The King's Soldiers

Royal Control Replaces Private Enterprise

Drummer of the régiment de Carignan-Salières, 1665-1668

Caption: Drummer of the régiment de Carignan-Salières, 1665-1668

When Cardinal Mazarin died in March 1661, young King Louis XIV decided to govern by himself and took over the reins of power. Casting a critical eye over "all parts of the state," he concluded that "confusion reigned everywhere in the realm." 40 France was either absent from the newly discovered lands, or its flag flew over small, undefended posts at the mercy of indigenous peoples. A wave of reforms swept through all French institutions, including the army. The 22-year-old sovereign thereby accomplished a veritable revolution, though "quietly and without difficulty."

In 1663, with the great reforms already well under way in France itself, the king and his ministers turned to the colonial problem. The first step that needed to be taken was breaking the monopoly of the trading companies and substituting royal authority. In order to replace them, the Companies of the East and West Indies were established. Unlike their predecessors, these companies were creatures of the king. Henceforth, the state treasury joined forces with private capital, the royal navy escorted merchant ships, and the king exercised considerable authority in overseeing the management of the colonies.

This was an important administrative change, but it did nothing to remedy the chronic weakness of the colonies. The king was aware of this and decided therefore to lend a strong hand to the French colonial world by bringing his army into play.