Colbert and La Royale
Historians have often remarked on a contradiction at the heart of the troubled French navy. This is perhaps best represented by the contrast between Jean-Baptiste Colbert, the modernising secrétaire d’état de la marine from 1669 and his ambitious programme to unlock the commercial and naval potential of the kingdom, and Louis XIV, who in the same year named his illegitimate 2-year old son to the office of Admiral of France. There was, however, a unifying imperial ideal in France that defined both the monarchy and the ideological purpose of the navy. Colbert and his king were, in fact, united in its pursuit. The essential role of the navy in defining political authority and legitimacy in France was shaped by the early sixteenth-century origins of this imperial ideal which saw its clearest and most violent expression much later in the invention of the Napoleonic empire.