Today is the birthday (1585) of Armand Jean du Plessis, cardinal-duc de Richelieu et de Fronsac, French clergyman, noble and statesman. Cardinal Richelieu is one of those historical figures who is very well known, but mostly from fiction. So people have a certain stereotyped image of him that tend to be caricatures. I won’t mince my words about him; he was thoroughly nasty in lots of ways. Then again, so were a lot of people in his era. He once wrote:
“If you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest of men, I will find something in them which will hang him.”
I suspect Machiavelli could have taken lessons from him. But the simple truth is that when he became, effectively, the ruler of France the country was weak and divided, and when he died the country was strong and unified. He set the stage for the brilliant reign of Louis XIV. On the other hand, he also sowed all the seeds that were reaped during the French Revolution. Here are the bare bones.
At birth Richelieu’s prospects were not rosy. He had two older brothers who were in line to inherit family titles, and his father died in battle leaving the family heavily in debt. But fortune was on his side. The king, Henry III, bestowed the bishopric of Luçon on the family in recognition of his father’s war service, which provided a substantial income. His elder brother died in a street brawl over a prostitute, and his other brother preferred to become a monk than serve as a bishop. So after a stint in the army where, apparently, his most notable achievement was to get gonorrhea, he was made bishop of Luçon. Thus, at 21 (1608) he was both a duke and bishop. His rise in the church was swift. He was a Secretary of State by 1616, a Cardinal in 1622, and Louis XIII’s chief minister in 1624. He remained in office until his death in 1642.
Richelieu gained such immense power because Louis XIII was a weak king. He came to the throne at the age of 8. His mother, Marie de’ Medici, acted as regent during his minority. Mismanagement of the kingdom and ceaseless political intrigues by Marie de’ Medici and her Italian favorites led the young king to take power in 1617 by exiling his mother and executing her followers. Louis was beset with political troubles from the start, chiefly because the Huguenots and the French nobility had considerable power, dividing the country into regional factions. With Richelieu as his guide, Louis was able to consolidate power and become an absolute monarch over a unified nation. In brief Richelieu strengthened France in the following ways:
• Subsidized Protestant powers opposing the Hapsburg monarchs who were beginning to dominate Europe, and then successfully intervened in the Thirty Years War to reduce the power of the Hapsburgs in neighboring states.
• Reduced the power of the nobility to a role of service to the crown, and restricted the individual rights and privileges of towns and the church which hitherto had acted independently.
• Reformed the army.
• Defeated the Huguenots at the Siege of La Rochelle and retracted the political and military privileges granted to them Henry IV (while maintaining their religious freedoms).
• Forbade all dealings with foreign powers by any other than the crown.
• Had the port of Le Havre modernized, and built a powerful navy, which subsequently allowed France to begin colonial expansion in Canada and the Caribbean to challenge the supremacy of the English and Dutch.
• Encouraged promising young artists to stay in France rather than leaving for Italy. Commissioned the painters Nicolas Poussin and Philippe de Champaigne to decorate the Louvre Palace.
• Encouraged the development of French literature, founded L’Académie française (which became a model for learned societies around the world), and renovated the Sorbonne (where he is buried).
Richelieu’s major failing was in not attending to administrative reforms (particularly of France’s tax system), which were urgently needed, and which ultimately led to the French Revolution.
Richelieu is also notable for the authoritarian measures he employed to maintain power. He censored the press, established a large network of internal spies, forbade the discussion of political matters in public assemblies such as the Parlement de Paris (a court of justice), and had those who dared to conspire against him prosecuted and executed.
Richelieu’s motives are the focus of much debate among historians; some see him as a patriotic supporter of the monarchy, while others view him as a power-hungry cynic (Voltaire even argued that Richelieu started wars to make himself indispensable to the King). The latter image gained further currency due to Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers, in which Richelieu is a major character and one of the main villains. The novel, and subsequent film adaptations, depicts Richelieu as a power-hungry, unscrupulous, and avaricious minister. You will have to make your own mind up. I am deeply ambivalent. I tend to see him as a man who loved his country and loved the church. He wanted the best for both, and achieved his goal. How he achieved it I am not so enamored of.
Sauce Richelieu is a French compound sauce based on tomatoes that was named in the cardinal’s honor over a century after his death. It combines two rich and incredibly time consuming ingredients: sauce tomate, and glacé de la viande. Sauce Richelieu can be used for dark meats such as beef and lamb. It’s deep red color meshes with the colors of the meat and reflects the cardinal red for which Richelieu is well known. Bouef á la Richelieu can be made in a number of ways. Because I am going to devote my recipe space to the ingredients for sauce Richelieu, I will simply describe here a basic version, which is to roast a beef rib roast to medium rare, slice it (ribs in), and coat it with sauce. The sauce is prepared by heating together ½ tablespoon of glacé de la viande to 2 cups of sauce tomate.
2 oz. salt pork, diced
2 cups onions, diced
1 cup carrots, diced
1 cup celery, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 28-oz. cans crushed tomatoes
1 quart veal or chicken stock
1 ham bone
kosher salt, to taste
sugar, to taste
— For Sachet: —
1 bay leaf
½ tsp dried thyme
3-4 fresh parsley stems
8-10 black peppercorns, crushed
Preheat oven to 300°F/150°C
Tie the sachet ingredients into a cheesecloth sack using a piece of kitchen twine.
In a heavy Dutch oven, render the salt pork over low heat until the fat liquefies.
Add the carrots, celery, onions and garlic and sauté for a few minutes until the onion is translucent but not brown.
Add the tomatoes, the ham bone, the stock and the sachet.
Bring to a boil, cover, and transfer the pot to the oven. Simmer in the oven, partially covered, for two hours.
Remove from the oven. Remove the sachet and ham bone, and purée the sauce in a blender or food processor until smooth, working in batches if necessary.
Season to taste with kosher salt and a small amount of sugar — just enough to cut the acid edge of the tomatoes.
Yield: about 2 quarts
Glacé de la Viande
5 -6 lbs (2.5-3 k) beef bones, leg bones, cut in 2 to 3 inch lengths
extra virgin olive oil, as needed
3 -4 lbs (1.5-2 k) chuck roast, cut in large chunks (or other stewing beef)
2 -3 large onions, unpeeled, quartered
5 -6 cloves garlic, unpeeled, lightly crushed
3 -4 stalks celery, with leaves, cut in 2 inch pieces
3 -4 large carrots, scrubbed and cut in 2 inch pieces
2 plum tomatoes, quartered
2 cups dry white wine
1 bunch parsley
4 -6 large bay leaves
1 tsp whole black peppercorns
Place a rack in the middle of the oven, and preheat the broiler on high or preheat oven to 500°F/260°C
Lightly rub the marrow bones with olive oil, and place in a roasting pan. Place in the oven, and broil or roast until nicely browned on all sides, turning regularly, and watching closely so they do not burn.
Remove from the oven, and pour any grease and olive oil from roasting pan into a large (at least 12 quart) stock pot, adding more olive oil as needed, and setting the bones aside.
Heat the pot over high heat, add all of the vegetables, except the tomatoes and parsley, and cook until surfaces are browned and charred in places. Add the tomatoes, and cook 2-3 minutes longer.
Reserve the vegetables with the bones.
Add a little more olive oil to the pot if necessary, and brown the pieces of roast on all sides. Add the bones and vegetables to the pot, and fill three-quarters full with cold water.
Heat the roasting pan on the stovetop, and add the white wine to deglaze, scraping up all browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Add this to the stock pot.
Add the parsley, bay leaves, and peppercorns to the pot, and bring to a slow boil, skimming off any scum that rises to the surface.
Add more water to bring the level to 1″ from the top of pot, and return to a boil.
Partially cover and adjust the heat so the stock stays at an active simmer or very slow boil (should be bubbling lightly).
Simmer for at least 24 hours, adding more water every couple of hours as needed.
While sleeping, just reduce the heat slightly, cover completely, and go to bed; top up with water, increase heat, and return to a boil in the morning.
When done cooking, skim as much grease as possible from the surface, and strain the broth into another container, pressing gently on the solids to extract as much stock as possible. Discard the solids and refrigerate the broth until the fat solidifies on the surface.
Scrub the pot well, and return it to the stovetop. Remove the fat from the stock and return the stock to the pot. You should have 4-5 quarts of stock at this point.
Bring to a full rolling boil, and reduce by about 90% (until only 2-2½ cups of thick syrup or paste remains).
You only have to pay close attention to the reducing stock for about the last 15-20 minutes to ensure the pot doesn’t burn dry.
Allow to cool to room temperature. Refrigerate until solidified, then freeze until needed. The most convenient way to freeze is to pour the glace into an ice cube tray, freeze solid, then pop the cubes out and store in the freezer in a Ziploc bag.
Yield: 2-2 ½ cups