But organizing and funding a seventeenth century state and its military was hampered by the chaos and costs associated with feudal habits, corrupt contractors, and crooked merchants, whose actions limited the king’s tax base. Louis XIV understood this and moved to professionalize and modernize France’s bureaucracy and economy.
This would have a ripple effect that would transform European state relations.
Jean Baptiste Colbert presents members
of the Royal Academy of Sciences to Louis XIV, 1667.
Because of Colbert’s policies France professionalized its military by standardizing uniforms, improve training protocols, and by offering better provisions. While Colbert’s emphasis on negotiation and commercial treaties led many to label him a Man of Peace, his aggressive trade and tariff policies irked neighbors and competitors alike.
In the process – and ironically – Colbert created “more enemies for France” than Louis XIV ever made with the sword. These dynamics, as Charles Tilly noted, created a powerful state which compelled others to pursue trade, adventure, and resources in ways that fostered European mercantilism.
|The Persian embassy to Louis XIV.|
As evidence, while France appeared undisturbed by fortresses built in the Spanish Netherlands along its northern borders (part of present day Belgium and Luxembourg) Colbert became concerned when Dutch and Flemish merchants in the region retaliated against his commercial policies. This convinced Colbert war was necessary. While conflict between France and Spain settled little it raised concerns throughout Europe.
And with reason – Louis XIV had his eyes on Holland.
|Four Day Battle in the Second Anglo-Dutch War.|
On the eve of the Second Anglo-Dutch War (1665-1667) British Admiral George Monk considered the motives, and noted rather bluntly “What matters ‘this’ or ‘that’ reason? What we want is more of the trade which the Dutch now have.”