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Is there some historically valid reason why Flint chose to portray Cardinal Richeleu as the "Big Bad Opponent" of the 1632 universe where Grantville ended up?

In reality Richeleu was considered a great statesman and as far as I recall a reasonably decent person for a shadow ruler. Moreover, he financed the Swedish forces (presumptive "Good Guys" of the 30-year war - both historically and in Flint's universe) in actual historical reality, so it'd have made more sense to make him a capable ally in the books!

If there's no good historical reason, did Flint himself address the discrepancy in some forums? He seems to pride himself on doing good historical research, so this seems like a very strange approach.

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Eric Flint did address and acknowledge that discrepancy, in Grantville Gazette images section devoted to historical personages.

From its online copy (emphasis mine):

Armand-Jean du Plessis, Cardinal Richelieu, was effectively the ruler of France on behalf of King Louis XIII throughout most of the Thirty Years War. He was the most capable political ruler of the time, with the possible exception of Gustav Adolf. He is portrayed in the 1632 series as "the Great Villain," but that's a slanted and ultimately unfair portrait of him. In the context of the 1632 universe, it's reasonable enough, although I've taken care to give the readers as full a picture of him as possible. But in real history, he is often credited as the man who essentially "invented France" as a modern nation, and he is considered—rightly—one of the greatest figures in French history.

Most of the unsavory reputation which Richelieu has today, especially in the English-speaking world, derives from the absurdly distorted image of him given in Dumas' The Three Musketeers. The man was certainly ruthless, but no more so than any capable ruler of the time—and whenever possible, he was inclined to leave the executioner's ax lying unused. His subordinates and servants were invariably loyal to him, as was the King of France Louis XIII.

The truth is, I feel a little guilty about the way I've portrayed him in the series. I did so, simply because the logic of the plot required a really capable enemy—and Richelieu fits the bill better than anyone else at the time. But I could quite easily write a different alternate history in which Richelieu was one of the heroes.

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Personally, I'd probably have blamed the movies more, as in the books it's more that the protagonists are working against some of his efforts, which were largely for the good of France and the monarchy. My read of him in 1632 is similar - he's working for the good of France and its monarchy (mostly Louis), which brings him up against the protagonists; the pesky notions of "democracy" and the technology beginning to empower the Germanies is something that needs to be countered. To me, this doesn't sound too out-of-character for a staunch royalist and ruler. –  Clockwork-Muse Apr 20 at 5:37
    
It's worth emphasising that the version of Richelieu in The Three Musketeers is the main antagonist. Dumas' Richelieu doesn't bear much resemblance to the real thing but he's one of the great villians of 19th century fiction. –  Royal Canadian Bandit Apr 20 at 9:19

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