Nicolas Fouquet, marquis de Belle-Isle

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Nicolas Fouquet

Birthplace: Paris, Paris, Île-de-France, France
Death: April 03, 1680 (65)
Pinerolo, Turin, Piedmont, Italy
Place of Burial: Paris, Paris, Île-de-France, France
Immediate Family:

Son of François III Fouquet, vicomte de Vaux and Marie de Maupéou
Husband of Louise Fourché, dame de Quéhillac and Marie Madeleine de Castille
Father of Marie Fouquet; Louis Nicolas Fouquet, comte de Vaux and Louis Fouquet, seigneur de Belle-Isle
Brother of François Fouquet; Louis Fouquet and Gilles Fouquet

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About Nicolas Fouquet, marquis de Belle-Isle

  • Nicolas Fouquet, marquis de Belle-Île, vicomte de Melun et Vaux1, né en janvier 16152 à Paris, mort le 23 mars 1680 à Pignerol, est un homme d'État français de haut rang3, surintendant des finances à l'époque de Mazarin, procureur général au parlement de Paris. Il eut un pouvoir et une fortune considérable. Promoteur des arts au sens le plus noble du terme, Nicolas Fouquet sut s'attirer les services des plus brillants artistes de son temps. De nos jours, il est possible de mesurer la grandeur qui fut la sienne au château de Vaux-le-Vicomte. Destitué et arrêté sur l'ordre de Louis XIV en 1661 pour malversations, condamné à la confiscation de ses biens et au bannissement hors du royaume, il vit sa peine élargie par le roi4, en vertu de ses pouvoirs de justice, à l'emprisonnement à vie. Personnage candidat au masque de fer, Nicolas Fouquet connut, bien longtemps après sa disgrâce, une réhabilitation posthume de son destin tragique, par les nombreux romans et films qui lui furent consacrés, et dont l'exemple le plus fameux fut le récit d'Alexandre Dumas, Le vicomte de Bragelonne.
  • Nicolas Fouquet, marquis de Belle-Isle, viscomte de Melun et Vaux (January 27, 1615 - March 23, 1680) was the Superintendent of Finances in France under Louis XIV
  • Nicolas Fouquet, marquis de Belle-Isle, vicomte de Melun et Vaux

Nicolas FOUQUET (1615-1680) who ordered the construction of Vaux-le-Vicomte was descended from a line of parliamentarians, that rich and enterprising body of men, upon whom the crown came increasingly to depend and whose services were rewarded with appointments to high office. Fouquet's own father, François Fouquet, had been a trusted advisor to Cardinal Richelieu on maritime and commercial affairs.

In 1648 the Royal, that is to say the State treasury, collapsed. As a result, debts run up by the crown with private financiers, in anticipation of tax returns, were not to be honored. This brazen, ill-conceived decision, for which every financial secretary since the death of Henry IV was in part responsible, resulted in a withdrawal of investments, and the flight of private investors.

These troubled events lay behind Cardinal Mazarin's appointment of Nicolas Fouquet as financial secretary in 1653, his mission to replenish the empty treasury. Fouquet had already risen rapidly, remaining true to his family device, the squirrel, and to his motto, "Quo non ascendet" ("What heights will he not scale?").

Fouquet owed his success to his matchless intelligence, his daring and to his loyalty to the throne. To these gifts were added extreme generosity (not always free from self-interest), a lively, winning manner, and an overweening ambition to live amid luxury and refinement. He loved the arts, letters, poets, flowers, pictures, tapestries, books, statues, in short, beauty and pleasure in every form. He showered artists with gifts, commissions, and encouragement, and in this way, attracted a distinguished circle of men which included, among others, La Fontaine and Molière, Le Nôtre and Poussin, Puget, Le Brun and La Quintinie.

The minister's objective in 1653 was to bring about a return of capital to fund Royal spending. In this he was successful, finding the ready money required each day to supply the needs of the administration and the war, to cover the cost of court entertainments, and to satisfy the colossal greed of Mazarin. Every loan he negotiated on the money markets, on behalf of the King, was guaranteed by his own personal fortune. As was the custom, indeed, as was the case with Mazarin himself, France's foremost speculator and embezzler, a large part of the profits naturally fell to him. Yet, this brilliant man, always an ardent and loyal supporter of the King and the Cardinal had too great a faith in his own charmed destiny and did not stop to consider the envy and suspicion his high rank and wealth inspired in the minds of his more ambitious detractors. Neither did he suspect the determination and diligence with which Louis XIV would pursue his aim to reign absolute, nor the insult his own intellectual independence and luxurious lifestyle represented to the proud young King.

His duties led him often to work in close association with Cardinal Mazarin's private secretary, Colbert, a descendant of a dynasty of prominent merchant bankers, accumulating considerable profits of his own on the business undertakings of the crown. On the death of Mazarin in 1661, Fouquet had no doubt that his own decisive contribution to the recovery of the kingdom's finances would earn him the position of First Minister, as successor to the Cardinal. At the same time, Louis XIV, a young man of twenty-two, decided to abolish the post, and consequently to deprive Fouquet of it. At the same time also, Colbert decided to overthrow the financial secretary, to "dress himself in the minister's robes", and "raise up his own edifice on the ruins of the secretary's".

To achieve this end, and also perhaps to divert attention away from his own profiteering, Colbert laid the entire blame for France's "financial disorders" at Fouquet's door. Louis XIV may have welcomed this move, for, in destroying the Financial Secretary, there was reason to believe that the memory of Cardinal Mazarin, who had been his godfather, and an intimate friend of his mother, would be cleared of all suspicion. With each passing day, Colbert sowed seeds of distrust in the young King's mind, combining just reproach with calumny. The routine repairs on the ramparts of Fouquet's property of Belle-isle-en-Mer were, for example, used by Colbert to persuade the King that the minister was at the head of an anti-Royalist plot. In spite of the many warnings Fouquet received from his friends, he did nothing to reduce either the luxury of his life-style or the audacity of his financial scheming. These Colbert constantly denounced to the king as obstacles to the salutary management of Royal funds.

It was May 1661 and the King's mind was made up. The Financial Secretary was to be thrown into prison as soon as he had supplied the treasury with the money he had promised, and sold off his duties as Attorney General at the Parliament of Paris which removed him from all but the jurisdiction of his peers. To throw his future victim off the scent, Louis XIV expressed a desire to return to Vaux to admire the latest improvements of which the whole court spoke with praise. It was at Vaux then, against the background of France's most beautiful château, that Fouquet gave an incomparable "fête" in honor of his King on 17 August 1661. Guests were enchanted by the promenade, dinner, theatricals and fireworks. The extravagance of these entertainments has often been understood - mistakenly- to have been the chief cause of Fouquet's downfall. Voltaire himself was to add to the myth writing; "On 17 August at 6 in the evening, Fouquet was King of France; at 2 in the morning, he was nobody." Three weeks later, on 1O September, at Nantes, d'Artagnan, captain of the King's musketeers, arrested Fouquet on the orders of Louis XIV and brought him before a specially convened emergency court. Despite the pressure brought to bear upon the magistrates by the King - "the court performs arrests, not services!" was the righteous retort of Fouquet's judge, d'Ormesson - the trial, falsified in part by Colbert, dragged on for more than three years, and turned gradually to the advantage of the accused. The King was counting on the death penalty, but the majority of the judges were for banishing Fouquet. This was tantamount to an acquittal, for Fouquet would have found freedom beyond the confines of the kingdom. For the first and last time in French history, the head of state, in whose hands lies the power to pardon an offender, overruled the court's decision, not to lighten the sentence, but to increase it. Louis XIV sentenced his former minister to life-imprisonment. By this denial of justice, he ensured order within France for half a century to come, and at the same time placed under lock and key certain sensitive state secrets to which he suspected Fouquet was privy. This theory has led a number of authors, among them Alexandre Dumas in "Le Vicomte de Bragelonne" to link the fate of Fouquet with that of the man in the iron mask

Fouquet was dispatched to Pignerol, a small fortified position in the Alps of Savoie, dominated by the tower of the fortress in which he was to be imprisoned under close surveillance until his death on 23 March, 1680. The memoirs of the Duc de Saint Simon, written sixty years later, contain the following epitaph, inspired by the contrasts in the life of one who, "after eight years as Financial Secretary, paid for Mazarin's stolen millions, the jealousy of Tellier and Colbert, and a touch too much gaiety and magnificence, with nineteen years of imprisonment." Of Fouquet's

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Nicolas Fouquet, marquis de Belle-Isle's Timeline

January 27, 1615
Paris, Paris, Île-de-France, France
Age 24
Paris, Paris, Île-de-France, France
Age 37
April 3, 1680
Age 65
Pinerolo, Turin, Piedmont, Italy
Paris, Paris, Île-de-France, France