Cardinal Richelieu served as chief minister of France from 1624 to his death in 1642. He had two primary objectives: unifying France and taking away all political power from the Hapsburgs.

He unified France by selling political offices to raise revenue. Then he imposed a tax on all the officeholders, and in exchange made certain that the office went to their family at the time of their death.

He weakened the Hapsburgs by attacking anywhere Spain controlled and giving money to the enemies of Spain.

Richelieu’s active pursuit of the downfall of Spain certainly contributed to its fall, but that wasn’t the primary cause. Although the decline of Spain didn’t really occur until Phillip III, his predecessor Phillip II planted the seeds that ultimately led to Spain’s decline. Phillip II’s heavy taxes and legal policies against Protestants caused the Dutch Republic to revolt. The Dutch Republic at this time was the trade center of the world, but more importantly it supplied Spain with a large portion of revenue. Spain was still probably the most powerful nation in Europe until Phillip III.  Phillip III was a devout Catholic and spent most of his time hunting. For the most part, he let a counselor rule Spain. Phillip spent all of Spain’s money waging war against the Dutch, but couldn’t win, so he settled for a truce. Although constant war and loss are bad, that wasn’t the only factor damaging Spain’s economy. In 1609 Phillip decreed that all Moriscos, former Muslims who had converted to Catholicism, should be banished from Spain. This decree resulted in approximately 300,000 people being forced out of Spain. To add insult to injury, plague and famine devastated Spain. As Shakespeare said,

“When trouble comes they come not in single spies but in battalion form.”

Phillip III ruled as an absolute monarch, a monarch who had absolute authority on all matter. One of the major supporters of Absolutism of that time was John Hobbes. In an excerpt Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan, he begins by saying that all people have the strength to kill anyone else. He then asks what reasons people would have for killing someone else and the reasons are to take their stuff, in self-defense, or for a reputation of being tough. Somehow from this he derives that without an absolute monarch people would go around killing everyone else. If you don’t think killing everyone makes sense you would have to disagree with his point. He derives several claims from the assumption that it makes sense to kill everyone, but the most important claim is that everyone owns everything and thus we need an absolute monarch to govern us.

The alternative to absolutism was constitutionalism which believed that the monarch/government needed to be kept in check. One of the founders of constitutionalism was Juan de Mariana. His major contribution was defining tyranny and demonstrating that anyone had the right to kill a tyrant. His other major contribution was demonstrating that the creation of money was a tax and should be condemned. Interestingly enough, there were no consequences for saying that tyrants could be killed. However, he was arrested for saying that the government shouldn’t inflate money. He coined the phrase,

“There is nothing howsoever absurd which is not defended by some theologian.”

Cardinal Richelieu helped create a French absolute monarchy and destroy the Spanish absolute monarchy, although the latter was already doing that one its own. John Hobbes and Juan de Mariana generated some ideas of the time and their works still influence scholars of this day.

Advertisements