About the beginning of the 17th century Olivier de Serres and Laffemas, somewhat against the will of Sully, obtained royal edicts favouring the growth of mulberry plantations and the cultivation of silk; but it cannot be said that these industries were firmly established till Colbert encouraged the planting of the mulberry by premiums, and otherwise stimulated local efforts.
Those who had most of the king's confidence afterwards were Colbert for home affairs; Lionne for diplomacy; Louvois for war; but as his reign proceeded he became more self-confident and more intolerant of independence of judgment in his ministers.
Letters exist written by Colbert to the judges requiring them to sentence to the oar as many criminals as possible, including all those who had been condemned to death; and the convict once chained to the bench, the expiration of his sentence was seldom allowed to bring him release.
The death of Colbert and the revocation of the edict of Nantes brought the first to a close (166116831685); coinciding with the date when the Revolution in England definitely reversed the traditional system of alliances, and when the administration began to disorganize.
The gift was refused somewhat indignantly; and by giving proof of the immense value of his services, Colbert gained all that he desired.
In order to attach and defend these colonies Colbert created a navy which Lecame his passion; he took convicts to man the galleys in the Mediterranean, and for the fleet in the Atlantic he established the system of naval reserve which still obtains.
For its use, Colbert reconstructed the works and arsenal of Toulon, founded the port and arsenal of Rochefort, and the naval schools of Rochefort, Dieppe and Saint-Malo, and fortified, with some assistance from Vauban (who, however, belonged to the party of his rival Louvois), among other ports those of Calais, Dunkirk, Brest and Havre.
As the minister of an ambitious and magnificent king, Colbert was under the hard necessity of sacrificing everything to the wars in Flanders and the pomp of Versailles a gulf which swallowed up all the countrys wealth;and, amid a society which might be supposed submissively docile to the wishes of Louis XIV., he had to retain the most absurd financial laws, making the burden of taxation weigh heaviest on those who had no other resources than their labor, whilst landed property escaped free of charge.
Louis XIV.s aspirations towards glory chimed in very well with the extremely positive views of his minister; but here too Colbert was an innovator and an unsuccessful one.
Neither the immense fortunes amassed by these men, nor the venality and robust vitality which made their families veritable races of ministers, altered the fact that De Lionne, Le Tellier, Louvois and Colbert were in themselves of no account, even though the parts they played were much more important than Louis XIV.