Saturday, June 29, 2019

Who was Cardinal Mazarin?

The Machiavellian diplomat that established the international peace that welcomed the reign of King Louis XIV – Cardinal Mazarin (1602 – 1661)

Early Life

Born on July 14, 1602 in Pescina in the Kingdom of Naples, Giulio Raimondo Mazzarino came from a average but connected family. His family found patronage from the influential papal noble family of the Colonnas. With the support of the Colonnas, the young Mazzarino studied in Rome under the supervision of the Jesuits and excelled as a student. In his adolescent, however, he became a notorious gambler to the horrors of his parents. His gambling perhaps shaped his boldness, audacity, and cleverness that served him well later with his excellent mind and charm. To prevent his further descent into debauchery, the future first minister of France’s parents sent him into Spain and to study law in the University of Alcala de Henares (now known as the University of Madrid).

By 1624, Mazarin returned to Rome and served as a captain in the papal army. In 1625, however, he decided to leave the world of sheer strength and chaos of the army for the world of strategy, words, and intelligence of foreign affairs – he became a diplomat.
Mazaring Galloping to the Armies at Casale Shouting Peace! Peace!
Papal Diplomatic Service

In 1628, he served as a secretary attached to the diplomatic mission of papal legate Jean-Fran├žois Saccchetti. Sacchetti’s mission meant to prevent a war between the Bourbons of France and the Hapsburg of Spain and the Holy Roman Empire over the succession of the Duchy of Mantua – the War of Mantuan Succession (1628 – 1631). In 1630, Mazarin had a new boss – Antonio Cardinal Barberini, nephew of Pope Urban VIII. He then received his new assignment from Cardinal Barberini to go to Paris and negotiate with the French government – his first tryst with destiny.

He arrived in Paris and met with France’s grand first minister Cardinal Richelieu. In Richelieu, he found a man of great talent and superb ability to which he found a possible mentor. Nonetheless, his mission had to proceed and found a settlement for the Mantuan question.

On October 26, 1630, Mazarin thrust himself into history with his sheer courage and audacity. During the Battle of Casale in Monferrato, he galloped in the middle of a battlefield in between 2 raging armies shouting “Peace, peace!” Nonetheless, the war raged on for another year. On June 19, 1631, Mazarin contributed to the signing of the Treaty of Cherasco that led to a French candidate ascending as Duke of Mantua.

In 1632, Mazarin returned to Rome and immerse himself to the arts and culture. He surrounded himself with artists and sculptures. He watched operas and plays. In this period, he developed a sophisticated taste.
Cardinal Richelieu
Into the Arms of France

In 1634, Mazarin received his new appointment as nuncio or ambassador to Paris. He had once again an opportunity to work with Cardinal Richelieu. Luckily for him, Richelieu also viewed him as a man of talent and the 2 developed a teacher-student relationship. He learned more about France, Richelieu, and King Louis XIII.

His relation with Richelieu and King Louis XIII also became an advantage for his mission as ambassador – prevent France from fighting the Holy Roman Empire and Spain. Religious differences and geopolitics plunged Europe into the Thirty Years’ War. France supported many belligerents with subsidies and Mazarin had the mission of preventing her from joining the fray – he failed. In 1635, France joined the fight against the Hapsburg of the Holy Roman Empire and Spain. In 1636, Vatican recalled him to Avignon and then to Rome.

From 1636 to 1638, his closeness to France led him to further and protect French interest in the Papal Court. His representation of French interest in the court earned him the gratitude of Richelieu and King Louis XIII. In 1638, King Louis XIII endorsed Mazarin to be a cardinal despite the Italian diplomat having only received a minor order, which meant he was not an ordained priest. Ultimately, Pope Urban VIII agreed and Mazarin became a Cardinal in 1641.

Mazarin continued to fall into the arms of France after the endorsement. In 1639, Mazarin received his naturalization papers from France – making him a French subject. With the request of Cardinal Richelieu and King Louis XIII in 1640, Mazarin left the service of the Pope to serve of the French Kingdom.
Louis XIII
In Service of France

From 1640 to 1642, Mazarin closely served Richelieu. He observed the French court and politics. Most importantly, he gave his advice regarding his expertise – diplomacy.  One of his early missions, brought him to Savoy to secure the regency of Duchess Christine of Savoy, sister of King Louis XIII. Despite facing tremendous opposition from Savoy nobility, he successfully turned the tables and cemented the regency. As a result, he earned the trust and confidence of Richelieu until December 4, 1642. The daunting statesman Cardinal Richelieu passed away. Before passing, Richelieu sent out letters stating an order “to send their reports to Cardinal Mazarin, as they had formerly done to him.” King Louis XIII also gave Mazarin the same confidence he gave to Richelieu and took him into his council. However, in 1643, King Louis XIII passed away as well leaving the throne to his minor son King Louis XIV.

With a minor King, a regency formed. Mazarin supported Queen Anne of Austria, mother of the King, as he knew his safety relied on the confidence of the Queen and her influence to Louis XIV.  On the other hand, though Queen Anne despised Richelieu, she came to trust Mazarin whose charm and intelligence captivated her. She even placed the Italian cardinal in charge of the Louis XIV’s education. Another factor to their close relationship laid on their foreign origins and both suffering from suspicion and mistrust of many French. Mazarin himself had difficulty in earning the respect of officials and nobles due to his Italian backgroun. In times of crisis, people blamed him for the ills. Nonetheless, Mazarin continued to remind the French people that despite his Italian birth, his heart laid in France.

Mazarin helped Queen Anne to be the regent and he in turn became the First Minister of France. As First Minister he became instrumental in 1646 to opening of talks in Munster, Westphalia to put an end to the Thirty Year’s War - the carnage that drained much of the energy and resources of the Kingdom. As talks continued to be a deadlock, Mazarin trusted the skills of French generals Turenne and the Prince de Conde in the battlefield. Their victories gave France leverage in the negotiations that lasted until October 24, 1648 when the belligerents of the Thirty Years’ War signed the Treaty of Westphalia.
Ratification of the Treaty of Westphalia
The Fronde

While the French diplomats negotiated and signed the Treaty of Westphalia, Mazarin fought for his survival in the French civil war called the Fronde. The Parlements and the French nobility hoped for concessions from the new King, but Mazarin and Queen Anne maintained the power of the monarchy. A conflict erupted and in few moments, the monarchy came close to losing its power. Nonetheless, Mazarin and the Queen remained strong and exploited the division between the interests of the rebels. Mazarin remained in the Queen’s trust despite the Frondeurs called for his disappearance in exchange for peace. Nonetheless, he twice sacrificed his position and went into exile to end the conflict. In the end, King Louis XIV triumph, the monarchy strengthen, and Mazarin remained First Minister.

Conflict with Spain

Despite the signing of the Treaty of Westphalia, conflict with Spain persisted. Both countries vied for territory and influence. During the Fronde, Spain exploited the domestic conflict by supporting the rebellious Prince de Conde who loathed Mazarin. Mazarin then worked to settle with Spain and finally put an end to the last obstacle to peace for France.

Mazarin worked to isolate Spain and pressure her into settling for peace. He prevented Spain’s traditional ally the Austrian Hapsburg in the east from opposing France by establishing the League of Rhine. At the same time, he disregarded the anti-monarchist sentiment of Oliver Cromwell’s England in favor of an anti-Spanish alliance. Anglo-French forces then mobilized to retake Dunkirk that culminated with the Battle of the Dunes.

Finally, Mazarin sponsored numerous rebellions within Spain – a fitting vendetta over Spanish support against him during the Fronde. Rebellions flared up in Catalonia and Naples. He also supported the Portuguese Restoration of War aiming to break the union of the Iberian Peninsula under the Spanish King.

The Peace of Pyreness ultimately concluded the Franco-Spanish War. Signed on November 7, 1659, France gained the lands of Artois, Rousillon, and Cerdagne. Spain regained the Franche-Comte. The peace cemented with the marriage of King Louis XIV to the Spanish Infanta Maria Therese.

The marriage, however, came into a conflict between personal and state affairs. Before the marriage, Louis loved another – Maria di Mancini – the Cardinal’s niece. Despite the huge personal gain of being related to the King and even the possibility of souring relation between the sovereign and himself, Mazarin convinced King Louis to marry his intended by agreement and succeeded.

In addition, the treaty of Pyrenees opened a future claim for France and Louis. In exchange for the renunciation by Maria Therese of her Spanish inheritance, France was to receive a huge dowry. With the dowry not paid, France had the opportunity to lay claim to the Infanta’s inheritance in case of the Spanish King’s death. This later developed into the War of Devolution in 1667.
Meeting of Louis XIV and Philip IV
Expanding French Influence

France gained international influence by mediating numerous settlements in different conflicts. From 1655 to 1660, the Second Northern War ravaged Eastern Europe as the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Denmark, the Holy Roman Empire, Russia, and Prussia fought against Sweden. Years of conflict tired the belligerent and fears of French intervention led to negotiations which Mazarin’s government helped to mediate. The Peace of Oliva and Copenhagen came as a result and ended the conflict.

Domestic Policies

While Mazarin busied himself with French diplomacy, he had little headways in domestic affairs. Much of his difficulties in local politics rooted from his unpopularity as a foreigner. His policy of reducing expenditure and increasing of taxes during the 1640’s brought his situation to no better. The Fronde brought much negative publicity in his name.

Among his achievements included the defense of the authority and power of the monarchy. He succeeded on this by winning the Fronde. He showed himself as a dedicated official to the King by sacrificing his position twice to achieve peace during the domestic unrest. Later on, he also quelled further rebellions such as the case of Sologne in 1658.

He also established a competent government manned by intelligent administrators from the lower nobility and middle class. He fostered the talents of future giants in Louis XIV’s government: Jean-Baptiste Colbert, Michel de Tellier, and Hugues de Lionne.

Criticisms and Cultural Contribution

Mazarin contributed to French culture amidst heavy criticisms of extraordinary extravagance and opulence. During the Fronde, he became a subject of negative publicity from pamphlets called Mazarinades. Frondeurs also called Mazarin a “garbage,” while Voltaire accused him of embezzling 200,000,000 Francs.

Whether the accusation had truth or not, Mazarin’s taste for art flamed rumors further. He sponsored a lot of artist whose works decorated his huge mansion which currently housed the Bibliotheque Nationale. His taste for art also led to the foundation of the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture in 1648. He also spent time to watch plays and operas. Because of him, Roman opera grew in vogue in France.

Mazarin moreover amassed a huge collection of books that formed the so-called Bibliotheque Mazarine. He welcomed scholars to his library which later became the foundation of the College of the Four Nations (Alsace, Roussillon, Flanders-Artois, and Pinerolo) in 1661.
Mazarin in his Palace
Spread of Reach

Along with amassing a fortune, many also criticized Mazarin for using his position to marry off his relatives to good families in hope of elevating his own family’s status. He had his nieces and nephews married to different nobles. Thus, he became related to the Prince de Conti, the Duke of Modena, and the family of Colonna in Rome.


On March 9, 1661, after tireless travels for negotiations and extraordinary energy to defend and rebuild France, Cardinal Mazarin passed away. In his wake, he left an able and confident King Louis XIV to rule the country as an absolute monarch. He also left able men whom he fostered to serve his sovereign and adopted country. He left France a great power with tremendous influence through his foreign affairs policies. He established an international peace from which his King later stood tall and proud. Despite his little headway in domestic politics, he contributed in enhancing the growing absolute monarchy that King Louis XIV embodied.

Cardinal Mazarin embodied the problems of an immigrant. Many questioned Mazarin’s loyalties and criticized him for his foreign origin. Mazarin, nonetheless, proved himself a loyal subject of the King and of France when he won his adopted country victories in diplomatic front. He might not have altered French domestic affairs nor fight in her wars, but he used his talents to France the best deals for peace.

Despite being an Italian from humble origins, Mazarin left an indelible mark in history, becoming a fitting successor to his illustrious predecessor Cardinal Richelieu.

See also:

Chaurasia, R.S. History of Europe, 1649 – 1789, Volume 2. New Delhi: Atlantic Publishers and Distributors, 2002.

Duran, Will and Ariel. The Story of Civilization VIII: The Age of Louis XIV. New York, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1963.

Jervis, W.H. A History of France. London: John Murray, 1886.

Maurois, Andre. A History of France. London: Alden Press, 1950.

Dethan, Georges. “Jules, Cardinal Mazarin.” Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed on June 5, 2019. URL:   

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