The Thirty Years' War had been raging in Germany for many years, and France had taken no part in it, beyond encouraging the Swedes and the Protestant Germans, as the enemies of the Emperor. But the policy of Richelieu required that the disunion between its Catholic and Protestant states should be maintained, and when things began to tend towards peace from mutual exhaustion, the cardinal interfered, and induced the Protestant party to continue the war by giving them money and reinforcements.
A war had already begun in
Italy on behalf of the Duke of Nevers, who had become heir to the duchy
of Mantua, but whose family had lived in France so long that the Emperor
and the King of Spain supported a more distant claim of the Duke of
Savoy to part of the duchy, rather than admit a French prince into
Italy. Richelieu was quick to seize this pretext for attacking Spain,
for Spain was now dying into a weak power, and he saw in the war a means
of acquiring the Netherlands, which belonged to the Spanish crown.
first nothing important was done, but the Spaniards and Germans were
worn out, while two young and able captains were growing up among the
French—the Viscount of Turenne, younger son to the Duke of Bouillon,
and the Duke of Enghien, eldest son of the Prince of Condé—and
Richelieu's policy soon secured a brilliant career of success. Elsass,
Lorraine, Artois, Catalonia, and Savoy, all fell into the hands of the
French, and from a chamber of sickness the cardinal directed the affairs
of three armies, as well as made himself feared and respected by the
whole kingdom. Cinq Mars, the last favourite he had given the king,
plotted his overthrow, with the help of the Spaniards, but was detected
and executed, when the great minister was already at death's door.
Richelieu recommended an Italian priest, Julius Mazarin, whom he had
trained to work under him, to carry on the government, and died in the
December of 1642. The king only survived him five months, dying on the
14th of May, 1643.
The war was continued on the lines Richelieu had laid
down, and four days after the death of Louis XIII. the army in the Low
Countries gained a splendid victory at Rocroy, under the Duke of
Enghien, entirely destroying the old Spanish infantry. The battles of
Freiburg, Nordlingen, and Lens raised the fame of the French generals to
the highest pitch, and in 1649 reduced the Emperor to make peace in the
treaty of Münster. France obtained as her spoil the three bishoprics,
Metz, Toul, and Verdun, ten cities in Elsass, Brisach, and the Sundgau,
with the Savoyard town of Pignerol; but the war with Spain continued
till 1659, when Louis XIV. engaged to marry Maria Theresa, a daughter of
the King of Spain.
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