Image: (Wikipedia): “The Triple Portrait of Cardinal de Richelieu is an oil-on-canvas painting by French artist Philippe de Champaigne, completed c.1642.“
*Rietbergen, Peter, in Historical Social Research, 39(1), 2014.
“…Chronologically, my list starts with the Spaniard Francisco Ximenes de Cisneros (Rummel 1999; Garcia Oro 2005), the only one who, as far as I know also is the protagonist in a theater play (De Montherlant 1960). It ends with the Italian Giulio Alberoni (Castagnoli 1929; Harcourt-Smith 1944). Both served Spain, as did the Dutchman Adriaan Boeyens (Cools 2012) – he the only one to become pope!
The Italian Mercurino Arborio, who mostly was named after his native town of Gattinara, is the only one who has left a “life narrative” (Marullo 2001); he was employed by the Habsburgs in Northern Europe, as was Antoine Perrenot de Granvelle who, while from the imperial free town Besançon, worked mainly in The Netherlands (Van Durme 1953; Jonnekin 1989). Melchior Khlesl, born and bred in Vienna, ruled the Habsburg-Austrian states, albeit for a few years only (von Hammer-Purgstall 1847-1851; Kerschbaumer 1905).
Others on my list are the Hungarian Tamas Bakocz, as well as the Scotsman David Beaton (Sanderson 1986), and three Englishmen, viz. John Morton (Harper-Bill 2004), Thomas Wolsey (Gwyn 1990) and Reginald Pole (Mayer 2000). In short, fifteen cardinal-prime ministers, presented below not chronologically but in relation to the dynasties and states they served.
A few remarks are in order.
It will be obvious that I have decided to exclude the Papal States or “Patrimonium Petri,” i.e. the Central-Italian territories ruled by the pope-king, the reason being that every single high political position there was automatically held by a person who had at least entered religion, and, mostly, also was an ordained priest.
The four Frenchmen do not only hold center stage numerically. Indeed, Philippe de Champaigne’s portrait of Richelieu is the portrait par excellence of a ‘Prince of the Church’. Moreover, three of them also figure prominently in the widely-read novels of Alexandre Dumas, Jr., to start with, again, Richelieu in Les Trois Mousquetaires (Paris 1844).4 Also, both he – no less than 93 times! – and Mazarin have become film heroes or rather villains, just as the Englishmen Wolsey and Pole, viz. most recently in the BBC TV series The Tudors.
Alas, I cannot answer the question why the Bourbons in France employed no less than four cardinal-prime ministers, the Tudors in England and the successive dynasties in Spain three, the Habsburgs in Austria two and the other states only one. Precisely in Spain, perhaps the most ‘religious’ state in early-modern Europe, from the middle of the 16th century onwards the kings relied on a series of very worldly “validos”, favourites (Tomas y Valiente 1963; Elliott and Brockliss 1999), who do not seem to have coveted the cardinalate. Yet, in this context one of them presents a peculiar case: Francesco Gomez de Sandoval y Rojas, first duke of Lerma (1553-1625). He was the “valido” of Philip III (Feros-Carrasco 2002; Williams 2006). In early spring 1618 it became clear to him that he might well be the victim of court intrigues, partly instigated by his own son, that would procure his downfall. Afraid of the ultimate form punishment could take, he prevailed upon Pope Paul III to nominate him cardinal, in March, which ensured at least his physical survival. Although Lerma was exiled from court in Autumn that year, he had avoided the worst. In Madrid a doggerel began circulating: “Para no morir ahorcado, el mayor ladrón de España se viste de colorado” – ‘to escape the gallows Spain’s biggest thief changed his colours’. A year after he had received the red hat, Lerma, who had been widowed in the mean time, took holy orders and said mass for the first time… Lerma’s life inspired the English playwright Robert Howard – who knew about the phenomenon of royal favourites, since it existed in early seventeenth-century England as well – to a very successful tragedy: The Great Favourite (London 1668)…”