Jean-Baptiste Colbert marquis de Torcy

14 September 1665 - 2 September 1746

Background and childhood

Torcy descended from one of the great families of Noblesse de Robe. His father Charles Colbert marquis de Croissy had been president of diverse parliaments, intendant of various provinces and negotiator for the peace of Aachen 1668 before he became ambassador to London. This meant that at age 8 or 9 Torcy went to London to live with his father. In 1675 Torcy's father went to the congress of Nijmegen while Torcy attended the Collége de La Marche to study. It was said that it was because of his rapid development that Torcy was allowed to present a thesis of philosophy to Louis XIV at the age of 14. The fact that Torcy ended his education at 16 should however be considered as a sign of the times rather than as a sign of his brilliance. Some time after the peace of Nijmegen Torcy's father was appointed as foreign minister, replacing De Pomponne.

Early Career

His father's appointment as minister of foreign affairs meant that Torcy's career was practically laid out for him. After college his father brought him to his department and as a preparation he let him study the papers relating to past negotiations and instructed him on how these should be handled. Meanwhile practical exercises were not neglected and so Torcy accompanied the court to Franch Comté in 1683. While aged 19 Torcy went on his first foreign mission to Portugal in 1684. While congratulations to Pedro II who had just become king were the official reason for the mission this led to nine month stay in Lisbon. Almost immediately after this Torcy went to Copenhagen and after leaving that court he made a tour that brought him to Sweden, Prussia, various German states, Tyrol and on the Italian peninsula to Rome and Naples. On returning to Paris in 1686 he was next sent to London. This time he was to bring Louis' condolences to James II on the death of his mother in law. Torcy also used this trip to reacquaint some of his childhood London friends. On his return Torcy was employed to prepare the instructions to the French ambassadors.

After the death of Pope Innocent XI on 12 August 1689 Torcy went to Rome in order to observe the conclave. After the election of Alexander VIII Torcy was received by him in a private audience. Before leaving Rome Torcy received the news that his father had secured the right to let Torcy inherit his charge as secretary of state (yes this post could be part of an inheritance). Upon returning to Versailles Torcy got the honor of personally giving his observations to the king. In 1691 and 1692 Torcy went on campaign with Louis, and during these trips he functioned as secretary of state for the first time. After this Torcy occupied himself by aiding his father at his ministry.

At the death of Louvois the Marquis de Pomponne returned to Court. However, the expected rivalry between De Pomponne and Croissy did not erupt and in stead a relation of mutual respect developed. Louis XIV was now in a difficult situation: He wanted to employ De Pomponne as well as Torcy, but appointing De Pomponne could lead to difficulty with regard to his promise of Torcy inheriting his father's charge. On the other hand he deemed Torcy to young to execute the task. Louis wanted to solve this by marrying Torcy to one of De Pomponne's daughters, but this project wasn't finished when Torcy's father died on 28 July 1696. Because the problem then got urgent the marriage of Torcy with one of De Pomponnne's daughters was concluded on 13 August 1696. Torcy then succeeded his father as treasurer of the ordre du Saint Esprit and as Secretary of State, but did not become minister. Louis decided that De Pomponne would treat the affairs in the council while Torcy would handle the messages under his direction. They would jointly receive the ambassadors and jointly occupy the rooms of the foreign secretary at Versailles. In 1698 Torcy entered the council too, but only when the matters of his department where treated.

Torcy as minister of Foreign affairs

It was only at the death of the Marquis de Pomponne in 1699 that Torcy became a full secretary of State. On 18 January 1701 Torcy became chancellor of the Ordre du Saint Esprit1.

Torcy's actions as minister almost all took place during the Spanish Succession War. There can be no doubt about the fact that, considering the circumstances, France did very well at the negotiation table and Torcy played a major role in it. Apart from the fact that he was helped by the treachery of England and the inept policy of Austria, Torcy can be said to have been very successful in achieving the goals Louis XIV wanted to secure at the peace of Utrecht. The fact that the French goals in the negotiations were perhaps not that well chosen does not diminish the fact that Torcy was a great minister of foreign affairs.

Torcy after the Spanish Succession War

After the Spanish Succession War the French government consisted of councils formed by the nobility, and even though Torcy was a member of the regency council his role was finished. He also held some minor posts and Philippe II d'Orleans did ask his advice on matters of foreign affairs, but in September 1721 an intrigue forced him to resign as foreign minister. When the king came of age in 1723 the Regency Council was dissolved, and so Torcy's career came to an end. Torcy now got lots of free time and probably used that for compiling his memoirs.


1) Mémoires du Marquis de Sourches under 18 January 1701 for Torcy's appointment as chancellor of the Ordre du Saint Esprit.