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Eminence: Cardinal Richelieu and the Rise of France [Hardcover]

Jean-Vincent Blanchard
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
Price: 17.79 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 309 pages
  • Publisher: Walker & Company (13 Sep 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802717047
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802717047
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 16.3 x 3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 781,390 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Eminence Captures the rise to power of a seminal figure who was instrumental in creating France as we know it. Full description

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enlightening biography of a complex statesman 8 Jan 2013
Like many readers I first discovered Cardinal Richelieu cast in rather murky perspective by Dumas and this book (one of very few modern english language books on Richelieu) brings him clearlyinto the light in his historical context and illustrates how he used the power of his 'Eminence' to create the conditions for the the France we know today. Reading this book you can begin to understand how his contribution lead to the later glories of the 'Sun King' and the later blood-thirsty revolution. Perhaps we do not see enough here of the cleric and the bishop in Richelieu's complex make-up but he certains comes across as an impressive, yet human, figure in this great new biography by Blanchard. I loved it.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Read. 4 Feb 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Excellent Book, fascinating story. I am now looking for other books about the lives of people identified in the book.
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Amazon.com: 3.4 out of 5 stars  17 reviews
25 of 28 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Pretty Good Book on Richelieu 3 Oct 2011
By lordhoot - Published on Amazon.com
This is an introductory biography of Cardinal Richelieu. The author, Jean-Vincent Blanchard, wrote a well written and entertaining book on the cardinal but he doesn't add much to the life and time of one of the most misunderstood statesmen of modern Europe. The book's approach to Cardinal Richelieu is one of respect and admiration. Personally I see nothing wrong with that. Cardinal Richelieu remains one of the most important men in French history period. And one of the most important men of modern European history. His role in saving France from the chaotic period after the death of Henry IV is clearly shown in this book.

The book covered all the major events of Richelieu's life. I was bit surprised that he did not go deeper into the fate of Urban Grandier which many historians point to Richelieu's callous disregard for justice. There is only a minor sentence regarding Grandier. I am also bit surprised that the author did not make much issue of one event that secured Richelieu to power until his dying days, the birth of future Louis XIV. The Dauphin literally removed two of Richelieu's deadest enemies from any political equation: Gaston the former heir and direct enemy of Richelieu and the Queen Mother. Both were non-factors in French politics after the birth of Dauphin and ensure Richelieu hold on power. (Of course the Cinq-Mar Affair proves to be a minor bump on the road.)

Although author acknowledged the overall greatness of Richelieu, he was wise enough to point out his many weaknesses, mainly in the field of finance, trade and commerce that nearly led to economic ruins of France and no doubt, fuel the coming revolution called the Fronde. But Richelieu did what he had to do, to centralized the royal power, make the French Kingdom respectful and prevent France from becoming another Holy Roman Empire. The book shows that he used ruthlessness, tact, tolerance and pragmatic diplomacy to gained his goals. His ability to adjust, adapt and overcome should amaze any reader and this book does a good job showing how he did it.

But overall, I found the book to be a good read. While I didn't get much out of it, I am sure that anyone interested in knowing more about Cardinal Richelieu cannot go wrong with this book. (PS: Charlton Heston did played an excellent Richelieu in that movie.)
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Good sophomore term paper 25 Nov 2011
By T. Thomson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
OK as a light introduction but lacks a comprehensive tie-in to European affairs of the early seventeenth century. I did not get a feel for the protagonist or any of the other characters. It reminded me of reading history books in (U.S.) high school.
16 of 20 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Inadequate 5 Dec 2011
By J. Moran - Published on Amazon.com
This biography of Richelieu, apparently intended for a general audience, attempts to encompass his entire career and complex personality in 227 pages of text. The result: unsatisfactory.

Armand-Jean du Plessis (1585-1642), Duc de Richelieu and Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church, was, according to Henry Kissinger in his book "Diplomacy," "the father of the modern state system." Kissinger, who adds that "few statesmen can claim a greater impact on history" than Richelieu, is not alone in this estimate.

Richelieu dominated the time in European history that modern nations began to emerge from the violent chaos of religious and dynastic strife arising from the Reformation and the Catholic Counter-Reformation. Violence repeatedly convulsed Europe in religious and dynastic strife from circa 1524 to the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 and beyond. Kingdoms were riven with civil wars, ostensibly based on religion, and dynasts devastated Europe both in the name of disparate Christian creeds and to increase their own political power.

Richelieu himself was as complex and even contradictory as the era he confronted. A man of some sensitivity and considerable cultivation, he entered a clerical career, read and wrote orthodox theology and was apparently a sincere Catholic throughout his life. Yet this did not prevent him from pursuing policies that placed the growth of French monarchial power above everything else. He pursued these aims with utter ruthlessness and opportunistic practical expediency.

To take just one example, Richelieu crushed Protestant military and political power in France but did not expel Protestants or even interfere much with their strictly religious practices. Similarly his foreign policy bewildered many because superficially it seemed inconsistent as Richelieu supported now one side and now another.

Richelieu was in fact pursuing French power and consistently trying to master what he saw as the greatest threat to France: The two branches of the Habsburg family (one of which claimed overlordship in the German states (the Holy Roman Empire) and the other ruled Spain and claimed dominion in Holland and what is now the Benelux area. The wars generated by all this ultimately involved most of the European states of the time and so devastated German lands that it took nearly two centuries for physical recovery; and, some would say, longer for recovery of German political development.

Richelieu also reformed France. By the time of his death in 1642, he had greatly enhanced the monarchy's ability to centrally control its territory by appointing new royal officials ("intendants") with broad (and vague) administrative, political and military authority to oversee traditional royal provincial officials (who had purchased their offices and rapaciously exploited them for profit).

This also helped undercut the power and prestige of the hereditary nobility in the provinces, whom Richelieu then conciliated by making loyalty to the King and careers in the royal service irresistibly attractive. The nobles, whose power had put the monarchy itself in peril in civil strife from at least 1547 through the assassination of King Henry IV and the minority of Louis XIII, were eliminated as a significant political threat to the state.

Richelieu did all this and much more in a polity that still possessed many elements of the old feudal order. All politics were dominated by an intensely competitive oligarchic aristocracy and were deeply personal, reflecting bitter competition for individual power and glory. Political parties did not exist. There were no elections. The King personally controlled who would hold power; and, in the end, power at court depended on getting and keeping the ear of the ruler.

No way to transfer power existed other than to secure the "fall" of a dominant minister. This could be caused simply by the ruler's fickleness and the rise of a favorite or by catastrophic failures of policy but also often by causing doubt about a minister's loyalty to the Crown. A fall caused by "disloyalty" could be followed by imprisonment or death.

Accordingly plots (both domestic and foreign) against a dominant minister such as Richelieu were many and constant. To combat them and to insure personal and political survival, Richelieu created the best system for domestic and foreign intelligence seen to that time in Europe. One of the remarkable aspects of Richelieu's spectacular achievements is that he had them against this backdrop, when he must have spent enormous time simply in protecting himself.

Much is omitted from the above simplified description of what Richelieu faced and achieved. Yet without some idea of this history a reader not already familiar with it can have little hope of appreciating Richelieu's life and career. The space constraints of this book largely prevented meaningful discussion of this background, crippling both author and reader from the start.

The book has little room for the things that make history come alive: the illuminating anecdote; the telling detail; the personal quirk. These are almost entirely missing, not only with regard to Richelieu himself but for all the personalities in the book.

The book is at best a summary narrative with a torrent of facts overwhelming the reader without much enlightening him. The writing is pedestrian and the book as a whole could easily serve as the "Age of Richelieu" segment of a mediocre high school or college textbook.

It is supported by a not very useful summary "Chronology," a list of "Principal Characters" containing only names and titles and devoid of any biographical information whatever, including the "character's" relationship to Richelieu, a "Family Tree" for Louis XIII and one for Richelieu (each occupying half of a page and each beginning with their respective subject's parents and ending with the generation succeeding the subject's), a single map of "France in 1630" and a poor index.

Not very interesting, not very illuminating, not much fun, not worth reading.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing. 21 Nov 2011
By David J. Highsmith - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Not the best narrative of the Cardinal's life, this concentrates too much on his military exploits and spends too little time on his fascinating personality. Nevertheless, it is a good account of what Richelieu had to do to survive in Louis XII's court.
11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Leaden prose. 25 Dec 2011
By J. Greenhut - Published on Amazon.com
Why the historical profession believes that while research and analysis must be taught, writing is to be left up to the historian to figure out on his own is beyond me. Having just finished one of Robert Massie's sparking biographies, perhaps I was expecting too much from a classically trained historian. Although the brief biography does not specifically state that Blanchard is not a native English speaker, I have the feeling that this is part of the problem. Writing well in a language not really your own is extraordinarily difficult, and few have managed (Conrad springs to mind). Most of us should avoid it. Best to write in one's own language and hire a really good translator, or have an editor not shy to massively rewrite the work.

The poor writing is unfortunate. Richelieu is one of the giants of early modern Europe and a well written popular biography is sorely needed.
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