AskDefine | Define intendant

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. An administrator in certain countries in Latin America
  2. An administrator serving the king or queen in France, Spain or Portugal.

Extensive Definition

The title of intendant (lang-fr 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.


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.


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

=Reference= Donald Kagan, Steven Ozment, and Frank M. Turner's The Western Heritage (since 1300) 7th Edition, copyrighted and published in 2001.
intendant in German: Intendant
intendant in Spanish: Intendente
intendant in French: Intendant
intendant in Hebrew: אינטנדנט
intendant in Norwegian: Intendant
intendant in Polish: intendenci we Francji
intendant in Portuguese: Intendente
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