Deflation Made Simple II
The Story of Real Money (Entry 179)
Jean-Baptiste Colbert was both pragmatic and effective. He excelled in his ability to set a goal and achieve it. And, so long as he remained at the helm of what he created, there was a very good chance that it would succeed. All of France prospered under his guidance.
Because of his success others were inspired and more willing to engage in entrepreneurial activities that heretofore they were reluctant to undertake. Unlike the seafaring society of the United Dutch Provinces, the French were steeped in agriculture and Catholic tradition and very conservative, as a result. The spin-off from Colbert’s entrepreneurial undertakings were numerous, and French society prospered.
Unfortunately, when Colbert passed away in 1683 his guidance disappeared with him. Not even his eldest son, Jean-Baptiste Antoine Colbert, Marquis de Seignelay, whom Jean-Baptiste had carefully groomed to take his place, and whose succession Jean-Baptiste had secured before his death, could replace his father. Like his father, Le marquis de Seignelay (1651-1690) was a gifted individual and talented professional. While still under his father’s tutelage he had turned the French marine into a strong naval power. In addition, to building a strong, technologically superior, French fleet capable of withstanding both the Dutch and the British military fleets, the younger Jean-Baptiste would eventually fortify France’s entire Atlantic coastline with new harbors and protective fortifications.
This said, Le marquis de Seignelay was never permitted to fill his father’s shoes. Perhaps, Louis XIV feared another Jean-Baptiste Colbert, the man who had held the king in check to the great benefit of his kingdom for so long. No matter, Louis XIV preferred that those in his service were competitive among one another, but not with the king. As a result, the administrative functions of Jean-Baptiste Colbert were divided among several intendants of whom Le marquis de Seignelay was only one. Among these others was Louvois le Tellier, the son of Michel le Tellier (Image 169) — the same who had played an important role in the career advancement of Jean Baptiste Colbert, Sr. Despite these competitive political hurdles, before his death in 1690 at the age of 39 Jean-Baptiste de Seignelay had managed to secure the post of Secétaire d’état (Minister of State).
Like De Seignelay, Louvois le Tellier inherited the post of his father. Michel died in 1685 shortly after the passing of Jean-Baptiste, and Louvois took his father’s place as Le secrétaire d’état à la guerre (Minister of War). Louis XIV knew little about the sea, but much about the land — his natural preference for combat. Louvois became his favorite minister.
Louis XIV was a grand personality who, with the passage of time, became enormously popular amoung the French nobility whom he hosted at his château inVersailles. To the chagrin of the French people, however, once both Cardinal Mazarin in 1661 and Jean-Baptiste in 1683 had passed away, there was no one among the king’s closest advisors of sufficient oversight and strength of character to keep the king’s financial house in order. The French monarchy soon began accumulating debt that it could not sustain in the long run. This absence of financial oversight and authority was aggravated by war. Within fewer than five years of Jean-Baptiste Colbert, Senior’s death King William III assumed the Crown of England and declared war on France. It was a war from which France would never truly escape until Louis XIV’s death in 1715 and the end of the longest monarchal reign in the history of Europe!
From 1688 until 1697 Louis XIV engaged in a constant tug-of-war along the northern and eastern borders of his kingdom (Nine Years War). Practically all of Europe was united against him in this conflict. Although Louis XIV successfully repelled La ligue d’Augsbourg (League of Augsburg) organized by Leopold I (1649-1705), Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, and led by William III of England, he was unable to control his own military ambition. And, with the conclusion of the Nine Years War France entered into still another conflict that engulfed much of Europe still again — the War of Spanish Succession (1702-1713).
It should be noted, in passing, that Louis’s wife, the Queen Consort of France, Maria-Therese of Spain, died in 1683, the same year that Jean-Baptiste passed away.
In liberty, or not at all,
Roddy A. Stegemann, First Hill, Seattle 98104