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Vauban, Sebastien

1. Dates
Born: St. Leger de Fougeret, 15 May 1633
Died: Paris, 30 March 1707
Dateinfo: Dates Certain
Lifespan: 74
2. Father
Occupation: Merchant
Vauban came from modest origins, notaries and small merchants of Bazoches. One member entered the lesser nobility through the purchase of a small fief. His father boasted of the title Squire, Lord of Champignolle and of Vauban. Vauban married Jeanne d'Osnay, the daughter of Baron d'Epiry.
No information on financial status, however suggestive all of that may sound.
3. Nationality
Birth: French
Career: French
Death: French
4. Education
Schooling: No University
As a young child, he was taught by the village curate of St. Leger. At ten he was sent to the Carmelite college of Semur-in-Auxois where he acquired the rudiments of mathematics, a small amount of history, and showed some talent in draftsmnship. In 1651 his father arranged for him to be introduced to the Prince de Condé by an uncle who was serving in the Prince's army. Vauban entered into the military service as a cadet. He served his apprenticeship by working on fortifications. In 1653 he was captured (by the king's forces; he had been with the frondeurs) and 'converted' by Mazarin.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Catholic
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Engineering
Subordinate: Geography
In 1670 he wrote a treatise on siegecraft. In his mature years he wrote on subjects ranging from colonization and religious toleration to pig farming and privateering. In his dispatches to Louvois he often commented on the resources of various districts, including figures on population and productivity. In 1686 he began collecting statistics in earnest. In 1696 he wrote a geographical treatise of the Vezelay region which was a pioneering study in economics, geography, and sociology. From 1680 to 1707 he wrote three works on taxation including a proposal on the amelioration of the tax burden.
In his military capacity, Vauban strove to create a corps of army engineers as a regularly constituted arm of the service with its own specially trained officers.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Military, Government, Patronage
After his capture in 1653, Vauban became a member of the royal army. In 1654 he was awarded a lieutenant's commission which included a small grant of money. Throughout his military career Vauban would receive cash grants from the King.
Vauban began working under Chevalier de Clerville, Commissioner General of Fortifications. In 1655 he became ingenieur ordinaire du roi. In 1661 Louis XIV rewarded him with another cash grant and a commission in the prestigious regiment de Picardie. During the War of Devolution, Vauban distinguished himself and was promoted above Clerville to the rank of Commissioner General. He was virtually the director of all engineering work in Louvois's department.
8. Patronage
Types: Aristrocrat, Court Official, Government Official
In addition to his previously mentioned military honors, Vauban was named governor of Lille after his success as Commissioner General. In 1703 he was named to the high honor of Marshall of France. Two years later he was honored again with the select membership to the Ordre du Saint Esprit.
In 1666, Vauban was duped into signing false accounts (Breisach Affair), and it was only the backing of Colbert and Louvois that kept him from severe disciplinary actions and possibly the ruin of his career. Five years later Louvois obtained the false documents so that they might be burned. He also obtained a letter from the King clearing Vauban.
9. Technological Involvement
Types: Military Engineering, Agriculture
Vauban introduced parallel trenches for the safety of his troops. He was the first to use ricochet fire of mortars. He urged the army to abandon their bronze cannon and emulate the navy by the use of iron. He was a master of fortifications, a skill which served the French army very well and won him many honors.
I include here that treatise on pig farming.
10. Scientific Societies
Membership: Académie Royal des Sciences 1699-1707,
Académicien honoraire.
His friends were Jean Brun, an apothecary, Deschamps, a physician, and Pierre Trichet. He corresponded with Mersenne and Descartes.
  1. Fontenelle, Oeuvres completes de Fontenelle, (Paris, 1818), 1, 95-103. PQ1797.F7 1968 (this is an éloge).
  2. F.J. Hebbert and G.A. Rothrock, "Marshall Vauban," History Today, 24 (1974), 149-57, 258-64. D1.H62
  3. Marcel Parent and Jacques Verroust, Vauban, (Paris, 1971).
  4. DC130.V3P22
Compiled by:
Richard S. Westfall
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
Indiana University

Note: the creators of the Galileo Project and this catalogue cannot answer email on geneological questions.

©1995 Al Van Helden
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