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Living in the Languedoc:   Famous Personalities:   Sebastien Le Prestre, Seigneur de Vauban (1633-1707)

Vauban: Sebastien Le Prestre (1633-1707), Seigneur de Vauban, Marshal of France. Vauban was a thinker and a Renaissance Man during the reign of Louis XIV. He wrote dozens of treatise on various subjects, including population studies, forestry, river navigation, pig breeding, military strategy, proposals for an equitable tax system and pleas for religious tolerance on behalf of the Huguenots (Calvinists). But he is mainly remembered as a military engineer of genius, a strategist, theoretician and reformer.

In an era when the siege dominated military affairs his genius for capturing enemy strongholds and for securing French strongholds was of critical importance. He carefully recorded his ideas so that they could be passed on to his compatriots.

He directed forty seven sieges during the many campaigns that shaped France's emerging frontiers under Louis XIV. It is said that he never failed to take a fortress he was besieging, and never lost one he was defending. His Méthode for the attack on a fortified place remained influential over a hundred after his death. Sieges conducted by Napoleon's armies in the Iberian Peninsular in the second decade of the nineteenth century are recognisable as Vauban Style assaults. Vauban has been credited with the design of the first ever socket bayonet. (This fitted around rather than inside the muzzle of the soldier's firearm, as the old plug bayonet had done, so it did not need to be removed before firing).

Vauban encouraged the French Army to adopt the new flintlock musket in preference to the less efficient Matchlock. These two innovations marked the end of the age of the Spanish tercio - the mix of musket and pike armed infantry. Foot soldiers would in future be deployed in shallower formations, leading to a revolution in tactics.

He was renowned as a man of great humanity. He treated his men well, caring about their health, well-being and discipline. He won the love of the French soldier, and astonished the world when he devised ways to capture an enemy fortress with fewer losses than those inflicted on the besieged (the normal ratio was at least 1:10 against). He was perhaps the first since the classic age of Rome to build proper permanent barracks.

He fortified all French frontiers - the Pyrenees ( The Name in Occitan. Click here to find out more about occitan.  Pirenèus,  The Name in Catalan Pirineus,  The Name in French Pyrénées), the Alps, Northern borders, and the ports, securing France's new borders, designing and building new fortresses, and strengthening existing ones. He built 33 fortresses and modified around 300 others. In this area too, his influence is discernible for centuries to come - at least as late as the mid twentieth century, when de Gaul could still refer to Vauban and his military strategy in a speech about contemporary requirements.

During his lifetime his skill and loyalty brought him the respect and affection of his monarch. In a letter to him the King says:
    "Continue to write to me about anything you have in mind. ... It is impossible to have more regard, esteem and friendship that I have for you."

The king also asked him to help out with the Canal du Midi. He was honoured with the rank of marshal in 1703 in recognition of his service to the State. On 28 May 1808 Napoleon further honoured him by having his heart placed within a monument under the dome of Les Invalides church in Paris, where it remains today. In 1867, Saint-Léger-de-Foucheret, the town in which Vauban was born, was renamed Saint-Léger-Vauban under an Imperial Decree signed by Napoleon III. He is still remembered with respect in France, and by military historians everywhere.

For information about some of the places in the Languedoc-Roussillon fortified by de Vauban, click on the following link to de Vauban's work in the Languedoc-Roussillon Next..

To visit a website dedicated to de Vauban, that will open in a new window, click on Marshal Vauban website maintained by Chris JonesNext.

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de Vauban