Jean-François Paul de Gondi

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Cardinal de Retz (portrait with inscription, around 1652)
Signature Jean-François Paul de Gondi.PNG
Jean-François Paul de Gondi as a young cardinal

Jean-François Paul de Gondi , also known as Cardinal de Retz (baptized September 20, 1613 in Montmirail , today in the Marne department ; † August 24, 1679 in Paris ), was a French nobleman, clergyman, politician and church prince of the 17th century . From 1654 to 1662 he was nominally Archbishop of Paris, but in exile. He owes his fame mainly to his memoirs.


Retz (as he is called in French historiography after the Pays de Retz ) was the grandson of an Italian banker from Lyonesia who, thanks to the protection of Catherine de Medici (from 1533 wife and later powerful widow of King Heinrich II. ) To high offices and had got the title of Duke of Retz and had helped his son, Retz's father, to a high aristocratic role and a general post.

Since Retz was only the second-born son and a younger brother of his grandfather, Jean-François de Gondi , was already bishop, he was tonsured at the age of 10 . When he was 13, his mother died and his pious father retired to a monastery. He himself went to the boarding school of the Jesuit-run Paris Collège de Clermont , where he was remembered by a classmate, the later writer Gédéon Tallemant des Réaux , as quarrelsome and in need of recognition, but was also a very talented student. B. learned six foreign languages ​​(including German, which was unusual for a French at the time). After completing the college, he listlessly began his theology studies, which did not prevent him from pursuing love adventures in aristocratic milieu or from writing a story in 1638 about the Genoese Count Fiesco , whose role as the head of a conspiracy against the Doge Andrea Doria (1547) evidently made him fascinated.

In 1638 he finished his studies with splendor, was ordained a priest and in the following years developed into a successful, sophisticated preacher. However, completely elaborated texts of his sermons have not survived, probably also because he apparently largely improvised.

As the noble and ambitious he was, Retz was not only concerned with his church tasks and his love affairs, but above all with politics, i.e. H. the power struggles in front of and behind the scenes at court. In 1638 and 1641 he participated in the unsuccessful intrigues of Queen Anna of Austria and the nobility against the powerful Cardinal Richelieu . After the death of Richelieu (1642) and King Louis XIII. (1643) he succeeded in becoming the deputy and designated successor of his great-uncle, who in the meantime had risen to become Archbishop of Paris. At the beginning of 1644 he was appointed titular archbishop of Corinth in his deputy post. The episcopal ordination donated him on January 31, 1644 his uncle Jean-François de Gondi, the Archbishop of Paris ; Co- consecrators were Nicolas de Nets , the Bishop of Orléans , and Dominique Séguier , the Bishop of Meaux . He was now an influential man in Paris, as whom he also sponsored writers and artists.

Mazarin's promotion to cardinal and minister by the Queen Mother and now Regent Anna of Austria spurred his ambition to try a similar career. From the beginning he participated as an actor, but also as a feared pamphleteer, in the uprising (1648–52) of the Paris Parliament and then of the high nobility against Anna and Mazarin, the so-called Fronde . At first he happily changed sides several times and in 1651 became a cardinal with Anna's help . In 1652, however, he got caught between the chairs and in December, soon after the young King Louis XIV returned to Paris, he was arrested as a ringleader and taken to the fortress of Vincennes .

In 1654 his uncle, the archbishop, died, and de Gondi intended to succeed him. But Ludwig, now of legal age, was unwilling to allow this, rather he tried to force him to give up. However, the latter refused and was therefore transferred to the distant province of Nantes . There he was able to escape captivity in an adventurous way and left France, not without sending a brilliant protest letter to his French bishops. However, his complaints were ineffective and he remained in exile , which he lived erratically in Spain, Italy, England, Switzerland and (after all , he was a cardinal) in Rome.

Eventually he was pardoned by Louis XIV. In 1662, after he had renounced his uncle's successor, he retired to the upper castle at Commercy, which he inherited in 1640. As further compensation he was assigned the rich Lorraine abbey there , but was excluded from the court. After all, Ludwig sent him several times (1662, 1665, 1668 and 1670) in diplomatic missions to Rome or commissioned in papal elections to act on behalf of France.

At the castle he found the time and dictated (1671-75?) His memoirs, which he dedicated to an anonymous noble lady, probably Madame de Sévigné , whose marriage contract he had signed in 1644 and who had been his guest in Commercy for some time in 1664. The manuscript has survived, but has some gaps.

The Mémoires appeared in Amsterdam in 1717.

In 1675, Cardinal von Retz became pious, which many contemporaries refused to take from him. He died while visiting a niece in Paris and was buried in the basilica of Saint-Denis , by order of the king without his name inscribed on his grave slab.

At the center of the Mémoires are the years before and during the Fronde, i. H. Cardinal Retz's high time as a political activist. They are considered a masterpiece of the genre due to the psychological intuition with which the cardinal observes, his precision and pointedness with which he can formulate, but also the skill with which he stages himself and his position. The Mémoires , when they appeared posthumously in 1717 in the mood of upheaval after King Louis XIV's death, were a great public success and were read as a kind of textbook on political intrigue and power poker well into the 19th century.


  • Jean François Paul de Gondi de Retz: Mémoires du cardinal de Retz: contenant ce qui s'est passé de plus remarquable en France, pendant les premières Années du regne de Louis XIV. / 4 Amsterdam, 1717 (the original edition can also be read online ( Bavarian State Library))
  • The Memories of Cardinal von Retz based on an old anonymous translation with an introduction and many additions edited by Benno Rüttenauer. 3 volumes. Munich 1913.
  • Cardinal Retz: From the memoirs (= Exempla classica Vol. 79, ZDB -ID 2181206-8 ). German by Walter M. Guggenheimer. With an afterword by Walter Boehlich . Fischer library, Frankfurt am Main u. a. 1964.


  • Simone Bertière: La vie du Cardinal de Retz. Éditions de Fallois, Paris 1990, ISBN 2-87706-091-8 .

Web links

Commons : Jean François Paul de Gondi de Retz  - Collection of images, videos and audio files
predecessor Office successor
Jean-François de Gondi Archbishop of Paris
Pierre de Marca