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Maximilien de Béthune

Maximilien de BéthuneAKA Maximilien de Béthune, duc de Su

Born: 13-Dec-1560
Birthplace: Mantes, France
Died: 22-Dec-1641
Location of death: Villebon, France
Cause of death: unspecified

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Aristocrat

Nationality: France
Executive summary: Duc de Sully, confidant of Henri IV

French statesman, bora at the château of Rosny near Mantes, on the 13th of December 1560, of a noble family of Flemish descent. His father, François de Béthune, baron de Rosny, was the son of Jean de Béthune, to whom in 1529 his wife Anne de Melun brought as part of her dowry a seigneurie at Rosny-sur-Seine, which later (1601) was made a marquisate. Brought up in the Reformed faith, Maximilien was presented to Henri of Navarre in 1571 and was thenceforth attached to the future king of France. The young baron de Rosny was taken to Paris by his patron and was studying at the college of Bourgogne at the time of the massacre of St. Bartholomew's Day, from which he escaped by discreetly carrying a book of hours under his arm. He then studied mathematics and history at the court of Henri of Navarre, and on the outbreak of civil war in 1575 he enlisted in the Protestant army. In 1576 he accompanied the Duke of Anjou on an expedition into the Netherlands in order to regain the former Rosny estates, but being unsuccessful he attached himself for a time to the Prince of Orange. Later rejoining Henri of Navarre in Guienne, he displayed bravery in the field and particular ability as an engineer. In 1583 he was Henri's special agent in Paris. In 1584 he married Anne de Courtenay, a wealthy heiress, who died, however, in 1589. On the renewal of civil war Rosny again joined Henri of Navarre, and at the battle of Ivry (1590) was seriously wounded. He counselled Henri IV's conversion to Roman Catholicism, but steadfastly refused himself to become a Roman Catholic. As soon as Henri's power was established, the faithful and trusted Rosny received his reward in the shape of numerous estates and dignities. On the death of D'O, the superintendent of finances, in 1594, the king had appointed a finance commission of nine members, to which he added Rosny in 1596. The latter at once made a tour of inspection through the generalities, and introduced some order into the country's affairs. He was probably made sole superintendent of finances in 1598, although this title does not appear in official documents until the close of 1601. He authorized the free exportation of grain and wine, reduced legal interest from 8-1/3% to 6-1/4%, established a special court for the trial of cases of peculation, forbade provincial governors to raise money on their own authority, and otherwise removed many abuses of tax collecting, abolished several offices, and by his honest, rigorous conduct of the country's finances was able to save between 1600 and 1610 an average of a million livres a year. His achievements were by no means solely financial. In 1599 he was appointed grand commissioner of highways and public works, superintendent of fortifications and grand master of artillery; in 1602 governor of Mantes and of Jargeau, captain-general of the queen's gens d'armes and governor of the Bastille; in 1604 governor of Poitou; and in 1606 duke and peer of Sully, ranking next to princes of the blood. He declined the office of constable because he would not become a Roman Catholic. Sully encouraged agriculture, urged the free circulation of produce, promoted stock-raising, forbade the destruction of the forests, drained swamps, built roads and bridges, planned a vast system of canals and actually began the canal of Briare. He strengthened the French military establishment; under his direction Évrard began the construction of a great line of defenses on the frontiers. Sully opposed the king's colonial policy as inconsistent with the French genius, and likewise showed little favor to industrial pursuits, although on the urgent solicitation of the king he established a few silk factories. He fought in company with Henri IV in Savoy (1600-01) and negotiated the treaty of peace in 1602; in 1603 he represented Henri at the court of King James I of England; and throughout the reign he helped the king to put down insurrections of the nobles, whether Roman Catholic or Protestant. It was Sully, too, who arranged the marriage between Henri IV and Marie de Medici.

The political role of Sully practically ended with the assassination of Henri IV on the 14th of May 1610. Although a member of the council of regency, his colleagues were not disposed to brook his domineering leadership, and after a stormy debate he resigned as superintendent of finances on the 26th of January 1611, and retired to private life. The queen-mother gave him 300,000 livres for his services and confirmed him in possession of his estates. He attended the Estates General in 1614, and on the whole was in sympathy with the policy and government of Cardinal Richelieu. He disavowed the plots at La Rochelle, in 1621, but in the following year was arrested at Moulins, though soon released. The baton of marshal of France was conferred on him on the 18th of September 1634. The last years of his life were spent chiefly at Villebon, Rosny and Sully. He died at Villebon, on the 22nd of December 1641. By his first wife Sully had one son, Maximilien, Marquis de Rosny, who led a life of dissipation and debauchery. By his second wife, Rachel de Cochefilet, widow of the lord of Chateaupers, whom he married in 1592 and who turned Protestant to please him, he had nine children, of whom six died young, and one daughter married in 1605 Henri de Rohan.

Sully was not popular. He was hated by most Roman Catholics because he was a Protestant, by most Protestants because he was faithful to the king, and by all because he was a favorite, and selfish, obstinate and rude. He amassed a large personal fortune, and his jealousy of all other ministers and favorites was extravagant. Nevertheless he was an excellent man of business, inexorable in punishing malversation and dishonesty on the part of others, and opposed to the ruinous court expenditure which was the bane of almost all European monarchies in his day. He was gifted with executive ability, with confidence and resolution, with fondness for work, and above all with deep devotion to his master. He was implicitly trusted by Henri IV and proved himself the most able assistant of the king in dispelling the chaos into which the religious and civil wars had plunged France. To Sully, next to Henri IV, belongs the credit for the happy transformation in France between 1598 and 1610 by which agriculture and commerce were benefited and foreign peace and internal order were maintained.

Sully left a curious collection of memoirs written in the second person and bearing the quaint title, Mémoires des sages et royales oeconomies d'estat, domestiques, politiques, et militaires de Henry le Grand, l'exemplaire des roys, le prince des vertus, des armes, et des loix, et le père en effet de ses peuples françois; et des servitudes utiles, obissances convenables, et administrations loyales de Maxim, de Béthune, l'un des plus confidens, familiers, et utiles soldats et serviteurs du grand Mars des François: dédiées à la France, à tours les bans soldats, et tous peuples françois. The memoirs are very valuable for the history of the time and as an autobiography of Sully, in spite of the fact that they contain many fictions, such as a mission undertaken by Sully to Queen Elizabeth I in 1601, and the famous "Grand Design", a plan for a Christian republic, which some historians have taken seriously. Two folio volumes of the memoirs were splendidly printed, nominally at Amsterdam, but really under Sully's own eye, at his château in 1638; two other volumes appeared posthumously in Paris in 1662. The abbé de l'Écluse rewrote the memoirs in ordinary narrative form and edited them in 1745. An English translation by Charlotte Lennox appeared in 1756 and was later revised and republished (4 vols., London, 1856).

Father: François de Béthune, baron de Rosny (b. 1532, d. 1575)
Wife: Anne de Courtenay (m. 1584, d. 1589, one son)
Son: Maximilien, marquis de Rosny (b. 1587, d. 1634)
Wife: Rachel de Cochefilet (m. 1592, nine children)



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