Cardinal Richelieu: And the Making of France

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9780786707782: Cardinal Richelieu: And the Making of France
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In an extraordinary drama sweeping across seventeenth-century France, this probing biography of Cardinal Richelieu explores how a man of steely intelligence and ruthless ambition not only fulfilled his dreams of social prestige, personal wealth, and political power but at the same time realized his vision of a France unified as much by its culture as by its king.

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For a man who might justifiably lay claim to being the father of the French nation, Cardinal Richelieu (1585-1642), the first minister of King Louis XIII's council, was quite remarkably unpopular. His overtaxed countrymen, ever rebellious during his lifetime, lit bonfires to celebrate his death, and "it may well be true," according to his new biographer, "that it is impossible to name any historical personage in French public life who has provoked more hatred." From Richelieu's life as described by Levi (a scholar of French studies and editor of the two-volume Guide to French Literature), one might conclude that the centralization of the nation state was a morally bankrupt goal driven by the most inhumane of ideals; but Levi is circumspect in his judgments, preferring simply to observe and understand. This is a sophisticated narrative, perfectly accessible yet pervaded by gravitas and alert to the complexities of the Catholic revival movement which followed the internecine Wars of Religion. Levi's recurrent idea is that Richelieu aspired to the creation of national unity as much through cultural symbolism (creating, for instance, the French Academy and initiating a great art collection) as through strictly political means. He presents a complex man of manipulative intelligence and inexhaustible nervous energy, capable of good humor and charm as well as violent mood swings. However, he is strikingly indulgent in dealing with Richelieu's revenge on rebellious rural workers in Normandy. Levi's account provides plentiful grounds to suspect why Richelieu destroyed huge volumes of private documents, as well as a little Norman village. This sharp portrait will interest students of French, European and political history. (Dec.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist:

If one's view of Cardinal Richelieu is based on a reading of Alexander Dumas' The Three Musketeers, one inevitably thinks of a ruthless, cynical practitioner of power politics. Levi, a specialist in French culture, does not contradict that image. However, in this absorbing and often surprising biography, Levi gives Richelieu well-deserved credit for molding France into a modern nation-state. Under Richelieu, France became more than a mere geographic expression. He launched efforts to enforce linguistic unity and effectively fought the centrifugal tendencies of the great feudal lords. He created the French Academy, and a national theater, and initiated state domination of the educational system. Of course, in foreign affairs, his statecraft made France the greatest power in continental Europe. This is an interesting portrait of an admirable, but not very lovable, historical giant. Jay Freeman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Publisher: Da Capo Press, 2002
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