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 Provinces, the French were steeped in Catholic tradition and very conservative. Still, the spin-off from Colbert’s entrepreneurial undertakings were numerous, and French society prospered because of them.
Unfortunately, when Colbert passed away in 1683 his guidance disappeared with him. Not even his eldest son, Seignelay, whom Jean-Baptiste had carefully groomed to succeed him, and whose succession Jean-Baptiste had secured before his death, could replace his father. What is more, Louis XIV largely constrained Seignelay’s promotion in favor of another, the son of Michel le Tellier (Image 169).
Like his father, Seignelay Colbert (1651-1690) was a gifted young man. While still under his father’s tutelage he turned the French marine into a strong naval power capable of withstanding both the Dutch and the British military fleets. In addition, to building a strong, technologically superior, French fleet, he fortified the entire Atlantic coastline with new harbors and protective fortifications.
Shortly, before his death in 1689 Seignelay even managed to achieve the post of Secétaire d’état (Minister of State) — this, despite Louis XIV’s preference for Louvois le Tellier, the only other person of similar talent and ability who enjoyed the trust of the king upon the death of Jean-Baptiste Colbert.
Just as Seignelay had inherited his father’s post, so too had Louvois inherited his. Michel le Tellier died in 1685 and Louvois became secrétaire d’état à la guerre (Minister of War) in his father’s stead. Louis XIV knew little about the sea, but much about the land — his natural preference for combat.
Alas, there was only King Louis left to replace Jean-Baptiste, and it was Jean-Baptiste Colbert who had kept Louis XIV’s expenditures in check since the death of Cardinal Mazarin in 1661. Needless to say, perhaps, the Kingdom of France soon began assuming enormous debt. Within fewer than five years after Jean-Baptiste Colbert’s death King William III assumed the Crown of England, and France would be at war nearly without interruption until Louis’s death in 1715.
From 1688 until 1697 Louis XIV engaged in a tug-of-war along the northern and eastern borders of the French kingdom (Nine Years War) with practically all of Europe united as the League of Augsburg (ligue d’Augsbourg) under the leadership of William III. This conflict would soon be followed by 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