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In the reign of Louis XIV and Colbert several trade companies were founded for the exploitation of territories overseas. They had to compete with Portuguese, the Dutch East India Company (V.O.C.) and West India Company (W.I.C) and also with the British East- and West India Companies which laid the foundations for the 19th century powerful colonial empires.

There have been many different French trade companies but the most important were the Compagnie des Indes Orientales (1664-1719), the Compagnie des Indes Occidentales (1664-1674), the Compagnie d’ Occident (1717-1719)  and the Compagnie Perpétuelle de Indes (1719-1770).






Seal of the Compagnie Française des Indes Occidentales, founded in 1664 [1]


The French West India Company (Compagnie des Indes occidentales) was a chartered company established in 28 May 1664 and with its seat in Le Havre. Its charter gave it the exclusive right of exploitation of Africa between Cabo Verde and Cape of Good Hope, property and seignory of Louisiana, Acadia, the Antilles, Cayenne, and the terra firma of South America, from the Amazon to the Orinoco. They had an exclusive privilege for the commerce of those places, and also of Senegal and the coasts of Guinea, for forty years, only paying half the duties.


The stock of the company, contributed by the king and amounting to 6 million livres, was so considerable, that in less than 6 months, 45 vessels were equipped; with which they took possession of all the places in their grant, and settled a commerce.  Yet the company was incapable to fullfil its obligations at the same time obstructing the provisioning an commerce of the French in America who, dissatisfied, favoured Dutch contraband and in this way ruined the policies of Colbert. 

In 1674, the grant was revoked, and the various countries reunited to the King's dominions, as before; the King reimbursed the actions of the adventurers.

The seal of the company, described in Art. 32 of the charter, showed a coat of arms semy of fleurs de lys, a crown of five flowers and two savages, armed with clubs as supporters. The legend reads:  SCEAU DE LA COMPAGNIE DES INDES OCCIDENTALES 1664.

The text in french reads:


«Prendra la dite Compagnie pour ses armes un écusson au champ d'azur semé de fleurs de lys d'or sans nombre, deux sauvages pour supports et une couronne tréflée, lesquelles armes nous luy concédons pour s'en servir dans ses sceaux et cachets et que nous luy permettons de mettre et apposer aux édifices publics, vaisseaux, canons et partout où elle le jugera à propos».


The arms are the ancient arms of France. The crown indicates the rank of Sovereign Prince and Pair (peer) of France granted to the Company.


ð See also: Daniel Cogné: Sceau de la Compagnie des Indes Occidentales.



“Compagnie françoise pour le commerce des Indes orientales”



Arms of the “Compagnie des Indes Orientales”, founded in 1664


The Compagnie Royale des Indes Orientales was a commercial enterprise, founded in 1664 to compete with the British and Dutch East India companies. Planned by Jean Baptiste Colbert, it was chartered by King Louis XIV for the purpose of trading in the Eastern Hemisphere.

The Company failed to found a colony on Madagascar but established ports on the nearby islands of Bourbon and Île-de-France (today's La Réunion and Mauritius). By 1719, it had established itself in India  but was near bankruptcy. In the same year it was combined under  John Law with other French trading companies to form the Compagnie Perpétuelle des Indes. It resumed independence in 1723.

With the decline of the Moghul Empire, the French decided to intervene in Indian political affairs to protect their interests, notably by forging alliances with local rulers in south India. From 1741 the French under Joseph François Dupleix pursued an aggressive policy against both the Indians and the English until they ultimately were defeated by Robert Clive.

The Company was not able to maintain itself financially, and it was abolished in 1769, a few years before the  French Revolution.

Several Indian trading ports, including Pondicherry and Chandernagore, remained under French control until 1949.


I the Déclaration du Roi portant Etablissement d’une Compagnie pour le commerce des Indes orientales dated Vincennes, August 1664 and registered by the parliament on next 1 September, the Company was granted a coat of arms of one golden fleur de lys on a blue field, surrounded by a crown of palm and olive and the fleur de lys from the arms as a crest. The motte reads:  « FLOREBO  QUOCUMQUE  FERAR », (I Will Flower wherever I am Planted). Peace and Abundance were supporting the shield. The grant reads:


Article  XLII

Nous avons accordé à la dite Compagnie de prendere pour ses armes un écusson de frome ronde, le fond d’azur chargé d’une fleur de lys d’or, enfermé de deux branches d’une de palme et l’autre d’olivier jointes en haut, et portant und autre fleur de lys d’or, pour devise, Florebo, quo cunque ferar, et pour support deux figures, l’une de paix et l’autre de l’abondance, desquelles armes la dite Compagnie se pourra servir dans ses sceaux et cachets, et les faire apposer sur ses canons, vaisseaux, édifices et partout ailleurs qu’elle avisera. [2]


Seal of the Conseil  supérieur de la Compagnie des Indes orientales.

BnF, Clairambault 331, n°5


Arms: Azure, three fleurs de lis Or.

Crown: The Royal Crown of France

Supporters: Two angels

Legend: LVD(ovici). XIIII. FR(anciae). ET. NA(varrae) . REG(is) . SIG(illum) . AD . VSVM. SVPR(emi) . CONS(ilii) . GALLI(a)E . ORIENTALIS. 1664





In 1674 Colbert abolished the Compagnie des Indes Occidentales that controlled the (french) trade of the African coasts, in the West Indies and in North America. A new company, the Mississippi Company was founded in 1684.

Arms of the Mississippi Company

From: Historische en geographische beschryving van Louisiana, 1721 [3]


The arms of the company were green and showed two Indians supporting a cornucopia, lying on a chest of drawers, pouring water in a sea in base (symbolizing the river Mississippi), and two fleurs de lys, crowned with a crown of three leaves in chief. 


Picture on a map of French America

showing the arms of the Compagnie du Mississippi entitled Ins. Gall Societatis Indæ Occidentalis [4]

Below is a pelican which would later become the symbol of Louisiana.


In 1717 king Louis XV renamed the Mississippi Company into Compagnie d’Occident by letters patent. Commercial priviliges, formerly granted to Seigneur Crozat for Louisiana and to the Seigneurs Néret and Gayot  for Canada were granted now to this Company.

A coat of arms for the Company was described in art. 54 of the Letters patent. The grant reads:


Pourra la dite compagnie prendre pour ses armes un écusson de sinople à la pointe ondée d'argent sur laquelle sera couché un fleuve au naturel, appuyé sur une corne d'abondance d'or; ayant deux sauvages pour supports et une couronne trefflée; lesquelles armes nous lui accordons pour s'en servir dans les sceaux et cachets et que nous lui permettons de faire mettre et apposer à des édifices, vaisseaux, canons et partout ailleurs où elle jugera à propos.


Seal of the Compagnie d'Occident founded in 1717.

National Archives of Canada. Photo NMC 18252.


(The said Company may adopt as its arms a shield Vert with a pile wavy Argent on which is resting a River proper, leaning on a cornucopia Or; having two savages as supporters and a flowered crown; we grant these arms for use on seals and stamps and we allow to attach it on buildings, ships, cannon and everywhere else where it is thought necessary.)





Achievement of the “Compagnie Perpétuelle des Indes” founded in 1719.

Sculpture in the Musée de la Compagnie des Indes, Lorient (Morbihan).


In 1719, John Law, a Scottish banker and General Financial Auditor of France, reorganized the big french trade companies into a single one named “Compagnie des Indes” (India Company) sometimes also called “Compagnie perpétuelle des Indes” (Everlasting India Company) [5]. The company, which survived the bankruptcy of Law in 1720, used the same coat of arms as the Compagnie d’Occident which it had incorporated. Below the achievement was the motto of the former Compagnie des Indes Occidentales: FLOREBO QUO FERAR (I Flower where I am Planted).

Having become a real threat for its rivals the company was broken by the war with the British after 1744. Badly helped by the French Navy it was financially exhausted by the costs of the War of Succession (1740-’48) and the Seven Years War (1756-’63). It was finally dissolved in 1770 as a result of the pressure of free-traders ferociously opposed to its monopoly position.


For the two last chapters see also:  Vachon, Auguste. [6]





Medal showing the Achievement of the Compagnie des Indes

Beleow is the date of its foundation 1785


In 1784 Guillaume Sabatier and his associate Pierre Desprez went to London to negotiate with the English government the creation of a new French Indian Company. On 3 June 1785 the Compagnie des Indes orientales et de la Chine was created.

The company was given the monopoly of the trade east of Cape of Good Hope.

On 3 April 1791 the French National Assembly decreed that the Indian trade on the other side of Cape of Good Hope was free for all french citizens and so deprived the company of it monopoly.

In 1793 the Compagnie de Indes was suspected of counter-revolutionary activities and on 26 July 1793 the Convention decreed the putting under seal of the buildings of the Company. A second decree of 11 November 1793 abolished the Company and confiscated its ships and merchandise.

An attempt to refound the Company in 1795 proved unsuccesful.


The achievement of the Company only slightly differs from the achievement of the Compagnie Perpetuelle. Arms and crown are the same but these are supported by a man sitting on a rock and keeping an anchor in his right hand on the dexter, and of a standing man in a skirt armed with a bow on the sinister. On the background are a  bush of sugar-cane and a sailing vessel.



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© Hubert de Vries 2009-04-07. Updated 2012-10-01; 2015-06-30



[1] This seal is on the Instructions for the office of Lieutenant general and criminal given to Louis Théantre Chartier de Lotbinière by the members of the Compagnie des Indes occidentales in Paris, 14 March 1670. This document was in a US private collection until its acquisition by the National Archives of Canada in 1991.

[2] Sottas, Jules: Histoire de la Compagnie Royale des Indes Orienales 1664-1719. Paris, 1905. P. 12.

[3] Historische en geographische beschryving von Louisiana, gelegen in Noord America, aan de mond van de groote rivier Mississippi. Benevens een berigt van de nieuwe Fransche Indische Compagnie, en eenige aanmerkiningen over den tegewoordigen handel in actien. Met authentieke stukken voorzien. By Paul Jacob Marperger, 1720.

[4] Homann, Johann Baptist: Amplissimæ regionis Mississipi seu provinciæ Ludovicianæ â R.P. Ludovico Hennepin Fransisc. Miss in America Septentrionali anno 1687. Norimbergæ [Hommaniani heredibus, 1759]

[5]  John Law (1671 April 21 – 1729 March 21) was a Scottish economist who believed that money was only a means of exchange and did not constitute wealth  in itself, national wealth depended on trade.

Law urged the establishment of a national bank to create and increase instruments of credit, and the issue of paper money backed by land, gold, or silver. He had the almost socialist idea of abolishing minor monopolies and private farming of taxes and creating a bank for national finance and a state company for commerce and ultimately exclude all private venue. This would create a huge monopoly of finance and trade run by the state, and its profits would pay off the national debt. The Conseil des Finances, merchants, and financiers objected to this plan.

In 1716 a General Bank was set up by Law. It was a private bank, but ¾ of the capital consisted of government bills and government accepted notes. The next year Law floated a joint-stock trading company called the Compagnie d'Occident which was granted a trade monopoly of the West Indies and North America. The bank became the Royal bank in 1718, meaning the notes were guaranteed by the king. The Company absorbed the Compagnie des Indes Orientales, Compagnie de Chine, and other rival trading companies and became the Compagnie Perpetuelle des Indes in 1719. In 1720 the bank and company were united and Law was appointed Controller General of Finances to attract capital.

Law exaggerated the wealth of Louisiana with an effective marketing scheme, which led to wild speculation on the shares of the company. Time, however, proved his forecast for the territorial wealth to be true. Shares rose from 500 to 15,000 livres, but by summer of 1720, there was a sudden decline in confidence, leading to panic and a fall of 50% in share prices. By the end of 1720 Philippe II of Orleans dismissed Law, who then fled from France. Law died a poor man in Venice in 1729.

[6]  Vachon, Auguste (M.A., C.S.H.C., a.i.h. Héraut Saint-Laurent): des armoiries pour le canada au temps de louis xiv Article publié dans L'Héraldique au Canada, vol. XXV, no 1 (mars 1991), p. 13-17 et vol. XXV, no 2 (juin 1991), p. 6-8. Révisé en juin 2000.