Jacques Necker Leading Financier to Louis XVI (1732-1804)

Born in Switzerland and trained as a banker, Jacques Necker accumulated a considerable personal fortune before becoming Louis XVI’s finance minister. He implemented a rigorous economic policy, reducing the crown’s expenditure and imposing structural reforms on the way the royal finances were administered. Dismissed and subsequently recalled by the king, Necker’s political career finally came to an end in 1790.

After the fall of Turgot in 1776, Louis XVI appointed Necker as Director of the Royal Treasury. His public reputation had been bolstered by the prize for eloquence awarded by the Académie Française for his address In praise of Colbert. Necker swiftly introduced a raft of measures intended to cut state spending. He later crowed about the achievements of his economic policy in a statement of accounts presented to the king, which was then made public and widely decried. The outcry forced Necker to resign in 1781, and he retired to his château in Saint-Ouen.

Recalled by Louis XVI in 1788, he joined the General Directorate of Finances as a minister and member of the Royal Council. Without abandoning public finances, his work now took on a much more overtly political dimension. He recalled the Parlement de Paris from its exile and brought forward the date of the calling of the Estates General.

Faced with the serious grain crisis sweeping France, he introduced a series of protectionist measures: cereal exports were banned and it was made illegal to buy grain anywhere other than at market. But Necker was indecisive when it came to settling on a response to the crisis unfolding at the Estates General, and his projects were often undermined. He declined to attend the king’s address on 23 June 1789, and was duly sacked by Louis XVI.

Recalled for a third time in July 1789, Necker made some unpopular political decisions and finally retired in September 1790, returning to his native country and devoting his final years to writing and to his family. His daughter was the illustrious Mme de Staël. Necker died in 1804.