Mont Royal

Article and photographs by Marcus Prauschke, all rights reserved.

King Louis XIV'of France was at peace when in 1680 he claimed the that land of the German Holy Roman Empire on the left bank of the Rhine rightfully belonged to France and expressed his intention to occupy it.

In 1648 France had acquired the region of Alsace by the Treaty of Westphalia, thus bringing her frontiers to the Rhine for the first time. By 1659 the war between France and Spain was over and Louis was looking for other lands to annexe. In 1667-68 he invaded the Spanish Netherlands, which he claimed that he had inherited through his wife (who was the daughter of the Spanish king).

In the Dutch Wars'(1672-1678) France took control of Burgundy. Meanwhile Louis used his political power in setting up the Reunions (territories that France had some spurious claim to through treaties - the king based his claims on treaties signed by Henry II in 1652).

In 1679 the Chamber of Reunions (the body set up by Louis XIV to investigate and judge the territorial claims he made - it never found him to be in the wrong) met in Metz and added this territory on the left bank of the Rhine to the Reunions.

From 1687 Louis ordered his fortifications expert Vauban'to build a new fortress. Even before the war, in 1672, Louis had recognised the strategic value of 'Mont Royal', opposite Trarbach on the river Mosel and considered its value in terms of fortification.

The fortress secured not only the river but also the Eifel hills to the north and the Hunsrück hills to the south. The fortress was paid for in part by German reparations but it also cost the French treasury millions and needed a workforce of 8,000 peasants to construct.

The total length of the fortress was about 5km but the core was a pentagon measuring 1.6km in length and 750m in breadth. The core was enclosed by a 30-metre high wall nearly 3km long, fronted with a ditch'and strengthened by 5 bastions, one with a cavalier, and 2 Bolltörmen (smaller, flanking bastions halfway along the curtains overlooking the river). The outworks consisted of 5 demi-lunes, 3 hornworks'and some outlying works.

Everything was laid out for defence - there were 3 large powder magazines, 22 barrack buildings to house around 4,000 soldiers, 2 officers' pavilions and about 20 private houses all laid out on a grid street plan. Up to 3,000 horses could be accommodated and there was provision for military hospitals to take care of 1,000 wounded soldiers.

The fortress garrison of 14 regiments (totalling of 8,450 men) and 155 guns required a huge amount of supplies and ammunition to keep Mont Royal in a state of defence - for instance, 2,000 Fuder (about 2,000,000 litres) of wine were stored for the garrison.

Despite all this vast construction work, Louis was unable to hold on to his new fortress for long, since it was essentially 100km in advance of his own frontiers.

Mont Royal was never finished and the French destroyed the fortifications in 1698, when the Treaty of Rijswijk'forced them to give it up. The fortress had never been expected to last, but was used to secure the region and then as a bargaining counter once his enemies were ready to make peace.

Visiting Mont Royal

Although the fortress was demolished in 1698, there are still some remains of the fortifications. The old fortress stands on a high shoulder of ground above the town of Traben-Trarbach, where there is a train station. The whole mountain is wooded and it can be difficult to find the remains of the walls. The weather and the tree roots are slowly destroying the walls.

Article and photographs by Marcus Prauschke, all rights reserved.

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