What was the importance of Cardinal de Richelieu? Why is he significant for our understanding of the Chinese past?
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The question – what is the significance of Cardinal de Richelieu for our understanding of China’s past – is a bit perplexing, and may emanate from confusion regarding botanical matters involving the cross-pollination of varieties of roses in which the hybrid China rose is used in the development of the “Cardinal de Richelieu” rose. Otherwise, the history of China was not particularly influenced by the political machinations of early-17th Century France.
Cardinal de Richelieu was born Armand Jean du Plessis in 1585 and became one of the great figures in French history, rising to the pinnacle of power in both the Catholic Church and the French monarchy, the latter emanating from his accession to the position of chief minister to King Louis XIII. Not dissimilar to the role Rasputin would play in Russia’s imperial court, de Richelieu emerged as a major power behind the king’s throne. The cardinal was instrumental in formulating France’s official position on major foreign policy matters, particularly with respect to the House of Hapsburg and the Holy Roman Empire, against whom France fought during the Thirty Years War (1618-1648). De Richelieu, especially following his coronation as cardinal in 1622, was probably the most influential figure in France, successfully usurping authorities more normally or traditionally assumed by the Crown. His political maneuvers within the kingdom were more instrumental in shaping France than were those of any other figure of his time. He successfully out-maneuvered his patron, the queen mother, forcing her and Louis’ younger brother into exile, and had political rivals executed. He was instrumental in establishing the French Navy and using that new military capability to project French influence abroad, which would ultimately reach the Far East, but beyond that was not a particularly influential figure with regard to Chinese history. French colonization of Indochina (i.e., Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia) would not occur until the late 19th Century, and the earlier activities of Jesuit missionaries in China might, conceivably, be tied in some way to Cardinal de Richelieu's much earlier activities, but such a connection in the sense suggested by the question is a bit of a stretch. Those Jesuits were dispatched by the French monarch to counter the influence of other European powers, mainly the Islamic Ottoman Empire, but, again, any connection to de Richelieu is a little tenuous.
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