Colbert de Torcy

Jean-Baptiste Colbert, marquis de Torcy

Jean-Baptiste Colbert, marquis de Torcy (September 14, 1665, ParisSeptember 2, 1746, Paris), generally called Colbert de Torcy, was a French diplomat, who negotiated some of the most important treaties towards the end of Louis XIV's reign, notably the treaty (1700) that occasioned the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714), in which the dying Charles II of Spain named Louis XIV's grandson, Philippe, duc d'Anjou, heir to the Spanish throne, eventually founding the line of Spanish Bourbons.

The son of Charles Colbert, Louis's minister of foreign affairs, and the nephew of le grand Colbert, Louis' chief advisor, for whom the Torcy title was created, Colbert de Torcy was a brilliant and precocious legal student. As a very young man he assisted his father in sensitive diplomatic missions. Torcy proved himself so able that in 1689 Louis XIV granted him the right to succeed to his father's position as minister of foreign affairs, a position he fulfilled July 28, 1696 to September 23, 1715. Torcy was the guiding spirit of French diplomacy at the series of international conferences that resulted in the Treaty of Utrecht (1713) and the Treaty of Rastatt (1714). Colbert de Torcy was concerned with professionalizing the conduct of diplomacy. He instituted an académie politique to train young professionals in the equivalent of a foreign service bureaucracy: it did not survive his retirement, but his establishment at Versailles of a centralized diplomatic archive (1710) has been a service to historians.

The aged king, recognizing that Torcy had been a de facto secretary of state, named him such in his will. But when Louis died in 1715, his will was broken; the Regent, Philippe duc d'Orléans deprived Torcy of any political power, and he settled into a long retirement, during which he was a member of the unofficial political salon called the Entresol, which formed in the early years of Louis XV's maturity when the abbé Alary, a protégé of Fleury, convened an occasional political discussion group in the entresol of his apartment in Place Vendôme. There in sociable surroundings, sharing the gossip and news Colbert de Torcy debated contemporary events in a sympathetic circle and like others, doubtless read aloud and elicited comment upon the political writings.

The architect Germain Boffrand had built a series of magnificent hôtels particuliers in the new district, the Faubourg Saint-Honoré, and Colbert de Torcy purchased one as a semi-finished shell, 14 November 1715, which he finished as a suitable Paris residence, the hôtel de Torcy (later the hôtel de Beauharnais, now the German Embassy 78, rue de Lille). There his magnificent installation among his tapestries, furnishings paintings, Chinese porcelains mounted in gilt-bronze, sculptures and other works of art above all in his cabinet doré, giving onto the salon that was lit from both sides, provided him solace and comfort in a long and productive retirement, in which he completed his Mémoirs pour servir à l'histoire des négotiations depuis le Traité de Riswick jusqu'à la Paix d'Utrecht, published in Paris as from The Hague in 1756.

His official portrait was painted by Hyacinthe Rigaud. Colbert de Torcy is commemorated in the rue de Torcy, Paris XVIIIème A biography by John Rule is expected in 2006.


  • The hôtel de Torcy: (in French)
  • Nick Childs, 2000. A Political Academy in Paris 1724-1731: The Entresol and Its Members in series Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century. (Oxford: Voltaire Foundation) Review by Thomas E. Kaiser

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