Saturday, June 22, 2019

Who were the Le Telliers?

Arising with the Sun King, middle class statesmen rose to prominence and influence. Among them a family that produced a dynasty in the war minisry - the Le Telliers. 
Marquis de Louvois

The Decline of the Nobility

At the start of the reign of King Louis XIV, the nobility struggled to retain their power and influence in the Kingdom through the civil war known as the Fronde from 1648 to 1651. The Fronde shaped the mindset of the young King Louis towards suspicion and mistrust to the nobility. Henceforth, he surrounded himself of self-made men born from average families.
Louis XIV
The Machiavellian Cardinal Mazarin, an Italian-born statesman, became the most prominent and the earliest members of King Louis XIV’s council. King Louis XIV trusted him – an important ally in a court of nobles who despised the Italian Cardinal. In turn, Mazarin fostered men from Bourgeois or middle class as well as professional families to serve as government officials. Thus, the government of Louis divided labor as Camille Rousset described, “… Lionne was labouring with all his might to find allies, Colbert to find money, and Louvois soldiers for Louis.”

Michel le Tellier
Michel le Tellier
Born on April 19, 1603, Michel le Tellier came from a family of Parisian Bourgeoisie. His father served as a magistrate in the capital and whose profession he also pursued. He studied law and became a lawyer in his own right by 1631. Under the reign of King Louis XIII, jobs in the King’s government rose in number and le Tellier took the opportunity. In 1640, he became an Intendant or a royal agent to French Army in Italy and reported to the office of the First Minister Cardinal Richelieu. When Richelieu passed away in 1642 and followed by King Louis XIII in 1643, Cardinal Mazarin took over as First Minister of the new King Louis XIV. Henceforth began le Tellier’s stellar rise.

As a man of talent with the correct background alongside the right loyalty, le Tellier caught the attention of Cardinal Mazarin. In 1643, he received his appointment as Secretary of State for Military Affairs, which he held until 1677. His skills in military affairs tasted a baptism of fire during the Fronde. Despite numerous defections in the chaotic dance of the time, he remained an ardent follower of his patron Mazarin. Eventually, the royal forces triumphed over the forces of the Frondeurs. King Louis XIV, by then reached adulthood, reigned with the guidance of Mazarin until the Cardinal’s passing in 1661. Le Tellier then became a member of the inner circle of Louis called the conseil d’en haut and trusted with the development of the French Army.

Military Reforms

Le Tellier established the foundation of a modern royal French army and a legacy in the military history. Louis XIV had high ambitions for his reign and wanted France to stand as the dominant superpower of Europe. To do so, he needed a strong and capable army to undertake his campaigns. The responsibility fell to Michel le Tellier.

Years before, le Tellier already began to reform the French army during the time of the Thirty Years’ War. At that time, le Tellier understood that armies marched on its stomach and he aimed to face the challenges in the issue of supplies and logistics of the military. Previously, the land in which the army camped provided the necessities of the army. When supply trains went to the armies, they faced constant bureaucracy and ultimately not enough for the soldiers. Corruption among the noble officers led to mishandle or embezzlement of supplies resulting to shortages. Thus, as the Thirty Years’ War raged, French armies failed many times to advance due to lack of supplies.

Reforms of the French army’s logistics, however, became the hallmark of le Tellier’s tenure. First he made a study of the needs of every soldiers and officers in the military and created a standard amount of rations to be provided. This way, he and the generals anticipated and calculated the needs for future campaigns. Next, he exempted military supply trains from paying duties and tolls within the Kingdom. Then, supplies no longer fell to the authority of officers but a separate official dedicated to the task of handling the distribution. With the amount of supplies standardized and responsibility set up, he then introduced the use of magazines. He established magazines of supply cache with amount based on certain amount of men and days placed in a city or town along the route of the army. In this way, soldiers have a base from which they obtained their provisions.

In 1648, le Tellier logistic reform faced a test with the campaign of Marshall Turenne in the Low Countries. The French army captured series of cities in the region without stopping due to lack of provision. Le Tellier and Turenne used the river networks and temporary magazines to supply the army with food, weapons, and ammunition. The success of the campaign led to the successful gains of France during the signing of the Peace of Westphalia that ended the Thirty Years’ War.

The Fronde, on the other hand, offered le Tellier additional lessons and insights to the weakness of the Royal French Army. He realized during the conflict the incoherence of the military and its susceptibility to political use. The Royal Army relied on men levied from the nobility, which in turn meant the fighting men pledged their loyalty more to their immediate benefactor – the nobles – rather than the King and country. Thus, when a noble rebelled or opposed the King, the forces levied by the Lord turned against the king - a weakness that already hampered France for centuries. Le Tellier had to address this weakness before France embarked in the King’s campaign of conquest.

In 1663, he and the King began a project called the Regiment du Roi or the King’s Regiment. It became a model army from which le Tellier experimented and a foundation for his reforms in the military. He created a standing army loyal to the King and paid by the King. He imposed strict disciple, drilled them, and made them proficient in their weapons. Promotion in the army based no longer in birth, but by loyalty to the King to the dismay and anger of noble officers. By 1677, le Tellier established an army sized at 100,000 in peacetime and at 400,000 in wartime.

Later Career and Death

In 1667, Le Tellier moved from Secretary of War to the Chancellor of France, a position in charge for the judicial affairs of the Kingdom. As a lawyer, he had the qualification for the position and began to enact reforms as well. In 1679, he lifted the ban of the study of civil law by Pope Honorius III in 1219 and began to be taught in the universities of France. He also improved the recruitment of magistrates to improve the trial of cases throughout the Kingdom.

However, despite being a Chancellor, he continued to exercise influence in the War Secretariat. He remained influential as his son, Francois-Michel le Tellier, Marquis de Louvois, took over his position as Secretary of State for War in 1666. Together they continued the reform of the French military as a formidable father and son tandem.

By 1680’s, le Tellier and his son, both fervent anti-Huguenots, supported the growing persecution of the Huguenot’s by King Louis XIV. Finally, in 1685 Louis signed the Edict of Fontainebleau that revoked the Edict of Nantes that granted religious freedom to the Huguenots. However, le Tellier failed to attend the signing because prior to the event on October 30, 1685, he passed away leaving a legacy of reform and strengthening of the crowns power to destroy its enemies both without and tragically within as well.

Marquis de Louvois
Marquis de Louvois
In 1666, Francois-Michel Le Tellier, Marquis of Louvois, succeeded his father Michel le Tellier as Secretary of State of War. Born on January 18, 1641, he studied under the supervision of his father in a Jesuit college in Clermont. He earned a reputation as a mischievous child who always caused problems to his father.

In 1655, in hope of shaping his son, Michel le Tellier entered Louvois to the war ministry to work with him and learn the administration of an office and military. Eventually, Louvois turned into an active assistant to his father. In 1662, Louvois earned the title of Marquis by marrying the daughter of the Marquis de Courtenvaux – Anne de Souvre. In 1663, he helped his father and his sovereign King Louis XIV in establishing the model King’s Regiment. Louvois caught the King’s attention with the help of his father who gradually promoted his talents. Eventually in 1666, with his father being assigned as Chancelor, he succeeded in becoming the Secretary of State for War. His father though continued to exercise influence over the office and both shaped a modern military force.

Military Reforms

Louvois became as equally as profound as his father in reforming the French Army. He continued to increase the number of servicemen and improved their training. In 1673, he founded an artillery school and even attempted to form an officers’ corps in 1682 with 9 cadet companies. He promoted officers based on efficiency and competency and circumvented aristocratic officers who paid for their commission. He made conscription equal and establish standard of payment of salary based on rank. In his tenure, the use of the flintlock rifles and bayonets began.

French Soldiers. 1688
He built up his father’s success in improving the army’s logistics. During the Dutch War (1672 – 1678) he established permanent magazines in contrast to his father’s temporary magazine. From his father’s work, he managed to store 200,000 rations that last for 6 months – considered a great feat as other armies continued to forage for food from the lands and to rely on supply trains. He also promoted the use of mobile ovens to be able to bake bread in army camps.
In addition, he also contributed to the establishment of the Hotel des Invalides. It served as a sanctuary for old and retired veterans in addition in being a hospital.

In the 1680’s, Louvois finally became free from his father’s supervision when le Tellier passed away in 1685. He enjoyed great influence in King Louis and the Court. In 1683, their rival Jean-Baptiste Colbert passed away and one of their allies, Claude Le Pelletier, succeeded as Comptroller. Furthermore, he also gained the position left vacant by Colbert – Secretary of State of the Maison du Roi – minister of public works. As public works minister, he oversaw the construction of the famous Hall of Mirrors and the 2nd largest canal project under Louis XIV – the aqueduct of Maintenon. He also supported the French painter Pierre Mignard to become the First Painter of King in 1690.

Also, during the early years of the 1680’s, he and his father further earned Louis’ confidence with their support over the persecution of the Huguenots. The paternal officials allowed with complicit the practice of dragonnades where units of wild and violent dragoons lodged in Huguenot villages harassing inhabitants into converting back to Catholicism. He also urged Louis to revoke the Edict of Nantes that granted religious freedom to Huguenots. Louvois welcomed the Edict of Fontainebleau that official null the Nantes Edict, but he also mourned as his father passed away in the same year without seeing the revocation.

Besides the Huguenots who suffered as a result of his support, many criticized Louvois for his extreme brutality. During the War of Reunions (1683 – 1684) he ordered the bombardment of 20 German villages. During the War of the Grand Alliance, he ordered the infamous razing of Palatinate. Cities of Worms, Spever, Manheim, and Heidelberg laid in ruins with the orders of Louvois. The War of the Grand Alliance dragged smoothly under his supervision in the early 1890’s, but on July 16, 1691 he suddenly passed away.

Summing Up

The Le Telliers proved themselves as formidable family during the reign of the Sun King. They governed and contributed to the status of France as a great power under King Louis XIV. Their talents came hand in hand in a time when the nobility loss their influence and opened the door of government for average background family. With their supervision, the French army became a modern military that the world envy. Soon other powers copied their reforms showing the edge France had. Their stellar rise, however, was not without controversy. Their persecution of Huguenots led to the decline of a skilled population which hampered the economy for centuries, unintentionally preventing France from realizing her full potential as a super power. A dark side that lingered in both men who innovated that left their mark in history.

See also:

Creveld, Martin van. Logistics from Wallenstein to Patton. New York, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1977.

General Reference:
“Le Tellier, Michel (1603 – 1685).” Wars of the Age of Louis XIV, 1650-1715: An Encyclopedia of Global Warfare and Civilization. Edited by Cathal J. Nolan. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2008.

Watson, Samuel. “Louvois, Francois le Tellier, Marquis de (1639 -1691).” International Encyclopedia of Military History. Edited by James Bradford. New York, New York: Routledge, 2006.

“Louvois.” Chateau Versailles. Accessed on June 9, 2019. URL:

“Louvois, Francois Michel le Tellier, Marquis De.” The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed., Accessed on June 9, 2019. URL:

“Michel Le Tellier.” Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed on June 16, 2019. URL:
Baxter, Douglas. “Francois-Michel le Tellier, Marquis de Louvois.” Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed on June 9, 2019. URL:  

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