Cardinal Richelieu, Louis XIII's first minister, created the prototype of the Marine in 1624 and in 1626 became "grand master" of navigation and trade. This gave him authority without creating a permanent bureaucracy. It was left to Louis XIV's most trusted servant, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, to create a government department in the modern sense. An edict 7 March 1669 established the Marine, to be housed in offices at Versailles, where with a permanent staff Colbert established its policies and procedures. The Marine was divided into bureaux headed by premiers commis or "first clerks," the powerful civil service mandarins of their day. It was the Bureau du Ponant (from 1710, Bureau des Colonies) that administered Canada.
Under Colbert, France had the largest navy in Europe. But after 1690, even though the colonies were increasing in importance, the French became disenchanted with naval strategy and the fleet was allowed to deteriorate. In the 18th century hard-pressed controllers general kept the Marine chronically short of money. Protection for the colonies declined accordingly, and until the AMERICAN REVOLUTION France did not again attempt to equal Britain upon the seas.
See also COLONIAL OFFICE.
Author DALE MIQUELON