Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban, Seigneur de Vauban and later Marquis de Vauban (1 or 4 May 1633 – 30 March 1707), commonly referred to as Vauban, was a Marshal of France and the foremost military engineer of his age. Famed for his skill in both designing fortifications and breaking through them, he also advised Louis XIV on how to consolidate France's borders, to make them more defensible. Vauban made a radical suggestion of giving up some land that was indefensible to allow for a stronger, less porous border with France's neighbours.
Vauban's system to attack Citadels:
Three parallel trenches interconnected by zigzagging communication trenches to avoid direct shots. Each trench brought the infantry across the whole width of the leading edge; the first is out of range of the defenders and can withstand an assault from the rear; the third is at the foot of the glacis.
Vauban was born in Saint-Léger-de-Foucheret (renamed Saint-Léger-Vauban in his honour in 1867), in Burgundy France, into a family of minor nobility. At the age of seventeen Vauban joined the regiment of Condé in the war of the Fronde. His gallant conduct won him within a year the offer of a commission, which he declined on account of poverty. Condé then employed him to assist in the fortification of Clermont-en-Argonne. Soon afterwards he was taken prisoner by the royal troops; but though a rebel he was well-treated, and the kindness of Cardinal Mazarin converted the young engineer into a devoted servant of the king.
He was employed in the siege of Sainte-Menehould (which he had helped to storm as a Frondeur). After, Vauban was put in charge of the construction of several important defences, amongst other places at Dunkirk, where his work continued until the year before his death. On the renewal of war in 1662 he conducted, under the eyes of the king, the sieges of Douai, Tournai and Lille. During the siege of Lille he distinguished himself that he received a lieutenancy in the guard (ranking as a colonelcy).
On the renewal of war Vauban again conducted the most important sieges, (Rheinberg and Nijmegen 1672, Maastricht and Trier 1673, Besançon 1674). In the latter year he also supervised the only defence in which he ever took part, that of Oudenaarde. This was followed by the reduction of Dinant, Huy and Limbourg. At this time he wrote for the commandants of Verdun and Le Quesnoy, valuable Instructions pour la défense. In 1675 Vauban bought the Château de Bazoches. In 1676 he was made Maréchal de camp. He took Condé, Bouchain and other places in that year, Valenciennes
Vauban was named Commissaire-général des fortifications on the death of Clerville, and wrote in 1679 a memorandum on the places of the new frontier, from which it appears that from Dunkirk to Dinant France possessed fifteen fortresses and forts, with thirteen more in second line. Most of these had been rebuilt by Vauban.
In 1682 his "second system", which introduced modifications of the first designed to prolong the resistance of the fortress, began to appear; and about the same time he wrote a practical manual entitled Le Directeur-Général des fortifications (Hague, 1683–85)
After the peace of Ryswick Vauban rebuilt or improved other fortresses, and finally Neuf-Brisach, fortified on his "third system" which was in fact a modification of the second and was called by Vauban himself système de Landau perfectionné (perfected Landau system). His last siege was that of Old Breisach in 1703, when he reduced the place in a fortnight. On 14 January of that year Vauban had been made a Maréchal de France, a rank too exalted for the technical direction of sieges, and his active career came to an end with his promotion. Soon afterwards appeared his Traité de l'attaque des places, a revised and amplified edition of the older memoir of 1669, which contains the methods of the fully developed Vauban attack, the main features of which are the parallels, ricochet fire and the attack of the defending personnel by vertical fire.
But Louis XIV was now thrown on the defensive, and the war of the Spanish Succession saw the gradual wane of Vauban's influence, as his fortresses were taken and retaken. The various captures of Landau, his chef-d'oeuvre, caused him to be regarded with disfavour, for it was not realized that the greatness of his services was rather in the attack than in the defence. In the darkness of defeat he turned his attention to the defence; but his work De la defense des places (ed. by General Valaze, Paris, 1829) is of far less worth than the Attaque, and his far-seeing ideas on entrenched camps (Traits des fortifications de campagne) were coldly received, though therein may be found the elements of the "detached forts" system universal in Europe by the 20th century.
Although indispensable to Louis XIV, Vauban boldly stretched his goodwill on several occasions. In 1685, Vauban vocally condemned the repeal of the edict of Nantes. It appears that his opposition was based mostly on economic grounds. In the 1690s, he conducted a comprehensive census of Flanders and other areas of France, which earned him his nickname as the "French Petty".
Dismayed by the inefficiency of the French fiscal system, and deeply impressed with the deplorable condition of the peasantry whose labor he regarded as the main foundation of all wealth, Vauban's 1707 tract, Projet d'une dixme. royale, protested against the unequal incidence of taxation and the exemptions and privileges of the upper classes; the tract called for the repeal of all taxes and the imposition of a single 10% tax (dixme. royale) on all agricultural output (payable in kind) and on income from trade and manufactures, with no exemptions. He backed up his argument with a mass of statistics. His book was condemned by the royal government because it had been published without royal permission. Vauban spent the last weeks of his life trying to collect every copy that he had disseminated privately to friends and acquaintances. Nevertheless, his ideas inspired later Enlightenment economists, such as Forbonnais, Mirabeau and the Physiocrats.
Vauban died in Paris, of an inflammation of the lungs. During the French Revolution his remains were scattered, but in 1808 his heart was found and deposited by order of Napoléon in the church of Les Invalides.
Between 1667 and 1707, Vauban upgraded the fortifications of around 300 cities, including Antibes (Fort Carré), Arras, Auxonne, Barraux, Bayonne, Belfort, Bergues, Citadel of Besançon, Bitche, Blaye, Briançon, Bouillon, Calais, Cambrai, Colmars-les-Alpes, Collioure, Douai, Entrevaux, Givet, Gravelines, Hendaye, Huningue, Joux, Kehl, Landau, Le Palais (Belle-Île), La Rochelle, Le Quesnoy, Lille, Lusignan, Le Perthus (Fort de Bellegarde), Luxembourg, Maastricht, Maubeuge, Metz, Mont-Dauphin, Mont-Louis, Montmédy, Namur, Neuf-Brisach, Perpignan, Plouezoc'h (French) (Château du Taureau) (French), Rocroi, Saarlouis, Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, Saint-Omer, Sedan, Toul, Valenciennes, Verdun, Villefranche-de-Conflent (town and Fort Liberia), and Ypres.
He directed the building of 37 new fortresses, and fortified military harbours, including Ambleteuse, Brest, Dunkerque, Freiburg im Breisgau, Lille (Citadel of Lille), Rochefort, Saint-Jean-de-Luz (Fort Socoa), Saint-Martin-de-Ré, Toulon, Wimereux, Le Portel, and Cézembre.
The UNESCO lists 12 fortifications of Vauban in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites.