Jean François Paul de Gondi de Retz.

The Memoirs of Cardinal de Retz — Volume 1 [Historic court memoirs] online

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Produced by David Widger


Written by Himself

Being Historic Court Memoirs of the Great Events
during the Minority of Louis XIV.
and the Administration of Cardinal Mazarin.







Cardinal de Retz - - Photogravure from an Old Painting

Turenne - - Photogravure from an Old Painting

Richelieu - - Engraving by Lubin

Anne of Austria - - Original Etching by Mercier

Louis XIII - - Painting in the Louvre

Conde' - - Painting in Versailles Gallery


Our Author, John Francis Paul de Gondi, Cardinal de Retz, Sovereign of
Commercy, Prince of Euville, second Archbishop of Paris, Abbot of Saint
Denis in France, was born at Montmirail, in Brie, in October, 1614.

His father was Philippe Emanuel de Gondi, Comte, de Joigni, General of
the Galleys of France and Knight of the King's Orders; and his mother was
Frances Marguerite, daughter of the Comte de Rochepot, Knight of the
King's Orders, and of Marie de Lannoy, sovereign of Commercy and Euville.

Pierre de Gondi, Duc de Retz, was his brother, whose daughter was the
Duchesse de Lesdiguieres.

His grandfather was Albert de Gondi, Duc de Retz, Marquis de Belle Isle,
a Peer of France, Marshal and General of the Galleys, Colonel of the
French Horse, First Gentleman of the Bedchamber, and Great Chamberlain to
the Kings Charles IX. and Henri III.

This history was first printed in Paris in 1705, at the expense of the
Duchesse de Lesdiguieres, the last of this noble family, whose estate
fell after her decease to that of Villeroy.

His preceptor was the famous Vincent de Paul, Almoner to Queen Anne of

In 1627 he was made a Canon of the Cathedral of Paris by his uncle, Jean
Francois de Gondi, first archbishop of that city, and was not long after
created a Doctor of the Sorbonne.

In 1643 he was appointed Coadjutor of the archbishopric of Paris, with
the title of Archbishop of Corinth, during which, such was his pastoral
vigilance that the most important affairs of the Church were committed to
his care.

As to his general character, if we take it from his own Memoirs, he had
such presence of mind, and so dexterously improved all opportunities
which fortune presented to him, that it seemed as if he had foreseen or
desired them. He knew how to put a good gloss upon his failings, and
oftentimes verily believed he was really the man which he affected to be
only in appearance. He was a man of bright parts, but no conduct, being
violent and inconstant in his intrigues of love as well as those of
politics, and so indiscreet as to boast of his successful amours with
certain ladies whom he ought not to have named. He affected pomp and
splendour, though his profession demanded simplicity and humility. He
was continually shifting parties, being a loyal subject one day and the
next a rebel, one time a sworn enemy to the Prime Minister, and by and by
his zealous friend; always aiming to make himself formidable or
necessary. As a pastor he had engrossed the love and confidence of the
people, and as a statesman he artfully played them off against their
sovereign. He studied characters thoroughly, and no man painted them in
truer colours more to his own purpose. Sometimes he confesses his
weaknesses, and at other times betrays his self-flattery.

It being his fate to be imprisoned by Mazarin, first at Vincennes and
then at Nantes, he made his escape to Rome, and in 1656 retired to
Franche Comte, where Cardinal Mazarin gave orders for his being arrested;
upon which he posted to Switzerland, and thence to Constance, Strasburg,
Ulm, Augsburg, Frankfort, and Cologne, to which latter place Mazarin sent
men to take him dead or alive; whereupon he retired to Holland, and made
a trip from one town to another till 1661, when, Cardinal Mazarin dying,
our Cardinal went as far as Valenciennes on his way to Paris, but was not
suffered to come further; for the King and Queen-mother would not be
satisfied without his resignation of the archbishopric of Paris, to which
he at last submitted upon advantageous terms for himself and an amnesty
for all his adherents. But still the Court carried it so severely to the
Cardinal that they would not let him go and pay his last devoirs to his
father when on his dying bed. At length, however, after abundance of
solicitation, he had leave to go and wait upon the King and Queen, who,
on the death of Pope Alexander VII., sent him to Rome to assist at the
election of his successor.

No wonder that King Charles II. of England promised to intercede for the
Cardinal's reestablishment; for when the royal family were starving, as
it were, in their exile at Paris, De Retz did more for them than all the
French Court put together; and, upon the King's promise to take the Roman
Catholics of England under his protection after his restoration, he sent
an abbot to Rome to solicit the Pope to lend him money, and to dispose
the English Catholics in his favour.

He would fain have returned his hat to the new Pope, but his Holiness, at
the solicitation of Louis XIV., ordered him to keep it. After this he
chose a total retirement, lived with exemplary piety, considerably
retrenched his expenses, and hardly allowed himself common necessaries,
in order to save money to pay off a debt of three millions, which he had
the happiness to discharge, and to balance all accounts with the world
before his death, which happened at Paris on the 24th of August, 1679, in
the 65th year of his age.




MADAME: - Though I have a natural aversion to give you the history of my
own life, which has been chequered with such a variety of different
adventures, yet I had rather sacrifice my reputation to the commands of a
lady for whom I have so peculiar a regard than not disclose the most
secret springs of my actions and the inmost recesses of my soul.

By the caprice of fortune many mistakes of mine have turned to my credit,
and I very much doubt whether it would be prudent in me to remove the
veil with which some of them are covered. But as I am resolved to give
you a naked, impartial account of even the most minute passages of my
life ever since I have been capable of reflection, so I most humbly beg
you not to be surprised at the little art, or, rather, great disorder,
with which I write my narrative, but to consider that, though the
diversity of incidents may sometimes break the thread of the history, yet
I will tell you nothing but with all that sincerity which the regard I
have for you demands. And to convince you further that I will neither
add to nor diminish from the plain truth, I shall set my name in the
front of the work.

False glory and false modesty are the two rocks on which men who have
written their own lives have generally split, but which Thuanus among the
moderns and Caesar among the ancients happily escaped. I doubt not you
will do me the justice to believe that I do not pretend to compare myself
with those great writers in any respect but sincerity, - a virtue in which
we are not only permitted, but commanded, to rival the greatest heroes.

I am descended from a family illustrious in France and ancient in Italy,
and born upon a day remarkable for the taking of a monstrous sturgeon in
a small river that runs through the country of Montmirail, in Brie, the
place of my nativity.

I am not so vain as to be proud of having it thought that I was ushered
into the world with a prodigy or a miracle, and I should never have
mentioned this trifling circumstance had it not been for some libels
since published by my enemies, wherein they affect to make the said
sturgeon a presage of the future commotions in this kingdom, and me the
chief author of them.

I beg leave to make a short reflection on the nature of the mind of man.
I believe there never was a more honest soul in the world than my
father's; I might say his temper was the very essence of virtue. For
though he saw I was too much inclined to duels and gallantry ever to make
a figure as an ecclesiastic, yet his great love for his eldest son - not
the view of the archbishopric of Paris, which was then in his
family - made him resolve to devote me to the service of the Church. For
he was so conscious of his reasons, that I could even swear he would have
protested from the very bottom of his heart that he had no other motive
than the apprehension of the dangers to which a contrary profession might
expose my soul. So true it is that nothing is so subject to delusion as
piety: all sorts of errors creep in and hide themselves under that veil;
it gives a sanction to all the turns of imagination, and the honesty of
the intention is not sufficient to guard against it. In a word, after
all I have told you, I turned priest, though it would have been long
enough first had it not been for the following accident.

The Duc de Retz, head of our family, broke at that time, by the King's
order, the marriage treaty concluded some years before between the Duc de
Mercoeur - [Louis, Duc de Mercoeur, since Cardinal de Vendome, father of
the Duc de Vendome, and Grand Prior, died 1669.] - and his daughter, and
next day came to my father and agreeably surprised him by telling him he
was resolved to give her to his cousin to reunite the family.

As I knew she had a sister worth above 80,000 livres a year, I, that very
instant, thought of a double match. I had no hopes they would think of
me, knowing how things stood, so I was resolved to provide for myself.

Having got a hint that my father did not intend to carry me to the
wedding, as, foreseeing, it may be, what happened, I pretended to be
better pleased with my profession, to be touched by what my father had so
often laid before me on that subject, and I acted my part so well that
they believed I was quite another man.

My father resolved to carry me into Brittany, for the reason that I had
shown no inclination that way. We found Mademoiselle de Retz at
Beaupreau, in Anjou. I looked on the eldest only as my sister, but
immediately considered Mademoiselle de Scepaux (so the youngest was
called) as my mistress.

I thought her very handsome, her complexion the most charming in the
world, lilies and roses in abundance, admirable eyes, a very pretty
mouth, and what she wanted in stature was abundantly made up by the
prospect of 80,000 livres a year and of the Duchy of Beaupreau, and by a
thousand chimeras which I formed on these real foundations.

I played my game nicely from the beginning, and acted the ecclesiastic
and the devotee both in the journey and during my stay there;
nevertheless, I paid my sighs to the fair one, - she perceived it. I spoke
at last, and she heard me, but not with that complacency which I could
have wished.

But observing she had a great kindness for an old chambermaid, sister to
one of my monks of Buzai, I did all I could to gain her, and by the means
of a hundred pistoles down, and vast promises, I succeeded. She made her
mistress believe that she was designed for a nunnery, and I, for my part,
told her that I was doomed to nothing less than a monastery. She could
not endure her sister, because she was her father's darling, and I was
not overfond of my brother, - [Pierre de Gondi, Duc de Retz, who died in
1676.] - for the same reason. This resemblance in our fortunes
contributed much to the uniting of our affections, which I persuaded
myself were reciprocal, and I resolved to carry her to Holland.

Indeed, there was nothing more easy, for Machecoul, whither we were come
from Beaupreau, was no more than half a league from the sea. But money
was the only thing wanting, for my treasury, was so drained by the gift
of the hundred pistoles above mentioned that I had not a sou left. But I
found a supply by telling my father that, as the farming of my abbeys was
taxed with the utmost rigour of the law, so I thought myself obliged in
conscience to take the administration of them into my own hands. This
proposal, though not pleasing, could not be rejected, both because it was
regular and because it made him in some measure believe that I would not
fail to keep my benefices, since I was willing to take care of them. I
went the next day to let Buzai, - [One of his abbeys.] - which is but five
leagues from Machecoul. I treated with a Nantes merchant, whose name was
Jucatieres, who took advantage of my eagerness, and for 4,000 crowns
ready money got a bargain that made his fortune. I thought I had
4,000,000, and was just securing one of the Dutch pinks, which are always
in the road of Retz, when the following accident happened, which broke
all my measures.

Mademoiselle de Retz (for she had taken that name after her sister's
marriage) had the finest eyes in the world, and they never were so
beautiful as when she was languishing in love, the charms of which I
never yet saw equalled. We happened to dine at a lady's house, a league
from Machecoul, where Mademoiselle de Retz, looking in the glass at an
assembly of ladies, displayed all those tender, lively, moving airs which
the Italians call 'morbidezza', or the lover's languish. But
unfortunately she was not aware that Palluau, since Marechal de
Clerambaut, was behind her, who observed her airs, and being very much
attached to Madame de Retz, with whom he had in her tender years been
very familiar, told her faithfully what he had observed.

Madame de Retz, who mortally hated her sister, disclosed it that very
night to her father, who did not fail to impart it to mine. The next
morning, at the arrival of the post from Paris, all was in a hurry, my
father pretending to have received very pressing news; and, after our
taking a slight though public leave of the ladies, my father carried me
to sleep that night at Nantes. I was, as you may imagine, under very
great surprise and concern; for I could not guess the cause of this
sudden departure. I had nothing to reproach myself with upon the score
of my conduct; neither had I the least suspicion that Palluau had seen
anything more than ordinary till I arrived at Orleans, where the matter
was cleared up, for my brother, to prevent my escape, which I vainly
attempted several times on my journey, seized my strong box, in which was
my money, and then I understood that I was betrayed; in what grief, then,
I arrived at Paris, I leave you to imagine.

I found there Equilli, Vasse's uncle, and my first cousin, who, I
daresay, was one of the most honest men of his time, and loved me from
his very soul. I apprised him of my design to run away with Mademoiselle
de Retz. He heartily approved of my project, not only because it would
be a very advantageous match for me, but because he was persuaded that a
double alliance was necessary to secure the establishment of the family.

The Cardinal de Richelieu - [Armand Jean du Plesais, Cardinal de
Richelieu, was born in 1585, and died in 1642.] - (then Prime Minister)
mortally hated the Princesse de Guemenee, because he was persuaded she
had crossed his amours with the Queen, - [Anne of Austria, eldest daughter
of Philip II., King of Spain, and wife of Louis XIII., died 1666.] - and
had a hand in the trick played him by Madame du Fargis, one of the
Queen's dressing women, who showed her Majesty (Marie de Medicis) a
love-letter written by his Eminence to the Queen, her daughter-in-law.
The Cardinal pushed his resentment so far that he attempted to force the
Marechal de Breze, his brother-in-law, and captain of the King's
Life-guards, to expose Madame de Guemenee's letters, which were found in
M. de Montmorency's - [Henri de Montmorency was apprehended on the 1st of
September, 1632, and beheaded in Toulouse in November of the same
year.] - coffer when he was arrested at Chateau Naudari. But the Marechal
de Breze had so much honour and generosity as to return them to Madame de
Guemenee. He was, nevertheless, a very extravagant gentleman; but the
Cardinal de Richelieu, perceiving he had been formerly honoured by some
kind of relation to him, and dreading his angry excursions and
preachments before the King, who had some consideration for his person,
bore with him very patiently for the sake of settling peace in his own
family, which he passionately longed to unite and establish, but which
was the only thing out of his power, who could do whatever else he
pleased in France. For the Marechal de Breze had conceived so strong an
aversion to M. de La Meilleraye, who was then Grand Master of the
Artillery, and afterwards Marechal de La Meilleraye, that he could not
endure him. He did not imagine that the Cardinal would ever look upon a
man who, though his first cousin, was of a mean extraction, had a most
contemptible aspect, and, if fame says true, not one extraordinary good

The Cardinal was of another mind, and had a great opinion - indeed, with
abundance of reason - of M. de La Meilleraye's courage; but he esteemed
his military capacity infinitely too much, though in truth it was not
contemptible. In a word, he designed him for that post which we have
since seen so gloriously filled by M. de Turenne.

You may, by what has been said, judge of the divisions that were in
Cardinal de Richelieu's family, and how much he was concerned to appease
them. He laboured at them with great application, and for this end
thought he could not do better than to unite these two heads of the
faction in a close confidence with himself, exclusive of all others. To
this end he used them jointly and in common as the confidants of his
amours, which certainly were neither suitable to the lustre of his
actions nor the grandeur of his life; for Marion de Lorme, one of his
mistresses, was little better than a common prostitute. Another of his
concubines was Madame de Fruges, that old gentlewoman who was so often
seen sauntering in the enclosure. The first used to come to his
apartment in the daytime, and he went by night to visit the other, who
was but the pitiful cast-off of Buckingham and Epienne. The two
confidants introduced him there in coloured clothes; for they had made up
a hasty peace, to which Madame de Guemenee nearly fell a sacrifice.

M. de La Meilleraye, whom they called the Grand Master, was in love with
Madame de Guemenee, but she could not love him; and he being, both in his
own nature and by reason of his great favour with the Cardinal, the most
imperious man living, took it very ill that he was not beloved. He
complained, but the lady was insensible; he huffed and bounced, but was
laughed to scorn. He thought he had her in his power because the
Cardinal, to whom he had declared his rage against her, had given him her
letters, as above mentioned, which were written to M. de Montmorency,
and, therefore, in his menaces he let fall some hints with relation to
those letters to the disadvantage of Madame de Guemenee. She thereupon
ridiculed him no longer, but went almost raving mad, and fell into such
an inconceivable melancholy that you would not have known her, and
retired to Couperai, where she would let nobody see her.

As soon as I applied my mind to study I resolved at the same time to take
the Cardinal de Richelieu for my pattern, though my friends opposed it as
too pedantic; but I followed my first designs, and began my course with
good success. I was afterwards followed by all persons of quality of the
same profession; but, as I was the first, the Cardinal was pleased with
my fancy, which, together with the good offices done me by the Grand
Master with the Cardinal, made him speak well of me on several occasions,
wonder that I had never made my court to him, and at the same time he
ordered M. de Lingendes, since Bishop of Magon, to bring me to his house.

This was the source of my first disgrace, for, instead of complying with
these offers of the Cardinal and with the entreaties of the Grand Master,
urging me to go and make my court to him, I returned the most trifling
excuses and apologies; one time I pretended to be sick and went into the
country. In short, I did enough to let them see that I did not care to
be a dependent on the Cardinal de Richelieu, who was certainly a very
great man, but had this particular trait in his genius, - to take notice
of trifles. Of this he gave me the following instance: The history of
the conspiracy of Jean Louis de Fiesque, - [Author of "The Conspiracy of
Genoa." He was drowned on the 1st of January, 1557.] - which I had
written at eighteen years of age, being conveyed by Boisrobert into the
Cardinal's hands, he was heard to say, in the presence of Marechal
d'Estrees and M. de Senneterre, "This is a dangerous genius." This was
told my father that very night by M. de Senneterre, and I took it as
spoken to myself.

The success that I had in the acts of the Sorbonne made me fond of that
sort of reputation, which I had a mind to push further, and thought I
might succeed in sermons. Instead of preaching first, as I was advised,
in the little convents, I preached on Ascension, Corpus Christi Day,
etc., before the Queen and the whole Court, which assurance gained me a
good character from the Cardinal; for, when he was told how well I had
performed, he said, "There is no judging of things by the event; the man
is a coxcomb." Thus you see I had enough to do for one of two-and-twenty
years of age.

M. le Comte, - [Louis de Bourbon, Comte de soissons, killed in the battle
of Marfee, near Sedan, in 1641.] - who had a tender love for me, and to
whose service and person I was entirely devoted, left Paris in the night,
in order to get into Sedan, for fear of an arrest; and, in the meantime,
entrusted me with the care of Vanbrock, the greatest confidant he had in
the world. I took care, as I was ordered, that he should never stir out
but at night, for in the daytime I concealed him in a private place,
between the ceiling and the penthouse, where I thought it impossible for
anything but a cat or the devil to find him. But he was not careful
enough of himself, for one morning my door was burst open, and armed men
rushed into my chamber, with the provost at their head, who cried, with a
great oath, "Where is Vanbrock?" I replied, "At Sedan, monsieur, I
believe." He swore again most confoundedly, and searched the mattresses
of all the beds in the house, threatening to put my domestics to the rack
if they did not make a disclosure; but there was only one that knew
anything of the matter, and so they went away in a rage. You may easily
imagine that when this was reported the Court would highly resent it. And
so it happened, for the license of the Sorbonne being expired, and the
competitors striving for the best places, I had the ambition to put in
for the first place, and did not think myself obliged to yield to the
Abbe de La Mothe-Houdancourt, now Archbishop of Auch, over whom I had
certainly some advantage in the disputations. I carried myself in this
affair more wisely than might have been expected from my youth; for as
soon as I heard that my rival was supported by the Cardinal, who did him
the honour to own him for his kinsman, I sent the Cardinal word, by M. de
Raconis, Bishop of Lavaur, that I desisted from my pretension, out of the
respect I owed his Eminence, as soon as I heard that he concerned himself
in the affair. The Bishop of Lavaur told me the Cardinal pretended that
the Abby de La Mothe would not be obliged for the first place to my
cession, but to his own merit. This answer exasperated me. I gave a
smile and a low bow, pursued my point, and gained the first place by
eighty-four voices. The Cardinal, who was for domineering in all places
and in all affairs, fell into a passion much below his character, either
as a minister or a man, threatened the deputies of the Sorbonne to raze
the new buildings he had begun there, and assailed my character again
with incredible bitterness.

All my friends were alarmed at this, and were for sending me in all haste
to Italy. Accordingly, I went to Venice, stayed there till the middle of
August, and was very near being assassinated; for I amused myself by
making an intrigue with Signora Vendranina, a noble Venetian lady, and
one of the most handsome I ever saw. M. de Maille, the King's
ambassador, aware of the dangerous consequences of such adventures in
this country, ordered me to depart from Venice; upon which I went through
Lombardy, and towards the end of September arrived at Rome, where the
Marechal d'Estrees, who resided there as ambassador, gave me such

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