judges: The Parlement of Paris and the Fronde”, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1971), p.68

[8] J. Russell Major, “From Renaissance to Absolute Monarchy: French nobles and Estates”, (Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 1994), p294-295.

[9] Moote, “The Revolt of the Judges: The Parlement of Paris and the Fronde”, p.68

[10] George Dethan, “Mazarin: un homme de paix a l’age baroque 1602-1661” (Paris, 1981), p.342

[11] Bonney, ‘Cardinal Mazarin’, p. 822-823

[12] Bonney, ‘Cardinal Mazarin’, p. 818

[13] Omer Talon, “Mémoires”, ed. J.F Michaud and J.J.F Poujoulat (1839), p.300

[14] Bonney, ‘Cardinal Mazarin’, p.819

[15] Guy Patin, “Lettres pendant la Fronde”, ed. A Thérive  (1921), p.139

[16] Bonney, ‘Cardinal Mazarin’, p. 819

[17] “Treasure, Mazarin: The Crisis of Absolutism in France,” p. 283

[18] Bonney, ‘Cardinal Mazarin’. p. 821-823

[19] Treasure, “Mazarin: The Crisis of Absolutism in France”, p.321

[20] Bonney, ‘Cardinal Mazarin. p.823-829


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