Richelieu, Louis François Armand du Plessis, Duc de
Louis François Armand du Plessis, Duc de Richelieu
Brigadier (1734-38), Lieutenant-General (1738-48), Maréchal de France (1748-88)
born March 13, 1696, Paris, France
died August 8, 1788, Paris, France
Louis François Armand du Plessis was born in Paris. Louis XIV of France was his godfather. He was the son of Armand Jean de Vignerot du Plessis and thus a grandnephew of Armand Jean du Plessis, Cardinal de Richelieu.
On February 12 1711, at the age of 14, Louis François Armand du Plessis was married, against his will, to Anne Catherine de Noailles.
In 1715, at the death of his father, Louis François Armand du Plessis inherited the title of Duc de Richelieu.
In his early days, he was thrice imprisoned in the Bastille: in 1711 at the instance of his stepfather, in 1716 in consequence of a duel, and in 1719 for his share in the Cellamare Conspiracy of Giulio Alberoni against Philippe II, Duc d'Orléans, the regent for Louis XV of France.
From 1725 to 1729, as the French ambassador to the court of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI, in Vienna, the Duc de Richelieu negotiated the preliminaries of peace (1727).
During the War of the Polish Succession, the Duc de Richelieu served on the Rhine in the campaigns of 1733 and 1734.
In 1734, the Duc the Richelieu was appointed brigadier. On April 7 of the same year, by the intrigues of his friend Voltaire, the Duc de Richelieu was married to Élisabeth de Lorraine-Harcourt.
In 1738, the Duc de Richelieu was promoted to lieutenant-general.
In 1743, the Duc de Richelieu was appointed First gentleman of the Bedchamber of King Louis XV.
During the War of the Austrian Succession, the Duc de Richelieu distinguished himself at the battles of Dettingen (27 June, 1743) and Fontenoy (May 11, 1745) where he directed the grapeshot of a French battery upon the British columns. In 1748, he made a brilliant defence of Genoa.
At the end of the war, in 1748, the Duc de Richelieu was promoted to maréchal de France.
In 1755, the Duc de Richelieu was appointed Governor of the Province of Guyenne and Gascogne.
At the outbreak of the Seven Years War, in 1756, the Duc de Richelieu assumed command of the land force destined to the expedition against Minorca. His army landed at Ciutadella on April 18 and rapidly occupied most of the island. On April 23, he laid siege to Fort St. Philip (San Felipe de Mahon). The British garrison resisted for more than two months but finally capitulated on June 28. On his return to France, the Duc de Richelieu was hailed by madame Pompadour who told him "your star has risen and it shall never be dimmed". While waiting for suitable employment, the duc took command of the French forces on the southern coast around Toulon.
In 1757 following Frederick II's sudden invasion of Bohemia, the Duc de Richelieu was given command of a force that was to relieve the siege of Prague. However this was cancelled when an Austrian army defeated Frederick in the Battle of Kolin forcing him to break off the siege. Meanwhile, a French army under the command of the Maréchal d'Estrées was proceeding to the invasion of Hanover. The French ministers became deeply unhappy with d'Estrées' methodical and slow progress. Despite his victory at the Battle of Hastenbeck on July 26, Maréchal d'Estrées was finally superseded by the Duc de Richelieu as Commander of the French Army of Westphalia. With the Allied Army of Observation retreating rapidly in front of him, the Duc led his army in pursuit. His army soon occupied most of Hanover, capturing the capital on August 11. Resuming his advance, Richelieu's Army cornered the Allied Army in the area of Bremen at the end of August. Richelieu's orders were to smash the Allied Army of Observation and to occupy all of Hanover, before turning east and launching an attack on the Prussian Fortress of Magdeburg. Instead Richelieu, fearing that his army was not in a condition to face battle, concluded the "Convention of Kloster-Zeven" which allowed the French to occupy Hanover and stipulated that Allied forces should cease hostilities and return to their respective states, thus escaping destruction. Richelieu was heavily criticised for this in Paris, where the terms were considered far too lenient. As early as the end of September, Richelieu led his army into winter-quarters at Halberstadt, postponing the attack on Magdeburg. After the crushing defeat of a Franco-Imperial Army at the Battle of Rossbach on November 5, the situation changed dramatically, Great Britain denounced the "Convention of Kloster-Zeven". On November 24, Ferdinand of Brunswick took command of the Allied Army, who had never been dispersed, and immediately launched a counter-offensive in Hanover, soon driving the French Army back to the Aller.
Early in 1758, the Duc de Richelieu suddenly resigned his command and retired to France - handing over to the Comte de Clermont. Richelieu was widely accused of corruption during his six months as commander in Hanover. He and his officers were suspected of having stolen three quarters of the money he was supposed to raise in taxes from the occupied territories, as well as stealing the pay of his soldiers. His pillaging campaigns in Hanover procured him the sobriquet of the "petit père de la maraude".
After the Pompadour's death in 1764, Richelieu's position in court was restored and he developed an amiable friendship with Louis XV's last mistress, Madame du Barry.
From 1774, when Louis' grandson, Louis XVI succeeded to the throne in 1774, Richelieu was not welcome to the court. Indeed, the new queen, Marie Antoinette, disliked both Madame du Barry and Richelieu's nephew, the overly ambitious Duc d'Aiguillon.
On February 13 1780, the Duc de Richelieu, at the age of 84, was married for a third time to Jeanne de Lavaulx.
He died on August 8 1788.
Nicknamed the "French Alcibiades", the Duc de Richelieu was such a renowned womaniser, that it is said Choderlos de Laclos based the character Valmont in his novel "Les Liaisons dangereuses" on him. Mme de Polignac and the Marquise de Nesle fought a duel over him. In 1729, he began an affair with Émilie du Châtelet, and although it ended, they continued to be frequent correspondents for over a decade. He was also the lover of the famous courtesan and novelist Claudine Guérin de Tencin, he had another affair with Princess Charlotte Aglaé d'Orléans and with her cousin Louise Anne de Bourbon.
This article incorporates texts from the following articles:
Grosser Generalstab Kriegsgeschichtliche Abteilung II: Die Kriege Friedrichs des Grossen, Part 3 Der siebenjährige Krieg 1756-1763, Vol. 5 Hastenbeck und Roßbach, Berlin, 1903, Anhang 49