The Effect of Mercantilism in 17th and 18th Century France

Topics: Mercantilism


Economics in the seventeenth and eighteenth century were dominated by the idea of mercantilism. Mercantilism depended on the cooperation between colony and mother country in the shipping and production of raw materials. Domestic industry increased employment, expanded commercial activity within the country and decreased France’s dependence on foreign trade. The success of a Mercantile system relied on the government, participating merchants, even nobility and the working class, all had effects on the success of the French economy.

France’s King Louis XIV played a hugely important role in the success of mercantilism.

Louis XIV realized the affects of a successful mercantile economy in France. The King supported the theory of the mercantile system but he failed the follow through with the suggestions of Colbert, minister of the state. Aware of the huge amount of money that was being spent on foreign goods, Louis XIV worked towards establishing internal industries, such as tapestry production which France has become famous for.

(Doc. 5) He also was searching for ways to expand overseas trade. (Doc.1) Although Louis XIV made plans for maritime growth, this did not necessarily mean he carried them through. In 1669 France only held five hundred to 600 hundred naval ships, compared to the 15,000 to 16,000 of the Dutch Fleet. (Doc.6)

A Navy was very important to colonial trade during the seventieth and eighteenth centuries. A country that used it’s own ships could avoid extra fees and tariffs from other countries involved in shipping. Colbert promoted this tactic as one of the corner stones of the mercantile system.

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Unfortunately the King paid more attention to his wars than to French international business, and failed to strengthen the navy. The Dutch, who were at the forefront of the ship building industry, took advantage of Louis’s lax policies and monopolized French trade. (Doc 7) Even through persistent warnings from Colbert, Louis XIV refused to change his mind and continued to overlook naval expansion. (Doc 9) The King preferred to spend his kingdoms great wealth on his own home in Versailles or his many battles rather than on the development of French industry. (Doc. 14) King Louis XIV of France meant well for his country but failed to provide the internal industries necessary for it’s success.

The French merchant community had contrasting opinions on the mercantile system. Although experts of industry were encouraged to come to France by Colbert, well established merchants often traveled to Holland or England for business. (Doc 13,15) The merchant class disliked the idea of expansion of commerce within France, they preferred all industry to channel through established merchants rather than newly founded industry. (Doc 13) The French merchant class did little to assist the mercantile system; they favored their own success over that of the country.

The nobility and working class of France also had an affect on the mercantile economy. The nobles disliked the system because of the possibility of increased taxes to all classes in order support government funded business. (Doc.3) The mercantile system did provide employment for the working class but the citizens were still weary of tax hikes.

All social classes had an effect on the institution of a mercantile system. Unfortunately most only frustrated the policies of Colbert, especially Louis XIV. Without the full support of the King the mercantile system could never fully be established, thus causing France to lag behind in economic growth in the years to come.

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The Effect of Mercantilism in 17th and 18th Century France. (2021, Dec 21). Retrieved from

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