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The Minister–The Cardinal Duke Of Richelieu
by [?]

Richelieu was the greatest of statesmen, if he who maintains himself by the greatest power is necessarily the greatest minister. He was called “the King of the King.” After having long tormented himself and France, he left a great name and a great empire–both alike the victims of splendid ambition! Neither this great minister nor this great nation tasted of happiness under his mighty administration. He had, indeed, a heartlessness in his conduct which obstructed by no relentings those remorseless decisions which made him terrible. But, while he trode down the princes of the blood and the nobles, and drove his patroness, the queen-mother, into a miserable exile, and contrived that the king should fear and hate his brother, and all the cardinal-duke chose, Richelieu was grinding the face of the poor by exorbitant taxation, and converted every town in France into a garrison; it was said of him, that he never liked to be in any place where he was not the strongest. “The commissioners of the exchequer and the commanders of the army believe themselves called to a golden harvest; and in the interim the cardinal is charged with the sins of all the world, and is even afraid of his life.” Thus Grotius speaks, in one of his letters, of the miserable situation of this great minister, in his account of the court of France in 1635, when he resided there as Swedish ambassador. Yet such is the delusion of these great politicians, who consider what they term state-interests as paramount to all other duties, human or divine, that while their whole life is a series of oppression, of troubles, of deceit, and of cruelty, their state-conscience finds nothing to reproach itself with. Of any other conscience it seems absolutely necessary that they should be divested. Richelieu, on his death-bed, made a solemn protestation, appealing to the last judge of man, who was about to pronounce his sentence, that he never proposed anything but for the good of religion and the state; that is, the Catholic religion and his own administration. When Louis the Thirteenth, who visited him in his last moments, took from the hand of an attendant a plate with two yolks of eggs, that the King of France might himself serve his expiring minister, Richelieu died in all the self-delusion of a great minister.

The sinister means he practised, and the political deceptions he contrived, do not yield in subtilty to the dark grandeur of his ministerial character. It appears that, at a critical moment, when he felt the king’s favour was wavering, he secretly ordered a battle to be lost by the French, to determine the king at once not to give up a minister who, he knew, was the only man who could extricate him out of this new difficulty. In our great civil war, this minister pretended to Charles the First that he was attempting to win the parliament over to him, while he was backing their most secret projects against Charles. When a French ambassador addressed the parliament as an independent power, after the king had broken with it, Charles, sensibly affected, remonstrated with the French court; the minister disavowed the whole proceeding, and instantly recalled the ambassador, while at the very moment his secret agents were, to their best, embroiling the affairs of both parties.[218] The object of Richelieu was to weaken the English monarchy, so as to busy itself at home, and prevent its fleets and its armies thwarting his projects on the Continent, lest England, jealous of the greatness of France, should declare itself for Spain the moment it had recovered its own tranquillity. This is a stratagem too ordinary with great ministers, those plagues of the earth, who, with their state-reasons, are for cutting as many throats as God pleases among every other nation.[219]

A fragment of the secret history of this great minister may be gathered from that of some of his confidential agents. One exposes an invention of this minister’s to shorten his cabinet labours, and to have at hand a screen, when that useful contrivance was requisite; the other, the terrific effects of an agent setting up to be a politician on his own account, against that of his master.