La guerre vient briser son enfance. Indeed, managing such a disparate array of security partners with competing territorial and confessional agendas eventually became almost impossible — leading a reluctant Richelieu to privilege the preservation of the alliance with Sweden over that with Bavaria. When France first signed the Treaty of Barwalde with Sweden in , promising one million livres per annum over the course of five years in exchange for Stockholm maintaining a fully equipped army of 30, infantry and 6, cavalry in Germany, Richelieu was enthusiastic. He waxed lyrical about the martial prowess of Gustavus Adolphus, the Swedish king, comparing him to Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great.
Throughout his political life, Richelieu was constantly reminded of both the tenuousness of his position and his own mortality. An unpopular man working for a sickly king, the chief minister was the target of countless foreign plots and elaborate court machinations. Much of the resentment directed at him stemmed from his domestic policies: his blunt and wide-ranging efforts to centralize power, increase taxation, and rein in the nobility, along with his habit of supplanting old court favorites with his own sprawling networks of clientele.
The most vivid and substantive debates, however, centered on issues of foreign policy. Furthermore, some argued, why not choose to align with the Habsburgs? Would that not bring about a much-needed peace, advance the cause of international Catholicism, and be preferable to funding the systematic, continent-wide slaughter of co-religionists by foreign heretics?
It took over six years for the chief minister to quash this fierce internal opposition and it was only after the famous Day of the Dupes in November — when he dramatically prevailed over both the queen mother and his two main political opponents, the Marillac brothers — that he achieved unvarnished royal support for his agenda. Even after , Richelieu still had to contend with the periodic opposition to his policies and fretted that the spiritual and impressionable Louis XIII might find himself persuaded by a member of his entourage to jettison his Protestant allies.
Beyond the ornate antechambers and soaring palace walls, the future of French grand strategy was being debated in another wider and more untamed space — in the pages of the political pamphlets and news gazettes that had become a ubiquitous feature of early 17th-century France. The ideological counteroffensive launched by the bons politiques was equally robust, clearly articulated, and often remarkably well-timed.
These day-to-day propaganda efforts were accompanied by a more ambitious and externally-oriented policy of cultural grandeur, whereby the industrious cleric sought to transform Paris into the artistic and academic capital of Europe — a city which would eventually outshine Madrid, Vienna, and maybe even Rome.
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Louis XIII was a traditionalist with a deep attachment to chivalric values and ancient courtly rites. The flamboyant manner in which war was declared on Spain — with a mounted herald delivering the message before the Hallegate of Brussels after having been announced by trumpet — was characteristic of the French monarch. For years he had been champing at the bit, urging Richelieu to move from la guerre couverte to la guerre ouverte. The chief minister had consistently counseled patience, pleading with his sovereign to delay a full declaration of war as long as possible. By the spring of , however, it was clear to Richelieu that this strategy, which had served France so well over the past decade, could no longer continue.
It was therefore necessary, argued Olivares, to seek an early end to the conflict by striking hard and fast.
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Throughout the religious wars of the previous half-century, French royal forces rarely exceeded 16, men. When larger hosts were assembled, they were frequently composed primarily of foreign mercenaries, sometimes reaching up to 70 percent of the total number, rather than troops levied on French soil. Although the decision to go to war was made as early as April, he waited until France had fully cemented its renewed alliances with both the United Provinces and Sweden before dispatching the herald to Brussels.
Indeed, for Olivares and his indignant acolytes, France — with its heady ambitions, exceptionalist ethos, litany of grievances, and overall truculence — was the revisionist power and great disruptor of the status quo. From the very get-go, therefore, the conflict was not framed as a mere tussle over territory and resources, but rather as a paradigm-defining battle for leadership legitimacy and shaping the international order.
Richelieu hoped that Ferdinand II, already consumed with the difficult internal negotiations leading up to the Peace of Prague, would be reluctant to lend imperial military strength to the fight against France. This last-ditch attempt at alliance decoupling, however, proved unsuccessful. After a promising initial victory over an outnumbered Spanish force at the battle of Aveins, French forces, suffering from hunger and afflicted with typhus, encountered a series of military setbacks. In the summer of , a joint Habsburg force led by Cardinal-Infante Ferdinand the governor of the Spanish Netherlands and younger brother of King Philip IV conducted a major counter-attack into French territory.
The invading force met unexpectedly feeble resistance as it ravaged Picardy and Champagne and swept through a series of northern forts. An unnerved Parisian populace directed its seething resentment at the unpopular chief minister and called for his ouster.
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The shaken cardinal tendered his resignation and nervously awaited his fall from grace. But although the king may have been occasionally frustrated with his adviser, he was astute enough to realize that there was no individual better suited to the position of chief minister, or more dedicated to the advancement of French prestige and interests. Cantering through the cobbled streets of Paris, the monarch, who had always fancied himself as something of an Arthurian warrior-king, called upon every man capable of bearing arms to join him in expelling the hated foreigners from French territory.
In reality, however, the panic of the French royal court — while understandable — was unjustified. From that point, the Franco-Habsburg conflict slipped into a numbing see-saw of partial gains mitigated by temporary losses, a war of attrition that severely strained the resources, stability, and organizational capacity of the French state. The challenges associated with coordinating the simultaneous operations of multiple armies over vast distances at a time when communications were both rudimentary and easily subject to delay or disruption were daunting.
While military dispatches to Flanders or Italy would take perhaps 12 to 16 days when sent overland from France, they could take almost three months to arrive by sea from Spain.
As a result, notes J. The cardinal therefore often encouraged commanders to operate under their own initiative and to exercise their own judgment — provided they were not brash — as to when to seize opportunities to push into enemy territory. Indeed, Richelieu could be a singularly demanding overseer, demanding thick stacks of detailed correspondence on every aspect of the war effort and meting out severe punishment in response to perceived cowardice or military shortcomings. As contemporary scholars in the field of security studies have noted, regimes facing significant internal threats frequently adopt sub-optimal organizational practices, basing their promotion patterns on political loyalty rather than on combat prowess.
And at times, the canny clergyman managed to have it both ways, by preemptively absorbing promising commanders within his own networks of clientage, thus ensuring their future loyalty. A degree of local autonomy and decentralization remained necessary, given the bureaucratic limitations of the early 17th-century French state, and French nobles or bishops could thus continue to raise troops on their own account.
The levied soldiers, however, remained under the proprietorship of the French monarchy, which stubbornly refused to take the easier — but in its eyes riskier — path of formalized military delegation. The decision to empower and deploy additional numbers of intendants was part of a broader move toward greater bureaucratic control over every aspect of the French war effort, from taxation to infrastructure development.
One should guard oneself, however, from overstating their ability to enact immediate change and override the decisions and policies undertaken by powerful local commanders. In some cases, this dual command structure acted as an impediment to military effectiveness, with royal intendants frequently butting heads with the commanders of their assigned military units.
In other cases, however, the relationship could prove to be far more harmonious and productive. Military correspondence, after all, flowed in both directions, through a revamped network of dedicated postal relays that aimed to reduce some of the delays in communication. Intendants funneled reams of vital information back to the state center, keeping Richelieu and the secretariat of war somewhat better apprised of the manifold challenges plaguing the efforts of their frontline commanders.
Although France, unlike Spain, benefited from interior lines of communication, the distances remained vast and the terrain nearly impassable in many parts of the country, with thick forests, underdeveloped roads, and large, rugged mountainous regions. Even before the war, in , Richelieu grumblingly queried whether. There is a kingdom in the world that can regularly pay two or three armies at once … I would like to be told whether reason does not require that one better fund an army operating on enemy territory against powerful forces against whom it has been tried in combat, and where expenses and incommodities are indeterminate, rather than one that remains within the kingdom out of precaution of the harm that could befall it.
This complaint pointed to one of the core quandaries confronted by the resource-hungry French armies. When French troops were deployed abroad, particularly across the Rhine, their numbers often began to melt away as soldiers fled the unfamiliar and hostile German landscapes and streamed back to their villages and homesteads.
This helps explain why it was deemed preferable to wage war with foreign mercenaries deep within imperial territory, while using national troops for operations in France or within its near abroad.
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For much of this period, the French monarchy teetered on the edge of financial collapse, staggering from one socio-economic crisis to another and racking up sizable debts to financiers who charged exorbitant rates. Unlike his Spanish rival, Richelieu could not rely on the riches from a sprawling network of overseas colonies, nor, for the reasons described above, could he hope to transfer the costs of military operations onto despoiled tracts of enemy territory.
In this, Richelieu was mostly successful, with some estimates showing that the income of the French crown doubled in real terms over the course of his tenure. Throughout the war, the country was gripped by a series of rural uprisings, with some — such as the massive croquant revolt of or the rebellion of the Va-Nu-Pieds in Normandy in — requiring the temporary redirection of thousands of French troops away from the frontlines. Others had chosen to pursue military careers in exile, with all the attendant variations in training, tactics, and doctrine. In other instances, however, Richelieu was clearly at pains to find enough commanders with the kind of experience needed for the most important theater of operations — the northeastern frontier.
On discute encore du lieu exact de la bataille. Mais cette bataille terrestre ne trouve aucun prolongement naval. Politique poursuivie par la suite et qui leur permettra de mettre la main sur la Sardaigne et la Sicile …. Les Anglais rassemblent navires, embarquent chevaliers et mercenaires, appareillent le 28 mai, et arrivent devant Damme le surlendemain [ 48 ].
La bataille de Damme mai est autant une affaire terrestre que navale. La guerre se poursuit sur le continent en Elle se compose de 18 grandes nefs de guerre et de 20 bateaux plus petits [ 53 ]. At this time, France has turned into one of the leading world powers. French culture flourished. The Age of Enlightenment, the foremost figures of which are Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot, Montesquieu and others, also reffers to the eighteenth century in France.
Voltaire needs special mention because his library is kept in the National Library. Vie de Voltaire.
However, the Age of Enlightened Absolutism did not last long. Deep contradictions rending the French society, still bounded by innumerable relics of the Middle Ages, led, eventually, the country to revolution.
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There is a vast literature devoted to this period. Here are just a few items to consider. Louis XIV. Louis XV. Louis XVI. La France de Richelieu.
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