HIST 121-02

Richelieu and Olivares-The Quest for European Domination
Elliott, J.H., Richelieu and Olivares, (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1984).

Richelieu and Olivares was written as an account of the lives of the two great rulers of rivaling nations which struggled for the domination of Europe and the idea of a Universal monarchy in the early seventeenth century. The beginning of the book discusses the childhood/adolescent years of Richelieu and Olivares, the similarities and differences of their distinctive personalities and the places and events that shaped them. They were similar in the fact that they were great visionaries and were both relentless in their constant pursuit of discipline and order. They were different in the manner that they rose to power and how they controlled their countries when they were at the helm. After they rose to power it was a matter of gaining the support of the monarch and strengthening central power. It tries to demonstrate not only how the leaders of nascent nations brought about change, but to also show a side of Richelieu that few other books have depicted. “In undertaking this attempt at comparative history, I should make clear that I hold no special brief for the deference of Olivares, whose record of defeat is plain for all to read. My only anxiety is to ensure that he should be given equal time.”(6). This book attempts to demonstrate the chess match between Richelieu and Olivares in which there was to be only one winner. The book compared the two leaders to show what conflicts the two men had, how they dealt with them, what they thought of each other and why one came out on top of the other. “They shared many of the same problems; they came up with many of the same answers; and in the end they reached the conclusion that the world was too small to contain them both.” (6).

The first time that the book notes an unfriendly atmosphere between Richelieu and Olivares came after the War of Mantuan Succession. The two men blamed each other for the problems incurred as a result of the conflict. “Richelieu’s journal for the early months of 1631 shows him receiving reports to the effect that Olivares held him responsible for all Spain’s misfortunes and would shrink from no ‘crime or artiface’ to destroy him” (114). The Cardinal did not think of Olivares very highly either, as it is said in the journal of a French courtier: “De Morgues, who knew Richelieu intimately, speaks of the Cardinal’s hatred for the Count-Duke” (114). As the impending war loomed, Richelieu and Olivares sought allies to defend against each other. Richelieu found allies in Germany, Italy and even Protestant countries such as Sweden and the Netherlands. While Richelieu gained support from the Protestants, Olivares preferred to fight with only Catholic forces. There was no doubt that Spain lost out the wars against the Netherlands and against France, but Olivares discredited Richelieu’s success and his ethics; at the same time praising his own moral and religious principles despite his failure. “Seeking to justify his own career in the Nicandro Olivares argued that, while he had not always been successful, at least- unlike his rival- he had not adopted measures that offended against God, religion and the high traditions of the House of Austria” (126). Cardinal Richelieu explained his reasons for allying with Protestants in order to defeat the Habsburgs: “[they were] absolutely necessary for the salvation of the Duke of Mantua, who had been unjustly attacked, and for that of all Italy” (125). Richelieu maintained that he did not support a Machiavellian approach but instead justified his actions for the raison d’ etat. “Richelieu at least persuaded himself, even if he did not succeed in persuading everyone else, that his policies were based on traditional Catholic principles regulating the natural conduct of states” (127). Even though Richelieu used any means necessary to achieve his goal, Olivares still maintained his ethical approach.

The author does a very good job of writing the account of Richelieu and Olivares. He backs up every point with a historical reference and mixes it with contemporary historical thought. The reader is always kept abreast to what each man’s perspective is and what is happening in