Chief Minister of France
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Chief Minister of France

The chief minister of France or, closer to the French term, chief minister of state (French: principal ministre d'État), or prime minister of France[1] were and are informal titles given to various personages who received various degrees of power to rule the Kingdom of France on behalf of the monarch during the Ancien Régime ("Old Regime").[2] The titles were however informal and used more as job descriptions.

After 1661, Louis XIV and his descendants refused to allow one of their ministers to be more important than the others, so the terms were not in use.[3]


Like the title of Chief Minister was unofficial, the monarch maintained all his powers, giving to the Chief Minister the task to make effective his orders. However, during moments were the king was absent from the country, highly sick, indifferent or unfit to govern, the Chief Minister had a strong role, becoming the real mind behind the state's operating.[4]

Usually, the Chief Ministers were members of the King's Council (the archaic form of cabinet) or high members of the French nobility or the Catholic clergy.

With the eruption of the French Revolution in 1789, the First Minister of State progressively lost importance and influence inside national politics. Finally, with the coming of the constitutional monarchy in 1791, the title of First Minister ceased to exist.


Portrait Name
Prior/Contemporary office Term of office Estate Cabinet King
Corneille de Lyon - Portrait of Anne de Montmorency.jpg Anne de Montmorency,
Baron and Seigneur of Chantilly

Grand Master of France
1 January 1515 1541 Nobility Cabinets of Francis I Francis I
French School Portrait of Francis I of France c. 1530.jpg
Close friend of Francis I and paternal figure of Henry II. Concordat of Bologna. War of the League of Cambrai and the Italian Wars. Franco-Ottoman alliance. Attempt to make an alliance between France and Pope Paul III. Aggressive policy toward Emperor Charles V. Fell in disgrace due to Anne de Pisseleu's intrigues.
Claude d'Annebaut.jpg Claude d'Annebault,
Baron of Retz

Admiral of France
1541 31 March 1547 Nobility
Hero in the Battle of Pavia and Marshal of France yet. 5th Italian War. Peace with Emperor Charles V. Revolt of the Pitauds. Ordinance of Villers-Cotterêts establish the French as official language. Fall into disgrace after Francis I's death.
Clouet-montmorencyanne.jpg Anne,
Duke of Montmorency

Grand Master of France
1 April 1547 10 August 1557 Nobility Cabinets of Henry II Henry II
Henry II of France..jpg
Former favourite of Francis I and paternal figure for Henry II. Alliance between the Crown and the House of Guise. Rebellion in Bordeaux crushed. Raids on Metz, Toul and Verdun against Emperor Charles V. Defeat in the Battle of St. Quentin, he was imprisoned by Spain. Released only after 1558, he became non-influential in the new Guise-headed cabinet.
-- Position vacant
(absolute rule by Henry II)
King of France
11 August 1557 10 July 1559 Nobility
Personally assumed the government. Despite the initial victory in the Siege of Calais, the defeat in the Battle of Gravelines led to the Peace of Cateau-Cambrésis, that ended the last Italian War. He continued his self-government until his death during a tournament in 1559.
Francois de Lorraine.JPG Francis,
Duke of Guise

Grand Master of France
10 July 1559 5 December 1560 Nobility Regency of
Queen Mother Catherine
Francis II
Francois II de france.jpg
Brother of Mary of Guise, mother-in-law of Francis II, arch-Catholic chief and ally to Queen Catherine de' Medici. Amboise conspiracy foiled. Increased persecutions of Huguenots. Formation of the Catholic League along with his former rival Montmorency. Ousted from power by Catherine de' Medici after Francis II's death. Assassinated by Huguenot Jean de Poltrot in 1563.
Michel-Hospital.jpg Michel de l'Hôpital
Chancellor of France
5 December 1560 13 March 1573 + Commoner Charles IX
Charles IX - Workshop of François Clouet.jpg
Famous lawyer from the Parlement of Paris and prominent politique (moderates). Edict of Saint-Germain. Massacre of Wassy caused the eruption of religious civil wars. Peace of Longjumeau realised by Catherine de' Medici and King Charles IX. Siege of La Rochelle. Survived after St. Bartholomew's Day massacre. Died in office. Cabinets of Henry IX
René de Birague.jpg Cardinal René de Birague
Chancellor of France
30 May 1574 24 November 1583 + Clergy Cabinets of Henry III Henry III
Bacciarelli - Henri.jpeg
Close confidant of Catherine de' Medici. Signature of the Edict of Beaulieu. Died in office.
Philippe Hurault Chancelier de France.jpg Philippe Hurault,
Count of Cheverny

Chancellor of France
24 November 1583 12 May 1588 Nobility
Aligned with the Catholic League. War of the Three Henrys erupted. Ousted from office by the King after the Day of the Barricades.
-- Position vacant
(absolute rule by Henry III)
King of France
12 May 1588 2 August 1589 Nobility
Fled from Paris after the Barricades. Assassination of the Duke of Guise, leader of the Catholic League, and his brother Cardinal Louis at Château de Blois. Murdered by Jacques Clément while marching toward Paris.
Maximilien-de-Sully.jpg Maximilien de Béthune,
1st Duke of Sully

Superintendent of Finances
2 August 1589 29 January 1611 Nobility Cabinets of Henry IV Henry IV
King Henry IV of France.jpg
Loyal minister of Henry IV since French Wars of Religion. Conversion of Henry IV to Catholicism. Free trade without restriction. Establishment of courthouses on misappropriation. Public works and new roads. Expansion of the Royal Army. Franco-Savoyard War. Organized marriage between Henry IV and Marie de' Medici. Edict of Nantes introduced religious tolerance to Protestants. Assassination of Henry IV by François Ravaillac, a Catholic fanatic. Isolated in the new Court, resigned and retired. Regency of
Queen Mother Mary
Louis XIII
Louis XIII (de Champaigne).jpg
De Neufville2.jpg Nicolas de Neufville,
1st Marquis of Villeroy

Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs
30 January 1611 9 August 1616 Nobility
Near to the extremist Catholic League. Instrumental minister in Marie de' Medici's hands, he favour a pro-Habsburg foreign policy. Progressively lost his favour. Removed from his appointment.
Concino Concini.jpg Concino Concini,
1st Marquis d'Ancre

Marshal of France
9 August 1616 24 April 1617 + Nobility
Favourite of Marie de' Medici. He allowed a status of corruption and decay to the Court. Instrumental in the signature of the Treaty of Loudun. Murdered in the Louis XIII's coup d'état who overthrow the regency.
Duque-de-Luynes.JPG Charles d'Albert,1st Duke of Luynes
Grand Falconer of France
24 April 1617 15 December 1621 + Nobility Cabinets of Louis XIII
Close advisor of Louis XIII and instigator of the regency's overthrow. Peace policy with Catholic powers. Organized marriage between Princess Christine and the Duke of Savoy. Treaty of Angoulême ended the quarrel between Marie de' Medici and Louis XIII. Second conflict between Marie and Louis. Start of the Huguenot rebellions. Died in office due to illness.
-- Position vacant
(absolute rule by Louis XIII)
King of France
15 December 1621 12 August 1624 Nobility
Repression of the Huguenot troubles. Signature of the Treaty of Montpellier ended the first rebellion. Treaty of Compiégne with the United Provinces. French intervention in the Dutch Revolt. Rise of Cardinal Richelieu.
Champaigne portrait richelieu eb.jpg Cardinal Armand Jean du Plessis,
1st Duke of Richelieu and Fronsac

Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs & War
12 August 1624 4 December 1642 + Clergy
"Grey eminence" of Louis XIII. Establishment of a strong centralized apparatus and tensions with Habsburgs. Second Huguenot rebellion. End of the second rebellion with the Treaty of Paris. Valtelline Crisis. Creation of the Company of New France. Establishment of the Académie française. Third Huguenot rebellion. Siege of La Rochelle and the Edict of Alès brought to the decisive end of the rebellions. Tensions with the Queen Mother Marie de' Medici brought to the Day of the Dupes. Establishment of an efficient espionage system. Close partnership with Sweden established with the Treaty of Bärwalde. Cinq-Mars plots against Richelieu. Execution of Cinq-Mars. Died in office due to illness.
Mazarin-mignard.jpg Cardinal Jules Mazarin,
1st Duke of Mayenne and Rethel

Bishop of Metz
5 December 1642 9 March 1661 + Clergy Regency of
Queen Mother Anne
Louis XIV
"Grey eminence" of Queen Mother Anne and Louis XIV. Eruption of the Fronde. Peace of Westphalia concluded the Thirty Years' War. End of the Eighty Years' War and recognizement of the United Provinces. Creation of the League of the Rhine. Repression of the Fronde. Formulary controversy. Treaty of the Pyrenees and peace with Habsburgs. Died in office due to illness. Cabinets of Louis XIV
Colbert domaine de chantilly PE343.jpg Jean-Baptiste Colbert
Controller-General of Finances
9 March 1661 6 September 1683 + Commoner
First bourgeoisie who led a Ministry. Financial reforms: Mercantilism introduced. New great public works, such as the Canal du Midi, Tuileries Garden, Porte Saint-Martin and Porte Saint-Denis. Promotion of the culture: French Academy of Sciences, Paris Observatory and Royal Academy of Architecture are foundeds. War of Devolution. Establishment of the East India and West India companies. Treaties of Nijmegen. Affair of the Poisons caused public scandal in France. Died in office due to illness.
Louvois1.jpg François-Michel Le Tellier,
1st Marquis of Louvois

Secretary of State for War & Maison du Roi
7 September 1683 16 July 1691 + Nobility
Former rival of Colbert and founder of Les Invalides. War of the Reunions. Edict of Fontainebleau restored the persecutions against Huguenots. Dragonnades caused Huguenots' getaway from France and financial crisis. The Sack of Palatinate alienated German support to Louis XIV. Nine Years' War. His advised policy to Louis XIV caused the reign's decline. Died in office due to apoplexy or poisoning.
-- Position vacant
(absolute rule by Louis XIV)
King of France
17 July 1691 1 September 1715 Nobility
War of the Spanish Succession and establishment of the Bourbon dynasty in Spain. Treaty of Ryswick. Palace of Versailles completed. Start of the Age of Enlightenment. Died reigning due to health problems.
Hyacinthe Rigaud Dubois detail.jpg Cardinal Guillaume Dubois
Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs
12 September 1715 10 August 1723 + Clergy Regency of
The Duke of Orléans
Louis XV
Louis XV by Maurice-Quentin de La Tour.jpg
Third "Grey Emminence" of the Kingdom. Signature of the Triple Alliance and War of the Quadruple Alliance. Cellamare and Pontcallec conspirancies. Died in office due to health problems. Cabinets of Louis XV
Philippe d'Orleans, regent, et Marie Madeleine de la Vieuville, Comtesse de Parabere (Jean-Baptiste Santerre).jpg Philippe II,
13th Duke of Orléans

Regent of the Kingdom
10 August 1723 2 December 1723 + Nobility
Former Regent, replacing Cardinal Dubois. Died in office less than 4 months later.
Louis IV Henri de Bourbon-Conde.jpg Louis Henri,
7th Prince of Condé

Grand Master of France
2 December 1723 11 June 1726 Nobility
New persecution against French Protestants. Unigenitus Bull. Marriage organized between Louis XV and Marie Leszczy?ska. Law System failed. Financial crisis and Lit de justice. Disagreements with Louis XV's new favourite, the Bishop Fleury, caused his downfall and exile in disgrace.
Cardinal de Fleury by Rigaud.jpg Cardinal André-Hercule de Fleury
Bishop of Fréjus
11 June 1726 29 January 1743 + Clergy
Close advisor of Louis XV. Colbertism reintroduced and support to Gallicanism. Jansenism became tolerated. Anti-Masonry policy. Defeat in the War of the Polish Succession and Treaty of Vienna. War of the Austrian Succession and Treaty of Aachen. Died in office due to health problmes.
-- Position vacant
(absolute rule by Louis XV)
King of France
29 January 1743 3 December 1758 Nobility
Personal rule of Louis XV caused a rising public debt and scandal at Court, includind his evident relationship with Madame de Pompadour. Eruption of the Seven Years' War.
Choiseul, Etienne François duc de.jpg Étienne François de Choiseul
1st Duke of Choiseul

Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs & War
3 December 1758 24 December 1770 Nobility
He led France in the Seven Years' War. Failed invasion of Britain. "Family Pact" and Spanish intervention beside France. Defeat in the Seven Years' War and loss of New France to the British. French conquest of Corsica. Support to Spain during Falkland Crisis. Resigned and retired.
René-Augustin de Maupeou.PNG René-Nicolas de Maupeou
Chancellor of France
25 December 1770 23 August 1774 Nobility
Failed attempt to establish an Enlightened absolutism. Tensions with the Parlements. Fight against upper classes on privileges and farms. Envoy of musketeers against Parliament's magistrates. Suppression of the Court of Aids. Despite his success against magistrates' power abuses, Louis XVI preferred search an agreement with them. Resigned due to disagreements with the new King. Cabinets of Louis XVI Louis XVI
Louis XVI of France.jpg
Graincourt, attributed to - Turgot.jpg Jacques Turgot
Controller-General of Finances
24 August 1774 12 May 1776 Commoner
Second bourgeoise who formed a Ministry. Physiocratic fiscal policies. Ferme générale reformed. Negotiation with Dutch bankers to solve the state debts. French intervention in the American Revolutionary War. Flour War. His rivalship with Jacques Necker and the Count of Maurepas's envy caused his fall. Accused to negligence, he was ousted from office.
Jean Frederic Phelypeaux Count of Maurepas.PNG Jean-Frédéric Phélypeaux,
3rd Count of Maurepas

Secretary of State of the Navy
14 May 1776 21 November 1781 + Nobility
Former ally of Turgot, who intrigued against him being enviousof his position. He continued the status of privilege of the upper classess, but finally became a patron of Necker. Died in office due to health problems.
Charles Gravier, Comte de Vergennes.jpg Charles Gravier,
Count of Vergennes

Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs
21 November 1781 13 February 1787 + Nobility
Great diplomat, decisive in the diplomacy of the American Revolution. Treaty of Paris and recognizement of the United States. Franco-Austrian Alliance consolidated. Batavian Revolution. Expeditions in Indochina. He was dissident of Necker and his reformist's views. Died in office during the Assembly of Notables.
Étienne Charles de Loménie de Brienne.PNG Archbishop Étienne Charles de Loménie
Archbishop of Toulouse
1 May 1787 25 August 1788 Clergy
Replacing Vergennes, died during the Assembly of Notables. Rising influence of Marie Antoinette. New disagreements with parliamentarians on estate tax and corvée. Resigned due to political difficulties.
Necker, Jacques - Duplessis.jpg Jacques Necker
Controller-General of Finances
25 August 1788 11 July 1789 Commoner
Appointed by Louis XVI to solve the financial crisis. Day of Tiles and Assembly of Vizille. Estates General summed on Spring 1789. However, the steady reforms called from the Estates, especially the Third Estate (commoners), caused his political decline and removal by the King.
Baron de Breteuil.jpg Louis Auguste Le Tonnelier,
Baron of Breteuil

Secretary of State of the Maison du Roi
11 July 1789 16 July 1789 Nobility
Shortest ministry since 2 centuries. Eruption of the French Revolution with the storming of the Bastille. Fled out France two days after the Bastille.
Necker, Jacques - Duplessis.jpg Jacques Necker
Controller-General of Finances
16 July 1789 3 September 1790 Commoner
Recalled to office by Louis XVI. He distrusted eminent politicians like Lafayette, too dual, and Mirabeau, too schemer. He also rejected the assignats' using. Like his popularity fell, he retired in Coppet Castle, Switzerland.
Armand-Marc Comte de MONTMORIN-SAINT-HEREM.jpg Armand Marc,
Count of Montmorin and Saint-Hérem

Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs
3 September 1790 29 November 1791 Nobility
Former member of the conservative clique of Versailles, he became a puppet in Mirabeau and La Marck's hands. After the Mirabeau's death, he resigned from his position. He was later killed during September Massacres. Constitutional Cabinet of Louis XVI
-- Position vacant
(supervisioned by Legislative Assembly)
N/A 29 November 1791 21 September 1792 N/A
Under the new Constitution, Louis XVI became time by time ever more useless and weak, while the real power was exercited by the Legislative Assembly, who proposed to the King Girondin ministers. He popularity collapsed after the flight to Varennes. After the Brunswick Manifesto, tension between Monarchists and Republicans increased. The storming of Tuileries ended the centuries-old monarchy, establishing the First Republic.

First Empire (1804-1814/1815)

Portrait Name
Prior/Contemporary office Term of office Political Party Government Emperor
Maret, Hugues-Bernard.jpg Hugues-Bernard Maret,
1st Duke of Bassano

None 18 May 1804 17 April 1811 Bonapartist Napoleon's Ministry I Napoleon I
Napoleon Paul Delaroche.jpg
Signature of Peace of Pressburg. Establishment of the Duchy of Warsaw. Bonapartist Constitutions are established in Portugal, Spain, Holland and Westphalia. Marriage organized between Napoleon and Marie Louise. Resigned to assume the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Pierre Daru.jpg Pierre Bruno,
Count Daru
Member of the Académie française
17 April 1811 20 November 1813 Bonapartist
Continental System. Disagreements with Russia caused the Franco-Russian War. French invasion concluded in defeat. Resigned soon after the retreat from Russia.
Maret, Hugues-Bernard.jpg Hugues-Bernard Maret,
1st Duke of Bassano

Minister of Foreign Affairs
20 November 1813 1 April 1814 Bonapartist
War of the Sixth Coalition. Defeat in the decisive Battle of Leipzig. Political plots hostile to Emperor caused his removal by Napoleon, who maintained him a close advisor. Remained in Fontainebleau after the surrender Treaty.
First Restoration (1 April 1814 - 19 March 1815)
Armand Caulaincourt by François-Séraphin Delpech.jpg Armand-Augustin,
5th Marquis of Caulaincourt

Minister of Foreign Affairs
20 March 1815 22 June 1815 Bonapartist Napoleon's Ministry II
Influential in the Napoleon's attempt to re-establish the Empire. Resigned soon after the Battle of Waterloo, along with Napoleon.
Fouché Joseph Duke of Otranto.jpg Joseph Fouché,
1st Duke of Otranto

Minister of the Interior
23 June 1815 7 July 1815 Bonapartist Executive Commission Napoleon II
80 Napoleon II.jpg
Formed a provisional ministry. He recall Louis XVIII in Paris. Beginning of the Bourbon Restoration. Despite his regicide past, at the moment wasn't condamned, and also served as minister in the new monarchist government.

Kingdom of France (1814-1815)

Portrait Name
Prior/Contemporary office Term of office Political Party Government King
Talleyrand 01.jpg Charles Maurice,
Prince of Talleyrand

Minister of Foreign Affairs
1 April 1814 2 May 1814 Legitimist Prov. Gov. Louis XVIII
Louis XVIII of France.png
Creation of the Charter of 1814. Napoleon exiled in his "reign" on Elba. Removed by Louis XVIII after his arrive from England, due to his Bonapartist past.
BLACAS.JPG Pierre-Louis,
Count of Blacas
Minister for the Maison du Roi
2 May 1814 8 July 1815 Legitimist King's Ministry
De facto Chief Minister, due to Louis XVIII's diffidence to Talleyrand. Despite Talleyrand was envoy to Congress of Vienna, Metternich negotiate secretly with Louis XVIII and Blacas. Fled with the Royals to Ghent during the Hundred Days. Felled in disgrace after the return in Paris, he was dismissed and send as Ambassador to the Two Sicilies.

Second Empire (1852-1870)

Portrait Name
Term of office Political Party Government Legislature Emperor
Casabianca 1851.JPG Joseph,
Count of Casabianca

22 January 1852 28 July 1852 Conservative Bonapartist Bonaparte III I
Napoleon III
Napoleon III detail.jpg
Expropriation of goods of the House of Orléans. Conclusion of the transition toward the Empire.
Achille Fould BNF.jpg Achille Fould
28 July 1852 23 November 1860 Conservative Bonapartist
Creation of new banks (es. Crédit Mobilier, Société Générale). Expo 1855. New railways are built. Construction of the Suez Canal. Expansion of trade and commercial businesses. Landes forest planted. The renovation of Paris. French intervention in the Crimean War. Plombières Agreement. Resigned due to opposition to a French intervention in Mexico. II
Alexandre Florian Joseph Walewski (1810-1868).jpg Alexandre,
Count Walewski

23 November 1860 23 June 1863 Liberal Bonapartist
Mexico's debts crisis and Franco-Mexican War. As Foreign Affairs Minister, he was opposed to Emperor's policy on Italian Independence. First attempts to establish a parliamentary system. Lost his favour, he retired from politics.
L'illustration 1862 gravure M. Billault, ministre sans portefeuille.jpg Adolphe Billault
23 June 1863 13 October 1863 + Conservative Bonapartist
Chose by Napoleon to manage parliamentary affairs, he fell in depression and became ill, dying prematurely.
Eugène Rouher.jpg Eugène Rouher
18 October 1863 17 July 1869 Conservative Bonapartist
Called also "Vice Emperor" for his political role. Conquest of Cochinchina and protectorate on Cambodia. Defeat in the Franco-Mexican War. Tensions with Prussia and Luxembourg Crisis. Removed due to his opposition to liberalization of the Empire.
-- Position vacant
(absolute rule by Napoleon III)
17 July 1869 2 January 1870 (Nonpartisan) Bonaparte IV
Concession of liberal reforms. The "Chief of Cabinet" is established.

See also


  1. ^ Testament Politique du Cardinal Duc de Richelieu, Premier Ministre de France sous le Règne de Louïs XIII
  2. ^ "Ancien Régime". Larousse.
  3. ^ Ancien Régime in Encyclopédie Larousse ("Après 1661, Louis XIV impose une nouvelle formule, qui joue à la fois sur les ministres et sur les conseils, sans accepter la primauté d'un ministre.")
  4. ^ Jean Bérenger (1996). Histoire, économie et société, Vol. 15-1. Persée. pp. 37-46.
  5. ^ Muel 1891, p. 73.
  6. ^ Emmanuel Waresquiel (2003). Talleyrand, le prince immobile. Broché. p. 488.

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