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Collection Scope and Content Note


The Maurepas Collection consists of correspondence, reports, financial and official records, and other papers in French, Spanish and Italian drawn from the administrative files of the comte de Maurepas (1701-1781), Secretary of the Navy and of the Royal Household under Louis XV. The collection consists of 694 items covering the years 1694-1749, with most pertaining to the wartime years 1739-1749. The earliest items predate Maurepas and his ministry, and include a substantial group of letters between Maurepas' father and grandfather, both of whom were government ministers. The Maurepas Papers are divided into two series: letters and documents, with each series arranged chronologically. Letters that accompanied documents have been filed with the correspondence.

As naval minister and liaison to the king, Maurepas served as a clearing-house for a great quantity of often detailed information relayed from all over Europe and the Americas, from land and shipboard, and from men of diverse occupations, rank, and social status. Taken together, the papers document, often through firsthand accounts, the naval, commercial, colonial, and political history of France in the first half of the eighteenth century. Much of the incoming correspondence is concerned with ways to increase the strength and improve the operations of the Navy in a period of intense commercial and military competition with Britain, and with sounding out foreign territories and governments for possible acquisition or economic exploitation by France.

Major subjects include war with England; the War of Austrian Succession; France's support of the Jacobite cause in England, and other aspects of French foreign policy; the state and position of the French, British and Spanish navies; colonial expeditions to Louisiana and Canada; Navy finances; taxation; diplomatic relations and exterior trade with Spain, Portugal, Russia, the Levant, and others; colonial trade; South American expeditions; armaments; shipbuilding; navigation; cartography and hydrography; scientific expeditions; life at the court of Versailles; and the royal academies of the arts.

Documents include reports and memoranda on the military, navigational and engineering problems encountered by the French Navy; proposals for reform and innovation (marine law, methods of recruitment, fundraising); plans for inventions, such as a dredging machine; military and other campaign orders; illustrated instruction booklets on sailing and navigation; journals; royal ordonnances, some printed; inventories of ships, arms and provisions; personnel records; financial records; a letter of marque authorizing a privateer; and assorted requests for promotions, raises, and titles.

As Secretary of the Royal Household, Maurepas corresponded with members of the Comedie Française and Academie Royale de Musique, mostly concerning disputes between performers and directors. Personal papers include letters from Maurepas' aunt informing him of life and court politics at Versailles, and correspondence with his aristocratic friends.

Principal correspondents include Jerome Phelypeaux, comte de Pontchartrain; Louis de Pontchartrain (Chancelier); his aunt Armande de la Porte Mazarin, marquise de Mailly-Nesle; Joseph Pellerin, First Clerk of the Navy; Voltaire; Louis XV; Charles Edward Stuart ("The Young Pretender"); King George II; Thomond; Louis François Armand, duc de Richelieu; Nicolas de la Rochefoucauld, duc d'Enville; Saint-Simon.

Jean V. Callahan
11 December 1995

The guide to the Maurepas collection was produced with funding provided by the United States Department of Education grant Title II-C, "Strengthening Research Library Resources": The French Revolution Collections at Cornell University: a Retrospective Conversion and Preservation Project.

Project staff included Jean V. Callahan, Peggy John, and Isabel Rivera. The Maurepas website (guide and exhibit) was conceived by Jean V. Callahan and implemented by Noni Korf Vidal.

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