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Jean-Baptiste Colbert

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The State Administrator (1619-1683)

Jean-Baptiste Colbert, Controller General of Finance under Louis XIV, successively took on nearly all the State functions. Regarded as a skilful administrator, he was in charge of the development of trade, industry, the royal navy, the urban development of Paris and the advance of science. In constant contact with the King, he remained one of his most trusted advisors.

Born into a family involved in international relations since the 16th century, the son of a textile merchant, Colbert entered the service of the State in 1640. A trusted friend of Mazarin, he was appointed Minister by Louis XIV in 1661 and gradually took on nearly all the State functions except for the Ministries of War and Foreign Affairs. Controller General of Finance, then Secretary of State in the King’s House, Secretary of State for the Navy and Superintendent of Buildings, Arts and Manufacture, he worked with the King five times per week and kept up a regular correspondence with him.

Colbert gave an unprecedented impetus to trade and developed the kingdom’s influence around the world with the setting up of trading companies in the 1660s and 1670s, such as the Compagnie des Indes Orientales (East India Company). Two outstanding results were the establishment of the trading post of Pondicherry in southern India and the French presence in Nouvelle-France, the future Quebec. Also a builder, he worked on the embellishment of Paris where he designed the laying out of numerous public squares and the Tuileries garden. Attached to the sciences, Colbert was responsible for the establishment of the Academy of Sciences and the Paris Observatory in 1667.

In spite of a certain loss of influence at the end of his career, Colbert never fell into disgrace. He was one of the rare men of whom Louis XIV was always sure. He died in 1683 and was buried in the church of Saint-Eustache. His name lives on in the concept of colbertism, an economic theory involving strict state control and protectionism.