the Economy
Louis XV., 1715-1774
the Economy
Louis XIV., 1661-1715
Domestic Policy
Louis XIV., 1661-1715
Intellectual Life

France under Louis XIV. : the Economy

When Louis XIV. took personal control of government in 1661, in economic affairs he relied on JEAN BAPTISTE COLBERT (Superintendent of Finances 1661-1683). The Kingdom of France had a debt of 60 million livres, an enormous sum. Colbert identified the outflow of bullion (gold, silver) as the main cause for the dilemma and the deficit in the trade with the Dutch Republic as one of the major problems to tackle. In order to reduce that, French policy had to support the domestic industry.
Colbert made the tax collection system more efficient - at the beginning of his tenure in office, only about 10 % of the taxes collected ended up in the royal treasury; the fugure was raised to 85 % (taxes had been "farmed", i.e. were collected by agents who kept a part of them.
In a set of measures summarily referred to as MERCANTILISM, Colbert raised IMPORT TARIFFS to discourage imports from the Dutch Republic and elsewhere; the establishment of new industries was encouraged by the attraction of immigrants with knowhow. Immigrant master craftsmen were granted the privilege of 7 years without taxation, and exemption from having soldiers quartered in their household. France pursued a policy of colonial acquisitions; in the colonies a plantation economy was established (sugar, coffee).
In order to improve domestic trade, the roads were improved and canals were built, the most important one the CANAL DU MIDI, connecting the Garonne (feeding into the Atlantic) with the Aude (feeding into the Mediterranean). Construction was begun in 1662; it was opened in 1681. Rivers were regulated and swamps drained, in order to extend the area under cultivation. POPULATION was recognized as an economic asset, the economic policy thus aiming at a population increase. Mercantilism's primary goal was to fill the state treasury. By the time of Colbert's death in 1683, France's public debt had been reduced to 10 million livres, despite additional expenses caused by the construction of the palace of VERSAILLES (costing about 10 % of the annual budget), the introduction of the STANDING ARMY and France's continuing wars.
Colbert's influence reached into the French Catholic church, three of his sisters being abbesses of major monasteries, his brother and cousin being elected bishops. Colbert was regarded the protector of the Huguenots.

During the later years of Louis' reign, the revenues - which grew strongly under Colbert - stagnated (even declined) and the wars proved costlier. The REVOCATION OF THE EDICT OF NANTES in 1685 caused a massive exodus of HUGUENOTS, many of them craftsmen or merchants; their emigration was a serious blow to France's manufacturing industry. In order to finance the wars, taxation had to be raised, even imposed on the nobility (which used to be exempt) by the end of Louis XIV.'s reign, the public debt stood at 3,000 million livres - the kingdom was bankrupt.
An attempt to set up a NATIONAL BANK (1694) was unsuccessful. Benedictine abbot DOM PERIGNON in 1688 discovered how to ferment grape juice into CHAMPAGNE.

Mercantilism, by G. Rempel
Louis XIV - Colbert & Economy (students' essay), by Kenneth Yap
Mercantilism, from Vincent Ferraro, Mt. Holyoke
Nicolas Fouquet, Surintendant des Finances 1653-1661, biography by N. Kipar
Biography of Jean-Baptiste Colbert, from Catholic Encyclopedia
History of the Canal du Midi, from Canal du Midi org
History of Champagne, from intowine.com
DOCUMENTS Louis XIV, Letter to the Town Officers and People of Marseilles, (August 26, 1664), from Hanover Historical Texts Project
Louis XIV et l'avenement de l'absolutisme, several French-language source texts posted by cliotexte, scroll down
Louis XIV, Pere de ces sujets (Memoir pour 1662), from GECH
Jean-Baptiste Colbert (1619-1683) : Memorandum on Trade, 1664, from Modern History Sourcebook
Jean-Baptiste Colbert (1619-1683), Analysis of French Finances and Efforts to Improve Government Income, several source texts from CUNY
Coins minted under Louis XIV., from Numismatique - Monnaie, in French; click on thumbnails to see images, scroll down for Louis XIV.

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted in 2001, last revised on November 9th 2004

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