Louis XIV, Vauban and Bayonne Part 2 by Peter Allport

You can see the first part of Peter's article here!

Peter Allport - This life-size equestrian statue of Louis XIV is in St Jean de Luz in south west France. It is rather hidden away in a narrow corridor at the entrance to the small Hotel de Ville. It is not prominently out in the square opposite the house where Louis stayed in 1660 before, during and after his marriage to the Spanish Infanta, Maria-Theresa of Austria.

To me this statue, with Louis dressed in the fashionable 17th century style of a Roman emperor, consummately displays Power – the power of unopposed Royalty – the power that comes from the successful pursuit of ‘la Gloire’.  This horse statue demonstrates the authority of a Commander-in- Chief of the greatest army in Europe, if not the known world, that would remain mostly undefeated for  50 years until its astonishing reverse on the soggy fields beside the Danube at a small town called Blindheim. 

Louis and his entourage stayed in this small stone house – the property of a local trader who had made good in the fish business. Louis  and his wife to be were only 22. The rooms are small and unpretentious. A fitting start-point for a long and happy partnership – despite a string of mistresses – Louis said of Maria-Theresa on her deathbed– ‘it is the only thing she has ever done to disappoint me…’

They were married in the church of St John the Baptist. On this altar below the couple knelt. The church and Reredos are in the heavy ‘Spanish Catholic’ baroque – with wooden galleries on either side for the men. This style is over-the-top for most north European tastes – but magnificent, evocative and inspirational to the local citizens. There is the smell of incense and the low hum of a chanting choir - today provided electronically by a cd… but now, as in the 17th century, the effect is to be overwhelmed by the painting, gilding and decoration – unimaginable wealth went into creating it…

After their marriage in this church of St John, the doorway they passed through was bricked up – so it could never be used again. The happy couple repaired back to what is now the Maison Louis XIV and stood on this balcony to throw specially-minted coins to the expectant crowds below.  A celebration of the union of the French and Spanish kingdoms and the ending of a long war which was accompanied by the signing of the Treaty of the Pyrenees on a nearby island in the river Bidassoa…

Across the bay is the small round fort of Socoa. Built by Vauban it serenely guards the harbour. Its thick walls were designed to resist the waves of the great Atlantic Ocean. Several times the town of St Jean de Luz was inundated. Now a huge beach wall has been built to defend the town and harbour. In the seventeenth century the magnificent bay of St jean de Luz was the base for Gascon corsaires  - famous pirates who were the scourge  of shipping across that gulf – the English nicknamed the bay ‘ the nest of vipers’.

Vauban was a good friend of Renau d’Elissagarray – the leader of this legendary troop…

The indefatigable Vauban had a simple philosophy of life: ‘the first of all benefits is health; the second is cooked bread; the third Liberty; the fourth good friends; the fifth a woman to one’s taste – all the rest is fantasy…!’

 What would be the League of Augsburg members list of the best 5 things in life...?

Back in Bayonne, Vauban’s legacy survives in the superbly preserved walls and bastions that surround the City. He built the citadel (seen in Part One) on the hill above the river Adour. A strong hexagon sitting separate and above the city’s enceinte...

A walk round these ramparts is a delight. They give you a sense of scale and permanence. The citizens behind these walls after Vauban’s improvements no doubt felt secure and able to resist whatever a likely enemy (always coming from the South – across the Pyrenees) could throw at them.

The route to Spain, an ancient and important corridor beside the sea to the mountains was a key artery that Vauban had to protect. He built this impressive South gateway which signals the importance of the road. 

Vauban was truly inexhaustible. At Bayonne he added Courtines and Demi-lunes. Elaborate Bastions and Ravelins – all designed to defend the city against any enemy. Today these works stand monument to the man and his efforts.

The walls and earthen fortifications are simply massive – overwhelming and powerful – able to resist whatever artillery and form of attack could be thrown at them.

Casemates and guardhouses were built. All in a consistent ‘massive’ style providing security but also 17th and 18th century proportion and architectural style.

Bastions, Hornworks, Ravelins, Counterguards, Casemates, Redoubts, Re-entrants, Places of Arms- are all visible and walkable and create an unexpected  sense of awe and majesty. Fitting memorials to the  ‘Man from the Morvan’ who supervised the building of them and his boss, the King, who caused them to be built throughout the kingdom of France.

And finally, another view of Louis. In pursuit of military ‘Gloire’ – which we all no doubt go after on the table - in 28mm or 15mm – he created so many fabulous buildings and landscapes,  and left us ‘Glory’ in the form of these monuments and townscapes  which we seek to recreate in miniature, or simply enjoy walking around, today.