Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary

Arriving in Paris, Peter the Great kneeled in front of the statue of cardinal Armand de Richelieu and uttered, "If you were alive, I would give you half of my empire so that you could show me how to rule the other half.” These are the words of one of the most powerful men of his time. And there was a reason why he said them.

Armand de Richelieu was the Cardinal of France and King Louis XIII’s Chief Minister who left a significant mark in the history of his country, having an era named after him.

He came into the political arena when France was in deep internal and external political crisis: an empty treasury, raging conflicts between the Catholics and the Huguenots, rebelling feudal nobility, weak army, and military threats from neighboring countries. In other words, the statehood of France was under a threat. And when the cardinal announced, "I have come to power, in order to restore the borders of Gallia,” many received it with a lenient smile, taking it as a diplomatic fantasy, a fanfaronade.

But he made a promise and he kept his word.

Richelieu is one of the most prominent figures of world history. It is undeniable that the cardinal left a world that was different from the world in which he had appeared. Richelieu created and implemented a political mechanism that impacted France for three hundred years.

France became France in the 17th century due to the cardinal’s efforts. Louis XIII was able to stay on the throne thanks to him. Being weak-willed, indecisive, and having small abilities, Louis XIII was simply pale next to Richelieu, who had a brilliant talent not only in international relations, but also in inner political life. In reality, it was Richelieu who ruled France. His political rivals, especially the king’s mother, Marie de Medici, and to some extent the king’s wife, Anne of Austria, manipulated this circumstance. His enemies had declared war against Richelieu. He became the target of intrigues. Being a man of arms rather than a church servant, Richelieu used his power and cunning to get rid of his political opponents. He was so wise that he never tried to usurp the throne. Anyway, he didn’t need it, because he was the country’s de facto ruler.

Being a delicate psychologist and an equally skilled diplomat, he presented himself to the world and to the king as the implementer of the latter’s will and agenda. Richelieu was so skilled in his affairs with Louis XIII that without realizing it the king made decisions based on the cardinal’s opinion. Only the best diplomats could achieve such results.

"I have no enemies, except for the enemies of the state,” said the cardinal once on some occasion. And he fought against those enemies until the end of his life, as all of his activities and his entire philosophy were directed toward the creation of a strong, centralized state—an absolutely monarchy.

Richelieu was the first great politician whose foreign policy was conditioned by his domestic policy agenda. He, first of all, put his house in order. He cleaned the Augean stables of France with an iron broom. Belonging to the French nobility, his first task was to suppress the influence of the nobility, the aristocrats who had declared themselves free from state laws. They didn’t pay taxes, kept armed forces, ignored and terrorized the common people (a familiar scenario that can be related to the present situation in Armenia).

And yet to say that Richelieu was a saint and that he lived like a hermit would be an insult to his memory. The cardinal loved money, but he didn’t hoard. He spent it on pleasurable things and also on the strengthening of the French state; he improved the military and spy network, construction and cultural life. Richelieu was also famous for his patronage of the arts; most notably, he founded the French Academy, the learned society responsible for matters pertaining to the French language. Realizing the power of the press on public opinion, he founded the first French newspaper, Gazette de France.

Alexandre Dumas, père in The Three Musketeers kept silent about the cardinal’s love affairs. Meanwhile, Richelieu has been in love and he has been loved. Two of his lovers even fought for him in a duel, although the cardinal had banned dueling. There has also been an affair between Richelieu and Anne of Austria, who once was his enemy. However, according to sources, the relationship remained within the borders of platonic love.

But what kind of mark did Armand de Richelieu leave in diplomatic history? He authored his most notable work, Political Testament, which has survived the test of time.

First of all, he made a very important discovery in this book: diplomacy, as the art of negotiation, has to be "permanent,” les négociations permanentes, meaning that diplomacy is not a singular act, but a continuing process. It is necessary to negotiate irrelevant of the fact whether the countries are at war or at peace. There is no alternative to negotiation. Winston Churchill seconded this idea, repeating it in a humorous way that is typical of him: "To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war.”
Richelieu consistently preached the idea that state interests always come first and are irrevocable. Those interests should never be sacrificed to feelings, ideology, traditions, or habits. Based on this preliminary thesis, he turned the idea of statehood into the dominant and absolute value of France’s domestic and foreign policy. The cardinal’s counsel is useful especially for us Armenians, as until this day we haven’t been able to differentiate between the idea of national statehood and party ideology.

He was the first one in history to establish a campaign system to spread information inside the country and to gain the sympathy of the public.

The cardinal taught his ambassadors that an intergovernmental agreement is a serious deal and that one needs to show great caution when signing it. And if a document has been signed, it needs to be respected and enacted with the "meticulousness of a pledger.”

According to Armand de Richelieu, it is disastrous for foreign policy when different agencies or dilettantes dabble in diplomacy. To avoid such practice, he issued a decree in March 1626, by which foreign policy was assigned to one body—the Ministry of Foreign Affairs—and nobody else had the right to interfere in the work of the ministry or the embassies. This, too, could be very useful for our present-day diplomacy and politics in Armenia.
3311 reads | 11.07.2013

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