# 5437


[MANUSCRIPT] Louis XV forbids his subjects to conduct commerce in the South Seas.

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Manuscript letter, single folio sheet, dated 16 February 1716, signed Louis (in the hand of Louis XV’s secretary), countersigned by Louis Phélypeaux, Marquis de La Vrillière, Secretary of State, addressed to Cardin Le Bret, member of the parliament of Provence and nephew of the regent, the Duc d’Orléans, stating that a royal edict has been sent to the parliament of Provence ‘which explains the circumstances in which merchants of my Kingdom must obtain passports from me, to which edict I append a declaration forbidding any of my subjects to conduct commerce in the South Seas’; the verso with address of Le Bret; the document is complete, legible and remarkably fresh, with original folds.

In France, the period 1715-1723 is known as the Régence, during which time Philippe, Duc d’Orléans, was in charge of the country’s affairs owing to the fact that Louis XV was still a minor. In 1716, when this letter was written, the War of the Spanish Succession had only recently ended, and a member of the French House of Bourbon (Philip V) was now on the Spanish throne. The royal edict alluded to in the present letter, ostensibly forbidding French subjects to conduct trade in the Pacific, was typical of French diplomacy towards Spain in the early part of the eighteenth century. It was designed to allay Spanish fears that its monopoly of the rich resources along the western seabord of the Americas – namely the silver mines of Mexico and Peru – was under threat from the French, but in reality the situation was quite different. While flattering the Spanish and officially appearing to discourage this type of trade, France turned a blind eye toward its own merchants rounding Cape Horn, and from the end of the seventeenth to well into the eighteenth century, French private companies, including the Compagnie de la Mer Pacifique (or Mer du Sud) and other private adventurers out of ports such as St Malo and La Rochelle, conducted many voyages to the west coast of the Americas. These merchants carried royal passports which described the purpose of their voyages as being non-commercial in nature – they were simply exploring or acquiring scientific knowledge. Paradoxically, these voyages proved so lucrative, resulting in massive volumes of silver bullion for the French coffers, that a genuine voyage of exploration in the Pacific was not carried out by the French until Bougainville (1766-69). Throughout this period, England, the new rival of France as a maritime superpower, adopted an official policy towards the Spanish similar to that of the French – one of non-interference with the Spanish trading empire on the Pacific seaboard of the Americas – and it was not until the voyages of Wallis, Carteret and Cook that it undertook serious exploration of the Pacific.