Residence of Voltaire France

The Duc de Richelieu by Alexandre Roslin
Duc de Richelieu
Louis François Armand de Vignerot du Plessis, Duc de Richelieu (1696-1788)

Voltaire met Richelieu in 1718 and they began a close friendship in 1722. Voltaire was age 28 and Richelieu was 26 at that time. The Duc was the grand nephew of Cardinal Richelieu, who as Prime Minister, had centralized the government in the 1600's during the reign of Louis XIII, and made the king the sole source of power in France.

Richelieu had been elected a member of the Academy in 1720 (most likely because Cardinal Richelieu had founded the academic society in 1644), and he entered Parlement a year later. As a means of social advancement, Voltaire sought the friendship of members of the nobility, and one his goals was to become a member of the French Academy. For him, this was obviously a good friendship to cultivate.

Voltaire's talents as a poet, a writer for the theater, and his spontaneous wit made him a welcome guest in the salons and the homes of the upper class.

In 1722 Richelieu and Voltaire began to spend time together and Voltaire was a frequent guest at Richelieu's residences in Paris, Versailles and Fontainebleau, often staying with him for several months at a time.

The Duc was ambassador to Vienna from 1725 to 1729, and upon his return he began an affair with Emilie du Châtelet that lastest for eighteen months. Voltaire's relationship with Emilie began in 1733, and it is likely that they were meeting each other at the houses of the Argensons and of other friends.

Voltaire helped to arrange Richelieu's marriage to the youngest daughter of his old friend the Prince de Guise.

The privileges of the nobility were associated with their participation in the military, and Richelieu fought with distinction in a number of campaigns that occurred between 1733 and 1758. In 1743, Louis XV awarded him the position of first gentleman of the chamber and he was responsible for the logistics of many of the activities of the court.

In 1745, when the Dauphin (heir to the throne) was to marry the Infanta Maria Teresa Rafaela of Spain, Richelieu commissioned Voltaire to write a play for the occasion.

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