Menno van Coehoorn
Menno, Baron van Coehoorn (March 1641 – March 17, 1704) was a Dutch
The Netherlands is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, located mainly in North-West Europe and with several islands in the Caribbean. Mainland Netherlands borders the North Sea to the north and west, Belgium to the south, and Germany to the east, and shares maritime borders...

 soldier and military engineer
Military engineer
In military science, engineering refers to the practice of designing, building, maintaining and dismantling military works, including offensive, defensive and logistical structures, to shape the physical operating environment in war...

 of Swedish
Sweden , officially the Kingdom of Sweden , is a Nordic country on the Scandinavian Peninsula in Northern Europe. Sweden borders with Norway and Finland and is connected to Denmark by a bridge-tunnel across the Öresund....

 extraction. He made a number of influential weapon
A weapon, arm, or armament is a tool or instrument used with the aim of causing damage or harm to living beings or artificial structures or systems...

ry innovations in siege warfare and fortification
Fortifications are military constructions and buildings designed for defence in warfare and military bases. Humans have constructed defensive works for many thousands of years, in a variety of increasingly complex designs...

 techniques. He was also known as the "Hollandish Vauban" (Hollandse Vauban), after his famous French counterpart Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban
Sébastien Le Prestre, Seigneur de Vauban and later Marquis de Vauban , commonly referred to as Vauban, was a Marshal of France and the foremost military engineer of his age, famed for his skill in both designing fortifications and breaking through them...


Early life

Coehoorn was born in the city of Leeuwarden in the Dutch province of Friesland
Friesland is a province in the north of the Netherlands and part of the ancient region of Frisia.Until the end of 1996, the province bore Friesland as its official name. In 1997 this Dutch name lost its official status to the Frisian Fryslân...

. He received an excellent military and general education, and at the age of sixteen became a captain in the Dutch army. During the Anglo-Dutch Wars
Anglo-Dutch Wars
The Anglo–Dutch Wars were a series of wars fought between the English and the Dutch in the 17th and 18th centuries for control over the seas and trade routes. The first war took place during the English Interregnum, and was fought between the Commonwealth of England and the Dutch Republic...

, he took part in the defence of Maastricht
Siege of Maastricht
The Siege of Maastricht was one of the key elements in King Louis XIV's plans to attack the Netherlands, in order to revenge the humiliating conditions enforced on him by the Triple Alliance when he tried to fully conquer the Spanish Netherlands...

 in 1673 and in the siege of Grave
Grave (Netherlands)
Grave is a municipality and a city in the southern Netherlands. Grave is a fortified city, in the province North Brabant.-Popular attractions:Near to Grave lies a bridge, built in 1929. It is the northern connection to Gelderland, spanning the river Maas...

 in 1674, where he used the small mortar
Mortar (weapon)
A mortar is an indirect fire weapon that fires explosive projectiles known as bombs at low velocities, short ranges, and high-arcing ballistic trajectories. It is typically muzzle-loading and has a barrel length less than 15 times its caliber....

s (called coehorn
A Coehorn was a portable mortar developed in the Netherlands by Menno van Coehoorn in 1674 and in use from the seventeenth to the mid nineteenth centuries. Unlike larger, heavier mortars, the Coehorn was designed to be movable by as few as four men...

s) invented by him to great effect against the French garrison. He was promoted to the rank of colonel
Colonel , abbreviated Col or COL, is a military rank of a senior commissioned officer. It or a corresponding rank exists in most armies and in many air forces; the naval equivalent rank is generally "Captain". It is also used in some police forces and other paramilitary rank structures...

 for his gallant conduct at the battle of Seneffe
Battle of Seneffe
The Battle of Seneffe was fought on 11 August 1674 and resulted in a draw.The armies were under the command of Louis II de Bourbon, Prince de Condé and the Dutch-German-Spanish army under William III of Orange....

 (1674), and was also present at the Battle of Cassel (1677) and the Battle of Saint Denis
Battle of Saint-Denis (1678)
The Battle of Saint-Denis was fought on August 14-15 1678 between a French army commanded by the Marshal Luxembourg and a Dutch army under William III near Saint-Denis, a village outside Mons, then part of the Spanish Netherlands...


Military innovations

The circumstances of the time and the country turned Coehoorn's attention to the art of fortification, and the events of the late war showed him that existing methods could no longer be relied upon. Coehoorn gained most of his knowledge and insights on the building of fortification by having to capture many of them himself. His first published work, Versterchinge de Vijfhoeks met alle syne Buytenwerken (Leeuwarden, 1682), at once aroused attention, and involved the author in a lively controversy with a rival engineer, Louys Paan (Leeuwarden, 1682, 1683; copies are in the library of the Dutch Ministry of Defence). The military authorities were much interested in his work, and entrusted Coehoorn with the reconstruction of several fortresses in the Netherlands. This task he continued throughout his career and his experience made him the worthy rival of his great contemporary Vauban
Sébastien Le Prestre, Seigneur de Vauban and later Marquis de Vauban , commonly referred to as Vauban, was a Marshal of France and the foremost military engineer of his age, famed for his skill in both designing fortifications and breaking through them...

. He formulated his ideas a little later in his chief work, New fortress Construction (Nieuwe Vestingbouw op een natte of lage horisont, Leeuwarden, 1685), in which he laid down three systems, the characteristic feature of which was the multiplicity and great saliency of the works, which were calculated and in principle are still eminently suited for, flat and almost marsh
In geography, a marsh, or morass, is a type of wetland that is subject to frequent or continuous flood. Typically the water is shallow and features grasses, rushes, reeds, typhas, sedges, other herbaceous plants, and moss....

y sites such as those in the Low Countries
Low Countries
The Low Countries are the historical lands around the low-lying delta of the Rhine, Scheldt, and Meuse rivers, including the modern countries of Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and parts of northern France and western Germany....

. Essential to his new approach was the ability to fight an active defence on the outer shores of the enveloping ditch, made possible by constructing an extra protective wall around the fortification.

He borrowed many of the details from the works of his Dutch predecessor Freytag
People with the surname Freytag include:* Arny Freytag, American photographer* Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Freytag , German philologist* Gustav Freytag , German dramatist**Freytag's pyramid...

, of Albrecht Dürer
Albrecht Dürer
Albrecht Dürer was a German painter, printmaker, engraver, mathematician, and theorist from Nuremberg. His prints established his reputation across Europe when he was still in his twenties, and he has been conventionally regarded as the greatest artist of the Northern Renaissance ever since...

, and of the German engineer Speckle, and in general he aimed rather at the adaptation of his principles to the requirements of individual sites than at producing a geometrically and theoretically perfect fortress. Throughout his career he never hesitated to depart from his own rules in dealing with exceptional cases, such as that of Groningen. Subsequent editions of Nieuwe Vestingbouw appeared in Dutch (1702, and frequently afterwards), English (London, 1705), French (Wesel, 1705), and German (Düsseldorf, 1709). Coehoorn's individual assessment of each fortification and focus on existing natural advantages and disadvantages is the main difference in thinking from Vauban, who adhered more strictly to mathematics and standard fortifications.

In the War of the Grand Alliance
War of the Grand Alliance
The Nine Years' War – often called the War of the Grand Alliance, the War of the Palatine Succession, or the War of the League of Augsburg – was a major war of the late 17th century fought between King Louis XIV of France, and a European-wide coalition, the Grand Alliance, led by the Anglo-Dutch...

 (1689–1697) Coehoorn served as a brigadier
Brigadier is a senior military rank, the meaning of which is somewhat different in different military services. The brigadier rank is generally superior to the rank of colonel, and subordinate to major general....

. At the battle of Fleurus
Battle of Fleurus (1690)
The Battle of Fleurus, fought on 1 July 1690, was a major engagement of the Nine Years' War. In a bold envelopment the Duc de Luxembourg, commanding Louis XIV’s army of some 35,000 men, soundly defeated Prince Waldeck’s Allied force of approximately 38,000 men comprising mainly Dutch, German, and...

 he greatly distinguished himself, and he defended Namur
Namur (city)
Namur is a city and municipality in Wallonia, in southern Belgium. It is both the capital of the province of Namur and of Wallonia....

, a fortress of his own creation, when it was besieged by the French in 1692
Siege of Namur (1692)
The Siege of Namur, 25 May–30 June 1692, was a major engagement of the Nine Years' War, and was part of the French grand plan to defeat the forces of the Grand Alliance and bring a swift conclusion to the war...

. Namur was taken by Vauban; but the Dutch engineer had his revenge three years later in the Siege of Namur of 1695
Siege of Namur (1695)
The Siege of Namur, 2 July–1 September 1695, was the second siege of the city of Namur in the Nine Years' War. The Allied forces of the Grand Alliance retook the city from the French, who had captured it in the first siege in 1692...

, when van Coehoorn retook Namur, despite Vauban having spent the interval improving the defences with his skill. Coehoorn became lieutenant-general and inspector-general of the Netherlands fortresses, and the high-German peoples as well as his own countrymen honored him. He commanded a corps
A corps is either a large formation, or an administrative grouping of troops within an armed force with a common function such as Artillery or Signals representing an arm of service...

 in the army of the Duke of Marlborough
John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough
John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, Prince of Mindelheim, KG, PC , was an English soldier and statesman whose career spanned the reigns of five monarchs through the late 17th and early 18th centuries...

 from 1701 to 1703, and in the constant siege warfare of these campaigns in the Low Countries
Low Countries
The Low Countries are the historical lands around the low-lying delta of the Rhine, Scheldt, and Meuse rivers, including the modern countries of Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and parts of northern France and western Germany....

 his technical skill was of the highest value. The swift reduction of the fortress of Bonn
Bonn is the 19th largest city in Germany. Located in the Cologne/Bonn Region, about 25 kilometres south of Cologne on the river Rhine in the State of North Rhine-Westphalia, it was the capital of West Germany from 1949 to 1990 and the official seat of government of united Germany from 1990 to 1999....

 and the siege of Huy
Huy is a municipality of Belgium. It lies in the country's Walloon Region and Province of Liege. Huy lies along the river Meuse, at the mouth of the small river Hoyoux. It is in the sillon industriel, the former industrial backbone of Wallonia, home to about two-thirds of the Walloon population...

 in 1703 were his crowning successes. At the opening of his following campaign he was on his way to confer with Marlborough when he died of apoplexy
Apoplexy is a medical term, which can be used to describe 'bleeding' in a stroke . Without further specification, it is rather outdated in use. Today it is used only for specific conditions, such as pituitary apoplexy and ovarian apoplexy. In common speech, it is used non-medically to mean a state...

 at Wijkel.

Applications of the Coehoorn-system

His first system was applied to numerous places in the Netherlands, notably Nijmegen, Breda and Bergen op Zoom
Bergen op Zoom
Bergen op Zoom is a municipality and a city located in the south of the Netherlands.-History:Bergen op Zoom was granted city status probably in 1266. In 1287 the city and its surroundings became a lordship as it was separated from the lordship of Breda. The lordship was elevated to a margraviate...

. Mannheim
Mannheim is a city in southwestern Germany. With about 315,000 inhabitants, Mannheim is the second-largest city in the Bundesland of Baden-Württemberg, following the capital city of Stuttgart....

 in Germany was also fortified in this way, while the second system was applied to Belgrade
Belgrade is the capital and largest city of Serbia. It is located at the confluence of the Sava and Danube rivers, where the Pannonian Plain meets the Balkans. According to official results of Census 2011, the city has a population of 1,639,121. It is one of the 15 largest cities in Europe...

 and Temesvar in eastern Europe.


  • Coehoorn's son, Gosewijn Theodor van Coehoorn, wrote a biography
    A biography is a detailed description or account of someone's life. More than a list of basic facts , biography also portrays the subject's experience of those events...

     (re-edited Syperstein, Leeuwarden, 1860).
  • Andrzej Sapkowski
    Andrzej Sapkowski
    Andrzej Sapkowski, born 21 June 1948 in Łódź, is a Polish fantasy writer. He is best known for his best-selling book series The Witcher.-Biography:...

    , Polish fantasy writer, used Menno van Coehoorn's name for one of the Nilfgaard marchals in the five book "Saga" about The Witcher
    The Witcher
    The Witcher, or , by Polish writer Andrzej Sapkowski is a cult series of fantasy short stories and five novels about the witcher Geralt of Rivia...


External links

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