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Prelude to Disaster; The Precipitation of the War of the Mantuan Succession, 1627–29*

  • R. A. Stradling (a1)


Cardinal Richelieu's spectacular military intervention in Italy in 1629 plunged his ministry into a desperate crisis from which it only narrowly emerged intact. It marked the definitive departure of France upon the difficult road of outright opposition to the Habsburg hegemony in Europe. This policy – as the cardinal well knew – was in many ways potentially counter-productive, with a risk factor so high that failure might well entail the end, not only of his personal career, but with it the adolescent Bourbon state. Indeed, his initiative had the almost immediate consequence of a rebellious challenge from a prince of the blood and his domestic allies, amounting to a prototype fronde des princes. For decades to come, French society was to be impoverished by the manifold negative impact of war, while political stability was persistently affected by the unrelenting material and ideological pressures of continuous hostilities.



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1 Pagès, G., ‘Autour du “grand orage”. Richelieu et Marillac: deux politiques’, Revue Historique, CLXXIX (1937), 6397 is the classic study of the central political crisis. Humbert, J., Une grandc entreprise oubliée. Les Français en Savoie sous Louis XIII (Paris, 1960), deals with the French aspect of the war itself. More general treatment of French politics in these years is available in V–L. Tapié, , France in the age of Louis XIII and Richelieu (London, 1974), pp. 133209. The evolution of Richelieu's policy towards the Habsburgs, in the Italian context, is studied in two useful articles by Pithon, R., ‘Les débuts difficiles du Ministère de Richelieu et la crise de Valteline (1621–1627)’, Revue de l' Histoire Diplomatique, LXXIV (1960), 297322, and La Suisse, théâtre de la guerre froide entre la France et l'Espagne pendant la crise de Valteline (1621–1626)’, Schweizerische Zeitschrift für Geschichte, XIII (1963), 3353.

2 Sanz, A. García ‘Coyuntura Económica y Proyectos de Reforma: el Gran Viraje Económico de 1628’ [contribution to the Symposium at Toro on ‘La España del Conde Duque de Olivares’, 09 1987. Philip IV is quoted in Elliott, J. H., The count duke of Olivares: the statesman in an age of decline (New Haven and London, 1986), pp. 347–8.

Elliott's book presents a broad but typically lucid treatment of the Spanish crisis (pp. 323–456 passim). More concentrated on its political dimension is Stradling, R. A., Philip IV and the government of Spain, 1621–65 (Cambridge, 1988), pp. 6976, 89–102. For treatment of its international context, idem, Europe and the decline of Spain: a study of the Spanish system, 1580–1720 (London, 1981), pp. 88–114; Vilar, R. Ródenas, La Política Europea de España duranle la Guerra de los Treinta Años (1624–30) (Madrid, 1967), pp. 151–93; and Straub, E., Pax et Imperium: Spaniens Kampf um seine Friedensordnung in Europa zwischen 1617 und 1635 (Paderborn, 1980), pp. 327–69. The most detailed diplomatic history of the Mantuan War, set firmly into the Italian context, is Quazza's, R.La Guerra per successione di Mantova e del Monferrato (Mantua, 1926).

3 See Stradling, R. A., ‘Olivares and the origins of the Franco-Spanish war, 1627–35’, English Historical Review, CI (1986), 6894, and the authorities therein cited. A subsequent view is more sceptical of the causal connections between the Mantua war and the general conflict; see Parrott, D., ‘The causes of the Franco-Spanish war of 1635–59’, in Black, J. (ed.), The origins of war in early-modern Europe (Edinburgh, 1987), pp. 72111. The cultural and ideological issues of Franco-Spanish hostility – and their historiographical resonances – are interpreted in the present author's forthcoming essay ‘Los Dos Grandes Luminares de la Tierra: España y Francia en la Política de Conde Duque de Olivares’ in Elliott, J. H. and Sanz, A. García (eds), La España del Conde-Duque de Olivares (Valladolid, 1990), pp. 129–60.

4 Elliott, J. H., El Conde-Duque y la Herencia de Felipe II (Valladolid, 1977), p. 94.

5 For France's multiple difficulties – political, military, logistical and financial – before and during the Mantuan War, see (variously), Bonney, R. J., The king's debts: finance and politics in France, 1589–1661 (Oxford, 1981), pp. 145–8, 162ff.; Humbert, , Une grande entreprise oubliée, pp. 24–6; Straub, , Pax el Imperium, pp. 402–07; Parrott, , ‘The causes of the Franco-Spanish War’, pp. 93–4; Pithon, , ‘Les débuts difficiles’, pp. 315–16.

6 Fernández de Córdoba to king, 20 Dec. 1627, A(rchivo) G(eneral de) S(imancas, Valladolid), (Sección de) Est(ado) 3437, No. 1. (Here Don Gonzalo predicted correctly that Duke Vincenzo would die before the letter reached Madrid.) See also borrador of Consulta of the Consejo de Estado, 5 Jan. 1628, ibid. K1445, No. 10.

7 Fernández de Córdoba to king, 27 Dec. 1627, ibid. 3437, No. 1 [my emphasis]; same to Duke Carlo Emanuele, 25 Dec. 1627, ibid. K1436, carpeta 1–4.

8 Unless otherwise noted, information in this and the following two paragraphs is derived or deduced from ‘Copia de Voto del Conde Duquc…en la ocasion de la muerte del de Mantua hecho a 12 de Henero 1628’, British Library, London, Egerton MS 2053, fos. 232–8v. (I am grateful for the assistance of Alberto Hauf, Richard and Maria Trewinnard, and John Elliott, in translating and interpreting this vital but rebarbative document. However, none is responsible for any of the constructions given here.) I have not found any independent record of the Consejo meeting of 11 Jan. Its absence tends to confirm the actual presence of the king.

9 Only a few weeks earlier, Olivares had heavily stressed the importance of gaining Savoy's friendship in the struggle to improve the monarchy's overall strategic position; see ‘Parezer del Conde Duque de San Lucar sobre el estado de las cosas en todas partes. En Madrid a cinco de Diziembre de 1627’, A.G.S. Est. K1435, No. 45.

10 Letter of Olivares, [? n.d.], A.G.S. Est. 2331, fo. 48, cited by Elliott, , The count-duke, p. 341 and n. 72.

11 Royal Order to Juan de Villela, 15th Jan. 1628, A.G.S. Est. K1436, No. 6. For Villela's specific exclusion, see also Olivares' note to him, 13 Feb. 1628, ibid. 3437, No. 28.

12 ‘Lo que vos Don Ramírez de Prado…’; and note monogrammed by Olivares, (both) I5 Jan. 1628: ibid. K1436, Nos. 8, 10.

13 ‘Hizola [i.e. the draft order to Milan] et Marq[ue]s de Montesclaros’, 16 Jan. 1628, ibid. 3437, No. 8. The missing records of the Mantua Junta were probably amongst the papers confiscated from the home of Olivares' main administrative lieutenant, Jerónimo de Villanueva, at the time of his arrest by the Inquisition in 1644; see Elliott, , The count-duke, pp. 668–9 and n. 116.

14 King to Fernández de Córdoba, 16 Jan. 1628 [copy], B(iblioteca) N(acional, Madrid, libra) 2360, fos. 99–100v. See also note of the same date, A.G.S. Est. 3437, No. 6. Don Gonzalo later confirmed the former document as the source of his instructions to go ahead; see his statement of 24 Feb. 1628, ibid. K1436, No. 15.

15 Consulta of Junta de Estado 18 Jan. 1628, and royal apostilla on consulta of the Junta de Estado, 27 Jan 1628, ibid., Nos. 7, 9.

16 Consulta of Junta de Estado, 12 Feb. 1628, ibid. 3437, No. 32.

17 Royal apostilla on consulta of 12 Feb., ibid.

18 King to Fernández de Córdoba, 12 Feb. 1628, ibid. No. 27; see also Elliott, , The count-duke, p. 343.

19 Villa, A. Rodríguez, Ambrosio Spínola, primer marqués de Los Balbases (Madrid, 1908), pp. 477–78. Spínola's claim was made over a year later in conversation with the Papal Nuncio, (Elliott, , The count-duke, pp. 346–7).

20 Consulta of Junta de Estado 23 April 1628, A.G.S. Est. 2042 unfoliated; royal order of 11 March [dated in error 11 Feb.], 1628, ibid. K1445, No. 14/15.

21 Du Fargis to Louis XIII, 8 Mar. 1628, A(rchives du Ministère des) A(ffaires) E(trangères, Paris), Cor(respondances Politiques de l') Esp(agne livre) 15, fo. 168v. The former's complaisance was doubtless due to the fact that he had been accredited to Madrid continuously since 1620. He was a follower of the pro-Spanish dévot line of Cardinal Bérulle, and had been deeply involved in the negotiations of 1626–7, with their strongly fraternal overtones, about which Richelieu was so equivocal (Pithon, , ‘Les débuts difficiles’, pp. 317–21).

22 Consulla of Junta de Estado 30 Mar. 1628, A.G.S. Est. K1436, No. 25.

23 Longueville, to Richelieu, 26 March 1628, Grillon, P. (ed.), Les papiers de Richelieu. Section politique intérieure, 6 vols. (Paris, 19751985), III, 141, (see also pp. 209–10); Avenel, M. (ed.), Lettres, instructions diplomatiques et papiers d'etat du cardinal Richelieu, III (Paris, 1858), 33–4.

24 Richelieu to du Fargis, 19 April 1628, Avenel, III, 74; a Spanish copy of this despatch is at A.G.S. Est. K1436, No. 26 (‘yo os supplico hablar desto libremente y francamente de mi parte al Snr. Conde de Olivares y dezirle que ay mas ganancia en la unión de las dos coronas que en la empresa de desposseer Mons. de Mantua’). The contents of this interception can only have encouraged Olivares' belief in the paralysis of Paris.

25 Richelieu, to Louis, XIII, ‘vers le 20 avril’, Avenel, Lettres, III, 7885; see also Grillon, , Les papiers de Richelieu, III, 236.

26 Straub, , Pax et Imperium, p. 348.

27 Grillon, , Les papiers de Richelieu, III, 189.

28 Bergin, J., Cardinal Richelieu: power and the pursuit of wealth (New Haven & London, 1985), p. 68, refers to Nevers as a member of one of the ‘leading aristocratic families’, on a par with the Guise. Lubinskaya, O., French absolutism: the crucial phase, 1620–29 (Cambridge, 1968), p. 244, calls him ‘one of the most important of the grandees’. See also Bonney, , The king's debts, p. 76.

29 Dethan, G., ‘Nationalisme et idée de croisade au XVIIe siècle’, Revue d'Histoire Diplomatique, LXXIV (1960), 289–97; Huxley, A., Grey eminence (London, 1930), pp. 104–18.

30 Bonney, , The king's debts, pp. 148–50; Tapié, , France in the age of Louis XIII, p. 197.

31 Nevers (Charleville) to Marie de Médicis, 6th Nov., and to Gaston d'Orléans, 8, 19 & 20 Dec. 1627, Archives Nationales de la France, Paris, Section d'Histoire Etrangère, KK 1358 (registre on microfilm), in fos. 295–302. These letters are incorrectly ascribed to the temporary catalogue available in the Salle Clisson, and seem to have been overlooked by historians of French politics in this period. The letter to the Queen Mother (in her capacity as regent of Northern France during her son's absence at La Rochelle) warns about the dangers of denuding Champagne of men when hostile military activity has already been reported on its frontiers. The letters to Gaston largely concern mutual clients and appointments to commands in the Champagne regiments. But they also indicate an increasing degree of reciprocity in favours asked and granted, and (especially notable) an eagerness on Nevers' part to end his estrangement from Marie de Médicis.

32 Grillon, , Les papiers de Richelieu, III, 209–10; Avenel, , Letters, III, 127. The men raised by Nevers appropriately took part in the invasion of Savoy a year later (ibid. p. 312).

33 Marie de Médicis to Richelieu, 4 May 1628, Grillon, , Les papiers de Richelieu, III, 263 (see also pp. 209–10). Puzzlement has centred on the reasons for Marie's support for the second, follow-up campaign in Italy in 1630 (see e.g. Tapié, , France in the age of Louis XIII, p. 209); she is held to have been resolutely opposed to the primary intervention (see e.g. Bonney, , The king's debts, pp. 149–50).

34 Consulta of Junta de Estado, 22 April 1628, A.G.S. Est. K1436, No. 27 (see also Nos. 28, 37, which illustrate Olivares' increasing isolation, despite the fact that meetings were held in his own chambers in the palace).

35 Consulta of Junta de Estado and royal apostilla, 5 July 1628, ibid. No. 53.

36 Draft notes for conseil discussions of 21st May 1628, A.A.E. Cor. Esp. 15, fos. 172–3, 202–8; Richelieu to du Fargis, 4 June 1628, and Louis XIII to same 27 July 1628, ibid. fos. 179–80v, 195.

37 Paulo di Fiesci to M. de Hesbaules, Madrid 6 Mar. 1628, fos. 150–1; Carlo Strata to Filippo Spínola, 12 June 1628, fos. 181–2v. [interception]; Richelieu's marginal notes on copies of Olivares' proposals, (?July 1628), fo. 203 (all ibid.). For other major interceptions, see ibid. fos. 327–8. The English state papers for the 1620s contain several dozen such ‘leaks’ from the headquarters of the Spanish system, (P[ublic] R[record] O[ffice], Spain, [Series] 94 vols. 24–33 passim). Strata's letter also allowed Paris an insight into the nature of Spínola's quarrel with Olivares, which had ominous financial implications – see Stradling, , Philip IV, pp. 71–2.

38 Rotal, apostilla on consulta of the Junta de Estado, 8 07 1628, A.G.S. Est. K1436, No. 57.

39 Royal apostilla on consulta of Junta de Estado, 23 July 1628, ibid. No. 68.

40 Consulta of Consejo de Estado, 3 August 1628, ibid. No. 81.

41 Note of Olivares to Villela, 22 July 1628, ibid. No. 66; du Fargis to Richelieu enclosing Olivares' note of 20 Sept. 1628, A.A.E. Cor. Esp. 15, fos. 251–3v. Upon the original of du Fargis' memo, a nineteenth-century patriotic pencil has ringed the word ‘domestique’. It seems that Olivares did not share the information about the French preparations with the Junta de Estado until nearly six months later. This subterfuge was certainly inspired by the urgent need not to further damage confidence in his Italian policy amongst ministers (Consulta of 7 Jan. 1629, A.G.S. Est. K1437, No. 9, cited by Elliott, , The count-duke, p. 365).

42 The crux was that Spain would chose from a number of suggested neutral authorities to occupy Casale, whilst Nevers made the requisite apologies, and gave Spain undertakings as to his future conduct as duke of Mantua. From Richelieu's point of view, the offer ‘semble très équitable et très avantageuse pour les Espagnols, puisque en effet Monsieur de Mantoue se despouille de son propre’ (A.A.E. Cor. Esp. 15, fos. 193–4). But reputación did not permit; the French proposals meant that Spain would have to retire its army, in humiliation if not actual defeat, from the walls of Casale.

43 Bautru to Louis XIII, 27 Nov. 1628, ibid. fos. 285–85v. Bautru was Richelieu's replacement for the unreliable du Fargis. For the evolution of his instructions, and drafts of other French versions of a compromise to be discussed in Paris and/or Madrid, see ibid. fos. 153–6, 163–4, 172, 193–4, 267. The mission was described as ‘de faire un sorte avec le Sr D'Olivares que le differend de Casal et troubles D'Italie se terminant à l'amiable par l'entremise des deux Roys’.

44 Richelieu to Bautru, 7 Dec. 1628, ibid. fo. 323. (N.B. The last three words of the quotation are crossed out in this draft copy.)

45 See Bautru's reports of his audiences with Olivares of 1, 8 & 10 Dec. 1628, and the ‘Projet d'accomodement sur les affaires d'Italie dressé par les Espagnols’, 30 Jan. 1629, ibid. fos. 294, 298, 304, 365.

46 The council of state at first advised Philip not to ratify the truce made at Susa by Don Gonzalo; and the king entered an unusually vitriolic and belligerent apostilla. Nevertheless he also accepted that circumstances forbade the corollary of open war with France, consulta of 28 April 1629, A.G.S. Est. 3436, printed in Alvarez, M. Fernández, Don Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba y la Guerra de Sucesión de Mantua y del Monferrato, 1627–1629 (Madrid, 1955), pp. 168–98.

47 I have seen four copies of this document, but none at Simancas amongst the officials files: (1) In Spanish, but with the endorsement ‘Ratification du Roy d'Esp. de l'accord fait entre le roy [Louis XIII] et Don Gonzales, 1629’, P.R.O. Spain 94/34 fo. 83; (2) ‘Declaración que ha hecho S[u] M[agestad] sobre las cosas de Mantua y Monferrato’, B.N. 2361, fo. 213. (3) In Spanish, A.A.E. Cor. Esp. 15, fo. 462, and (4) A copy in Italian immediately consecutive to (3). The first two are dated 3 May 1629, and the latter two have a day later. Yet another copy exists in the Vatican library, Rome (Barberini MS 3558, fo. 61), suggesting some kind of papal mediation of this démarche. Technically, the offer represented a return to the status quo ante bellum and the secret arrangements of the treaty of Monzon. But it could only be perceived by Europe as a Spanish so backdown of proportions approaching outright capitulation.

Copies of Spain's treaty with the Huguenot duke of Rohan (3 Mar. 1629) are also apparently missing from the official files in Simancas – but can be found in Paris and London, in the two volumes already cited here (Spain 94/34, fos. 55–8; Cor. Esp. 15, fos. 452–61).

* I wish to thank my colleague Nora Temple for her help and advice in the preparation of this essay; and the British Academy for its financial support for research in Spanish and French archives.

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