Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban

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Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban. Pastel in three-chalk technique "aux trois crayons" by Hyacinthe Rigaud , after 1703.

Vauban's signature:
Signature Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban.PNG

Sébastien Le Prestre, Seigneur de Vauban (also Marquis de Vauban * May 1 , May 4 or 15. May 1633 in Saint-Leger-de-Foucheret, today Saint-Léger-Vauban , Yonne , Burgundy , † 30th March 1707 in Paris ) was a French general, fortress builder of Louis XIV and Marshal of France .


Descent and youth

Sébastien le Prestre came from a modest Burgundian gentry. His great-grandfather Emery le Prestre had acquired the village and the rule Vauban (today in the Nièvre department ), after which Sébastien le Prestre later called himself Marquis de Vauban . The Le Prestres worked as notaries and were involved in agriculture and forestry.

Sébastien le Prestre was born in Saint-Léger-de-Foucheret near Avallon at the beginning of May 1633 , the date of baptism was May 15. His parents were Urbain le Prestre (1602–1652) and Edmée (Aimée) Cormignolles (also Carmignolles, 1610–1670). Urbain le Prestre led to his lands in the northern Morvan that there hitherto unknown refining of fruit trees by grafting one.

Even as a pupil at the College of the Carmelites in Semur-en-Auxois , Vauban showed a great gift for mathematics.

Start of the military career

At the age of almost 18 he joined the regiment of Prince Condé , who was a cousin of Louis XIV and one of the leading figures of the Fronde opposition of the French nobility against the crown , as a cadet . It was here that Vauban gained his first experience in fortress construction. In 1653 he was captured. Cardinal Mazarin convinced the talented and promising young engineer-soldier to join the royal army, in which he rose to the highest positions.

Career in the service of the king

In 1654 he became assistant to Marshal Louis Nicolas de Clerville (1610–1677), who was Vauban's predecessor from 1658 as superintendent of the fortifications. In the same year (1654) he was wounded during the siege of Stenay . In 1655 Vauban - just 22 years old - was appointed Ingénieur ordinaire du roi . In 1656, after defending the fortress of Saint-Gillain near Mons, he became a captain and company commander under Marshal De la Ferté, and in 1657 he himself led a siege ( Montmédy ) for the first time . The following sieges of Gravelines (1658), Ypres and Oudenaarde , led by him, contributed to the favorable conclusion of the Pyrenees peace with Spain in 1659. In the following time he was entrusted with diplomatic missions and on the recommendation of Colbert with the fortification of Alt-Breisach on the Rhine. In this connection there were accusations of enrichment and embezzlement, of which he was acquitted in 1671. In 1665 he received his own company in the respected Régiment de Picardie , a post that at that time had a high financial value, both through annual income and through the possible sale of the post.

In the war of devolution from 1667, Vauban successfully besieged Tournai , Douai and Lille , which led to the peace of Aachen in 1668 , which was advantageous for France . Vauban was entrusted with the development of Lille as a fortress and, thanks to the protection of Louvois, effectively replaced Marshal de Clerville as superintendent of the fortifications (although he officially had the title until 1677). The fortress of Lille was Vauban's first major fortification project of his own and is considered to be his first masterpiece in the field. He chose a geometric structure in the form of a regular pentagon, and the work was carried out from 1667 to 1671. Vauban became governor of Lille. From 1668, Dunkirk was also expanded into an important naval port. For this purpose, a paved canal was built through the upstream sandbanks over several years at low tide .

In 1669 he invented the spout or socket bayonet , with which it was possible to fire musket balls when in the planted state. It found its way into the French army from 1689.

Vauban (right) as a builder in Belfort. 18th century painting in the hall of honor of Belfort town hall.

In the Dutch War (from 1672) he first used the technique of parallels at the siege of Maastricht in 1673 , which he adopted from the approach of the Turks during the siege of Candia (1669) on Crete. The city fell after 13 days. In 1676 Vauban was made Maréchal de camp and in 1678 officially General Commissioner of all French fortresses ( Commissaire général des fortifications ). In the same year the war ended with the Peace of Nijmegen . Vauban was now heavily involved in the fortification of France on all national borders. In 1684 he led the siege of the fortress of Luxembourg , and then he was also entrusted with the extensive project of a new water supply for the Palace of Versailles, for which the 80 km long aqueduct of Maintenon was built against his advice , but this was due to financial reasons and burdens wars that broke out never ended. Other projects included France's first lighthouses in Brittany from 1683 to 1700, such as the Phare du Cap Fréhel and the Phare du Stiff, and extensive canal projects. In 1688 he became lieutenant general. In 1699 he became an honorary member of the Académie royale des sciences .

During the Nine Years' War he led the sieges of Mons and Namur, among other things . Vauban achieved the highest possible rank in the royal army after the War of the Spanish Succession , when he was elevated to Maréchal de France in 1703 after the reconquest of Alt-Breisach - the last siege in which the 70-year-old actively participated . This was first and foremost a recognition of his services and was seen as such by Vauban, who had long hoped for it. Vauban increasingly suffered from illnesses, especially severe bronchitis, which had plagued him for a long time and in 1690 forced him to take a break at his castle for a whole year. In 1705 he was accepted as a knight in the exclusive royal Ordre du Saint-Esprit . In 1705/06 he offered to help with the siege of Turin , which was refused. In 1706, at the request of the king, he went back into the field in northern France and Belgium to stop the collapse of the front after the defeat of Ramiliès .

At the beginning of 1707, Vauban anonymously published the text Projet d'une dîme royale (project of a royal tithe), in which he proposed a reform of the taxes, which particularly depressed the rural population, and distributed it to numerous friends and politically interested acquaintances. Vauban presented the project to the king on three evenings, but he did not pursue it any further, and it was also rejected by the ministers because, with its equal taxation of all duties at the rate of one tenth, it also burdened the nobility, which had been largely tax-free until then. The writing was banned as soon as it appeared. As a result of the publication, Vauban fell increasingly out of favor with the king and his ministers at the end of his life.

Private life

Saint-Hilaire church in Bazoches (Nièvre)

Vauban married his cousin Jeanne d'Aunay (1638–1705), the daughter of Baron d'Epiry, on March 25, 1660. The couple had three children: two daughters, Charlotte (1661–1709) and Jeanne-Françoise (1678–1713), and a son who died soon after the birth in 1682.

Vauban spent most of the year in the service of the king in the whole of France and the surrounding areas, covering 5000 km and more by coach in one year. In 1675 Vauban acquired the rule of Bazoches with a village and castle not far from Vézelay . He converted it into a country residence for his family, but also into a technical headquarters with a specially added studio wing.

End of life and burial

On March 30, 1707 he died of pneumonia in his Paris city palace and was buried on April 16 in the St. Sebastian chapel, which he himself added to the parish church of Saint-Hilaire in Bazoches as a family burial place. His heart was buried separately and also buried in this church.

In 1793, revolutionaries broke open the crypt and stole the lead coffins in order to cast bullets from them. During construction work in the church in 1804, the separately buried lead urn with Vauban's heart was found. It was brought to Paris at the instigation of Napoleon I. On May 28, 1808, the urn was ceremoniously transferred to the Invalides Cathedral. The mighty grave monument created by Vauban in the eastern side chapel has since been the counterpart to a monument for Turenne in the chapel opposite, which was erected in 1800 by order of Napoleon.



In his 56 years of service, Vauban, who had already been awarded the title of Ingénieur de France during his lifetime , planned 33 new fortresses, delivered over 400 projects for 160 places and modernized countless existing fortifications. He is the actual creator of the enceinte de fer , the iron belt, and the pré carré , with which France under Louis XIV secured its external borders. The fortress town of Neuf-Brisach / Neu-Breisach is considered to be his main work (see also the history of town planning, section fortress towns ).

Belfort: Citadel built by Vauban in 1687–1689 (partial view)
Dunkirk, expanded into a fortress from 1662 by Vauban
The fortress town of Neuf-Brisach , which - without the citadel shown here - was completely redesigned and built to replace the fortresses of Breisach and Freiburg , which were returned to the Reich in 1697/99 , is considered to be one of Vauban's main works.

In total, Vauban was involved in the construction, conversion or expansion of 160 fortifications. Only a small selection is shown here:

Twelve of the fortifications were added to the UNESCO list of world cultural heritage in 2008 under the name Vauban's fortifications .

Dominicus Pelli was a student of the fortress builder Vauban .

Other structures include the Étangs de Hollande .

General art

Vauban monument in Saint-Léger-Vauban

Vauban is rightly considered the most important military architect of the Baroque period. On the other hand, it is often neglected that he made an equally large contribution to the art of siege. As a soldier and general, he took part in over 50 sieges and 140 skirmishes and was wounded several times, for example during the siege of Douai in 1667 , which left a scar on his face that was visible in portraits. In contrast, he was besieged only once - for a week in 1677 in Oudenaarde.

The French engineer corps was reorganized by him. He thus became one of the intellectual fathers of European pioneering in the 18th century and made a significant contribution to relativizing the predominance of defense in the fortress war that had persisted since the 16th century.

Vauban opposed the indiscriminate bombardment of cities with the aim of forcing them to surrender. It was also very important to him to suffer as few losses as possible among his own soldiers. During the siege of Maastricht in 1673 he introduced the attack system of parallels , in which one systematically worked one's way through parallel trenches to the fortress walls, which kept one's own losses low.

He invented the rikoschett shot , in which the cannonball ricocheted off the ground, hitting multiple targets. In 1688 he used it for the first time in front of Philippsburg .

Scientific work

In terms of the mechanistic worldview of his time, he recorded the art of fortification and siege as a mathematical science in which every single “act” of a siege had to be calculated in detail. In addition to the actual fortress construction, Vauban dealt with issues of urban planning, agriculture, agriculture and livestock, water and traffic route construction with locks, canals and aqueducts, as well as statistics, economics, taxation and financial policy, religion and philosophy.

He was particularly interested in improving living conditions for the poorer strata of the people. He expressly warned of the economic consequences of the persecution and expulsion of the Huguenots after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes and published a pamphlet on this in 1689 in which he advocated the revocation of the repeal, although he was taking a high risk.

From 1699 Vauban was an honorary member of the French Academy of Sciences .

Literary work

Vauban published a few of his writings himself, but laid the basis of the publications printed under his name in numerous handwritten memoirs and tracts. These include the 12 volumes of his thoughts summarized as Mes Oisivetés (“My Idleness”) (part of the Oisivetés was published in 4 volumes from 1843 to 1846).

In addition to extensive correspondence with the ministers in charge of him, Louvois and Colbert , he maintained extensive correspondence with numerous leading intellectuals of his era, including writers like Racine and Fénelon .

Publications during his lifetime
  • Mémoire pour servir d'instruction dans la conduite des sièges , Leiden 1740 (originally perhaps dating back to 1667)
  • Traité de l'attaque et de la defense des places , The Hague 1737, reprinted in 2 volumes in 1742 (the Traité was written by Vauban in 1706 for the Duc de Bourgoyne)
    • other editions Vauban's oeuvres contenant la Traité de l´attaque des places et la Traité de la defense des places , 2 volumes, Paris: Barrois et Joubert 1769 (by Latour-Foissac) and 1829 (by Lieutenant Colonel Augoyat)
    • Le triomphe de la méthode. The traité de l'attaque des places de Monsieur de Vauban engineer du roi. Présenté by Nicolas Faucherre and Philippe Prost. Paris: Gallimard 1992 (= Découvertes Gallimard albums). ISBN 2-07-053227-5
    • Archives
    • wikisource
  • Oisivetés , editor Augoyat, 4 volumes 1842–1845 (not complete, a complete edition under the direction of Michèle Virol is in preparation)
  • Albert de Rochas d´Aiglun (editor): Vauban, sa famille et ses écrits, ses oisivetés et sa correspondence , 2 volumes, Paris, Grenoble 1910 (the most important writings of the Oisivetés in volume 1 and biographical, in volume 2 correspondence with Louvois and other)
  • Augoyat (ed.): Abrége des services du maréchal de Vauban, fait par lui en 1703 , 1839
  • The Projet d'une dixime royale (1707); Reprints 1708 in Brussels, 1843 in Paris (in Eugène Daire: Economistes français du dix-huitième siècle )
    • Projet d'une dixme royale (1707), digitized in Gallica , the digitization project of the French national library , available online in PDF format .

Vauban's Projet d'une dixme royale , published anonymously in 1707 , was at times also attributed to his cousin Bois-Guillebert . He worked on the font with his private secretary Vincent Ragot de Beaumont . It was banned as soon as it was published, and any copies that could be found were destroyed. The police couldn't get close to Vauban himself due to his high position, but his authorship was well known.

Posthumous publications

After Vauban's death, the following appeared using his manuscripts:

  • Traité de l'attaque et défense des places (1737, 2 volumes; new edition 1829), German as The attack and defense of the fortresses (edited by Major de Humbert, 2 volumes, Berlin 1744)
  • Traité des mines (1737)
  • Traité des sièges (1747, new edition 1829)
  • Œuvres militaires (edited by Foissac, 1793, 3 volumes)
  • Mémoires militaires (edited by Fave, 1847)
  • Mémoires inédits du maréchal V. sur Landau, Luxembourg etc. (edited by Antoine-Marie Augoyat , 1841)

In the case of some of the works ascribed to Vauban (e.g. Directeur générale des fortifications , The Hague 1785), the authorship is doubtful. It is not clear whether Vauban ever wrote a textbook on fortifications.


Memorials and museums

Château de Bazoches (Nièvre)

Vauban's birthplace is in the center of the village of Saint-Léger-Vauban . The place is not far from the town of Avallon in the Yonne department . In the half-timbered building with inner courtyard and Renaissance fountain you can get an overview of the life and work of the fortress builder. Models show some of the 300 fortress structures that Vauban planned and built, and original documents and personal items provide information about the architect.

Vauban's castle Bazoches ( Département Nièvre , ten kilometers south of Vézelay ) is owned by a descendant and can be visited. Among other things, you can see numerous contemporary living rooms, his study, his armor and a model by Neuf-Brisach .

Models of numerous cities fortified by Vauban are in the Musée des plans-reliefs in the Hôtel des Invalides in Paris . The collection dates back to the time of Louis XIV , was put together after 1668 at the instigation of his Minister of War Louvois and has been presented in the Louvre since 1700 . In 1987, 16 models from cities on the French northern border were transferred to the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Lille .

After the Franco-Prussian War in 1871, 19 models were brought to the Zeughaus in Berlin . At the beginning of the 20th century, Kaiser Wilhelm II gave five models to cities in the realm of Alsace-Lorraine , including the impressive model of Strasbourg , which is on display in the local historical museum. The rest of the Berlin models were destroyed in 1945, except for the citadel of Lille .


Numerous monuments were set for Vauban in France for his services as a fortress builder and general.

World Heritage

Location map of the "12 Vauban fortresses" (UNESCO)

In 2007, celebrations and exhibitions to mark the 300th anniversary of Vauban's death were held in many cities in France and Germany under the motto Vauban Year 2007 . Twelve places connected with Vauban in France ( Arras , Bazoches, Besançon , Blaye / Cussac-Fort-Médoc , Briançon , Camaret-sur-Mer , Longwy , Mont-Dauphin , Mont-Louis , Neuf-Brisach , Saint-Martin-de- Ré , Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue and Villefranche-de-Conflent ), plus the German city of Breisach am Rhein, have submitted a joint application to UNESCO for inclusion in the world cultural heritage . On July 7th, 2008 the World Heritage Committee approved the application.

Vauban as namesake

Vauban's birthplace Saint-Léger-le-Foucheret received by decree Napoleon III in 1867 . named Saint-Léger-Vauban in honor of the Marshal .

In Germany, the former Wehrmacht barracks ( Schlageter barracks ) in Freiburg im Breisgau, which the French occupation forces took over after 1945, bore Vauban's name. After the French withdrew in 1992, the barracks were partially demolished. From the year 2000, the strongly ecological district of Vauban was built in its place .

In 1995 the Council of Europe named a cultural route through Luxembourg and France, "The Wenceslas and Vauban's Circular Routes ".


Literature (German)

Literature (french)

  • Michel Parent: Vauban. Un encyclopédiste avant la lettre. Berger-Levrault, Paris 1982 (= Collection Illustres inconnus ), ISBN 2-7013-0488-1 .
  • Robert Bornecque: La France de Vauban. Arthaud, Paris 1984, ISBN 2-7003-0417-9 .
  • Anne Blanchard: Vauban. Fayard, Paris 1996, ISBN 2-213-59684-0 .
  • Michèle Virol: Vauban: de la gloire du roi au service de l'État. Champ Vallon, Seyssel 2003, ISBN 2-87673-376-5 .
  • Martin Barros, Nicole Salat, Thierry Sarmant: Vauban. L'intelligence du territoire. N. Chaudin, Paris 2006, ISBN 2-35039-028-4 .
  • Philippe Prost : Vauban: Le style de l'intelligence. Archibooks, Paris 2007, ISBN 978-2-357330115 .
  • Émile d'Orgeux, Victoria Sanger, Michèle Virol, Isabelle Warmoes: Vauban. La pierre et la plume. Ed. du Patrimoine, Center des monuments nationaux, Paris 2007, ISBN 978-2-85822-937-6 .

Literature (english)

  • Henry Guerlac: Vauban, Sébastien Le Prestre de . In: Charles Coulston Gillispie (Ed.): Dictionary of Scientific Biography . tape 13 : Hermann Staudinger - Giuseppe Veronese . Charles Scribner's Sons, New York 1976, p. 590-595 .
  • FJ Hebbert, GA Rothrock: Soldier of France: Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban 1633–1707. P. Lang, New York / Bern / Frankfurt am Main / Paris 1989, ISBN 0-8204-0890-5 .
  • Henry Guerlac : Vauban. The impact of science on war , in Peter Paret (ed.), Makers of Modern Strategy: From Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age, Princeton University Press, Princeton 1986.
  • Jean-Denis GG Lepage Vauban and the french military under Louis XIV. McFarland, Jefferson (North Carolina) / London 2010.
  • Reginald Blomfield: Sébastien le Prestre de Vauban, 1633–1707. Methuen & company limited, London 1938.


  • Vauban - builder and general. Docu-drama , France, Luxembourg, 2011, 85 min., Script and director: Pascal Cuissot, production: arte France, Le Miroir, Mélusine, German first broadcast: March 10, 2012 on arte, film information from arte.

Web links

Commons : Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ List of former members since 1666: Letter V. Académie des sciences, accessed on March 11, 2020 (French).
  2. cf. Jamel Ostwald: Vauban under Siege. Engineering Efficiency and Martial Vigor in the War for the Spanish Succession. ( History of Warfar 41 ). Brill, Leiden 2007, ISBN 978-90-04-15489-6 , pp. 8-13.
  3. ^ Guerlac, Article Vauban , Dictionary of Scientific Biography
  4. ^ Vauban sites as world cultural heritage
  5. ^ Council of Europe: The Vauban and Wenzel Routes.