Cardinal de Retz  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Jean François Paul de Gondi, cardinal de Retz (Montmirail 1614 - August 24, 1679) was a French churchman, writer of memoirs, and agitator in the Fronde.

The Florentine banking family of the Gondi was one of those which had been introduced into France by Catherine de' Medici; Catherine offered Jérome (Girolamo) de Gondi in 1573 the château that he made the nucleus of the Château de Saint-Cloud; his hôtel in the Faubourg Saint-Germain of Paris became the Hôtel Condé in the following generation. The Gondi acquired great estates in Brittany and became connected with the noblest houses of the kingdom.


During the last ten years of his life, Retz wrote his Memoirs, which go up to the year 1655. They are addressed in the form of narrative to a lady who is not known, though guesses have been made at her identity, some even suggesting Madame de Sévigné herself. In the beginning there are some gaps. They are known for their narrative skill and the verbal portraits of their characters. Alexandre Dumas, père drew heavily on the Memoirs for Vingt ans après. Besides these memoirs and the youthful essay of the Conjuration de Fiesque, Retz has left diplomatic papers, sermons, Mazarinades and correspondence.

Retz and François de la Rochefoucauld, the greatest of the Frondeurs in literary genius, were personal and political enemies, and each left a portrait of the other. De la Rochefoucauld wrote of Retz: "Il a suscité les plus grands désordres dans l'état sans avoir un dessein formé de s'en prévaloir." (He caused the greatest disorder to the State, without having formed a plan of how he would prevail).

The Memoirs of the cardinal de Retz were first published in a very imperfect condition in 1717. The first satisfactory edition appeared in the twenty-fourth volume of the collection of Joseph François Michaud and Jean Joseph François Poujoulat (Paris, 1836). In 1870 a complete edition of the works of Retz was begun by Alphonse Feillet in the collection of Grands Ecrivains.

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