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The Political Testament of Cardinal Richelieu

The Significant Chapters and Supporting Selections

Translated by Henry Bertram Hill

Publication Year: 1961

“Hill has prepared an excellent translation of the more important parts of the Political Testament; his notes are clear, concise, informative, and accurate, and his short introduction will provide students who wish to delve into the French original with an indication of the road that is open to them.  .  .  .  Offers a window to the mind of the redoubtable Richelieu.”—American Historical Review

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press


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pp. iii-iv

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Translator’s Introduction

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pp. v-xvi

Armand Jean du Plessis, Duke of Richelieu and Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church, the most important single figure in the building of French absolutism, was born and died in the parish of St. Eustache in Paris (1585-1642). He was a younger son of an impecunious...

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The Political Testament Introductory Epistle (in large part)

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pp. 3-6

When it was first Your Majesty's pleasure to give me a part to play in the management of your affairs 1 I determined to devote my fullest efforts to the completion of your plans, so perfectly designed for both the welfare of the state and the embellishment of your reign....

Part I

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I. General Statement of the Royal Program (Selections)

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pp. 9-12

When Your Majesty resolved to admit me both to your council and to an important place in your confidence for the direction of your affairs, I may say that the Huguenots shared the state with you; that the nobles conducted themselves as if they were not your subjects,...

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II. The Reformation of the Ecclesiastical Order (Selections)

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pp. 13-19

One could write whole books on the subject of the various classes of this realm.3 My objective, however, is not that of most others who content themselves with describing an of the factions of a country without considering whether or not the public derives any benefit...

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III. The Reformation of the Nobility (Selections)

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pp. 20-26

After having presented what I feel to be absolutely necessary for the restoration of the first order of the realm, I pass to the second, noting first of all that it is necessary to realize that the nobility is one of the principal organs of the state, capable of contributing much...

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IV. The Reformation of the Third Order of the Realm (Selections)

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pp. 27-33

For the purpose of covering the Third Order of the Realm methodically and to present clearly what it is necessary to do to keep it in the condition in which it ought to be, I will divide the subject into three parts. The first will deal with the body of judicial officers; the second...

V. Minor Administrative Details (Omitted)

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VI. The Role of the King (Complete)

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pp. 34-47

God is the principle of all things, the sovereign master of kings, and the only one who can make their reigns happy. If the devotion of Your Majesty were not known to all, I would begin this chapter, which is concerned...

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VII. The Reformation of the Royal Household (Complete)

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pp. 48-56

The acquisition of useful techniques and sound discipline always begins with the mastery of simple undertakings. On that basis, the first thing an architect does when he plans to build a great edifice is to make a model of it, in which the details are so readily observable that...

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VIII. The Qualifications for Royal Councillors (Selections)

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pp. 57-63

It is an important question among political thinkers which is to be desired, a prince who governs solely on his own initiative or one who, less sure of his superior abilities, defers to his council and acts only on advice. One could write complete books on all the arguments...

Part II

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I. The Reign of God the First Essential (Complete)

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pp. 67-70

The reign of God is the principle basic to the good government of states, and is, in fact, so absolutely necessary that without this foundation no prince can rule well nor can any state be happy and successful. It would be easy to write entire books on a subject so important...

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II. Reason Should Guide the Governing of a State (Complete)

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pp. 71-75

Common sense leads each one of us to understand that man, having been endowed with reason, should do nothing except that which is reasonable, since otherwise he would be acting contrary to his nature, and by consequence contrary to Him Who is its Creator. It further...

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III. Public Interest the First Objective (Complete)

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pp. 76-79

The public interest ought to be the sole objective of the prince and his councillors, or, at the least, both are obliged to have it foremost in mind, and preferred to all private gain. It is impossible to overestimate the good which a prince and those serving him in government can...

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IV. Foresight Necessary to Good Government (Complete)

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pp. 80-83

Nothing is more necessary in governing a state than foresight, since by its use one can easily prevent many evils which can be corrected only with great difficulty if allowed to transpire. Just as a doctor who knows how to prevent illness is more esteemed than the...

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V. The Uses of Punishments and Rewards (Complete)

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pp. 84-93

It is a common but nevertheless true saying which has long been repeated by intelligent men that punishments and rewards are the two most important instruments of government in a realm. It is certain that, whatever else one may do in governing states, one must...

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VI. The Need for Continuous Negotiation in Diplomacy (Complete)

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pp. 94-102

States receive so much benefit from uninterrupted foreign negotiations, if they are conducted with prudence, that it is unbelievable unless it is known from experience. I confess that I realized this truth only five or six years after I had been employed in the direction of...

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VII. The Need to Appoint Suitable Men to Public Offices (Complete)

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pp. 103-110

So many evils befall states because of the incapacity of those employed in the principal positions and most important commissions that the prince and those who have roles in the administration of his affairs need to exercise the greatest care in seeing that each public servant is...

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VIII. The Evils of Flattery, Slander, and Scheming (Complete)

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pp. 111-117

There is no plague more capable of ruining a state than the host of flatterers, slanderers, and people preoccupied with forming cabals and intrigues at court. They are so industrious at spreading their venom in various insidious ways that it is difficult to avoid it unless one takes...

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IX. The Power of the Prince (Selections)

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pp. 118-124

Power being one of the things most necessary to the grandeur of kings and the success of their governments, those who have the principal management of states are particularly obliged to omit nothing which could contribute to making their masters fully and universally respected...

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X. Conclusion (Complete)

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pp. 125-128

In order to terminate this work happily it only remains for me to point out to Your Majesty that kings, being obliged to do many more things as sovereigns than they would have to do as private individuals, can never deviate even a little from their duty without committing more faults of omission than...

E-ISBN-13: 9780299024239
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299024246

Publication Year: 1961