Charles Colbert de Croissy, Secretary of State from 1680 to 1696, was responsible for assembling the Foreign Affairs Archives.
Like his brother, Jean-Baptiste, Minister of Finance and the Royal Household, he had his papers and letters and those of his predecessors, Hugues de Lionne and Arnaud de Pomponne, bound in red Levant morocco. His family’s coat of arms, featuring the grass snake, was affixed to the volumes.
In 1716, the king’s coat of arms replaced that of his minister: the rights of the state did not lend to any dissent.
By royal decree, the State papers of Richelieu, Mazarin, Saint-Simon and many letters written by ambassadors were added to the collection during the 18th century.
In 1761, Choiseul had a model repository, which was entirely designed to hold the archives, built in Versailles. Today it serves as the current municipal library.
The Revolution brought the Foreign Affairs Archives back to Paris. Their independence was established in spite of the institution of the National Archives, created by decree of 7 September 1790.
They were then available exclusively to diplomats and the Comte d’Hauterive, head of the department during the Restoration, turned them into a stronghold of state secrets.
Beginning in 1830, they were opened to historical research, under the supervision of Auguste Mignet, renowned historian.
On 24 July 1845, when the Chamber of Deputies passed a law establishing a credit for building the Palace of Foreign Affairs, Quai d’Orsay, the archives naturally found their home there.
In 1874, the Third Republic tasked a group of diplomats, historians and journalists with thinking about the communication and enhancement of the archives. This group gave rise to the Diplomatic Archives Commission, chaired by the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Hélène Carrère d’Encausse, permanent secretary of the Académie Française, is the current vice-chair.
Spared by World War I, the Foreign Affairs Archives were severely hit by World War II, despite measures taken to protect them.
The active, political and economic archives and foreign dossiers in France were destroyed on 16 May 1940, as the Germans neared. Others were sent to Germany during the Occupation.
During the fighting for the liberation of Paris, the "Archives wing" of the Foreign Affairs Ministry was torched, resulting in the loss of a portion of the archives and traditional collections.
The torched building was rebuilt during the early 1950s, in accordance with the standards of contemporary conservation.
At the same time, the Archives department was recruiting young curators to establish a cohesive policy for controlling the active archives. The principle of releasing documents in 30 years was acquired in 1970 at the instigation of Jean Laloy.
The department extended its establishment - until then in Paris exclusively - to Nantes (repatriated archives from embassies, consulates and cultural services and the Tunisian and Moroccan Protectorates and the Syria-Lebanon Mandate).
Henceforth, from the cramped conditions of the offices of Quai d’Orsay, the Archives department of the Foreign Affairs Ministry decided to build a spacious, new building in the town of La Courneuve, which has been inaugurated at the end of 2009. This building is now available to the public and has a reading room, a microfilm room and a library.
The archives present in Colmar (archives of the French Occupation departments in Germany and Austria) were transferred within the archives of La Courneuve in 2010.