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Did Cinq-Mars Led Political Conspiracy Against Richelieu ?

Marquis of Cinq-Mars at the gallows

In the spring of 1642, Cardinal Richelieu discovered a conspiracy to remove him from power. Among the conspirators is the king's favorite, Cinq-Mars, a young man of twenty-two whose fortune he has made.

Richelieu noticed very early Henri d'Effiat, Marquis of Cinq-Mars, and decided, when he was not yet 18, to place him with King Louis XIII, so that he might gain his friendship and use him as a spy. In fact, the king takes a real passion for this charming young man. Cinq-Mars was appointed in 1639 to the prestigious dignity of Grand Squire of France. He attends the Council where business is decided.

But soon his successes excite him: nor does he admit to being a toy in the hands of the cardinal, nor does he consent to sacrifice his liberty for the king. Between the despotism of the first and the jealousy of the second, the Grand Squire continues his irresistible ascent. Richelieu, however, worries about his protégé’s ambition. When Cinq-Mars dares to consider a marriage to Princess Marie of Gonzaga, the cardinal drops: “she’s not for this little gentleman”. Wounded pride, the favorite wants to shake off this cumbersome tutelage. Relations between the king and the cardinal are, moreover, increasingly strained. Many are betting on the defeat of an execrated minister and the victory of the favorite. Cinq-Mars is a dream ally for the conspirators who hate Cardinal Richelieu.

In 1641, Monsieur, Duke of Orleans, the king’s brother and eternal conspirator, as well as the Duke of Bouillon made contact with him through a young adviser to parliament, François-Auguste de Thou. Their plan is to make peace with Spain and oust the cardinal held responsible for the war. The plot takes shape.

A text of a treaty was written, copied by Cinq-Mars and, in March 1642, secretly posted to Spain by the Marquis de Fontrailles. Will the conspirators physically eliminate Richelieu? Opinions differ. Cinq-Mars hears the king complain “of slavery where his minister has reduced him”. One night, Louis XIII confides in him, "I wish there was a party against him." And as the favorite dares to speak of assassination, the king replies with these ambiguous words, "He is a cardinal and a priest, I would be excommunicated." But at no time does Cinq-Mars inform the king of the project of rapprochement with Spain which he and his friends are nourishing.

The plot discovered

The war against this country continues and Cardinal Richelieu focuses his efforts on the conquest of Roussillon. The king went down to Perpignan then to Narbonne where the Marquis of Cinq-Mars joined him. It was then that the cardinal decided to act. At the beginning of June, his secret services gave him a copy of the treaty, to which the list of conspirators was appended, and on the 12th, he had Louis XIII informed. The king is aghast, hurt in his self-esteem and in his affection. He gives the order to arrest Cinq-Mars. To exonerate himself for having seemed to encourage a conspiracy, he leaves the task of doing justice to Richelieu - however, again addressing a note to the favorite: "We blame you." The cardinal certainly wants to put down the continual revolts of the great, but his personal grudge against Cinq-Mars is known to all. He immediately appointed an extraordinary commission, chaired by a great person - Chancellor Séguier - and whose members were handpicked. This commission will sit in Lyon.

The Cardinal's Terrible Revenge

At the end of June, the news of the conspiracy was made public. On August 29, Séguier went to see Monsieur, a refugee in Auvergne, and proceeded to question him. The king's brother, weak Gaston of Orléans, transfixed with fear, confesses everything one wants to save his life and he overwhelms Cinq-Mars. The Duke of Bouillon, arrested and imprisoned in Lyon, also subscribes to all the requirements of the cardinal and charges the favorite. Both, princes of the blood, are exempt from appearing. They burden their accomplices all the more heavily as they will not have to confront them in court.

Cinq-Mars, imprisoned in Montpellier then in Lyon, was questioned on September 5. The young man ignores the confession of Monsieur and begins by denying. Of course, under pressure, he confides in Séguier, but his oral confidences are not valid for the procedure. Reporter Laubardemont then comes to question him. He lets him understand that de Thou has spoken and that if he tells the truth he will obtain his pardon. Unable to thwart the ruse, weakened by the prison, Cinq-Mars confesses and recognizes the presence of his friend at the meetings, while Laubardemont takes the precaution of making him sign the minutes.

The investigation is carried out quickly. From September 11 - that is, before the matter is judged - the scaffolding on the Place des Terreaux is set up. The judgment takes place on the 12th, in the room of the presidial palace in Lyon. Séguier had two uncertain magistrates dismissed. Cinq-Mars, who still believes in royal pardon, repeats his confession. De Thou appears in his turn and, ignoring Cinq-Mars's confession, denies the charges. It is then that he is read the deposition of the main convict, signed by him, and the two young people understand the trap. Convinced of high treason, Cinq-Mars was unanimously sentenced to death. For failing to denounce the plot, de Thou was also sentenced to death, by eleven votes out of thirteen. Sure of the verdict, the cardinal left Lyon in the morning, in his red litter.

Insolent, ambitious, conspiratorial, Cinq-Mars was sure to be. But was he the instigator of the political conspiracy ? It is doubtful whether we can ever establish the share of responsibility of each of the conspirators. In any case, the court ruled: it condemned Monsieur le Grand to capital punishment. The towers of the Château de Cinq-Mars were dismantled "to the height of infamy".

A macabre staging

At Richelieu's request, Cinq-Mars was condemned to question him to encourage him to reveal the names of his accomplices. There was a note that it must have been a sham torture. But the condemned man knew nothing about it: the young man was stripped naked and led to the embarrassment room, tied to the bench. He showed no fear.

An exemplary end. Cardinal Richelieu also insisted that the execution be public. 1,200 soldiers were mobilized for law enforcement. Cinq-Mars climbed the steps firmly and refused to be blindfolded. De Thou followed him with the same dignity. The countless spectators wept as they watched these unhappy young people die.