intendant, 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 title of intendant (intendant, Spanish intendente) has been used in a number of countries through history. Traditionally, it refers to the holder of a public administrative office. The title is also common in many opera houses today equivalent to General Director, and given to an individual in a managerial position, generally having control over all aspects of the company.



Intendants were royal civil servants in France under the ancien régime. A product of the centralization policies of the French crown, intendants were appointed "commissions", and not purchasable hereditary "offices", which thus prevented the abuse of sales of royal offices and made them more tractable and subservient emissaries of the king. Intendants were generally chosen from among the maîtres des requêtes. Intendants were sent to supervise and enforce the king's will in the provinces and had jurisdiction over three areas: finances, policing, and justice.

Their missions were always temporary (the better to reduce their attachment to regions) and was focused on royal inspection. Article 54 of the Code Michau described their functions as, "to learn about all crimes, misdemeanors and financial misdealings committed by our officials and of other things concerning our service and the tranquility of our people" ("informer de tous crimes, abus et malversations commises par nos officiers et autres choses concernant notre service et le soulagement de notre peuple").

In the 17th and 18th centuries, the Intendants were chosen from the "noblesse de robe" (or administrative nobility) or the upper-bourgeoisie. Generally, they were maîtres des requêtes in the Conseil des parties. They were chosen by the contrôleur général des finances who asked the advice of the Secretary of State for War for those who were to be sent in border provinces. They were often young: Charles Alexandre de Calonne became Intendant at the age of 32, Anne Robert Jacques Turgot and Louis Bénigne François Berthier de Sauvigny at the age of 34, and Louis-Urbain-Aubert de Tourny at the age of 40.

A symbol of royal centralization and absolutism, the Intendant had numerous adversaries. Those nostalgic of an administration based on noble lineage (such as Saint-Simon) saw the Intendants as parvenu and usurping of noble power. Partisans of a less absolute monarchy, such as Fénelon) called for their suppression. Jacques Necker, the only Ministre of finances since 1720 who had not himself been an Intendant, accused them of incompetence because of their youth and social aspirations. The "cahiers de doléances" of 1789 depicted them as over zealous agents of a fiscal policies which weighed heavily on the people.

The term "Intendant" was also used for certain positions close to the Controller-General of Finances (see this term for more information):

  • Intendants of finances (6 in number)
  • Intendants of commerce (4 or 5 in number)

In the same way, the term "Intendant Général" was used for certain commissioned positions close to the Secretaries of State of war and of the navy.


As early as the 15th century, the French kings sent commissioners to the provinces to inspect on royal and administrative affairs and to take necessary action. These agents of the king were recruited from among the maître des requêtes, the Conseillers d'État and members of the parlements or the Cours des comptes. Their mission was always for specific reasons and lasted for a limited period. Along with these, there were also ommissioners sent to the army, in charge of provisioning the army, policing and finances; they would supervise accountants, providers, merchants, and generals, and attend war counsels and trials for military crimes. Such commissioners are found in Corsica as early as 1553, in Bourges in 1592, in Troyes in 1594, and in Limoges in 1596.

When Henry IV came to the throne in 1589, one of his prime focuses was to reduce the privileges of the provincial governors (who, in theory, represented "the presence of the king in his province" but had, during the civil wars of the early modern period, proven themselves to be highly intractable; these positions had long been held by only the highest ranked noble families in the realm). The Intendants to the provinces -- the term "Intendant" appears around 1620 during the reign of Louis XIII -- became an effective tool of regional control.

Under Louis XIII's minister Cardinal Richelieu, with France's entry into the Thirty Years' War in 1635, the Intendants became a permanent institution in France. Instead of simply "inspectors", their role became one of government "administrators". During the Fronde in 1648, the members of parlement of the "Chambre Saint-Louis" demanded the suppression of the Intendants; Mazarin and Anne of Austria gave in to these demands (except in the case of border provinces threatened by Spanish or Imperial attack). At the end of the Fronde, the Intendants were reinstated.

When Louis XIV (1643-1715) was in power, the Marquis of Louvois, war minister between 1677 and 1691, further expanded the power of the provincial intendants. They monitored Louvois's refinements of the French military, including the institution of a merit promotion system and the creation of enlistment that lasted for only four years and was restricted to single men. After 1680, Intendants in France have a permanent position in a set region (or "généralité"); their official title is "intendant de justice, police et finances, commissaire départi dans les généralités du royaume pour l'exécution des ordres du roi".

The position of Intendant remained in existence until the French Revolution.


Appointed and revoked by the king and reporting to the Controller-General of Finances, the Intendant in his "généralité" had at his service a small team of secretaries. In the 18th century, the "généralité" was subdivided into "subdelegations" at the head of which was placed a "subdelegate" (having also a team of secretaries) chosen by the Intendant. In this way, the Intendant was relatively understaffed given his large jurisdiction.

As intendant de justice, he was required to supervise regional courts (except the Parlements with which he was often in violent conflict). He verified that judicial officers were neither slow, nor negligent, nor biased toward the nobility, nor avaricious. The Intendant had the right to transfer court cases to different jurisdictions if he felt that justice would be better served. The Intendant could also himself serve as judge (with the assistance of royal judges). This extensive jurisdiction lead many local judges and courts to decry the Intendants and ask for their suppression or a reduction in their powers.

As intendant de police, he oversaw the "maréchaussée" (the highway police in charge of protecting the countryside from mendicants and bandits) and monitored public opinion and educational institutions. He was in charge of furnishing the royal army, recruiting soldiers and providing for other military spending. He oversaw the provincial milicias. He also could intervene in religious affairs and control of the Protestants (in many provinces, the Intendants carried out the anti-Protestant policies of Louis XIV).

As intendant de finances, he oversaw partitioning of the royal taxes in the "pays d'élection" (see taille) and collecting the king's seigneurial rights (the "centième denier", the "petit scel", the "franc-fief", etc.) on crown lands, supervised the work of financial officers, and provided financial oversight to various religious and scholarly communities.

In addition to these functions, the Intendant also concerned himself with improving agriculture, by introducing new plant species and new growing and husbandry techniques (Turgot in Limousin). He created royal manufacturing. He was responsible for gunpowder and saltpeter, the road network and the postal service. He renovated certain cities (Tourny in Bordeaux). He was appealed to on matters concerning financial transactions and letters of change. The Intendant also had a social role: he opened charity centers for the unemployed and centers for mendicants, and was held to help the population in times of famine by buying, storing and reselling grain. For more on the administrative structures of ancien régime France, see: Early Modern France.

Famous Intendants


New France

The French colony of New France in North America, which later became the Canadian province of Québec, also had a senior official called an intendant, who was responsible to the French King. New France's first intendant was Jean Talon, comte d'Orsainville in 1665, and the last one, at the time of the British Conquest in 1759 was François Bigot.

The Spanish Monarchy

Intendants were introduced into the Spanish Empire during the Bourbon Reforms, which were designed by the new dynasty to make political administration more efficient and to promote economic, commercial, and fiscal development of their new realms. An intendente was in charge of a Spanish administrative unit, called an intendencia, which could include one or more provinces. The intendente was appointed directly by the Crown and had responsibility to oversee the treasury, the collection of taxes, and to promote agriculture and economic growth in general. With fiscal powers that gave them a say in almost all administrative, ecclesiastical and military matters, intendentes were conceived by the Bourbon kings to be a check on other local officials (who in the past couple of centuries had come to gain their position through the sale of offices or inheritance), just as the intendants had been in France a century earlier. Throughout the 18th century the Bourbons experimented with the powers and duties of the intendants, both in Spain and overseas, so what follows is only a general description of the Spanish intendancy. In any given area at any given time, the duties of the intendant would have been specified by the laws that established that particular intendancy.

The first intendencias were established in Spain after 1711, during the War of the Spanish Succession on the advice of Jean Orry, who had been sent by Louis XIV of France to help his young grandson Philip V set up his new government. The first intendants (superintendentes generales del ejército) oversaw the finances of the army and of the territories conquered by the Bourbons, and after the war, they were made permanent (intendentes de ejército y provincia). (After 1724, most intendancies lost their military character except in areas with a captaincy general and in Navarre.) In 1749 an intendancy was established in every province, with the intendant also holding the office of corregidor of the capital city. (The offices were separated again in 1766). District alcaldes mayores or coregidores were subordinated to the provincial intendente-corregidor and assisted him in managing the province and implementing reforms.

As a result of the Seven Years' War an intendancy was set up in Cuba in 1764. The Cuban intendant had oversight of the army's and the royal treasury's finances. (Two new intendancies with oversight only over the treasury were established in 1786 in Camagüey and Santiago de Cuba.) After a two years of experimentation with the new office, an intendancy was introduced in Louisiana (1764). That same year Visitador General José de Gálvez created a plan to set up intendancies in New Spain. The first one was set up in Sonora and Sinaloa four years later. In 1776 Gálvez, now Minister of the Indies, established an intendancy (superintendencia) for all of Venezuela in 1776, and several in the Río de la Plata in 1783. Most of the overseas intendants were assisted by officials (subdelegados) who replaced the old corregidores or alcaldes mayores. Initially intendancies were held by a separate person from the viceroy or the governor, but eventually in many places the offices were granted to one person due to conflicts that emerged between these two.

More intendancies were established in Quito, Peru, Philippines, Puerto Rico (1784), Guatemala, more areas of New Spain, Chile (1786) and Cuenca (1786). The Revolt of the Comuneros prevented their installation in New Granada.


In Scotland intendant is an archaic title meaning "supervisor" or "curator". The senior officer of the City of Glasgow Police was called an Intendant in the document establishing the force in 1800.


Each of Argentina's provinces is divided into departamentos (departments) or partidos (as they are known in the Province of Buenos Aires), comprising several cities, towns and surrounding countryside. Each departamento and partido is headed by a popularly-elected intendente (Intendent), who heads the local government. The terms of office of intendentes in Argentina depend upon provincial laws governing local administration.

Until 1996, the government of the city of Buenos Aires was presided by an intendente who was directly appointed and removed by the President of Argentina. With the 1994 constitutional reform, which enshrined the autonomy of Buenos Aires and the subsequent passing of the City Statute (local constitution), the office of Intendent of Buenos Aires has been replaced by the new office of Jefe de Gobierno de la Ciudad Autónoma de Buenos Aires (Chief of Government of the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires), who is elected by the local citizenry to serve four-year terms.


Each of the administrative regions of Chile is headed by an intendant, appointed by the president.


Uruguay is divided administratively into 19 departamentos (departments), each of which is headed by an intendente municipal (municipal intendant). The intendants are popularly elected, and serve a term of five years.

United States

For much of its history, the chief magistrate of the city of Charleston, South Carolina was the Intendant of the City, roughly corresponding to a mayor. The title Intendant was also used in other Lowcountry towns, where the office was assisted by "wardens," a system which may have derived from earlier ecclesiastical administration under colonial rule.

Other uses

In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Intendant was a title in the mirror universe. The mirror universe version of Kira Nerys held the position of Intendant of Bajor.

See also


  • Fisher, Lillian Estelle. The Intendant System in Spanish America. Berkeley, University of California Press, 1929.
  • Harding, C. H., The Spanish Empire in America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1947.
  • Donald Kagan, Steven Ozment, and Frank M. Turner's The Western Heritage (since 1300) 7th Edition, copyrighted and published in 2001.


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