Advertisement

RICHELIEU AND OLIVARES by J.H. Elliott...

RICHELIEU AND OLIVARES by J.H. Elliott (Cambridge University/Canto: $9.95, illustrated). The conflicts of the early 17th century were less a contest between Louis XIII of France and Philip IV of Spain than a duel between their formidable ministers, Cardinal Richelieu and the Count-Duke of Olivares. In this lively study, Elloitt argues that the ultimate defeat of the Spanish Habsburgs has caused scholars to underestimate Olivares’ capabilities. The two ministers had remarkably similar careers: They were born and died within a few years of each other; they rose from the ranks of the minor aristocracy to positions of great power. The struggle for supremacy compelled them to wage costly and destructive wars, financed by whatever money they could wring from woefully inadequate tax bases. As a result, both men were extremely unpopular and entirely dependent on royal favor to remain in power. Elliott grudgingly concludes that Richelieu, although often lucky, was the superior statesman. Despite his intelligence and abilities, “All too often the Count-Duke gives the impression of a man who cannot bring himself to act.” Richelieu’s decisions may seem “clean, sharp and ruthless,” but they ultimately proved effective. This cogent study contains valuable lessons for today’s dithering politicians, who consult polls instead of solving pressing problems.


Advertisement
Advertisement