Guilio Raimondo Mazarino
By Thomas Frascella Sept. 2010
Guilio Mazarino was born in 1602 in the small town of Pescina in what was then part of the Provence of Naples and is now part of Abruzzo. Both of his parents were from central Italy, Rome but Guilio also claimed descent from the Hauteville line of southern Italy on his mother’s side.
The Mazarino family lived and prospered under the patronage of the powerful Colonna family of Rome. As a young man he studied at the Jesuit College in Rome and travelled to Spain at the age of 17 with Girolamo Colonna as Girolamo’s chamberlain. Upon his return he obtained a Law degree at the University of Rome. As a young man he had serious gambling habits and frequently was in debt.
In 1628 Guilio obtained a commission as captain of the infantry in a regiment commanded by Filippo Colonna. The regiment participated in the conflict between France and Spain in the matter of who was to be Duke of Mantua. Pope Urban VIII eventually would appoint Girolamo Colonna Archbishop of Albano and send him as papal legate to attempt to negotiate a peace. The archbishop in turn insisted that Guilio be assigned to him as his personal secretary.
It was during these peace negotiations that Guilio’s skills as a gifted and astute diplomat were first demonstrated. He was largely credited with crafting the peace settlement which favored the French in the conflict and which brought him to the attention of the French Prime Minister Cardinal Richelieu.
In 1632 Guilio was appointed by Pope Urban VIII papal vice legate at Avignon and in 1634 was made papal nuncio extraordinary at the French Court. Between 1634 and 1636 Guilio and Cardinal Richelieu became close associates with the Cardinal bestowing on the young man a number of expenses gifts. The close association however did not go unnoticed by the Spanish monarchy which convinced Pope Urban that his appointee had been compromised. As a result Pope Urban removed Guilio from his offices in 1636.
Stripped of his position by Pope Urban, Cardinal Richelieu offered Guilio a position on his diplomatic staff in 1636. Guilio accepted renouncing his Italian citizenship and becoming a naturalized citizen of France where he became known as Jules Mazarin.
Jules Mazarin continued to excel in the diplomatic service of France and Cardinal Richelieu. Throughout 1637 Cardinal Richelieu entrusted several highly sensitive assignments to him and Mazarin quickly rose to the Cardinal’s chief protégé and council. In 1638 Mazarin also began to develop a close personal relationship with Queen Anne wife of King Louis XIII. His rapid ascent within the Royal politics of France resulted in his appointment as a Cardinal by King Louis XIII which was bestowed with the approval of Cardinal Richelieu. He was installed as Cardinal Bishop by the Papal Legate to France Cardinal Grimaldi in 1640.
In 1641 as Cardinal he briefly returned to Rome however he was summoned back to France with the news of Cardinal Richelieu’s death in 1642. In that year Cardinal Mazarin was appointed by King Louis XIII to be Cardinal Richelieu’s successor and the second modern Prime Minister of France. In 1643 King Louis XIII died leaving a son the five year old Louis XIV as primary heir.
As a result of the tireless and devoted efforts of Cardinal Mazarin the interests of the young Louis XIV were preserved and the regency of Queen Anne protected during Louis’ minority. Cardinal Mazarin would serve as Prime Minister of France from 1642 until his death at age 58 in 1661. The time period in which he served as Prime Minister was a turbulent period in France’s history and his popularity was decreased by the high taxes he imposed to press France’s international claims. However he seems nonetheless to have been an intensely loyal minister to the Crown and an exceptional mentor to the young King.
Mazarin’s popularity was also adversely impacted by his fondness for the finer things in life. During his tenure he amassed a great personal fortune and accumulated a great collection of paintings, jewels and rare books. Interestingly, upon his death he left most of his collection and fortune to King Louis XIV. His collection of jewels formed the basis of the Crown jewels of France and some of the surviving gems, the “Mazarin Diamonds” are on display in the Louvre. His personal library formed the basis of the Bibliotheque Mazarine in Paris, essentially the Library of France.
The French author Alexander Dumas created a fictionalized version of the Cardinal as the villain in two of his novels “Twenty Years After” and “le Vicomte de Bragelonne”. Of course Cardinal Richelieu is generally a villain as portrayed by Dumas as well. It is perhaps unfair that the modern perception of these to men has been so colored by the fictional novels of Dumas. A number of the recent films based on the Dumas classics tend to blur the characters of Richelieu and Mazarin into a generic Cardinal villain character which makes for good drama but probably is not an accurate portrait of the individuals.
As a minor historical note it is interesting that for a forty year period between 1630 and 1670 the careers of Archbishop Frascella, Cardinal Grimaldi and Cardinal Mazarin should all rise in Paris, France. I don’t know if the three knew each other, although I would suspect they did. It would also be interesting to know whether they considered themselves related by their southern Italian roots.
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