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Biography

BIOGRAPHICAL NOTE

Jean-Frederic Phelypeaux, comte de Maurepas (1701-1781) was a powerful figure in France during the reign of Louis XV, overseeing the administration of both the Royal court and the French Navy during his extended terms as Secretary of the Royal Household (1715-1749) and Secretary of the Navy (1723-1749).

Born into a family of the highest nobility, Maurepas inherited these administrative positions almost as a birthright; they had been held by his grandfather, Louis de Pontchartrain (eventually Chancellier de Pontchartrain), and his father, Jerome Phelypeaux, comte de Pontchartrain. Maurepas' career began during a "golden age" of French commerce. As Secretary of the Navy, his working philosophy was that the power and security of France depended on the state of its commerce. Accordingly, much of the Navy's activity under Maurepas was aimed at protecting and expanding French foreign and colonial trade. Maurepas' passion for foreign affairs in general, encouraged by his administrative jurisdiction over certain areas of diplomacy and colonial government, led him to overshadow the Foreign Secretary. By the mid 1740s, however, shrinking funds combined with years of war with England had greatly reduced French commerce and the Navy's ability to protect it.

The last ten years of Maurepas' term as Secretary of the Navy were dominated by efforts to manage the escalating English threat to France and her colonies, by the War of Austria Succession (1740-1748), and finally by official war with England (1744). The English threat nudged France into commercial and military co-operation with Spain, at war with England since 1739, and precipitated the involvement of France in the Stuart cause, the Navy planning two ultimately aborted expeditions to Scotland (1743-44) to aid "The Young Pretender". As a member of the Conseil d'en Haut, Maurepas carried his naval experience and agenda to the Aix-la-Chapelle peace negotiations that followed the War of Austrian succession, proposing that any treaty ought to protect France's commercial interests.

Maurepas' ministry promoted improvements in maps, navigation and shipbuilding, and directed expeditions with purely scientific motives to Greece, Peru and the Far East. As Secretary of the Royal Household, Maurepas acted as a patron of the arts, managing the affairs and settling the disputes of the Comedie Française and the Academie Royale. In the latter part of his career, as a minister under Louis XVI, Maurepas remained close to the court. He was responsible for appointing positions in foreign affairs, the royal household and the treasury. Among his nominees was Necker, whom Maurepas dismissed in 1781 for his reformist tendencies.