1642: An Undignified Pursuit


In 1642, the Italian diplomat Cardinal Jules Mazarin succeded Cardinal Richelieu as the Chief Minister to the King of France. Following the Thirty Years’ War, he played a major role in developing the notion of Westphalian sovereignty, the principle of non-interference in another country’s domestic affairs that would shape international relations in Europe and still today remains the basis of international law. The following anecdote is related in Charles Shriner’s Wit, Wisdom and Foibles of the Great (1918):

Cardinal Mazarin is said to have been fond of shutting himself up in a room and jumping over the chairs arranged in positions varying the difficulty of clearing them. On one occasion he forgot to lock the door. A young courtier inadvertently entered the room and surprised the cardinal in his undignified pursuit. It was an embarrassing position; for Mazarin, he knew, was as haughty as he was eccentric. The young man was equal to the crisis. Assuming the intensest interest in the proceedings, he said with a well-feigned earnestness: “I will bet your eminence two gold pieces that I will beat that jump.” He had struck the right chord and in two minutes he was measuring his leaping powers with the prime minister, whom he took care not to beat; he lost his two gold pieces but he gained before long a miter.

Image: Portrait of Mazarin by Pierre Mignard (1658)

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