A Flash of Scarlet Part 19

The relationship between Louis and Cinq Mars continued on. The 22 year old more than enjoyed the splendors of court life and advantages that would be bestowed on him. He had already been made Grand Equerry. When Richelieu found that Cinq Mars had his own mind, he thwarted his ambitions in every way possible, barring him from sitting on the Royal Council.

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Henri d’Effiat Marquis de Cinq Mars

Cinq Mars having already been secretly involved in the plot to kill Richelieu in Sedan now allied himself with his friends, Fontailles and de Thou. This plot would include Gaston d’Orleans, the duc de Bullion and the Spanish government.  De Thou, though struck with conscience, would not betray his friends. The winter of 1642 seemed an opportune time to attempt to influence the King to quit his Minister.

Richelieu and Louis  were to travel separately to Roussillon and the Spanish campaign. Both were ill. By this time, Richelieu was so ill he had to be transported in a large litter which took considerable time. Cinq Mars took this time to talk of Richelieu’s removal, possibly by force. Whatever Louis’ reaction, he said nothing to the Cardinal. Gaston and de Bullion decided to keep their distance which left only the Spanish treaty. 17,000 men were promised by Spain as well as payments to all 3 men to hold Sedan while the Spanish invaded France. All conquests were to be restored to Spain but when Gaston received the document he held off on signing it. Interestingly, Richelieu was about to offer command of Northern Italy to de Buillion at this time. The King left the Cardinal in Narbonne who, though very ill, was certain of a conspiracy on the part of Cinq Mars. Trying to make the King aware of this was a great difficulty from afar.

It is thought that both Louis and Richelieu may have suffered from a form of malaria which would be prevalent in the hot, swampy south of France, Richelieu also suffering from tuberculosis which had crept down his right arm. The stresses of their lives were fast catching up with them. Louis would have been 41 and the Cardinal 57 years old.

The doctors bled the Cardinal several times, and incised the tubercle on his right arm. This provided only temporary relief. He encouraged Louis to remain in the south until Perpignan was taken, then commenced dictating his will. Soon, the doctors advised moving to a healthier location. He would have to be moved in his bed because his pain was so great.

To add to his worries, the war in Northern France was going badly but soon a letter arrived from the King declaring his fidelity. Richelieu replied with a copy of Gaston’s secret treaty with Spain. It was not in Louis’ nature to react quickly. He gave Cinq Mars time to escape which he did not. He was bold, if nothing else and followed Louis to Narbonne where he was arrested. De Thou had already been arrested as was de Bouillon. Then, as was his way, Louis left Narbonne for Fontainebleau stopping just long enough to visit the ailing Cardinal at Tarascon. There, a bed was moved beside the Cardinal’s for Louis to rest on and converse with the Cardinal. In the end, he gave Richelieu authority over the fate of the traitors as well as that of southern France, his power was nearly absolute.

Cinq Mars and de Buillon were signed on the treaty anonymously only as “two men of quality” . Still there was little hope that Gaston would not give them up to save himself,  he was no longer heir to the throne. The Cardinal’s sentence would see him give up any involvement in government and take temporary exile in Savoy but not until he had confronted his two cohorts, now imprisoned. That would have been very suitable except for Louis’ intervention. One thing  Cinq Mars did have to do though was sign a document identifying himself and de Buillon as signators of the treaty with Spain. De Bouillon remained imprisoned in Casale until his wife threatened to open Sedan to the Spaniards. Still, he had to cede Sedan and Raucourt to France.

The description of the Cardinal’s trip upstream with de Thou has been a colourful one for centuries. It was an entourage indeed. Cinq Mars was travelling by carriage from Montpellier but the other two by boat up the river Rhône. The Cardinal was in too much pain to travel by horse. Large numbers of horses towed the boats from the banks of the river. As always, the Cardinal protected himself with guards in the form of musketeers who filled the first two boats. Then the Cardinal’s boat, magnificently decorated in gold and crimson velvet followed with his bed on it. De Thou followed, well-guarded in another small boat. Four more boats followed carrying courtiers and luggage. Their was also calvary on each side of the river. When the boat docked the Cardinal’s bed would be carried by shoulder slings to the residence. Doors and windows had been enlarged to make way for the bed.  Once inside he would be transferred to another bed and furniture would be brought in.  The company travelled for two weeks to Lyon where the trial was to be held.

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The State Barge on the Rhone- Paul Delaroche

When it was found that de Thou did not actually know about the Spanish treaty, Richelieu employed his chief interrogator, Laubardemont to threaten Cinq Mars into changing his story. At preliminary trial, de Thou found he had no choice but to admit to knowledge of the Treaty and so was condemned.  The Cardinal had left earlier that day and was brought news that Perpignan had been taken and that  Cinq Mars and de Thou were now headed for execution.

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Cinq Mars and de Thou Sent to Execution

The rest of the story hardly bears telling. The usual executioner was taken ill and replaced by a handyman who was ill-equipped for a clean beheading, being only in possession of a simple cleaver. The two prisoners were basically hacked to death for want of expertise and an efficient implement. The bodies were transported back in the same carriage they had arrived in. De Thou’s body was embalmed and taken to his sister. Cinq Mars was buried at the Feuillant’s convent.

The Cardinal had pause for thought as he returned to Paris. It was plain that Louis knew about the possible threats to his life and had taken no measures to prevent it. Louis had warned Cinq Mars that killing the Cardinal would lead to excommunication from the Church, condemning their immortal souls. Captain Treville, head of the King’s musketeers, then volunteered to commit the act and then seek absolution later. Louis forestalled him.

After a triumphant return to Paris, the Cardinal began to make demands that the court be cleansed of all “malicious spirits”, including de Treville, thus starting a real argument with Louis which lasted for more than a month. The Cardinal’s health continued to fail. He decided to indulge himself one last time with a privately staged performance of “Europe” which he had written with his favourite playwright, Desmaret de Saint-Sorlin. He was only able to attend a dress rehearsal. Before long he received a message from Louis. He agreed to not having anymore favourites and sending de Treville and his musketeers away.

On Friday, November 28, 1642, the Cardinal complained of a sharp pain in his side and had a high fever. On December 2, Louis came to his bedside at the Palais-Cardinal where Richelieu advised who his successor should be, Jules Mazarin. Louis fed the Cardinal two egg yolks and left to walk down the Grand gallery, hung with portraits of the Cardinal and himself. His sudden laughter echoed down the gallery behind him.

Richelieu’s condition worsened greatly later in the day. He took his final communion and was given his last rites.  On December 3rd, a different doctor was called in who gave him an opiate which gave the appearance of rallying him the next morning. That was short-lived.  With his last breaths, he asked his beloved niece, Madame de Combalet to leave the room as he was about to die. Then quietly and with prayer he was gone.  His family who owed him so much felt great sorrow; his niece, the Marechaux de Maille-Breze and de La Meilleraye.

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Death of Richelieu

The Cardinal’s body lay in state at the Palais-Cardinal clothed in magnificent Cardinal’s robes and cap, the ducal coronet and mantle at his feet. Parisians by the hundreds came to see the man whether out of hatred or admiration. Later, he was moved to the Sorbonne being carried in a carriage draped with black velvet and crossed with white satin, his arms embroidered in gold and silver. The six horses which pulled it were draped in the same black velvet.  His pages each carried a long white tapered candle. All in Paris carried a white candle, until the city was ablaze with light.

The Cardinal was originally laid to rest in a crypt at the Sorbonne. At the end of the century, his niece had a marble tomb carved for him by Francois Girardon. During the French Revolution his body was disinterred and dismembered but the embalmed head was stolen and sometimes put on display. Years later, the owner was asked by Napolean III to return it for reinterment with the Cardinal’s body. When the floor in the chapel subsided, a picture was taken of the well-preserved face.

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Richelieu’s Tomb at the Sorbonne

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