4th December 1642 was the day on which Cardinal Richelieu, the most powerful man in France, died.
Born in 1585, Armand Jean du Plessis had originally trained for a military career, but family reasons, to do with acquiring the wealth of a bishopric that had been gifted to the family, meant that he joined the clergy and was appointed Bishop of Luçon in 1607 at the age of only 22.
The privileged position of the senior clergy in the French political position meant that Richelieu (he inherited the title of Duc de Richelieu from his father) had a route to political power opened to him. However, reaching the top was not easy, given the dominant position of Marie de Medici, who acted as regent for her son who became King Louis XIII in 1610 at the age of nine.
Richelieu had considerable diplomatic powers, which he used to good effect in playing the various leading figures in French politics off against each other. At one time banished from court by King Louis, Richelieu was later recalled to act as middleman between the king and his mother.
Once established in royal favour, Richelieu was able to rise rapidly in both Church and politics, becoming a cardinal in 1622 and chief minister to King Louis XIII in 1624. He would continue to be the power behind the throne for the rest of his life. It was his brilliance as a statesman that led France to a dominating position within Europe and paved the way for the continuance of that power for more than 100 years after his death.
However, Cardinal Richelieu suffered from ill-health for much of his life, and the stresses brought on by the responsibilities he took upon himself only served to make things worse. He died at the age of 57 from pneumonia coupled with pleurisy.
© John Welford