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sinsalabintrix

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Chief minister


Cardinal Richelieu's policy involved two primary goals: centralization of power in France and opposition to the Habsburg dynasty (which ruled in both Austria and Spain). Shortly after he became Louis's principal minister, he was faced with a crisis in the Valtellina, a valley in Lombardy (northern Italy). In order to counter Spanish designs on the territory, Richelieu supported the Protestant Swiss canton of Grisons, which also claimed the strategically important valley. The Cardinal deployed troops to Valtellina, from which the Pope's garrisons were driven out. Richelieu's decision to support a Protestant canton against the Pope won him many enemies in predominantly Catholic France.

Cardinal Richelieu at the Siege of La Rochelle.In order to further consolidate power in France, Richelieu sought to suppress the influence of the feudal nobility. In 1626, he abolished the position of Constable of France and he ordered all fortified castles to be razed, excepting only those needed to defend against invaders. Thus, he stripped the princes, dukes, and lesser aristocrats of important defences that could have been used against the King's armies during rebellions. As a result, Richelieu was hated by most of the nobility.

Another obstacle to the centralization of power was religious division in France. The Huguenots, one of the largest political and religious factions in the country, controlled a significant military force, and were in rebellion. Moreover, the English king, Charles I, declared war on France in an attempt to aid the Huguenot faction. In 1627, Richelieu ordered the army to besiege the Huguenot stronghold of La Rochelle; the Cardinal personally commanded the besieging troops. English troops under the Duke of Buckingham led an expedition to help the citizens of La Rochelle, but failed abysmally. The city, however, remained firm for over a year before capitulating in 1628.

Although the Huguenots suffered a major defeat at La Rochelle, they continued to fight, led by Henri, duc de Rohan. Protestant forces, however, were defeated in 1629; Rohan submitted to the terms of the Peace of Alais. As a result, religious toleration for Protestants, which had first been granted by the Edict of Nantes in 1598, was permitted to continue; however, the Cardinal abolished their political rights and protections. Rohan was not executed (as were leaders of rebellions later in Richelieu's tenure); in fact, he later became a commanding officer in the French army.

On the "Day of the Dupes" in 1630, it appeared that Marie de Médicis had secured Richelieu's dismissal. Richelieu, however, survived the scheme, and Marie was exiled as a result.Habsburg Spain exploited the French conflict with the Huguenots to extend its influence in northern Italy. It funded the Huguenot rebels in order to keep the French army occupied, meanwhile expanding its Italian dominions. Richelieu, however, responded aggressively; after La Rochelle capitulated, he personally led the French army to northern Italy to restrain Spain.

In the next year, Richelieu's position was seriously threatened by his former patron, Marie de Médicis. Marie believed that the Cardinal had robbed her of her political influence; thus, she demanded that her son dismiss the chief minister. Louis XIII was not, at first, averse to such a course of action, for his relations with the Cardinal were poor. The King disliked Richelieu, but the persuasive statesman was capable of convincing his master of the wisdom in his plans. On 11 November 1630, Marie de Médicis and the King's brother, Gaston, duc d'Orléans, secured the King's agreement for the dismissal. Cardinal Richelieu, however, was aware of the plan, and quickly convinced the King to repent. This day, known as the Day of the Dupes, was the only one on which Louis XIII took a step toward dismissing his minister. Thereafter, the King, although continuing to dislike Richelieu, was unwavering in his political support for him; the courtier was created duc de Richelieu and was made a Peer of France.

Meanwhile, the unsuccessful Marie de Médicis was exiled to Compiègne. Both Marie and the duc d'Orléans continued to conspire against Cardinal Richelieu, but their schemes came to nothing. The nobility, also, remained powerless. The only important rising was that of Henri, duc de Montmorency in 1632; Richelieu, ruthless in suppressing opposition, ordered the duke's execution. Richelieu's harsh measures were designed to intimidate his enemies. The Cardinal also ensured his political security by establishing a large network of spies in France as well as in other European countries.