Cardinal Richelieu: World's First Prime Minister

Cardinal; French statesman, b. in Paris, 5 September, 1585; d. there 4 December 1642. At first he intended to follow a military career, but when, in 1605, his brother Alfred resigned the Bishopric of Luçon and retired to the Grande Chartreuse, Richelieu obtained the see from Henry IV and withdrew to the country to take up his theological studies under the direction of Bishop Cospéan of Aire. He was consecrated bishop on 17 April, 1607; he was not yet twenty-two years old, although the Brief of Paul V dated 19 December, 1606, announcing his appointment contains the statement: "in vigesimo tertio aetatis anno tantum constitutus". Mgr. Lacroix, the historian of Richelieu's youth, believes that in a journey made to Rome at the end of 1606, Richelieu deceived the pope as to his age, but the incident is still obscure. In his diocese, Richelieu showed great zeal for the conversion of Protestants and appointed the Oratorians and the Capuchins to give missions in all the parishes. Richelieu represented the clergy of Poitou in the States General of 1614, where his political career began. There he was the mouth-piece of the Church, and in a celebrated discourse demanded that bishops and prelates be summoned to the royal councils, that the distribution of ecclesiastical benefices to the laity be forbidden, that the Church be exempt from taxation, that Protestants who usurped churches or had their coreligionists interred in them be punished, and that the Decrees of the Council of Trent be promulgated throughout France. He ended by assuring the young king Louis XIII that the desire of the clergy was to have the royal power so assured that it might be "comme un ferme rocher qui brise tout ce qui gheurte" (as a firm rock which crushes all that opposes it).

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