Manesson Mallet, Allain [Alain]

Title Les travaux de Mars, ou la fortification nouvelle...
Imprint Paris, J. Hénault & C. Barbin, 1671-1672
Localisation Paris, BnF, 8LK7 10183 (Gallica)
Subject Art of war, Military architecture, Urbanism
Consult in image mode
Transcribed version of the text


     Allain Manesson Mallet (1630-1706), mathematician, geographer, cartographer, military engineer, draftsman and architect, was one of Vauban’s favorite engineers. In his correspondance with Louvois, partially published by Albert Rochas in 1902, Vauban wrote about him in 1674 : “During the trip that I just made, in La Rochelle I found an illustrious man of fine reputation whom I had been seeking for a long time (…). He draws very well, understands war and fortification extremely well and writes well”. In fact Manesson Mallet was a prominent figure of his time. Like Vauban, he was an engineer of multiple facets whose considerable achievements reveal very diversified interests. His major work, Les travaux de Mars, ou la fortification nouvelle, the first edition of which came out in 1671, figures among the military best-sellers which were the most appreciated by European military engineers in the early modern period. Thus his book was frequently cited in most of the inventories of engineers’ libraries. Vauban owned a copy of it in his library at the château de Bazoches as did the prince de Ligne in his library at the château de Belœil. Manesson Mallet was also the author of an imposing geographic atlas in five volumes entitled Description de l’univers contenant les différents systèmes du monde (Paris, D. Thierry, 1683) and a book of practical geometry in four volumes (La géométrie pratique, Paris, Anisson, 1702).
Born in Paris en 1630, Allain Manesson Mallet studied with Philippe Mallet, a military engineer from Abbeville, and professor of mathematics in Paris starting in 1654. Mallet wrote La Science des nombres and a curious opuscule entitled Estranges effets du tonnerre arrivés à Melun en 1656 avec les noms et qualités des morts et des blessez. Mallet had a striking influence on his pupil who noted in the preface to La Description de l’univers that his teacher’s course in mathematics had become so rare that he decided to reissue it (it was to be his last work published in 1702). Afterward Alain Manesson Mallet had the post of “musketeer in the guards’ regiment of Louis XIV” in Paris, which allowed him, as he said, “to learn in this fine school, the first lessons which enlightened me to write les Travaux de Mars”. After this experience he left for Portugal in 1663 to serve King Alfonso VI. From this period can be dated the series of plans of fortified cities of the province of Alentejo which are found today at the library of the SHAT at the Château de Vincennes. In 1668, at the end of Alfonso VI’s reign, Manesson Mallet returned to France where “having paid his profound respects to his Majesty” he was named mathematics master to the pages of the Petite Écurie. This post finally allowed him the time, he said, to apply himself to “casting light in favor of my homeland on the observations I’ve made on the art of war”.
This is how, three years after his return, in 1671, Manesson Mallet published the first edition of the Travaux de Mars, whose royal privilege was granted for seven years. The book is a small octavo, divided in two parts : one, a method of fortifying all sorts of towns and the other, various models of authors famous in the art of war. For the first time in the history of military treatises, it alternates text and diagrams rigourously. Each chapter is divided into short notes illustrated on the facing page by plates allowing Manesson “to see clearly the diagrams and the plans of what is explained in the text preceding them”. The author also comments that the views of the cities he placed at the bottom of each plate “were engraved to inspire young nobles to learn to draw, because in fortifications drawing is not simply a noble propriety, but an absolute necessity”. Although the author admits that this first edition is still imperfect, the book was immediately successful. It was sold at the shops of the two most important booksellers. The first, Jean Hénault, publisher and bookseller appreciated among the Jesuits, was also one of the only two Parisian printers to have his own printing presses. The second, Claude Barbin, illegitimate son of the bursar of finances close to Concini, was the editor “of gentlemen of good taste”. Pirated versions followed quickly : Les Travaux de Mars was published in German the following year.
A second official edition was published in 1684. The two publication dates, 1671 and 1684, are essential for the history of French military architecture. When Manesson Mallet returned from Portugal, French military writing was exhausted. After the brilliant books of the first half of the century distinguished by Jean Errard, Blaise de Pagan and Antoine de Ville, military arts had become “an affair of taste” for French nobility and few innovating books were printed. Thus the two editions of Les Travaux de Mars appeared in a very special context. In the first edition, the author, recently back from Portugal, does not mention Vauban and continually refers to his own experience abroad. The tone is resolutely different in his second edition, enriched with numerous references to the master.

Émilie d’Orgeix (Université Michel de Montaigne – Bordeaux 3) – 2011

Critical bibliography

A. de Rochas d’Aiglun, Vauban. Sa famille et ses écrits. Ses oisivetés et sa correspondance, Geneva, Slatkine, 1972, 2, p. 102.

É. d’Orgeix, "Alain Manesson Mallet (1630-1706) : portrait d’un ingénieur dans le sillage de Vauban", Bulletin du comité français de cartographie, 195, March 2008, pp. 64-74.

N. Kanas, Star Maps – History, Artistry, and Cartography, Berlin/Heidelberg/New York, Springer-Praxis, 2007, pp. 197-199.

M. Mendillo, Celestial Images – Antiquarian Astonomical Charts and Maps from the Mendillo Collection, Boston, University of Washington Press, 2005, pp. 83-84