Northern Illinois University Press

Colbert, Mercantilism, and the French Quest for Asian Trade

Glenn J. Ames

This revisionist examination of French trade with Asia analyzes the concerted attempt of France under Louis XIV to establish a mercantile empire in the East by breaking into the lucrative market of the Indian Ocean. During the decade between 1664 and 1674, under the direction of the statesman Jean Baptiste Colbert, France advanced a vigorous strategy of commerce and colonization unprecedented in its history. It founded the powerful East India Company and constructed a large royal fleet in 1670 as the principal instrument for entrenching French power in Asia.

Drawing on archival sources from Paris, Lisbon, London, The Hague, and Goa, Ames offers a new interpretation of Bourbon France's mercantilism in the context of the rise of the world market economy of the early modern period. An unparalleled conjuncture of events in Europe and Asia favored French policy and gave rise to Colbert's Asian strategy. Basing his plan on anti-Dutch sentiments, Colbert temporarily merged world market-economy mercantile goals with traditional dynastic and continental foreign policies that had long dominated French actions. From 1664 until late in 1672 Colbert was able to convince Louis XIV to supply both money and might. Once the Dutch War began, however, support for his project waned. Traditional dynastic priorities reasserted themselves over mercantile goals, and Colbert's innovative initiative in the Indian Ocean was doomed to failure.

In addition to illuminating the politics behind Colbert's establishment of the East India Company and his creation of the royal fleet, Ames details France's efforts to reach an alliance with the English and Portuguese and the eventual failure of this enterprise. He further analyzes the significance of such a setback from French political and economic aspirations in Asia for the remainder of the seventeenth century.

ISBN: 978-0-87580-207-7
$40.00s, 1996, cloth
6x9, 259 pp.

ISBN: 978-0-87580-758-4
$29.00s, 2016, paper
6x9, 259 pp.

Table of Contents

List of Maps
Introduction: European Powers and the Asian Trade
1 Paris, 1665: The Birth of a New Compagnie des Indes Orientales
2 Surat, 1668: Initial Forays and Difficulties in the Asian Trade
3 Paris, 1669: Shifting Priorities and the Escalating Anti-Dutch Campaign
4 London and Lisbon, 1670: Enemies or Allies in Europe and Asia?
5 Surat, 1671: Advance and Indecision on the Eve of the Dutch War
6 Batavia and the Malabar Coast, 1672: Frustrated Alliances and a Frustrating Start to the Anti-Dutch Crusade
7 Paris, the Low Countries, and Trincomalee, 1672: Gloire in Europe, an Enigmatic Defeat on Ceylon
8 The Coromandel Coast, Paris, and Flanders, 1673: Escalating Difficulties in Europe and Asia
9 Les Indes Orientales and Paris, 1674: Reconfirming Traditional Priorities in Europe; Establishing the Basis for the Postwar Trade in Asia
Epilogue, 1675-1683

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ISBN: 978-0-87580-207-7
cloth $40.00
ISBN: 978-0-87580-758-4
paper $29.00