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intendant

intendant (ĭntĕnˈdənt) [key], French administrative official who served as the chief royal representative in the provinces under the ancien régime. The intendants first gained importance under Cardinal Richelieu, Louis XIII's principal minister, in the early 17th cent.; he used them extensively to consolidate the country and undermine feudal authority. At first the intendant lacked power outside his specific commission from the king. Under Louis XIV's rule (1643–1715), however, the intendant became a vital permanent state official, appointed by the king. Granted full powers in the fields of justice, finance, and police in the provinces, the intendant often tried civil and criminal cases, suspended unsuitable judges, summoned special tribunals, regulated municipal government, stamped out banditry and smuggling, levied and collected taxes, and drew the militia by lot. Initially, intendants were non-nobles, dependent upon royal favor for advancement. As faithful instruments of royal centralization they aroused the hostility of the local authorities, notably the parlements and the provincial governors. During the abortive revolution known as the Fronde (1648–53) the office was virtually abolished, but it was reinstated in 1653 after the rebellion had been crushed. Distributed throughout the realm, each généralité had one intendant by 1689. In the 18th cent. all intendants were from the nobility; at the outbreak of the French Revolution (1789) there were 33 in France. The authority of the intendants was severely shaken in the provincial revolts of 1788. A symbol of royal absolutism, the office was abolished (Dec., 1789) by the Constituent Assembly early in the French Revolution.

See study by V. Gruder (1968).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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