Sébastien le Prestre, Seigneur de Vauban, 1633-1707

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Portrait of Vauban

Sébastien Vauban was a military engineer and a Maréchal in Louis XIV's army. His work on fortifications and siegecraft is legendary. The Corps de Génie had been separated from the rest of the army in 1676, but it was Vauban who transformed the Corps into a well-trained and highly-professional school of engineers. The Corps eventually detached itself from its military roots (Vauban himself had embraced civil engineering projects, like the Languedoc canal) and eventually became institutionalized as the École des Ponts et Chaussées. Vauban can consequently be regarded as the grandfather of the French engineering tradition.

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 (which led to the persecution of the French Protestants). Interestingly, his opposition was mostly made 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". A prolific writer on many subjects, e.g. forestry, pig breeding, monetary policy, colonization, etc., Vauban was made an honorary member of the Academy of Sciences.

Dismayed by the inefficiency of Colbertisme, Vauban's 1707 tract called for the repeal of all taxes and the imposition of a single tax of 10% on all land and trade with no exemptions. He backed up his argument with a mass of statistics. It was not well-received at the time (the king shunned him thereafter), but it inspired later Enlightenment economists, such as Forbonnais, Mirabeau and the Physiocrats.

Major Works of Sébastien de Vauban

Resources on Vauban

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