Thursday, February 15, 2018

Belloc on Gustavus Adolphus and Cardinal Richelieu

I'll be on the Son Rise Morning Show tomorrow with Anna Mitchell to continue our discussion of chapters in Hilaire Belloc's Characters of the Reformation. Tomorrow: Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden and Cardinal Richelieu of France. Listen live here tomorrow a little after 6:45 a.m. Central/7:45 a.m. Eastern.

Belloc describes the situation in the Thirty Years War and in Sweden:

We saw in discussing the Emperor Ferdinand II that his failure was mainly due to the discovery of a great military genius by Richelieu, the hiring of that genius by Richelieu in the interests of France, and the launching of him, also by Richelieu, against the Catholic Emperor. 

The name of this genius was Gustavus Adolphus, King of Sweden. But for his quite exceptional talents in the art of war Ferdinand would have succeeded in making all Germans united under the Catholic Imperial Crown and in making Catholicism permanently dominating in Europe. The astonishing victories of Gustavus destroyed that opportunity, and Richelieu his paymaster was principally responsible. 

Gustavus Adolphus was the immediate descendant of the man who had ousted the rightful King of Sweden from his throne. The Royal Family of Sweden was called Vasa. The Reformation in Sweden had followed the usual lines; the great nobles or landowners of that small country had looted the lands and other wealth of the Church, just as they did in England. They had been supported, as in England, by a small but enthusiastic minority of religious revolutionaries, and they had precariously established a Protestant government. The whole thing was done with more difficulty than in England because it came later. There were rich monastic establishments working almost to the end of the sixteenth century in Sweden, because, in spite of one small clique of men aiming to fill their own pockets, there was a succession of erratic monarchs, whose individual eccentricity prevented a continuous policy; for there was something of madness in all the Vasa family.

Now the legitimate heir to the kingdom of Sweden in the second generation of all this affair was strongly Catholic; and because he was hereditary King of Sweden, he was also the elected King of Poland — a country which, after much hesitation, had come down strongly on the Catholic side. This legitimate hereditary King of Sweden, Sigismund, thus became at one and the same time, the King of Sweden and of Poland. Even strong Protestants in Sweden hesitated to take the full step of rebellion and refuse to accept his sovereignty; for that would have been shocking to the ideas of the time. But, being determined to keep their Church loot and at the same time to maintain the independence of Sweden, so that her affairs should not be merged in those of Poland, they made the young King swear to respect all the institutions of Sweden and maintain the Reformation settlement of land in that country. 

Such a situation was too unstable to last. The vested interests created by the loot of the Church in Sweden were, as in England, terrified lest a Catholic monarch should restore the Church's wealth to its rightful owners, and they repudiated, in spite of their oaths, their legitimate king and adopted for their candidate to the throne his usurping uncle.

Belloc does not describe Gustavus Adolphus's character, except to say that he was Protestant and that he showed great ability in military leadership and Cardinal Richelieu, on behalf of France, engaged the king of Sweden to blunt the success of Ferdinand II's military efforts to reunite the Holy Roman Empire and Catholicism. As Belloc notes, Gustavus Adolphus soon succeeded beyond Richelieu's dreams or even desires; after paying Gustavus with tremendous wealth and after Gustavus' first victories, he became a new threat to France's power!

Fortunately for Ferdinand II and Richelieu, this great military genius died before he could conquer parts of the Holy Roman Empire. As Belloc concludes:

The struggle dragged on, lingering, until after Ferdinand's death. The Thirty Years' War did not end until the general pacification of the mid-century, in the treaties which are usually known as the Peace of Westphalia. These were signed just before the triumph of the English revolution against Charles I, and one may say that, after 1650, Europe was finally settled into the opposing cultures which it has since maintained. North Germany, thanks to the efforts of Gustavus Adolphus and in spite of his death eighteen years before; thanks also to the statesmanship of Richelieu, the paymaster of Gustavus Adolphus, who was also by this time dead — was to be securely Protestant and its princes and lords and cities to keep the loot of religion. Catholicism in South Germany was saved, nominally, and the power of the Emperor was still maintained; but it had failed to make a united country of its subjects. The great Swedish general had done his work well.

Belloc has a second title for the chapter on Richelieu:


He goes on to explain:

Of all the public characters who molded Europe during the seventeenth century Richelieu is both the greatest in himself, and the most important in the effect he had. He perpetuated in France the presence of a Huguenot (that is a Protestant) minority among the wealthier classes, and he confirmed the independence of Protestant Germany, initiating the breakdown of Catholic authority represented by the Emperor at Vienna. 

In other words, it was Richelieu's genius more than any other factor which led to the great battle ending in a draw, and to a Europe from one half of which the Catholic culture was to be permanently excluded. Most people would still say, being asked what was Richelieu's lifework, "The Consolidation of the French nation through the strengthening of the French monarchy." That was certainly his intention; it was certainly the object to which he himself was devoted; everything else he did was subsidiary to that in his own mind. But the fruits of a man's work are never those which he expects — there is always some side effect which will seem after a certain lapse of time to be the principal one. A man wins a battle in order to obtain a crown and the result — unexpected by himself— is a change of language over a wide district. A man protects some oppressed people and liberates them from their oppressor and the result — unexpected to himself and coming perhaps a hundred years later — is the conquest of his own people by those whom he had befriended. A man raises a rebellion to establish democracy, and the result is government by a financial oligarchy. 

So it was with Richelieu. The one thing he cared about  was giving the French people political unity, which could only be done by making the King strong. He succeeded; but the result was to leave the French morally divided between Catholicism and its enemies; while the much larger indirect result which has affected the whole world was the creation of a firmly planted Protestant North Germany typified to-day by the power of Prussia, and all this power has meant during the last hundred and fifty years. 

Remember that Belloc was writing in the 1930's, so he was thinking of Bismarck's nineteenth century Kulturkampf and of World War I, etc.

Belloc contrasts the situation of Calvinists in France with that of Catholics in England:

In that very lifetime which saw priests butchered in England after the cruel fashion for which the Puritans were openly responsible during their period of power, Calvinism in Catholic France was perfectly free. It had no martyrs and suffered no persecution. Although its followers were a minority among the French people they were a considerable proportion of the wealthy class, and it was from them that the anti-Catholic feeling among the French gradually developed. Their influence did not take the form of converting any further numbers to Calvinism, but of familiarising masses of Frenchmen with a dislike of the Catholic Church; so that at long last, after ferment had been at work for a couple of centuries, the whole nation was divided upon the issue — and remains violently so divided to this day. This religious division is the principal source of French weakness at the present time. [The 1930s]

Belloc calls Richelieu, "the first of that long line of public men from his day to ours to treat religious difference as a private matter, and to believe that one can have a united country without unity of religion."

After contending with the threat of the Holy Roman Empire to French unity and power and avoiding greater problems when Gustavus Adolphus was almost too successful, Richelieu had to contend with Spanish power. 

Belloc concludes:

Richelieu died in 1642, having seen all his schemes come to success. They came late. He could not be certain of his triumph until the very last years of his life. Even as his last sickness was upon him, when he was a dying man, it still looked as though the Spaniards in the South might be too strong for the French, although their attack from Belgium had been defeated. But by the actual moment of bis death Richelieu knew that he had conquered everywhere. What he did not know (but what the Pope of the day foresaw rather vaguely) was that the triumph of the French Cardinal meant also the permanent establishment of Protestant power in Europe.

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