14 July 2020

Cardinal Jules Mazarin - ruler of France

Jesuit-educated Italian served two French kings

Jules Mazzarin moved to France to work as a diplomat under Cardinal Richelieu in 1640
Jules Mazzarin moved to France to work as a
diplomat under Cardinal Richelieu in 1640
Jules Mazarin, who was to become the de facto ruler of France for nearly 20 years, was born Giulio Raimondo Mazzarino on this day in 1602 in Pescina, a small town in the province of L’Aquila in the Abruzzo region.

He served as the chief minister to the Kings of France, Louis XIII and Louis XIV, from 1642 until his death in 1661.

Mazzarino’s parents were residents of Rome but would spend the summers in Pescina to escape the heat.

His father, Pietro Mazzarino, had moved to Rome from Sicily to become a chamberlain in the family of Filippo I Colonna, the Grand Constable of Naples. His mother was Filippo I Colonna’s goddaughter.

Influenced by the Colonna family, the couple sent Mazzarino to the Jesuit College in Rome when he was seven. He excelled in his studies and gave a public lecture at the age of 16, explaining Halley’s comet, which had appeared that year. He also enjoyed gambling at cards and was frequently in debt.

To get him away from bad influences in Rome, he was sent to Madrid with Girolamo Colonna to study law, but he continued to gamble and became engaged to the daughter of a notary who had lent him money. He was recalled to Rome before the marriage could take place.

Mazarin governed France on behalf of the future King Louis XIV
Mazarin governed France on behalf
of the future King Louis XIV
After serving as a papal diplomat for Pope Urban VIII, Mazzarino offered his diplomatic services to Cardinal Richelieu and moved to Paris in 1640, changing his name to Mazarin.

After Richelieu’s death, Mazarin took his place as first minister. After Louis XIII died in 1643, Mazarin acted as the head of government for Anne of Austria, the mother of the young Louis XIV, who had been appointed regent. Mazarin was also made responsible for the king’s education until he came of age.

Mazarin played a crucial role in establishing the Westphalian principles that would guide the foreign policy of European states. Some of these principles remain the basis of international law to this day.

He introduced Italian opera to Paris and established a wonderful art collection, much of which can still be seen in the Louvre in Paris today. He also founded the Mazarine Library, which was the first public library in France.

Mazarin died in Vincennes in 1661 and his remains were interred in a marble monument beneath the dome of a college he had founded, which is now the Institut of France and is across the Seine from the Louvre.

A view of the town of Pescina in the Abruzzo, with the Piccolomini Tower on a hillside above
A view of the town of Pescina in the Abruzzo,
with the Piccolomini Tower on a hillside above
Travel tip:

Pescina is a town of a little more than 4,000 population situated on the edge of an area of plains in mountainous Abruzzo, about 120km (75 miles) east of Rome.  The village it grew from dates back to the 14th century but much of it was destroyed in a devastating earthquake in 1915, which killed as many as 5,000 in a population of 6,000 at the time.  The town’s duomo - the Cattedrale di Santa Maria delle Grazie - was damaged and not properly restored until after the Second World War. The Piccolomini Tower in the oldest and highest part of the village is a relic of the former castle.  Mazarin’s house, which was built in the shape of a castle, also had to be restored and now houses a museum dedicated to his life.

The Collegio Romano in the Pigna district is Rome's Jesuit College
The Collegio Romano in the Pigna
district is Rome's Jesuit College
Travel tip:

Rome’s Jesuit College - the Collegio Romano - was established in 1551 by Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit Order. A new building was erected for the College, under the patronage of Pope Gregory XIII, in 1582. The building can be found in the Pigna district of the city in a square now known as Piazza del Collegio Romano. It is currently used partly by the Ministry of Heritage and Culture and partly by the Ennio Quirino Visconti high school.

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