Louis XIV had lied. The dey found out in the fall. Despite assenting to a captive exchange, the Sun King never intended to free able-bodied Algerians from the royal galleys. As one rower complained, “We are told after this campaign liberty, and this liberty never comes. Now we all believe we are being mocked, that it is only imaginary liberty [they promise].”1 In October 1681, his country declared war on France, and in the course of six weeks the number of French slaves in Algiers burgeoned by three hundred.2 “There are already twelve French prizes in this port: four ships and eights boats from Provence and Brittany,” testified an enslaved Marseille merchant, Laurent Gracier, cautioning that if the monarch did not quickly mend relations, “commerce will be gravely damaged… and many poor people among whom I unfortunately number will suffer.”3
In the short term, he was right: France’s initial offensives proved destructive yet ineffective. But repeated salvos against Algiers and Tripoli in the 1680s and 1690s did release a flood of slaves. Just as important, they demonstrated the crown’s newfound ability to impose its will on the Ottoman regencies, which in turn helped shift the power dynamic between France and the eastern portion of North Africa. An ascendant France in the Mediterranean enhanced Louis XIV’s crusading credentials and intensified the symbolic insult of Barbary captivity. Meanwhile, further royal over local involvement in saving Christians from Muslim lands broadened expectations of who deserved to be free, even as redemption by the king’s command became a more explicit means of establishing who counted as French.
In 1682 Louis XIV picked the Huguenot naval officer Abraham Duquesne to bomb North Africa into submission. That a Protestant spent the years