Front Page Titles (by Subject) 90.: Richelieu - Judgments on History and Historians
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90.: Richelieu - Jacob Burckhardt, Judgments on History and Historians 
Judgments on History and Historians, ed. Alberto R. Coll (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1999).
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(I) He is the great accelerator of France’s later political development, for good as well as for bad.
Alone with his idea of the state, which he completely identifies with his person, he confronts a world of egoism.
He must constantly control himself in order to employ the methods necessary to deal with and subdue this mountain of malice. In this he is aided by his satisfaction in the toppling of every single traitor. He is absolutely indifferent to morality in his methods. If he catches the nobility fighting duels, so much the better, as far as he is concerned.
His regal manner becomes manifest through the splendor of Richelieu Castle, through the city of Richelieu, through his domination, which seemed natural to him, of a literature which has become lacking in purpose, which he severs from its “Air de Spadassin” (Les Grotesques) and prepares for its future reign.
As for his relationship with the royal house, the latter has a deadly hatred for him, yet he cannot and will not do without it or replace it. He works only for people who would like to have him poisoned or hanged, i.e., for the idea of which possibly only these people or their successors will be the bearers. He is in an infinitely less favorable position than Henry IV, who was a king and commander in battle. But Richelieu is merely the most hated of all ministers and is allowed to be present at military campaigns only because without him everything would be disjointed.
He has to be friendly at all times to Gaston, the brother of Louis XIII, the heir presumptive to the throne or possible regent for Louis XIV if the king should die soon, and he must take all his pater peccavi’s [Father, I have sinned] as cash payment, although he knows what Gaston would do with him if he became king. He resigned himself early to Gaston’s utter infamy as well as the meanness of the two queens. He does not waste any energy on moral indignation, but goes on ruling.
The king belongs to him only in the sense that he distrusts others even more than he distrusts Richelieu and that Richelieu supplies him with pocket money. Louis XIII gradually gets the feeling that Spain and high treason against him are one and the same thing. The constant danger to Richelieu lies only in the fact that the king feels himself over shadowed by him and must confess to Richelieu time and again that he has wanted to dismiss him.
(II) Let us once more survey the thoroughly rotten situation out of which Richelieu had to pull France, indeed, Europe.
His opponent was Spanish-Hapsburg politics which was, at the same time, a way of thinking, Catholic propaganda, and as such carried its compass within itself, while the French courtiers and leaders had increasingly become separate appendages to this Spain.
Richelieu was obliged to begin by breaking one single element of French strength which was drifting along between these storms, that is, by subduing the Huguenots. It was his intention that they should henceforth be treated decently, but should no longer form a state within the state.
From then on Richelieu was stamped as a good Catholic to the extent that now the French clergy was allowed to support him without reservation; several orders sought his protection; the Jesuits (at least the French ones, for those in Hapsburg lands thought more along Hapsburg lines, something that was winked at in the Gesὺ in Rome) took his side. Urban VIII was able to enter into an alliance with him; he called him to Italy, was privy to the Swedish-French alliance, gave no money at Wallenstein’s reactivation, and at Gustavus Adolphus’s death spoke of him in edifying terms.
But in domestic politics Richelieu had to defend by the most fearful means the welfare and the independence of France against those who ought to have been the born protectors of the state. Thus France became subject to general pressure, and Richelieu became “le dictateur du désespoir” [the dictator of despair].
Where independent action might still want to assert itself, it did so in a manner harmful to the community, e.g., in the case of the parliaments which wanted to debate Richelieu’s just decisions. If Richelieu had wanted to keep France free of strife, he could actually have done so only by taking the attitude “je mourrai en la peine ou je réduirai ce royaume au gouvernement d’Espagne” [I will die in agony or I will reduce this kingdom to the condition of the government of Spain]. For his king he procured pocket money, but he also lectured him, as for example after the capture of La Rochelle.
When the German war continued, a war from which the king would never have found a way out without Richelieu, he had to keep his minister.
(III) In France the spirit of the nation or the state is personified more than in other nations. It does not always have to be the person of the king; Joan of Arc, e.g., was the embodied spirit of the nation. In Richelieu we have the embodiment of a certain idea of the state—it is the idea since then approved of by France and almost all of modern Europe—at a moment when one may hardly ask how things would have turned out without him.
For this it took a man who, completely against his own safety and comfort, exercised a tremendous will which appears to have been stronger than he himself.
Richelieu’s methods were utterly unscrupulous. He was sure of his tools only if he never faltered. Typical of his tools was tricky Père Joseph. He had his spies everywhere, even in the Val de Grâce. He defended the good of his country against those who should have been its guardians. But he was not able to proceed nearly as systematically as his memoirs would have one believe.
Richelieu enforced a system of universal obedience. Any independence, inherited from earlier times, expressed itself only harmfully; this includes the parliaments which knew nothing about affairs of state. For Richelieu the purpose of the state takes precedence over everything, unaffected by compassion or favoritism. Failure to punish appears to him to be the greatest crime against the public welfare. The state must neither forget nor forgive. For political crimes the mere probability of guilt is sufficient.
Richelieu stands alone with his idea of the state. He constantly has to control himself in the face of scoundrels; he beats people down one by one and does not care about the methods: he catches the nobles dueling. He works for people who would like to hang him. He is no king, but only a hated minister. He acquiesces in Gaston’s explanations and the wretchedness of the two queens.
He has no sunny disposition, like Henry IV. He wins no hearts, but conquers people by force only. He is not a king, but he is more than a king, namely, the receptacle of the conception of state which without him would perish because of the dereliction of duty on the part of all those who ought to be its promulgators, but instead commit treason against it.
The thing that especially ennobles Richelieu and makes him invulnerable in history is the constant presence of mortal danger. This he has in common with Henry IV.