6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 13 February 2002
This book is a very interesting comparative study of two relevant statesmen of the XVII century, Richelieu and Olivares, the former very [bad-]known through the eyes of The Three Musketeers by Hollywood with the cooperation of Alexandre Dumas, the latter ignored by most of the people, as it usually happens with those that lose a war. Apart from being very readable (I bought it on Sun-day and I have finished by Tuesday) and not very long, the contrast between Richelieu and Oli-vares is useful to avoid topics and myths based on the supposedly a-religious and modern per-formance of the French Cardinal versus the obsolete behaviour and ideas of the Count-Duke, or on the national character of France and/or Spain. In the case of Olivares, I have found that this book dedicates more pages to deal with the psychological and/or personal aspects than Elliot's "The Count-Duke of Olivares. The Statesman in an age of decline", who focuses more on poli-tics.
(Other books I would recommend to read on Spain: As a general overview, "A History of Spain" by Joseph Perez; and more focused on the XVI and/or XVII centuries: "The Spain of Philip II" by Joseph Perez; "Imperial Spain 1469-1716" and "The Count-Duke of Olivares. The Statesman in an age of decline" both of them also written by John Elliot; "Spain 1469-1714, A Society of Conflict", by Henry Kamen; and " Spain 1516-1598 : From Nation State to World Empire" and "The His-panic World in Crisis and Change, 1598-1700" both of them written by John Lynch).
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 17 June 2013
In this book Elliott compares the lives of two 'favorites' of their respective kings, whose careers ran pretty much in parallel (at least in time). The writer argues that whereas Richelieu was much more succesful in the end than Olivares, they did not differ all that much in talent, application nor in general outlook on life - although he concedes Richelieu was the more far-sighted and the more decisive of the two.
For example in 1628 Richelieu jumped on the opportunity offered by the death of the last duke of Mantua just at the moment that he had completed the siege of La Rochelle & crossed the Alps like a modern-day Hannibal (although eventually the whole conflict ended in a stalemate). Olivares reacted only slowly even though everyone saw the Mantua succession issue coming for a long time. Also Olivares was too soft on the Catalans & the Portugese when they started to grumble allowing the situation to escalate into a full-scale rebellion that led to his own dismissal.
In general I found this book interesting and reasonably enjoyable to read. I and probably other readers less well versed in early seventeenth century politics would have appreciated a more chronologic setup, as well as a bit less of an optimistic assumption by the writer on the readers' knowledge level about the fairly complex and chaotic times in which these two heroes lived. For example, it may be true that 'the day of the dupes' is also described in other books but to assume that the reader is already intimately familiar with it is simply too optimistic. Still a good book though.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 9 August 2012
In the early 17th century, Richelieu was the principal minister of Louis XIII of France and Olivares was the same for Philip IV of Spain, two greatest European states of their time. In this interesting parallel biography, concentrating on their ministerial careers, Elliott seeks to show that, although Olivares and Richelieu were enemies, they were similar in many ways. Both were reformers, aiming at the construction of a centralised monarchy; both tried to increase the political influence of their countries, and both held onto power as advisors to weak kings to achieve this. They both led their nations into war to gain European predominance and they had to face military, economic and political crises in fighting wars that continued after their deaths. Elliott may be too keen to show their similarities rather than any differences, but this is the result his comparative treatment.
If Olivares was a statesman of the same rank as Richelieu, why is he now largely forgotten? Part of Elliott's answer is that the problems Olivares faced in Spain were greater than those Richelieu faced in France, particularly the lack of unity between the various territories of the Spanish monarchy and the problems of controlling them. Although this might suggest that he should have concentrated on domestic matters, Olivares embarked on an aggressive foreign policy whose failure led to war with France, and eventually their being on opposite sides in the Thirty Years War, to the frustration of his aims and finally his dismissal. Another element, which Elliott is rather reluctant to concede, is that although Olivares was able and hard-working, Richelieu was more decisive and better able to use any opportunities as they arose. In addition, Olivares faced only slight opposition in Spain until almost the end of his career, but Richelieu faced continual opposition from those who wished for a compromise peace with Spain. On balance therefore, Richelieu was the better statesman and, as France won the war, he is remembered
Elliott's parallel study of the two statesmen is interesting and, in clarifying the significance of Olivares and rescuing him from obscurity, he presents a readable introduction to Olivares for English students. He is obviously the master of his subject and writes clearly and with empathy for his two subjects.