Tuesday, August 08, 2006

The Price of Patronage

Through my meanderings on the theatrum machinarum I’ve come across a few questions: Why did Besson really want to write a machine book? Why was Ramelli so pissed off at Bachot? What were the stakes? The answer may come from a brief review of the life of the Duc de Sully.

Sully was a Protestant in France at the end of the sixteenth century and beginning of the seventeenth century. He rose to prominence as one of the chief advisors of Henri of Navarre. He was seriously wounded at the Battle of Ivry but received numerous estates after Henry’s rise to power as Henry IV. He counselled Henry’s conversion to Catholicism and eventually became Henry’s sole superintendent of finances.

His reforms were dramatic. He authorized free exportation of grain and wine, standardized tax collection, streamlined the government, and removed many of the monetary abuses in governmental channels. In 1599 he was appointed grand commissioner of highways and public works, superintendent of fortifications, and grand master of artillery. In 1602 he became governor of Nantes and Jargeau, captain-general of the Queen’s gens d’armes, and governor of the Bastille. By 1604 he was governor of Poitou and was make duke of Sully in 1606.

Sully was aggressive on agriculture and trade, yet paid little attention to industry. He fought in Savoy with Henry IV and represented France at the court of James I of England. He also arranged the marriage between Henry and Marie de Medici. Following Henry’s assassination in 1610, he quickly lost influence and retired in 1611. He eventually died in 1634.

Sully’s influence from 1598 to 1610 marked a dramatic change in France’s finances. Before the turn of the seventeenth century, France had been racked by religious and civil wars and was just beginning its age of consolidation. The years from 1605 to 1609 were particularly remarkable ones for infrastructure funding. Sully embarked on program of bridge and canal building and instituted a full system of accountability for infrastructure projects. This effort was truly remarkable considering that the corps d’engénieurs would not emerge until 1747.

His efforts were primarily orchestrated through the very influential ingéneurs du roi. Although primarily artillery engineers, individual such as Jean Errard, Claude de Chastillon, and Humphrey Bradley all rose to prominence as military engineers. Their efforts extended beyond canals and bridges to fortifications. Compared to Italy or the Low Countries, France was particularly poorly equipped with fortifications. Also of importance for these engineers were administrative capabilities and particularly the ability to make maps.

In each province, Sully appointed an ingéneurs du roi and their deputy: the conducteur des desseins. These engineers were primarily artisans since there was no formal training programs in place. Jean Errard, Jean de Beins (with Raymond de Bonnefons as conducteur), and Lois de Foix all served in this capacity.

Their job was to tour the countryside taking notes and recording their observations. The had to plan work for the next year’s work according to Sully’s états des fortifications. The rest of their responsibilities bear considerable resemblance to the work of modern engineers. They had to get approval for the projects from the provincial governor, draw up plans, and create contracts that were let by the provincial contrôleur-général. They then had to check progress (and report defaulters). Upon the completion of the project (or winter), the accounts were settled.

During Sully’s time the prominence of Italian engineers declined. Chastillon’s deputy, for example, was “Bartolomeo Ricardo.” Buisseret maintains that this individual may have been one of the last Italian engineers to work within the French administration. The decline of the Italians afforded the rise of several French engineering dynasties, notably the Errards, the Chastillons, the Bonnefons, and the Martelliers.

Some of the machine book authors were able to navigate Sully’s regime quite well. Errard, for example, was enobled and rose to considerably prominence. Others, such as Ramelli may not have been able to make such a clean transition. Of particular interest is the move from machine books to works on fortifications. Errard, for example, is most well known for his later treatise on fortifications rather than his early work on machines. Similarly, Bachot’s Le Gouvernail contains a considerable section dedicated to the design of fortifications, which serves as a preface to the sections on machines (which came from the earlier Le Timon and were likely stolen from Ramelli). It remains unclear if Ramelli was working on his own work of fortification but lost his designs to Bachot.

There is a remote possibility that a lost Ramelli on fortification may have existed. Consider the section of fortification from Ephraim Chambers Cyclopedia:

“The fist Authors who have wrote of Fortification, consider’d as particular form’d Art, are Ramelli, and Cantaneo, Italians. After them Errard, Engineer to Henry the Great of France; Stevinus, Engineer to the Prince of Orance, Marolois, the Chevalier de Ville, Lorini, the Count de Pagan, and the Marcshal de Vauban : Which two last Noble Authors contributed very greatly to the Perfection of the Art.” (pg, 79)

Chambers’s observations were repeated in Tristram Shandy. The protagonist discusses his Uncle Toby and his recovery from a war injury:

“The more my uncle Toby drank of this sweet fountain of science, the greater was the heat and impatience of his thirst, so that, before the first year of his con- finement had well gone round, there was scarce a fortified town in Italy or Flanders, of which, by one means or other, he had not procured a plan, reading over as he got them, and carefully collating therewith the histories of their sieges, their demolitions, their improvements and new works, all which he would read with that intense application and delight, that he would forget himself, his wound, his confinement, his dinner.

In the second year my uncle Toby purchased Ramelli and Cataneo, translated from the Italian ; ---- likewise Stevinus, Marolis, the Chevalier de Ville, Lorini, Coehorn, Sheeter, the Count de Pagan, the Marshal Vauban, Mons. Blondel, with almost as many more books of military architecture, as Don Quixote was found to have of chivalry, when the curate and barber invaded his library.”

Given the influence of the new fortification builders, Ramelli stood to loose a significant amount of both influence and income from Bachot’s treachery.


Buisseret. Sully and the growth...


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