INTENDANT (from Lat. intendens, pres. part. of intendere, to apply the mind to, to watch over; cf. “superintendent”), the name used in early times in France to designate a functionary invested by the king with an important and durable commission. As early as the 14th century the title of intendentes or superintendentes financiarum was given to the commissaries appointed by the king to levy the aides, or temporary subsidies. In the 16th century Francis I. created the intendants des finances, permanent functionaries who formed the central and superior administration in financial matters. They took the place of the généraux des finances and the “treasurers of France,” who became provincial functionaries in the various généralités. The intendants des finances existed until the end of the ancien régime; they were at first under the authority of the surintendant, and subsequently under that of the contrôleur général des finances. The intendants des provinces date from the last thirty years of the 16th century. They were commissaries sent by the king with wide powers to restore order in the provinces after the civil wars. Their functions were at first extraordinary and temporary, but a few were retained as permanent state officials, and in course of time they came to be fairly generally distributed over the whole kingdom. The existing territorial divisions were not disturbed, each intendant being placed over a généralité, save in some cases where slight modifications were necessary for administrative purposes. In their functions, however, there is another element worthy of notice. In the 13th and 14th centuries the monarchy had organized a species of inspection (chevauchée) over the provincial functionaries, which was performed by the maîtres des requêtes, and this the reform ordinances of the 16th century sought to revive. This inspectorate passed to the intendant, who became the resident local inspector and supervisor of all the other functionaries in his district; its connexion with the old chevauchée is plainly shown by the fact that the intendants were almost invariably selected from the maîtres des requêtes. The early intendants had naturally been largely concerned with the troops; eventually special military intendants (the only ones that exist in modern French law) were created, but the intendants des provinces retained certain military duties, notably those relating to the housing of the troops.
The early intendants were called indifferently intendants de justice or intendants de finances, their full official title being intendants de justice, police et finances, et commissaires, départis dans les généralités du royaume pour l’exécution des ordres de Sa Majesté. This title shows the wide range of their duties, the word “police” in this connexion connoting general administration. Not being officers of the king, but merely commissaries, they could always be recalled, and their powers were fixed by the commission they received from the king. As their functions became pre-eminently administrative the laws of the 17th and 18th centuries referred many questions to their decision, and, in this respect, their powers were determined by law. They became the direct general representatives of the king in each généralité, with authority over the other officials, whom they were empowered to censure, suspend or sometimes even replace. They were in constant touch with the king’s council, with which they were connected by their original rights as maîtres des requêtes. In the first half of the 17th century they encountered some opposition from the governors of provinces, who had formerly been the direct political representatives of the crown, and also from the parliaments, which traditionally intervened in the administration, especially by means of arrêts de règlement (decisions, from which there was no appeal, regulating questions of procedure, civil law or custom). The intendants, however, were energetically supported, and so complete was their triumph that in the 18th century governors of provinces could not enter upon their duties without formal lettres de résidence.
The intendants had wide powers in the drawing by lot of the militia and in the royal corvées for the making and repair of the high roads, and were largely concerned with the administration of the taille, in which they effected useful reforms. They were the sole administrators of the principal direct and indirect imposts created in the second half of the 17th century and in the 18th century, and had full powers to settle disputes arising out of these taxes. Owing to the vast size of the districts allotted to the intendants (there were no more than thirty-two intendants in 1788), they often felt the need of assistants. As commissaries of the king, they could delegate their powers to sub-délégués, who were, however, not royal officials, but merely mandatories of the intendant. Decisions of the intendant could be carried to the king’s council, and those of the sub-délégué to the intendant.
See Gabriel Hanotaux, Origines de l’institution des intendants des provinces (1884); D’Arbois de Jubainville, L’Administration des intendants d’après les archives de l’Aube (1880); P. Ardascheff, Provintzalnaya administratsiya vo Frantsii ve poshednoyo porou starago poryadka: provintsialny Intendanty (St Petersburg, 1900–1906). (J. P. E.)
- In Germany the title Intendant is applied to the head of public institutions, more particularly to the high officials in charge of court theatres, royal gardens, palaces and the like. The director of certain civic theatres is now also sometimes styled Intendant. The title Generalintendant implies the same official duties, but higher rank. In the German army the Intendantur corresponds to the British quartermaster-general’s and financial departments of the War Office, the French intendance militaire. Subordinate to these are the intendances (Intendanturen) under general officers commanding, the heads of which are in Germany called Korpsintendanten, and in France intendants-généraux, intendants militaires, &c. (see Army, § 58).