Le Tellier, Michel (1603-1685)

Secretary of state for war (1643-77) and then chancellor who created the royal army that enabled King Louis XIV to impose his absolute rule on France and establish French hegemony in Europe.

The son of a Parisian magistrate, Le Tellier became a procureur (attorney) for King Louis XIII in 1631 and intendant (royal agent) to the French army in Italy in 1640. In April 1643, a month before the four-year-old Louis XIV succeeded to the throne, Le Tellier was made secretary of state for war by the chief minister, Cardinal Jules Mazarin. During the aristocratic uprising known as the Fronde (1648-53), he remained loyal to Mazarin, serving as principal adviser to the queen regent, Anne of Austria, while the cardinal was in exile.

The experience of the Fronde taught Le Tellier and Louis that the army must be removed from the control of the nobles and made totally dependent on the king. Le Tellier began to reorganize it in the mid-1650s, and, when Louis assumed personal control of the government upon the death of Mazarin in 1661, Le Tellier was admitted to the king's three-member inner council (Conseil d'en Haut). His major army reforms were instituted over the next 16 years. Aided by his son François-Michel Le Tellier, Marquis de Louvois, he drastically increased the size of the army, creating a 100,000-man standing peacetime force that was quadrupled in times of war. Officers loyal to the king were promoted to newly created general commands, and the discipline of the troops was greatly improved. In addition, Le Tellier perfected a centralized military transport system that enabled the king to deprive disobedient officers of supplies. The new army organization survived, with minor changes, to the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789.

Although he was appointed to the chancellorship in 1677, Le Tellier continued to help his son direct the war ministry. In his new post he reformed law studies and improved recruitment to the magistracy. His hatred of Protestantism caused him to encourage the persecution of Huguenots, and shortly before his death he helped to draft the revocation of the Edict of Nantes (1598), which had secured for the Huguenots some measure of religious liberty.


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