Jean Baptiste Colbert 101: Discover the First State Minister of France
Zatrun Published at March 15, 2023

Jean Baptiste Colbert was a French statesman who served as the first state minister under the rule of Louis XIV in 1661 and held the position until his death in 1683. He is known for his influence in organizing the country’s politics and markets, and his specific variant of mercantilism known as Colbertism. If you are interested in learning more about him, keep reading this article on

Who is Jean Baptiste Colbert?

Born in Reims, Jean Baptiste Colbert was appointed as the finance minister in May 1661. After being promoted to Financial Controller following Nicolas Fouquet’s arrest for corruption, he eliminated the Financial Ministry position.

He aimed to develop the country’s internal economy by encouraging large public investments through tax increases and enabling the French East India Company to access foreign markets, resulting in the production of coffee, cotton, dyed woods, fur, pepper, and sugar. He acted to balance trade in their favour and gain colonies. Since slavery existed in the colonies, he ordered the start of the Code Noir project in 1682, two years after his death. Additionally, he established France’s commercial fleet (marine marchande) and became the Secretary of State for the Navy in 1669.

Effective marketing reforms included the establishment of the “manufacture royale de glaces de miroirs” in 1665 to replace the import of Venetian glass and its ban in 1672 after establishing a strong foundation for the national glass industry. He also promoted the technical expertise of Flemish cloth in France by establishing royal tapestry workshops in Gobelins and supporting the workshops in Beauvais.

Colbert and His Career

Jean Baptiste Colbert was recommended to King Louis XIV by Mazarin. Mazarin’s exile increased Louis’s trust in Colbert. In 1652, he was asked to manage Cardinal Mazarin’s affairs, and this new responsibility separated him from his other responsibility as commissaire des guerres. Although Colbert was not inclined to support Mazarin in principle, he would defend the cardinal’s interests with unwavering loyalty.

Jean Baptiste Colbert’s first recorded attempt at tax reform was in a mémoire presented to Mazarin. It showed that half of the taxes paid by people did not reach the King. It also contained an attack on Superintendent Fouquet. A dispute arose when the postmaster, who was Fouquet’s spy, read a letter, and Mazarin tried to suppress it.

In 1661, Mazarin died, and Colbert revealed the location of Mazarin’s secret treasures. He became the Controller-General of Finances in 1665 and was appointed Secretary of State for the Navy, as well as the ministries of trade, colonies, and the palace. In short, Colbert gained power in every department except the war department.

His Economic Reforms

French statesman Jean Baptiste Colbert, who served under King Louis XIV, held the position of First Minister of State from 1661 until his death in 1683. He is remembered for his impressive changes to the country’s political and market organization, which came to be known as Colbertism, a doctrine that can be described as a variant of mercantilism. He earned the nickname “Le Grand Colbert” for his efforts.

On May 4, 1661, Jean Baptiste Colbert was appointed as the Director-General of Finances. Following the arrest of Nicolas Fouquet for embezzlement, he was elevated to the newly created position of Controller-General of Finances.

He worked to support state projects by raising tariffs on the country’s internal economy and enabled the French East India Company to access foreign markets to purchase coffee, cotton, dye trees, leather, pepper, and sugar. He took action to increase the number of price controls and colonial holdings.

In 1682, two years after his death, Colbert was charged with initiating the Code Noir project to begin the regulation of slavery in French colonies. Additionally, he established France’s trade fleet (marine marchande) and became the Secretary of State for the Navy in 1669.

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