Cardinal Richelieu was the chief advisor and strategist to king Louis XIII from 1624 until his death in 1642. He had immense power and is often described as the world’s first prime minister. His domestic policy was to consolidate the power of the king, which he did by imprisoning recalcitrant nobles and demolishing their castles. No corner of France was too remote for his attentions.
Externally his policy centred on limiting the expansion of the Hapsburg Empire, which, with its German and Spanish possessions, threatened to encircle France. Although a Catholic cardinal, and perfectly capable of persecuting Huguenots, he pragmatically colluded with protestant countries in this endeavour, at first surreptitiously, as with Sweden, and later more openly. This long, complicated struggle is remembered as the Thirty Years War.
In his spare time he was a great patron of the arts and founded the Académie Française, bastion of the French language. He was known as “l’Eminence Rouge”, in consequence of the red cardinal’s robes that were his normal attire.