Superintendent of Finances
The Superintendent of Finances (French: Surintendant des finances) was the name of the minister in charge of finances in France from 1561 to 1661. The position was abolished in 1661 with the downfall of Nicolas Fouquet, and a new position was created, the Controller-General of Finances.
Before 1561 
Prior to the creation of the position "Surintendant des finances", France's royal financial administration had been run—from the time of Charles VII—by two financial boards which worked in a collegial manner: the four Généraux des finances oversaw the collection of taxes (taille, etc.) and the four Trésoriers de France (Treasurers) oversaw revenues from royal lands (the "domaine"). Together they were often referred to as "Messieurs des finances". The four members of each board were divided by geographical circumscriptions ("recettes générales" or "généralités"; the areas were named Languedoïl, Languedoc, Normandy, and Outre-Seine and Yonne), with the directors of the "Languedoïl" region typically having an honorific preeminence. The double-board was assisted in its work by four "contrôleurs généraux".
Before 1523-24, the King's Council had very little direct say on the day-to-day running of the double-boards. In 1523, Francis I, in an effort to exert a more direct control over royal finances during his European wars and to circumvent the double-board (accused of poor oversight) -- created a separate Royal Treasury (Trésor de l'Épargne) directly under the control of the King's Council (analogous institutions had existed before), but the initial results were disappointing. From this moment through the next 40 years, numerous administrative reforms were attempted: increase in the number of "généralités"; unification of the tasks of the double-board into new positions (such as two "contrôleurs généraux" subservient to the Royal Treasurer); changes in the royal financial courts ("Cour des Comptes", "Cour des Aides"); creation of numerous provincial financial officers and boards; creation of the positions of "intendents" of finance (see below). With the increased role of the King's Council in financial matters, certain high-ranked nobles (like Anne de Montmorency or Charles of Lorraine, Cardinal of Guise) exerted a stronger advisory role over finances.
Although there was no official "Minister of Finances" in this period, certain individuals exerted an equivalent administrative role.
- Under Francis I
- 1518–1524: Jacques de Beaune, baron de Semblançay
- Under Henry II
- 1552: André Guillart
- 1556: Jean de Saint Marcel d'Avançon
Surintendant des finances 
The position "Surintendant des finances" was officially created in 1561 during the reign of Charles IX, although some royal financial advisors had performed analogous duties previously. The position grew out of the positions of Intendants of Finances, officially created in 1552 by Henry II to oversee royal finances during the king's travels in Germany (he sought an alliance with Protestant Princes). At the time, three Intendants of Finances were named, and one of them would also participate in the Privy Counsel, thus the designation "superintendent". In 1561, the position fell to two individuals: Artus de Cossé-Brissac and the comte de Chaulnes. An administrative ruling on 23 October 1563 mandated once-a-week reunions of the Conseil du Roi (King's Counsel) to deal with financial questions of finances; to this meeting would come the superintendent of finances and other officers of country's financial administration, such as the Treasurer (trésorier de l'Épargne). In 1567, Cossé was promoted to maréchal de France; he resigned his post in favor of René de Birague (as did too, apparently, the comte de Chaulnes); René de Birague was thus the sole "superintendent".
In 1570, the position was assumed by the Conseil royal des finances. Henry III suppressed the Conseil royal des finances in 1574 and named a superintendent. Henry IV replaced the superintendent with a counsel. In this way, the position appeared intermittently, its fate tied to that of the Conseil des finances.
On 5 September 1661, Nicolas Fouquet was arrested for financial misdealings and brought to trial. On the 12th, the position of Supertintendant was replaced by a Conseil royal des finances, attended by an intendant, named the Contrôleur général des finances; this position first fell to Jean-Baptiste Colbert.
- This article is largely based on a translation of the article Surintendant des finances from the French Wikipedia on 12 August 2006.
- Bernard Barbiche, Les Institutions de la monarchie française à l'époque moderne, Paris: PUF, collection "Premier Cycle", 1999.
- Daniel Dessert, Argent, pouvoir et société au grand siècle, Paris: Fayard, 1984.
- Arlette Jouanna, Philippe Hamon, Dominique Biloghi, Guy Le Thiec, "Finances", La France de la Renaissance: Histoire et Dictionnaire, Paris: Laffont, 2001.