Vincent de Paul, priest and philanthropist 11

Francisco Javier Fernández ChentoVincent de PaulLeave a Comment

Author: E. K. Sanders · Year of first publication: 1915.
Estimated Reading Time:

Chapter X: Cardinal de Retz

WITH M. Olier and his Congregation of S. Sulpice labour­ing early and late for the starving citizens of Paris, and Vincent de Paul organizing relief throughout the whole of France, it would seem that the Church won honour from the sensational disasters of the Fronde. And, without question, the personality of M. Vincent assumed by reason of it a dominance over the minds and hearts of the people that might not have been his without it, and the spiritual power of the Lazarists was thereby strengthened. But the Fronde was the most selfish, as well as the most confused, of revolutions; it was pro­longed and sustained by vain desires rather than by any principle of revolt against abuse, and the two figures ranged against each other as leaders on either hand are Cardinal Mazarin and Jean François de Gondi, Cardinal de Retz1. The Church, therefore, does not reap glory from that complicated episode.

The cause of those who were leagued against Mazarin was so strong, and their desire for his expulsion from the kingdom so unanimous, that their ultimate discomfiture is not easily accounted for. It may be that de Retz was more responsible for the failure of the Fronde than for its origin (in spite of the testimony of some of his contemporaries), and is therefore an historical personage of the first importance; but it is not primarily on this account that he claims notice here. One of the objects of M. Vincent’s life-work, and one that was very near his heart, was to set up a standard for the priesthood, and to awake the understanding of the priests themselves to the infamy of their loose lives in contrast to their strict and pure profession. A vigorous crusade against an abuse has little meaning without knowledge of the abuse itself. The maxims and practice of the Lazarists, the unremitting efforts of M. Vincent to impress the necessity of spiritual life upon the priesthood, and the sanctity of the priest’s vocation on every man and woman in France, can have no better explanation than the career of the Cardinal de Retz.

Probably Jean François de Gondi was not in intention an enemy of the State, but his intentions were indefinite, and he was, in fact, the possessor of the most dangerous of all powers—the oratory that can excite, but cannot control, a mob. As we know, there was reason enough for discontent, and, had there been unity among the discontented, there would have been little hope of triumph for the boy King. But there were as many parties as there were notabilities. ;The Duc d’Orleans, first of them all in rank and last in ability, struggled through years of anxiety, and landed himself in disgrace and banishment, without ever having adopted a definite cause or policy. Condé, soldier and man of honour, of whom de Retz himself bore witness that he had ” l’dme du monde la moires méchante,” played with treason, first in the assertion of overweening vanity, and afterwards in revenge for insult and imprisonment. There was de Beaufort also, a reckless fellow, who loved notoriety, and had inherited a capacity for winning hearts. He led revolt because Mazarin engrossed the favours of the Queen, and life at Court was not fruitful of excitement. And the women passed from one to the other, goading, inciting, entangling—Mme. de Longueville, Mme. de Chevreuse, Mme. de Montbazon, Mine. de Guéménée, the Princess Palatine, and many more—a long list of them. They had played at poetry and the fine arts at the Hôtel Rambouillet, and yawned behind their fans; they had endured as best they might the incredible boredom of the Court of Louis XIII., with his neglected Queen guarded and discredited. And then the glorious moment came when every bond might be snapped and no law of society or of the realm need be recognized.

Jean François de Gondi (Cardinal de Retz)

Jean François de Gondi (Cardinal de Retz)

It was a period when woman’s influence was extra­ordinarily powerful. The idea of it had been artificially nurtured by Mme. de Rambouillet. She had intended to foster the purest instincts of human nature, to revive the spirit of chivalry, to inaugurate an age when strong men, led by high-souled women, should strive for noble ends, heedless of personal interest. She was a visionary and a sentimentalist. But being also a woman of peculiar power, she was no less effective because her effectiveness fell so wide of its intended mark. The women of the Fronde owed much to the tuition of Mme. de Ram­bouillet, but their way of life was entirely at variance with her intentions. In fact, she had formed her theory and acted on it without allowing for the element of the un­known, inevitable where new suggestion touches human character. Flames arose where she had not suspected anything inflammable, and the flickering light revealed new qualities in natures she had thought familiar, and speedily the fire spread till, to her dazzled eyes, the calm shining of her social theory and her reign of art and literary excellence ceased to be visible.

The Hôtel Rambouillet, taken by itself, can claim only a subordinate place in the history of any development, social or intellectual; but the Fronde is impossible to overlook in the barest outline of the history of France, and the Fronde owed its duration and its bitterness to the women who took part in it. Condé was at times the central figure, it is true, and Condé was less the tool of women than most of his contemporaries; but its leader and instigator just at those points where the peace-loving hoped that strife might cease was de Retz, first Coadjutor, and afterwards Cardinal Archbishop, the man who of all others of that day was most involved in the intricacies of feminine intrigues.

It would be absurd, therefore, to describe Vincent de Paul and his long struggle to uphold the sanctity of the priest’s vocation and to ignore the great example of the evil against which he fought given by Cardinal de Retz. To understand the strength of the Congregation of S. Lazare, we must realize Cardinal Mazarin and his secretaries, Cardinal de Retz and his envoys to the Papal Court—priests all of them, except Mazarin himself. There were years when de Retz was better known and better loved in Paris than Vincent de Paul himself. And those who loved him best were not to be found among the courtiers or in the light-hearted throng who were his equals in age and rank, but among those who lived in the mean streets or crowded thoroughfares. It was the people, for whose welfare Vincent de Paul struggled and thought and prayed continually, who offered their allegiance to de Retz, and so made him for a time the most formidable of all possible enemies to the Crown.

The coupling of these names is not suggested merely by their contrast. Vincent de Paul began his experience of this world’s pomps and vanities just at the time when Jean François de Gondi was born. In his subsequent intimacy with the whole family he must have shared in the notice and interest excited by the brilliant talents of this youngest hope of a great house. The future Cardinal was not the pupil of M. Vincent for very long, but memories must, nevertheless, have been connected with his brother’s tutor, and the death of Pierre de Gondi (the first and chief disaster of his own life) affected M. Vincent closely.

Jean François de Gondi might have shone as a soldier. He was a fine type of a class not uncommon in his day—one of those intrepid cavaliers who revelled in display, in excitement, and in love-making of a flamboyant sort; who treated the world as a stage, and rarely forgot that they were playing to an audience. Intellectually, he was superior to the clattering troop who were swept hither and thither in the various developments of the Fronde, and, had Fortune allowed him to be one of them, it would assuredly have been as a leader, and not in the rank and file. He was possessed of the literary faculty which is of service in any condition, and also of that more dangerous endowment, the instinct for the pictur­esque. As an independent gentleman, with his hand on his sword-hilt and a reputation for daring to keep him safe from insult, Jean François de Gondi would have found a satisfying range of experience within his reach. It is not difficult to imagine the man he might have been had he been given a helmet in place of a biretta. But Pierre, his elder brother, originally destined to succeed his uncle in the ecclesiastical dignities claimed by the family, died suddenly and tragically ; and, in consequence, it fell to the lot of Jean François, soldier and gallant to his finger-tips, to become the most flagrant example of the evil that was poisoning the Church.

During the five years that the French monarchy tottered on the brink of ruin, the thread that is easiest to follow in the difficult and entangled history of events is that of the struggle between de Retz and Mazarin for supreme rulership of the State. Both were Italian by descent. The de Gondi were of the Florentine nobility, and established their fortune in France under Catherine de Medici. Mazarin was a new-corner, and belonged to the lower orders, but both were endowed with that capacity for cunning which Machiavelli sought to nurture and instruct, and both had the skill to use the elementary passions and desires of their neighbours for their own objects.

Their battle, when it was over and de Retz vanquished, was chronicled by him with matchless cynicism, and his vanity did not prevent him from setting down the most damning evidence against himself. His admissions on the one side gave a stamp of veracity to his accusations on the other, and the brilliant whole destroyed any shreds of reputation that remained to Cardinal Mazarin, while de Retz himself emerges as a clearly outlined figure, with all his folly, all his trickery, all his puerile complacency. He had no standard of morality or truth; he accepted the most solemn spiritual offices purely for self-aggrandizement; he was devoid of any sense of responsibility, and stands self-revealed as unworthy of the trust of others. Yet it is well to remember that Vincent de Paul was a spectator of most of his career, with every opportunity of real knowledge of events. M. Vincent was a lover of honesty, and the glamour of notoriety did not dazzle him. Still, to the end of his days, he was faithful in allegiance to de Retz. On a lower level there were many of the Cardinal’s followers, not otherwise virtuous, who remained unshaken in their devotion, in complete disregard of their own interests. It would seem, therefore, that he was possessed of some unusual capacity to charm which destroyed the balance of judgment in those who came under his spell. Faintly the pages of his memoirs convey the impression which facts support. Here is one who, by his own confession, has defied the laws of God and man, who has tricked, and schemed, and lied, and sacrificed the lives and fortunes of innumerable innocent persons to the chance of satis­fying his ambition ; yet when his memoirs end we are fascinated rather than repelled, and we may believe that this same power secured for him allegiance and support when defeat and confiscation might have brought him to ruin.

His youth was spent in schemes to escape from the chain of the profession that was being forced upon him. When he discovered that open opposition was useless, he resorted to elaborate devices. He hoped to be so distinguished for his martial ardour that the absurdity of condemning him to a cassock would be self-evident, and he lost no opportunity of picking a private quarrel or of brawling publicly. He arranged a runaway match which, had it come to pass, must of course have been decisive, in some measure, of his future; but this failed, as did all deliberate attempts to convince his parents of his unfitness for the priesthood; and in due course he, self-confessed as l’âme la mains ecclesiastique qui fiat dans l’univeys,” became Coadjutor to his uncle, the second Archbishop of Paris.

Richelieu had marked him while he was only a lad, had taken him into some sort of favour, and then with­drew his patronage, and would not advance him. Jean François himself believed that Richelieu’s suspicions of him were aroused by reading a wonderfully able pamphlet which he wrote when only seventeen on the Conspiracy of Gian Luigi Fiesco. Herein one may observe a hint of the vanity of the young author, for it is far more likely that the keen-sighted Cardinal descried in de Retz him­self the qualities which he considered to be dangerous, than that their existence was traced through the medium of his writing. Very strong support would have been needed to secure his nomination as Coadjutor if Richelieu had survived, and there was much cause for the citizens of Paris to deplore an appointment that proved as impolitic as it was scandalous.

But if there were any who knew Jean François de Gondi as he really was, they made no outcry at his appointment to high ecclesiastical office, and the majority were very ready to welcome him, for he had had periods when he thought well to play the priest, and he was as skilful in this part as in any of the others which he chose to adopt.

Among those whose eyes were blinded must be num­bered Vincent de Paul. His discrimination of character had been proved again and again, but here the memory of much kindness to himself, all the force of old loyalty, all the gratitude for the first beginnings of his Congre­gation, was ranged on the side of generous tolerance. He did not regret that Jean François de Gondi was to receive the highest preferment that at the time was possible, and therefore we assume that Jean François had aped the appearance and practices of piety to some purpose. Before the Archbishop’s nephew was quite secure of his appointment, he tells us that he cultivated the society of the most reputable ecclesiastics who fre­quented the archiepiscopal palace. ” I did not pretend to great devotion myself,” he says, ” because I knew I should not be able to keep it up, but I showed great esteem for the pious, and this in their eyes is one of the greatest points of piety.”

Court favour and ecclesiastical support united at the right moment, the Queen smiled on him, and, at thirty, Jean François was Coadjutor to the Archbishop, with the certainty of the succession. It was necessary, then, that he should be a priest, and Vincent de Paul had intro­duced the custom of Ordination Retreats. Perhaps it was not unnatural that de Gondi, who based his fortune on public opinion, should be guided by it at this crisis• Nevertheless, his admission at S. Lazare for the prescribed days of devotional retirement is an anomaly so great as to cast a stigma on M. Vincent himself; his own account of it is sufficiently suggestive.

” As I was forced to take orders,” he says, ” I went into retreat at S. Lazare, where I conformed outwardly in all things. Inwardly I was absorbed by the most profound reflection as to the best course to pursue. It was a very difficult question. I found the Archbishopric of Paris degraded in the eyes of the world by my uncle’s meanness, and distorted in its position towards God by his negligence and incapacity. I foresaw innumerable obstacles in the way of its restoration, and I was not so blind as to overlook that the greatest and the most in­surmountable lay in myself. I was not ignorant of the importance of moral conduct in a Bishop; I knew that the scandalous licence my uncle had permitted himself made the claim on me even more narrow and more insistent than on others; and I knew at the same time that I was not able to sustain it, and that no barrier set up at the bidding either of conscience or ambition would be much check to the attack of temptation. After six days of reflection, I chose to do wrong deliberately, which is incomparably most sinful in the sight of God, but also, without doubt, is wisest from a worldly point of view, because one may take precautions to cover it in part, and so avoid the unseasonable mingling of evil doing with pious practice which in our profession is such a dangerous absurdity.”

Never has there been cynicism more complete. In the quiet chapel at S. Lazare, which for so many was full of hallowed memories, Jean François de Gondi reviewed the possibilities of evil and of good, and ” chose to do wrong deliberately.” He went out from his Retreat to the new life and the new honours that awaited him, and preached a series of Advent sermons in the Cathedral of Notre Dame to crowded congregations. It was the beginning of as curious a drama of human nature as history presents. The Archbishop was going into the country for a time, and full authority was in the hands of the Coadjutor. Fresh from his intercourse with M. Vincent, he set on foot a scheme for the purifica­tion of the diocese. The clergy were, by careful in­vestigation and inquiry, divided into three classes—the virtuous, those whose practices were questionable but who might be reformed, and those whose depravity had become confirmed. The last were to hold no office, and the more hopeful were to be suspended until they showed plain intention of living more worthily. Such a project must have rejoiced the heart of Vincent de Paul, and de Gondi’s powers as an administrator were sufficient to carry it through and to effect immense improvement in the deplorable conditions that prevailed. Unfortu­nately, however, his authority was not supreme, and the Archbishop on his return cancelled every regulation made by the Coadjutor. It was said that he did so with the approval of Mazarin, who seems to have been unswervingly consistent in opposition to all attacks on the libertinage of the priests, and de Gondi, who meant his reforming ardour to serve as one of the steps by which he climbed high in public opinion, began his collection of grievances against the Cardinal.

In spite of the failure in practical result, de Gondi’s reforming enterprise scored heavily in his favour, for he had managed to impress the Queen. She required that he should conduct a six weeks’ Retreat in a convent, and he acquitted himself admirably. In those early days he was not only celebrated as a preacher, but it is plain he took a pride in his preaching. One of his sermons on S. Carlo Borromeo was famous. Doubtless there were many who believed they derived spiritual benefit from his exhortations. He sets down the record of his doings in fulfilment of his exalted office with a measure of pride in his success. And all the time that other life, which was to be hidden for fear of ” dangerous absurdity,” was going on, and the record of this also he set down.

His forefathers had been the comrades and confidants of the Valois and Medici; the chain that was meant to bind him had not been of his choosing; Southern blood ran in his veins—these are the excuses for him as an individual. Around him lay a wealth of temptation. It was a moment of reaction. The Queen set a dubious example. No member of the Royal Family could have presented a clean record, and in every mind there lurked the recollection of life at Court under Louis XIII., of his high standard of morality—and its exceeding dulness. Virtue itself was not more lacking than the desire for virtue, and it is unlikely that a man of thirty could have maintained familiar intercourse with the notable per­sonages of the day unless he shared their vices. If his contemporaries do not malign him, Jean François de Gondi was without external attraction. He was under­sized and ugly, and though he loved to make nocturnal expeditions in all a courtier’s finery, with satin cloak, plumed hat, and jewelled sword, he was undoubtedly a priest, and condemned in daylight hours to be dis­figured by cassock and biretta. Nevertheless, it is plain that he was a dangerous rival in love and friendship. Mme. de Longueville herself is numbered among his conquests, and there was a moment when he dreamed of ousting Mazarin from dominion over the Queen. There was something about him that won affection, and, where women were concerned, it is likely that the anomaly of his position, his youth, his episcopal dignity, and his phenomenal daring, were effective. It was an age that loved novelties, and the stranger they were the more welcome.

Thus, in that city of contrasts, of vast palaces guarded by their gardens and their quiet courtyards from streets whose misery and offence baffle description, Jean François de Gondi, the pupil of M. Vincent, employed himself openly in an endeavour to reform the clergy, exhorted his flock from the pulpit of Notre Dame to tread the narrow path of saintly life; and all the time was gathering together every shred of knowledge that would serve him, listening eagerly for scraps of information which might fall from the lips of the great ladies whom he courted, noting the jealousies that threatened to sever ties of blood or friendship, and marking the growth of ambitions or caprices that might be woven into a pattern of his own design. The levity, the sensationalism, the licence of the time, were at one with his natural temperament. A midnight séance of conspirators at the bedside of a Court beauty suited his fancy; and plots, begun in mockery, ended, under his guidance, in deadly earnest. Even in England, in the Victorian Age, he would have created opportunities to dissemble and intrigue, because to him the zest of life lay in mystery, and no contrivance was too elaborate by which he could create a false im­pression. To make one individual regard another—who was, in fact, his close adherent—as his bitterest enemy was an artistic triumph; and so far did the Coadjutor carry his enterprises that his memoirs leave the reader in grave doubt as to the real intentions of any one of the many extraordinary personages who were the leaders of the Fronde.

But though the love of excitement and of intrigue was innate in him, and was fostered by the opportunities of his position, a very definite purpose lay behind his melo­dramatic practices. The power of the Crown was a real thing in France, despite the murmurs of the people and the protests of the princes, and, as has been shown already, it was wielded by Mazarin, not because—like Richelieu—he was supremely fit to govern, but because he was master of the craft that can win and hold a woman’s favour. In that direction de Gondi knew himself to be highly gifted; he also held an office in the Church which would, nominally, protect the Queen from scandal, and he could use a disguise and the backstairs as deftly as could the Cardinal. He had, also, far clearer compre­hension of the humours and jealousies that spell danger in a Court, because he could associate on equal terms with the noblesse, while Mazarin, the low-born Florentine, could only guess his way among them. In short, the Coadjutor felt himself eminently suited to the post of guide, philosopher, and friend to the Queen Regent, and was persuaded that France would not attain to real prosperity until the Queen embraced the same opinion.

The obstacle was a simple one. The place he coveted could not be shared, and it was already occupied. Cardinal Mazarin stood where Jean François de Gondi wished to stand. Cardinal Mazarin stood beside the Queen, and against the Queen were ranged many con­flicting elements of danger. The exact nature of these elements was known to none better than to de Gondi. He might have preferred to strike at Mazarin alone; but if Mazarin sheltered behind the Queen, then, rather than leave him unmolested, he must aim at the Throne itself. It was easy to foresee that there would be stages of astonishment, of consternation, in the end, probably of panic. Mazarin was to be routed, and then, in the guise of paladin and deliverer, de Gondi would re­store peace, would uphold the monarchy and guide the trembling hands that held the reins of government.

Such a part appealed not only to his immense ambition, but also to his histrionic sense. If there be behind the Fronde a scheme that can be given definite form, it is here, and in such a scheme there lay great possibilities of triumph. Direct and unswerving adherence to so plain an issue would, in fact, have gone far to command success. But de Gondi was not able to give direct and unswerving adherence anywhere. He desired to be stage manager of the remarkable drama that was being played out, but also he desired to try many different parts, and the curtain went down on the last act before he had decided which rôle best became him. He was diverted partly by a cross-current of ambition. He desired to be First Minister and to oust Mazarin, but he desired also to be a Cardinal; and the two desires, though there was nothing contradictory about them, required a different order of manoeuvring. To be a Cardinal he must obtain a nomination from the Queen, a most notable proof of favour, not to be obtained by one who waged open war against Mazarin. Thus the Coadjutor found himself on the horns of a dilemma. His claim to consideration was his hold upon the people, he played for popularity and played successfully; but that which bound them to him alienated the Queen, and to keep both was necessary to his ambition. Yet where many men might reasonably have found defeat, de Gondi discovered opportunity. He obtained a private inter­view with the Queen, and by a show of openness and candour seems to have won from her a measure of con­fidence which certainly he did not deserve. With the half-truths which are the strongest weapons of an accom­plished liar, he represented himself as the unrecognized champion of the royal prerogative, who posed as dema­gogue, so that he might safeguard the Regent and the King from the unreasoning anger of the mob. It was a clever stratagem, ably carried out. Mazarin still had complete mastery over the Queen, but de Gondi had extraordinary influence when he came into personal contact with her. He could be assured of producing an impression, and for his purpose it was as useful to impress as to convince her. She knew that the air was full of the murmur of treasonable plots, and his frank avowal of his own connection with them and of their danger revealed him as a possessor of the power in which she was most lacking. He understood the people and their motives, to her they remained always a mystery. Therefore he stood out prominent as an individual among the many—most of whom she had cause to fear—and at length his nomination was forwarded to Rome.

In this, then, he was successful, but success at this point and at a later stage proved a curse rather than a blessing, because of its effect upon his character. He had been so adroit in his manoeuvres, that thenceforward he put no check upon them, and over-reached himself. The Queen must be reassured as to his intentions, must be constantly renewed in her belief that the Coadjutor was a loyal gentleman greatly calumniated, and there­fore he became more guarded in his intercourse with the men of his party, and more deeply involved with regard to women. Had his sway over them been merely intel­lectual, his course would have been wisely chosen. A clever priest, standing apart from the ordinary intercourse of noble lords and ladies, might acquire knowledge and wield an influence immeasurably superior in those unsettled times to that of the man of the sword. But we do not grasp de Gondi, or the class he represents, if we picture him as only using weapons of argument and wit. During the Regency morality sank gradually to a level almost as low as in the days of the Valois Kings; there was a clique of women notable, most of them, for high lineage, conspicuous talents, and good looks, who were completely and avowedly lawless. The Coadjutor set himself to win the hearts of those whose valuable support he needed.

His memoirs indicate the methods that he followed and the risks he took. If they are to be trusted, we may picture him with plumed hat, and the voluminous cloak of the period muffling his face, clanking down the dim streets till, near to the hidden door he wished to enter, his step grew stealthy, and by a mysterious signal he gained entrance to the dwelling of some mistress of intrigue. He was a curious offspring of the times. In the daylight hours when he was greeted as a dignitary of the Church, and would raise his hands to bless kneeling and expectant crowds, he was not backward in asserting the high dignity of his office; and lurking in his mind there was a clear conception, which now and again he has betrayed, of the type of man the holder of that office ought to be. It is this comprehension of his true obliga­tions which makes de Retz unlike the ordinary charlatan, but he takes a certain delight in recording his own hypocrisy.

” On Christmas Day,” he writes, ” I preached at S. Germain l’Auxerrois. I discoursed of Christian charity without the most distant reference to the affairs of the moment. The women wept over the injustice of per­secuting an Archbishop who had only tenderness for his enemies, and when I left the pulpit I knew, from the blessings showered upon me, that I was not mistaken in my idea that this sermon would serve a very good purpose. In fact, it was incredibly effective, and sur­passed my most sanguine hopes.”

Again, on Maundy Thursday he tells us how he pro­longed the ceremony of blessing the sacred oils at the altar in the Cathedral, because he knew there was a tumult pending, and he wished to be in the centre of the business. When he left the altar he hastened to the Palais de Justice, that he might pacify the representa­tives of the people, and display his power as a leader. Always behind his confession of ambitions there lurks a sense of special glory in his command over the people. ” What is a virtue in the chief of a faction is a vice in an Archbishop,” he declares. It is as chief of a faction that he acts. It was that he might maintain himself as chief that he studied the interests of the masses and learnt to catch their fickle favour. For this, perhaps, it was that he simulated devotion, and for this certainly he sought to become known as the most generous of alms­givers. The mob accepted him as they saw him, and for a time they adored him. His equals were more en­lightened; the sword which he felt it necessary to hide beneath his cassock was called le bréviaire de M. le Coadjuteur. On that celebrated Holy Thursday he was told that the sacred oils blessed by him would be mingled with saltpetre. The society of the day knew all about him. Nevertheless, he influenced it. He was known to be a villain, but among his intimates he had a fascinating way of confessing to villainy.

From the standpoint of the twentieth century it may appear incredible that the nomination of Jean François de Gondi as a French Cardinal should have gone to Rome unchallenged. Yet if the Coadjutor had had the vision and, as its consequence, the command over himself which would have withheld him from his perilous attempt to lead the mob, he might, as Archbishop of Paris and as Cardinal, have reformed the priesthood by precepts which he did not practise. From such conduct he would have gained at Court and in the city a power of immeasur­able strength. The position might have been clearly defined. Mazarin was the declared enemy of reform in the bestowing of preferment. The Cardinal-Archbishop, struggling against the Italian favourite for the purity of the national Church; would have won the support of the vast majority of Frenchmen, and, having won it, might have used it against the same antagonist in other conflicts. But if he saw the opportunity, its promise was less alluring than the exciting possibilities that lay nearer to his grasp. It was in the rush and fever of events that he desired to lead, not among the slow developments of well-considered schemes. Therefore, hampered rather than helped by his ecclesiastical digni­ties, and missing, by reason of infirmity of purpose, the dominion which he might have claimed over the wills of others, Jean François de Gondi, Coadjutor, Cardinal, and ultimately Archbishop, was ineffective save as a disturber, and owes his great importance in the history of the time only to his responsibility for its miseries.

But if we would judge him fairly, we must remember that it was customary to employ tortuous methods in obtaining a Cardinal’s hat. Even when he had obtained his nomination from the Queen, he dared not fight straight lest she should withdraw it; while she, although most reluctant to let him obtain a dignity that would place him on an equality with Mazarin, feared his power with the people so profoundly that she dared not force him into declared antagonism.

Innocent X. held Mazarin in abhorrence, and from this fact the Coadjutor derived his strongest hope of success. Eventually there is little doubt that it was to this that he owed his coveted dignity. While the intrigues of Rome were in progress, Mazarin was in exile, and was repre­senting in letters to de Gondi that his chief desire for his own satisfaction and for the good of the State was to see him a Cardinal. De Gondi, in response, expressed his earnest wish that Mazarin should soon return to France. Meanwhile, there were envoys sent by Mazarin to Rome, whose sole mission was to undermine the interests of the Coadjutor; and the Coadjutor refused to leave Paris, even temporarily, lest in his absence the ferment of the mob against the Cardinal might lessen.

The long contest ended with a curious suddenness. The principals in it were no less surprised than the rest of the world when, in the spring of 1652, Jean François de Gondi was made a Cardinal by Innocent X., to be known to the world thenceforward as the Cardinal de Retz. It was a signal triumph. Mazarin was in exile, but he still ruled the Queen, and was believed to hold many secret strings that guided the progress of events. Victory could hardly have been expected even by the victor, and it seemed to throw open the way to the fulfilment of immense ambitions.

In his youth we have seen that the Abbé de Gondi had made special study of Fiesco, a character whose name has very little place in history. When Andrea Doria had acquired despotic rule in Genoa, he had beside him a nephew and favourite who interfered greatly in the government of the city; and pursued any who sought to rival him with deadly malice. One of the ancient nobility of Genoa, Gian Luigi Fiesco, determined to overthrow the favourite. He won the hearts of the populace, and impressed himself as a leading personality among his compeers, preserving meanwhile, until his plans were ripe, the appearance of friendly relations with the Doria. Not till he was certain of his following did he strike, and never did a conspiracy come to more complete fruition. It was at the moment of success that a plank on which he set his foot gave way, and he was plunged into the waters of the harbour. For this reason only, if it is possible to form a true judgment of the complicated surroundings of that dramatic moment, his scheme broke down, and Andrea Doria continued to dictate to Genoa.

The story of this forgotten incident was told by de Gondi with extraordinary power. His imagination grasped the figure of Count Fiesco, and that which was so vivid to himself he made vivid for others. He realized that the leader of this rebellion was conquered by the hand of Death striking mysteriously and suddenly, not by any human intervention, and it cannot be doubted that the career of Cardinal de Retz was notably affected by the concentration of the young Jean François de Gondi on this dramatic episode. His position in Paris and his point of view towards the Queen and Mazarin, reflected in some degree that of Fiesco with regard to the Doria kinsmen in Genoa. He depicted Fiesco as a patriot, and he had moments when he endeavoured to feel that he himself was striving for the good of the people. He aspired to win Paris, and to rule it by a personal hold upon his fellows, as Fiesco might have won Genoa. The idea was not entirely fantastic; and with the fever of such aspiration in his blood, there was small hope that prudence would be allowed to join forces with ambition, and make of him the stately, all-powerful ecclesiastic who would prove the most dangerous rival to Mazarin.

No doubt the delight of his success unbalanced him at the outset, and as he no longer feared the Queen, it pleased him to keep her under menace of the evils that he might direct against her in Paris if he chose. Afterwards, when he wrote the story of his life, he made naïve acknow­ledgment of his own folly. As Coadjutor he had con­sidered self-assertion and display as a necessity, because the dignity of the See had been so lowered by his uncle the Archbishop; but as Cardinal he was free from any vicarious obligation. Yet he seems to have pretended to a pomp and magnificence in excess of that maintained by Princes of the blood royal. On one expedition to visit the Queen at Compiègne he had a train of 200 gentlemen, and spent 800 crowns daily, an immense sum in the coinage of those days. He desired to impress the world with an idea (which he held himself in all sincerity) that his position was now impregnable. In point of fact, he had never been more defenceless than in this hour of his triumph. He considered himself to be above the neces­sity of any precaution because he was Cardinal de Retz and had wrested his honours from a supreme power in the teeth of Mazarin’s opposition.

In April, 1652, de Retz became a Cardinal; in October of that year the Ring re-entered Paris, and Mazarin retired to the frontier. The fact of this withdrawal may have been deceptive, the completeness with which the royal prerogative retained its power was probably not so clear to the onlooker as it seems in retrospect. The magic of royalty has never been so entirely destroyed as in the France of 179o, but it was never more strangely exemplified than in the France of 1652. Neither defeat nor disgrace nor the lack of the external trappings that give the Crown its mystery and grandeur disturbed its potency. In proof thereof we find as the monument of the Fronde—instead of the record of safeguards and benefits for an overburdened people—the great palace at Versailles, erected that the Great Monarch, in his superb magnificence, might dwell aloof, out of sight and hearing of the canaille whose murmurs had disturbed his boyhood. His return to Paris at the invitation of his baffled subjects was the prologue to an age of despotism, but it required far-seeing wisdom to foretell that henceforward the royal will would prevail in all things. And de Retz was not numbered among the wise. He would have acknow­ledged readily that it was the royal will that Mazarin should return, but he was convinced that that return was impossible while he himself remained in Paris. From that conviction, in itself true and well-founded, he de­duced that the game was in his hands. So he toyed with his enormous influence over Monsieur the King’s uncle, he encouraged suggestions that he might join hands with Condé—the consummation that was most dreaded by the Queen—and Paris rang with stories of his haughtiness and self-assertion.

Meanwhile Mazarin, waiting on the frontier with couriers passing constantly to and from the capital, watched the progress of events and cultivated the patience of the diplomat. To him there must have been an element of uncertainty in the position. He knew the Queen to be weak of purpose, and, as he was debarred from witnessing the foolhardiness with which his enemy courted disaster, his rôle for the moment was unenviable.

A few days before Christmas Cardinal de Retz, having presented himself at the Louvre to pay his respects to the King and Queen, was arrested as he left their presence. He made no resistance, for, in spite of the reiterated warnings he had received, he was quite unprepared. He was driven through the streets of Paris to his prison in the fortress of Vincennes, and he who had once been the idol of the people was allowed to pass without a voice raised or a blow struck in his defence.

The imprisonment of personages whose conduct threatened to be dangerous proved itself once more to be an expedient prolific of inconvenience. In the case of Cardinal de Retz, as in that of Condé, there was no pretence at a trial; le roi le veut was the sole warrant. And with de Retz, as formerly with Condé, the sense of injustice added immensely to the suffering inflicted. In both it produced not only bitter resentment, but a dis­trust as to the setting of any limit to the measures taken by his antagonists. After nearly two years of misery and humiliation, de Retz escaped, and, in defiance of in­numerable perils, conveyed himself to Rome. He did not meet with the support he had expected; he was crippled both in health and fortune, and ostensibly he was not a dangerous enemy. In his case it would seem that the policy of despotism had succeeded. His enemies were able to triumph over him, and Mazarin, once more the reigning power at the Louvre, might meditate in leisure moments on the complete discomfiture and degradation of his rival. Despite his own misfortunes, however, Cardinal de Retz retained his capacity to torment Cardinal Mazarin. It is possible that the victor, having suffered so much, yielded to an exaggerated dread of the van­quished, but there was a more practical reason for Mazarin’s disturbance. While de Retz was imprisoned, his uncle, the Archbishop, died, and he, as Coadjutor, succeeded. A formal resignation was extorted from him, which, on the plea that he had not been a free agent, was annulled after his escape. The King had no power to depose him, and the Pope would not. He was an exile, his property was confiscated ; if he returned to his native land his liberty, and probably his life, were forfeit ; nevertheless he was, and he remained, Archbishop of Paris.

As such he was welcomed at the house of the Lazarists in Rome, and for this crime M. Vincent was compelled by Mazarin to recall his sons and check the work of the Company in the Eternal City2. But if it was a crime to recognize him, it was not safe to deal vigorously with those who did so, for in the eyes of loyal churchmen the Archbishop’s case was a very strong one. The obvious course was to make terms and to barter for this prize—indisputably his—with advantages that would be endur­ing. And it is here that we find the effect first of his long experience of chicanery, and then of his abrupt arrest.

” Le fond de la probité n’y est pas,” wrote Mazarin of de Retz in the autumn of 1652. The same phrase applied conversely explains the refusal of the Archbishop to deal with the King’s First Minister. For many years they had tricked and deceived each other, until any desire that either might have to enter on negotiations was frustrated by mutual distrust. Mazarin might pledge himself to an amnesty, might assure de Retz that his return to Paris and the restoration of his goods was secure if he would vacate his See ; but under despotic govern­ment de Retz had no belief that the pledge had any meaning, while he knew that his part of the bargain—his resignation—once given, could never be withdrawn.

Therefore the pricking of the ecclesiastical difficulty never ceased during Mazarin’s lifetime, and only when Louis XIV. was really monarch did Cardinal de Retz submit to the sovereign pleasure. He then returned to Paris, and lived his last years in the society for which he was always suited. He was meant to be a soldier and a wit, he might have made a statesman and a courtier, but as a priest he was the product of the worst evil of his times, and it is as a priest that posterity perforce must judge him. In the end, says tradition, he took life seriously, and gave himself up to devotion. All that is certain is that he lived in seclusion, although the world of the Court was once more open to him, and although he still possessed the capacity for apt and skilful speech which had been his before his time of misfortune.

” Your hair is grey, M. le Cardinal,” was the young King’s greeting to him when he returned from his years of exile.

” Those who are out of favour with your Majesty grow grey speedily,” was his reply3.

  1. See “Mémoires du Cardinal de Retz contenant ce qui s’est passé de remarquable en France pendant les premières années du règne de Louis XIV.”
  2. “Lettres,” vol. ii., No. 283.
  3. See Léonce Curnier, “Le Cardinal de Retz et son Temps,” vol. ii., part iii.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.