When the records present a milieu crawly with subterranean plots, exactly what happened may be a matter of conjecture. Richelieu’s many enemies tended to be of the ultra-catholic persuasion that abhorred religious tolerance in any form. So Dumas’ great villain may have been inspired by the real statesman’s relatively enlightened policies. The Cardinal seems to have placed the welfare of France above other concerns, but naturally after token excesses of self-enrichment and grasping of power. To survive so many dark machinations, must Richelieu himself have been the Arch Schemer? We are given his reassuring army of spies and the manipulation of Louis VIII, moving favorites around like pieces on a chess board. This book is pretty pro-Richelieu but leaves room for doubt. Who wouldn’t prefer Charlton Heston’s wily evildoer? One struggles with the desire to believe in villainy. It’s fun to read that the English Duke of Buckingham really fell in love with the French Queen, with serious international repercussions—as always, the consequence of a plot.
I would have found it more readable if some of the lesser players had been fleshed out more. There is a place for that sort of thing in the writing of history. As regards the backdrop of the Thirty Years’ War, there may be no possibility of imposing order on that conflict.
The title of this book should be, A Brief History of Louis XIII's France. The historical research that went into this book is commendable, but it misses its point. I learned about every character in Richelieu's life than I did about him. A historical background is essential to understanding Richelieu's significance; however, the author focused more on historical background than on Richelieu's character and his impact on France, which is what one wants to read in a biography. It is a well written book but it lacks focus.
It reads like great fiction but is historical fact.
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