Some regard nineteenth century France to be the France of Napoléon Bonaparte and, in the same respect, it can be argued that ancien régime France was the France of Armand-Jean du Plessis de Richelieu. Upon entering the French political arena, Richelieu was thrown amidst the struggles of international diplomacy, the devious schemes of the nobility, and the disgruntlement of the common people. Similarly, the unstable Florentine Italy which Niccòlo Machiavelli familiarized himself with led both these prominent men to publish their respective works: The Prince by Machiavelli and The Political Testament of Cardinal Richelieu by Richelieu himself. By rejecting conventional morals, disregarding haughty ideals, and promoting ruthless tactics, The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli and The Political Testament became fundamental works in understanding realpolitik.# "L'etat - c'est moi,"# spoken by French king Louis XIV is an embodiment of Cardinal Richelieu's practice of ruler ship, as well as Machiavelli's theory on the necessity of centralizing power in order to establish a stable and secure state.# To achieve this great ascendancy and rule France in an effective manner, Richelieu focused on his foreign policy of challenging the Habsburg dynasty and domestically, centralizing power in France (and ultimately, laying the foundation for Absolutism in the early modern era.)
Starting early in his political career, Richelieu's dealings with international statecraft highlight both the type of issues plaguing France in the early seventeenth century and the resources of determination and shrewdness which he organized to his advantage . His foreign policy of using diplomacy, backed by force only when necessary can be understood specifically through his dealings with the increasingly powerful Spanish-Austrian Habsburg family and furthermore, can be paralleled to Machiavelli's ideas on international diplomacy during times of war.# Prior to Richelieu's ascent to power, France was engaged in The Thirty Years' War (1618-48), a conflict that allowed for the self-preservation of the Habsburg dynasty and thus, presented a threat to the Cardinal. Richelieu's policy synchronized with Machiavelli's views on military organization and must be examined under the consideration that the House of Habsburg appeared to dominate Europe in an unprecedented manner. The effectiveness of his policy centered around the presence of an ally, namely Sweden, outside of Germany to keep the Habsburg's power in check. "Wars are necessary for the peace of subjects and the security of states,"# spoken by Richelieu conveys his and Machiavelli's belief that "A prince must have no other objective or thought, nor acquire skill in anything, except war."# In order to wage a successful war against the Habsburg's, Richelieu understood the importance of acquiring outside help from the Swedes, and thus, incited them to attack.
Militarily, Richelieu deployed his own troops in an effort to restrain the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederic II's increasingly growing power and sought to avoid the usage of mercenaries and auxiliaries. "Mercenaries and auxiliaries are useless and dangerous. If a prince bases the defense of his state on mercenaries he will never achieve stability or security."# Machiavelli's views concerning military organization are radically analogous to Richelieu's in that they both address the notion of avoiding mercenaries for the simple reason that they lack the loyalty and incentive to serve a ruler, except for selfish, merely monetary ones.#
Furthermore, in 1631, France fought a war on the frontiers with the Habsburgs in which there was more at stake than French possession of parts of the Rhineland, but also, unmitigated hegemony of Europe. Understanding the importance of this frontier, Richelieu offered to aid the Swedish King Gustavus Adolphus with financial support as a means of repayment for his war effort. Richelieu's generosity with the Swedes supports Machiavelli's...
Bibliography: Bergin, Joseph. Cardinal Richelieu: Power and Pursuit of Wealth, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985).
Machiavelli, Niccòlo. The Prince, trans. By George Bull (London: Penguin Books, 1961).
Midlarsky, Manus. Terror to Genocide: Dimensions of International Influence. 2002: http://www.isanet.org/noarchive/midlarsky.html.
Richelieu, Armand Jean du Plessis. The Political Testament of Cardinal Richelieu, trans. by Henry Bertram Hill (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1964).
Treasure, G. R. R. Cardinal Richelieu and the Development of Absolutism (London: A and C. Black Ltd, 1972).
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