The great chronicler of the diplomatic method, Harold Nicolson, once wrote that the origins of modern diplomacy can be traced to the “determinant influence of Cardinal Richelieu. Richelieu’s achievement was the development of a coterie of trained “creatures” dedicated to promoting state interests through “ceaseless negotiation.” 1 By the time Richelieu died, in 1642, France had fostered a new class of diplomatists, and thus somewhat inadvertently had helped to pave the way for the great settlement of the Thirty Years War signed at Westphalia in 1648.
Richelieu’s last devoted servant, Mazarin, died in 1661, leaving a stepson, the 23-year-old Louis XIV, and a group of experienced advisors to direct a vast and far-flung foreign policy apparatus. After 24 hours of seclusion and weeping for the passing of his guardian, Louis commenced his 63 years of personal rule—the longest in European history—with, in his words, a “request and order” that you not “sign anything, not even a passport…without my command.” 2 Within days, each French ambassador had received a letter which began, “I have decided to reply myself to all letters which I order my ambassadors to write me.” 3
Louis’ single-minded search for advantage was so raw, unencumbered, and bellicose that, even in the ethos of the times, it was unique. From the onset of his reign, Louis XIV was intent on ensuring that French diplomatic hegemony ceased serving any abstract international order which may have emerged, in part, as a result of Richelieu’s ministry. Instead, with a great system of well-provisioned clerks, residents, heralds, ambassadors, and spies, French statecraft was to become Louis’ own instrument: a great narcissistic engine—fueled and sated only by war. Backed by a colossal army (some 450,000 troops at its height), and a treasury never too depleted to