The Three Musketeers | Study Guide

Alexandre Dumas

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The Three Musketeers | Chapter 51 | Summary



The siege drags on. The starving inhabitants of La Rochelle hold fast, waiting for the duke to save them. The cardinal waits impatiently to hear the duke is dead. The cardinal trusts Milady's loyalty to him, so he focuses on building the dyke that keeps out food and supplies. The duke and his allies announce they are preparing to declare war.

In contrast, the royal army enjoys abundant money and food at their encampment just miles away. Careworn, the cardinal takes a stroll on horseback along the beach. He sees the four friends, drinking, playing at cards and dice, about to listen to a letter. Their three servants are opening wine. The cardinal sneaks up to eavesdrop. Grimaud points him out, though, and the Musketeers salute.

The cardinal is irritated, even though the Musketeers are off duty. He tells them they look like conspirators. Why did they conceal the letter? The letter is from a woman. The cardinal says he can be discreet—a priest takes vows to hear confessions in strict confidence. Athos declines in a very pointed way, naming the cardinal's own mistresses, saying the letter is not from one of them. Everybody stands by for a brawl. The cardinal checks himself, though, and tells them to carry on.

The letter says Mme. Bonacieux is safe in a convent in Bethune. The four friends agree to save her after the siege. To destroy the letter, they make Grimaud eat it.

The cardinal has but one thought: he wants the Musketeers' loyalty for himself.


This is a wistful portrait of the cardinal. Riding on the beach, feeling the strain of this never-ending siege, the cardinal knows the burden of this war is on his shoulders. Even if the king were interested, he is sickly and prone to boredom. So, in this state of mind, the cardinal happens upon a very appealing scene of friendship: the four friends drinking wine in the sun on the beach are about to listen to a letter read aloud. It is not inconceivable that the friendless cardinal is lonely and just wants to observe rather than gather intelligence. He is angry at being found out; possibly embarrassed as much as thwarted.

Challenging the cardinal's honor—an important theme—by not revealing the contents of the letter could get them all killed, and they stand ready for a fight, hands on their swords in unity. The cardinal, however, goes back to his more circumspect self. Because the Musketeers are off duty and they do not owe him friendship, he is wrong to try to insinuate himself into their circle. Riding off, he still thinks how much he wants them on his team.

In the theme of friendship, the cardinal is an outsider. His only "friend" is the king, and he hates him. In terms of the loyalty theme, the Musketeers are bound by duty to obey this minister of France, but their true loyalty is to the king.

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