French Mercantilism Essay

This essay has a total of 1058 words and 8 pages.


French Mercantilism





Mercantilism, the collection of governmental policies that regulated economic- mainly

commercial - activities, by and for the state, that spread throughout Europe, especially in France,

during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. This theory held that a nation’s international

power was based upon it’s wealth, specifically it’s gold and silver supply. The mercantilist theory,

also known as Colbertism or Bullionism, that swept though France had a major impact upon its

changing domestic and foreign policies throughout the seventeenth and early eighteenth

centuries, and was geared toward strengthening the economic vitality of the state at the expense

of one’s real or potential enemies. The three main architects of French mercantile policies, the

economic side of absolutism, were Maximillian de Bethune, Duke of Sully ( 1560-1641), Armand

du Plessis, Cardinal Richelieu (1585-1642), and Jean-Baptist Colbert (1619-1683).

Henry IV’s great economic advisor, the Duke of Sully, laid the foundation for mercantilism in

the French economy by recognizing the importance of commercial activities and overseas trade, as

well as state encouraged economic growth and expansion. Sully, during his lifetime, proved

himself as a financial genius within the court of Henry IV of France, and in the twelve short years

before Henry’s death in 1610, Sully had restored the public order in France and defined the basis

for economic prosperity, with the government growing into one that was progressive and

promising by standards of the time. Sully was able to reduce the royal debt by reviving the

paulette tax on people who purchased financial and judicial offices. Sully, implementing the

concepts of merchantilism, was one of the first French officials to establish the importance of

overseas trade, and from this, he was able to subsidize the French Company for Trade with the

West Indies in support of a more favorable balance of trade.. Sully was also able to organize a

country wide highway system and had even hoped to secure an international organization for the

maintenance of peace.

In 1628, Cardinal Richelieu became the first minister of the French crown under Louis XIII.

Richelieu set in place the cornerstone of French absolutism along with merchantilism, its

economic counterpart whose seeds were sown under Sully, with his work serving as the basis for

France’s cultural hegemony in the later seventeenth century. Cardinal Richelieu’s

constructive genius was best reflected in the administrative system he established using

merchantile principles. Richelieu divided France into thirty-two generalities, in which he placed

royal intendents who had the responsibility of keeping each generalities own justice, police, and

finances. The intendents also recruited men for the army, supervised the collection of taxes and

regulated economic activities-commerce, guilds, trade, marketplaces-within their districts. As the

power of the intendents grew, so did the power and of the centralization of the state, a policy

continued by Richelieu’s successor Mazarin. As for Richelieu’s foreign policy based

upon merchantilism aimed at the destruction of the Hapsburg territorial fence that surrounded

France, he would permit no trade or domestic relations to tie them. Consequently, Richelieu

supported the Hapsburg’s enemies, and in 1631, Richelieu even signed a treaty with the Lutheran

king Gustavus Adolphus, which promised French support against the Catholic Hapsburgs in the

Swedish phase of the Thirty Years’ War. French influence became an important factor in the

political future of the German Empire, based upon the merchantile theory that for a nation to

prosper others must decline.

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