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Jean-Baptiste Colbert letters to Gabriel de La Reynie


Held at: University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts [Contact Us]3420 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6206

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

Overview and metadata sections

Jean Baptiste Colbert served as the French minister of finance under King Louis XIV and achieved a reputation for his work of improving French manufacturing and bringing the economy back from bankruptcy. He created a favorable balance of trade and increased France's colonial holdings by advocating the policy of mercantilism.

Gabriel Nicolas de La Reynie was selected to fill the new position of Lieutenant-General of the French Police in 1671. The duties of his post were vast, and by the end of his term he managed to transform Paris, improve tremendously urban law enforcement, restructure the Paris Police Force, reduce dueling, and increase state control over prostitution.

Signed from St. Germain-en-Laye and later on from Versailles, the letters deal with a variety of subjects ranging from trade regulations, licensing, taxes, and imprisonment to simple requests for the expedition of certain orders. The correspondence brings clarity to La Reynie's wide range of responsibilities, since his position entailed not only jurisdiction over the security of the city and its environs but also control of food supply and prices, elections of masters and wardens of the merchant guilds, publishing, printing, and book selling, and reports of surgeons. At the same time La Reynie was in charge of police organization, which he managed to restructure in order to improve its efficiency. It becomes evident from the letters that both Louis XIV and Colbert himself left to the Lieutenant of the Police a high degree of independence in his work. A large part of the correspondence puts Colbert in the role of the King's messenger to La Reynie, often reinforcing the confidence that the two had in each other, while demanding evidence, elimination of privileges, and even imprisonment of certain subjects.

Purchased, 1962.

University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts
Finding Aid Author
Clémence Scouten
Finding Aid Date
2015 May 12
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