Intendant des finances
The role of intendant des finances was created in 1552 as a 'commission' or committee, to manage the subsidies raised for the 'trip to Germany', though these commissaires were only known by that title from 1556 onwards. They formed a collegiate ministry of finances, but it was common for one among them to be become preeminent or even sometimes be made surintendant des finances.
The number of intendants fluctuated significantly, from 3 to 6 in the mid 16th century, then 12 in the mid 17th century, before falling back to 3 in 1661. Each intendant was put in charge of a geographical département as well as (until 1661) specialist duties such as for roads and bridges or for directly imposed taxes.
In 1690, the intendants became officiers or office-holders, under the direction of the Controller-General of Finances, who held a titular commission that could be revoked at any time (unlike the 'offices' of the intendants, who could ensure continuity in the financial administration thanks to the stability of their posts). The Controller-General and intendants were suppressed under the polysynody but revived in 1722. In 1777 they were again suppressed and their duties transferred to the maîtres des requêtes, who in 1787 received the commissions of the intendants des finances. It was briefly revived as the title for the French finance minister for the Dutch departments under the First French Empire, being held in that form by Alexander Gogel.
The intendants des finances were only subsidiary by law to the Conseil privé, but they were not very diligent. Two of them sat on the Conseil royal des finances. Nearly all of them ended up being made conseillers d'État.
They benefitted from a wide autonomy in exercising their powers in their own départements, directly answering to the chancellor of France, the secrétaires d'État and the provincial intendants. The intendants des finances ended up informally gathering to prepare dossiers to present to the Conseil royal des finances, which resulted in its becoming a de facto substitute for that Conseil.
The intendants des finances and Controller-General were generally chosen from among the maîtres des requêtes. This origin, allied to the stability of the intendants des finances and the instability of the Controller-General, tended to blur the hierarchy that in principle placed the Controller-General above the intendants. However, even if the rank of the intendant des finances became almost equivalent to that of a secretary of state, they did not have the privilege (reserved for the Controller-General) of working in particular with the king. The intendants des finances nevertheless continued to assert their importance and rank nevertheless right up to the reign of Louis XV.
Each intendant des finances headed a département with a coherent assembly of duties:
- bridges and roads
- forests and royal domains