L’Homme est bête sans argent

MazarinCardinal Jules Mazarin, an Italian who had a huge influence on 17th century France, was born on July 14, 1602. At birth, his name was Giulio Mazzarino, and he was born in Naples but raised in Rome. He studied with the Jesuits, but declined to join their order. Mazarin earned a Doctor of jurisprudence, but also developed a serious gambling addiction.  He impressed Pope Urban VIII with his diplomatic skills during the war of Mantuan succession. Because this dispute ended favorably for French interests, Mazarin came to the attention of Richelieu, the powerful advisor to Louis XIII. The savvy Italian was brought into the council of state.

JulesMazarinNanteuilDuring one of his spectacular gambling exploits, he bet all and won, attributing his success to the presence of the Queen. He insisted that she take a substantial sum in thanks. This sum was quietly reimbursed, but Anne d’Autriche was loyal to Mazarin henceforth. This was invaluable to the ambitious man, as she shortly thereafter became the regent of the infant Louis XIV. Further service to the crown in resolving a dispute in Savoy was rewarded with a Cardinal’s red hat. After the death of Richelieu in 1642, Mazarin became the Chief Minister of France. Alongside Anne d’Autriche, he co-ruled France. Their complicity was such that rumors spread that they were actually married and Louis XIV was their child (subsequent genetic research has definitively proven that the aged Louis XIII was the father of le Roi Soleil). Mazarin brilliantly expanded France’s borders and influence. Within France, he did his best to placate the Protestants, while actually giving them nothing. philippe-de-champaigne-portrait-of-jules-mazarinAlthough the Queen was very fond of Mararin, the people of Paris weren’t as taken with him. His taxes on those who built outside of Paris’ walls led to open rebellion in 1648. The mob used children’s slings, or frondes, to lob stones, and this became the name of the revolt as well. There was another rebellion, this one by the parliament, when Mazarin proposed that magistrates given up their salaries for several years to add to the state’s coffers – or at least reduce its enormous debt. The unrest was so great that barricades went up in the streets and Anne took young Louis away from Paris. Hostilities boiled over the top when Mazarin had several princes arrested because they were beginning to gather support. These arrests led to open revolt across the country, not just in Paris. Eventually, Anne had to release the princes. The Prince of Condé took up arms against the crown, but his brutality backfired. Louis XIV reached his majority with no concessions made for reform of the absolute monarchy. Mazarin had served his masters well.

English: "Cardinal Jules Mazarin," e...

A classic quote by the gambling man is, “L’homme est bête sans argent” (lum eh bet sahnz arzjehn), which means “Man is stupid without money.” When he wasn’t gambling or running affairs of state, Mazarin devoted his talents to collecting art and jewels. The “Mazarin diamond” is the subject of a quest by Sherlock Holmes, in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Mazarin Stone.” His art collection outshone that of the Crown. Mazarin’s library was bequeathed to the college he had founded. He also wove a web of intrigue using his seven beautiful nieces, known as the Mazarinettes, to create alliances throughout Europe that added to his presige. They sound rather like cheesy background singers.

Mazarin died on March 9, 1661. Whether you admire what he accomplished, or loathe him as a power-mad schemer, you must acknowledge his importance to 17th century France. He must spin in his grave knowing that his birhtday marks la Fête Nationale. commemorating the day that Louis XVI converted France into a constitutional monarchy in 1790.

51g195PbFKL__SL75_Mazarin: The Crisis of Absolutism

About Patricia Gilbert

Patricia Gilbert is a French teacher. She's Canadian, lives in the United States, but dreams of living in France. Follow her on Instagram @Onequalitythefinest and on Twitter @1qualthefinest.
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