The Florentine banking family of the Gondi had been introduced into
Cardinal de Retz
Jean-François de Gondi was born in Montmirail, in the Brie region of northern
He was tutored by St. Vincent de Paul and educated at the Sorbonne. When he was eighteen, he wrote Conjuration de Fiesque, a little historical essay, influenced by the Italian of Agostino Mascardi, and audaciously insinuating revolutionary principles.
The district of Retz or Rais is in southern
In 1581, it became a duchy, with Albert de Gondi its first duke. His brother Pierre de Gondi became bishop of Paris in 1570 and cardinal in 1587.
Retz received no preferment of importance during Cardinal Richelieu's life. Even after the minister's death, though he was presented to Louis XIII and well received, he found difficulty in attaining the co-adjutorship with reversion of the archbishopric of
Of the two parties who joined the Fronde, Retz could only depend on the bourgeoisie of
In 1652, he was arrested and imprisoned, first at
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 (