Nicolas Fouquet

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Nicolas Fouquet, marquis de Belle-Île, vicomte de Melun et Vaux (January 27, 1615 – March 23, 1680) was the Superintendent of Finances in France under Louis XIV.

Contents

Biography

Minister of finance

Born in Paris, he belonged to an influential family of the noblesse de robe and, after some preliminary schooling with the Jesuits at the age of thirteen, was admitted as avocat at the Parlement of Paris. While still in his teens, he held several responsible posts, and, in 1636, when just twenty, he was able to buy the post of maître des requêtes. From 1642 to 1650, he held various intendancies, at first in the provinces and then with the army of Mazarin and, coming thus in touch with the court, was permitted in 1650 to buy the important position of procureur général to the parlement of Paris. During Mazarin's exile, Fouquet remained loyal to him, protecting his property and keeping him informed of the situation at court.

Upon Cardinal Mazarin's return, Fouquet demanded and received as reward the office of superintendent of the finances (1653), a position which, in the unsettled condition of the government, threw into his hands not merely the decision as to which funds should be applied to meet the demands of the state's creditors, but also the negotiations with the great financiers who lent money to the king. The appointment was a popular one with the moneyed class, for Fouquet's great wealth had been largely augmented by his marriage in 1651 with Marie de Castille, who also belonged to a wealthy family of the legal nobility in Spain.

His own credit, and above all his unfailing confidence in himself, strengthened the credit of the government, while his high position at the parlement (he still remained procureur général) secured financial transactions from investigation. As minister of finance, he soon had Mazarin almost in the position of a suppliant. The long wars, and the greed of the courtiers, who followed the example of Mazarin, made it necessary at times for Fouquet to meet the demands upon him by borrowing upon his own credit, but he soon turned this confusion of the public purse with his own to good account.

The disorder in the accounts became hopeless; fraudulent operations were entered into with impunity, and the financiers were kept in the position of clients by official favours and by generous aid whenever they needed it. Fouquet's fortune now surpassed even Mazarin's, but the latter was too deeply implicated in similar operations to interfere, and was obliged to leave the day of reckoning to his agent and successor Jean-Baptiste Colbert.

His closest friend and, maybe, mistress, was Suzanne de Rougé, the Marquise du Plessis-Bellière.

Vaux-le-Vicomte

Upon Mazarin's death Fouquet expected to be made head of the government; but Louis XIV was suspicious of his poorly dissembled ambition, and it was with Fouquet in mind that he made the well-known statement, upon assuming the government, that Louis would be his own chief minister. Colbert fed the king's displeasure with adverse reports upon the deficit, and made the worst of the case against Fouquet. The extravagant expenditure and personal display of the superintendent served to intensify the ill-will of the king. Fouquet had bought the port of Belle-Île-en-Mer and strengthened the fortifications, with a view to taking refuge there in case of disgrace.

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