Père Joseph

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François-Joseph Le Clerc du Tremblay de Maffliers
Signature Père Joseph.PNG

Père Joseph , actually François-Joseph Le Clerc du Tremblay de Maffliers (born November 4, 1577 in Paris , † December 18, 1638 in Rueil-Malmaison ) was a French Capuchin . The phrase " gray eminence " goes back to Père Joseph's great political influence as confessor to Cardinal Richelieu .

Origin and youth

Père Joseph came from a French family belonging to the nobility ( noblesse de robe ) : his father Jean Le Clerc du Tremblay was Chancellor of King Henry II's fourth son , Hercule-François d'Alençon (* 1554 - † 1584) and Prime President des Requêtes au Parlement de Paris (First President of the Chamber of Appeal at the Paris Parliament, a court), whose mother came from the Byzantine imperial family Palaiologos , while his father belonged to the Italian line of the Gonzaga. Père Joseph's mother, Marie Motier de La Fayette, came from a noble family: Her father, Claude de La Fayette , had four baronies . One of them inherited the grandson François-Joseph, which earned him the title of Baron de Maffliers at the court of the French king before joining the Capuchin order. He received an excellent classical education and made an extensive trip to Italy in 1595 . In 1597 he took part in the siege of Amiens . In the wake of a distant relative, the diplomat Hurault de Maisse , he traveled to London in the same year .

Rise in the Capuchin order

On his return he joined the Capuchin Order on February 2, 1599 in Orléans . There he soon gained a high reputation, which is why he was entrusted with important functions and offices. In the autumn of 1605 he was appointed guardian of the Bourges monastery . The following year he took over this function in the religious house in Rennes . Also in 1606 he helped Antoinette d'Orléans in founding the Convent of the Calvaries (Daughters of the Holy Cross) in Fontevrault in Poitou , which was later confirmed by a papal bull through his intercession with Pope Paul V. He wrote a devotional book for the nuns . He later became head of the Des Roches monastery not far from Fontevrault. In 1618 his superiors appointed him Provincial of the Capuchin Province of Touraine , which also included Poitou, large parts of Brittany and Normandy . The Diocese of Luçon , headed by Richelieu since 1607, is located in Bas-Poitou . In 1625 Père Joseph was made prefect of the foreign mission.

First merits in the Counter Reformation

Père Joseph acquired himself during the reform of his order, whose monasteries he lived in the centers of the French Huguenots , e.g. B. 1609 in Saumur , had the growing attention at court. When he was called to the Loudun Conferences as confidante of the Queen Mother Marie de Medici and the papal envoy, he contradicted the demands of the Parliament and finally convinced them of the correctness of Gallicanism , a schismatic tendency in Catholicism . During an uprising of some high nobility in 1615/1616, he acted as agent for the Queen Mother Marie de Medici, brokered the Peace of Loudun on May 3, 1616. His most important opponent was the Duke of Bouillon , Henri de La Tour d'Auvergne, duc de Bouillon , who said of Père Joseph: “This man penetrates my most secret thoughts; he knows things that I have only told a few people of tried and tested secrecy, and he goes to Tours and comes back from there, on foot, in the rain, in snow and ice, in the most terrible weather, without anyone being able to watch him . I will swear that the devil is in this father's body. ”Since then, Joseph maintained close contacts with Marie de Medici.

Crusade project

Up until the first few years of the Thirty Years' War, Père Joseph wanted to convince the Christian princes and kings of the need for a crusade against the Ottomans to liberate Constantinople and the Holy Land . For this purpose, he traveled to Rome from autumn 1616 to March 1617 , where he established contacts with the papal curia and conducted intensive correspondence with papal ambassadors and legates , cardinals and the papal secretary of state. In the summer of 1618 he unsuccessfully traveled to Madrid on the same matter , where he made further contacts.

Beginning of the relationship of trust with Cardinal Richelieu

Cardinal Richelieu initially tried in vain from his diocese of Luçon to gain access to the deliberations in Loudun. Since this was denied him, he intercepted Joseph in 1611 on the way to Tours, where Marie de Medici was staying with her retinue, and had long conversations with him about the domestic and foreign political situation of the monarchy. The two recognized their similarities above all in their aversion to the Habsburgs . When Richelieu was temporarily exiled from Poitou to Avignon , the brother of Père Joseph, Charles Le Clerc du Tremblay , brought him on March 7, 1619 permission to return to the court of Queen Mother Marie de Medici.

Establishment of an informant network

When King Louis XIII. If he undertook a campaign against the Huguenots des Béarn in the autumn and winter of 1620 , the priest could inform him through his secret, reliable network of informants what was going on in the fortified places of the Huguenots. In La Rochelle , the most important fortified place of the French Calvinists , Joseph had maintained a network of informants for fifteen years who kept him up to date on all important events in the port city and which he also used to deliberately disinformation among those trapped in order to reduce the will to resist could.

Père Joseph acted as confessor , counselor and close collaborator of Cardinal Richelieu. As such, the Capuchin used his friars in all parts of the world for correspondence about the internal situation of the various domains of England and Spain , the Netherlands and Germany , Persia and Abyssinia to Canada , from which he had intimate knowledge of the circumstances and Trade needs in the states, but also in the respective influential circles. In memoranda , Joseph submitted plans for trading establishments and the establishment of a French fleet to create colonies .

From 1624 the priest of the order acted as head of the Mercure français , an annually published paper in which a summary of all relations and official documents published in the previous year appeared from the perspective of the crown, covering all the events of the monarchy, the royal family, the military events, such as battles, alliance and peace treaties that summarized the political events, such as the politics of ministries and diplomacy and was studied by the members of the royal council, the military, lawyers, clergy, scholars, writers and officials. For further control of public opinion, Richelieu used the weekly newspaper La Gazette , which appeared from May 12, 1631 and was published by Théophraste Renaudot and in which, in addition to the reports of the king and Richelieu, also Récits ("reports") of the generals and royal intendants appeared . Since Richelieu wanted to use the Gazette to influence public opinion, the secret reports of Père Joseph about the moods and intentions of influential circles that one wanted to meet or which one wanted to support also flowed into it.

Role of Père Joseph at the Regensburg Electoral Congress

Richelieu sent Joseph to the Regensburg Electoral Congress (1630) . Although the professional diplomat Charles Brûlart de Léon was the ambassador of France, the father led the French embassy. Behind the scenes, the friar promoted the recall of Wallenstein and through passionate propaganda stirred up the isolation of Emperor Ferdinand II among the princes and diplomats . He then advised the Swedish King Gustav II Adolf of Sweden on his intervention. This put Père Joseph in the role of Minister of War. Père Joseph's influence on Richelieu is controversial, but it undoubtedly influenced the French stance in the Thirty Years War, which consisted of maintaining neutrality for as long as possible in order to intervene directly in the conflict after the exhaustion of Sweden and the imperial troops.

Père Joseph as successor

The king and Richelieu had designated the Capuchin to succeed Richelieu as principal minister. When Richelieu was informed of the death of his confidante on December 18, 1638, he is said to have responded with the words: Je perds ma consolation et mon unique secours, mon confident et mon appui (“I have lost my consolation and my only security, mine Confidants and my support ”). The contemporary biographer Père Josephs was Father Ange de Mortagne .


  • An anecdote claims that Richelieu was called to Père Joseph's deathbed and wanted to speak to him with the words “Courage, Père Joseph, we have won Breisach ”.
  • The term “ gray eminence ” is derived from the gray-brown habit of Père Joseph .


In Rueil-Malmaison, the Villa Père Josephs is located in the immediate vicinity of Cardinal Richelieu's estate. There is also a large public park named after Père Joseph.

See also: Aldous Huxley's novel The Gray Eminence about Father Joseph.

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