The Greatest Royal Minister? Jean-Baptiste Colbert

Placing Colbert in the circumstances of his times, Geoffrey Treasure shows that he was much more than an efficient bureaucrat.

The Man and his Reputation

That Jean-Baptiste Colbert was a remarkable Frenchman is beyond dispute. Yet when it comes to his achievements as Louis XIV's contrôleur-général, there is room for a wide range of opinion. It is still possible, however, to see him, along with Richelieu, as the greatest of ministers of the ancien régime. Like Richelieu -for him always 'the great cardinal' -he displayed, during his single-minded pursuit of high office, an exceptional capacity for managing the system to his own advantage, and for using those who could serve him, together with a ruthless willingness to destroy the man who stood in his way. Like Richelieu he came to power with a clear idea of what he intended to do with it. Like Richelieu he had the imagination and clarity of mind to promote grand schemes for economic growth. Like Richelieu too he was a realist, who may have been chagrined but was not surprised to find that such enterprises delivered less than they promised.

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