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Franz Peter Ludwig Leo Freiherr von Roll von Emmenholz, born on 19 April 1771, was the son of Franz Urs Joseph Victor Wilhelm Freiherr von Roll, colonel in the French Swiss Guards Regiment, and Maria Anna Eva Beatrix, Countess de Diesbach de Torny. Ludwig von Roll's father who rose to the rank of Field Marshal, was the only son of the well known president of the Cantonal Government of Solothurn in the 18th century, the chief magistrate Franz Victor Augustin Freiherr von Roll, and Maria Johanna Margarita Viktoria von Besenval (in her dowry, she brought into the von Roll family the Besenval palace, called "New Building").


Augustin's son received his first military order in his cradle from Ludwig XV and was destined to follow a military career - he received an extraordinary education. After his basic studies, he moved, accompanied by his steward, to an expensive college for aristocrats in Turin where he spent 2 years studying philosophy (logic, metaphysics and physics), mathematics and history, learning to dance, ride and fence, also to speak French and Italian. After passing his examinations, he set out on long travels to Bergamo, Venice, Milan, Bologna, Florence, Piza, Siena, Rome and Naples. In the Summer of 1761, he returned home through the Tyrol and dedicated himself, under his father's guidance, to matters of State and was elected to the cantonal government in 1763. In 1765, he married Maria Anna von Diesbach and settled down in the "New Building". Having served in the French Army since 1764, he was soon welcome in court circles. As Brigadier General, he was invested with the knighthood of the Order of St. Lazarus and Ludwig and was regarded as one of the leading foreign officers in the French army. In spite of this brilliant military career, this well educated man did not wish his sons to stay in the army permanently although they had to go through a 3-year course at the officers training college in France and their subsequent education under their father's watchful eye after the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789 took them on the way to becoming statesmen.

Ludwig, the elder son, established his own household in 1792, having married Maria Ludowika Karolina von Stäffis von Mollodin, a wealthy orphan, the daughter of senator Johann Viktor Joseph and Johanna Maria, Countess of Dürrfort-Leobard, who, after giving birth to a daughter who died immediately after her christening, presented him with two children, a son, Franz Ludwig Barnabas and a daughter, Kleophea Margarita. Ludwig von Roll, who lived in the large Stäffishaus which is now the local authority building, was in 1794 the Major of the Solothurn foot soldiers and a member of the War Council. In appreciation of "his unceasing endeavours benefiting agriculture and improvement of the economy", he was chosen the same year as a candidate for membership of the "Economics Society" and devoted himself wholly to the problems of modern economy and studies of political economy. Literature on political economy blossomed at that time. After being elected as an ordinary member in 1796, he presented the beautiful Stäffishaus to the Society as its permanent abode.

Having chosen the subject of cultivation of sorrel for his inaugural lecture, von Roll commenced activities which rapidly bore fruit, particularly when he presented the question of iron ore extraction which became the subject of lively debates. Von Roll suggested, considering the fact that "pea ore being extracted by a certain Black Forest iron smelter by the name of Meyer from Murg for the benefit of his smelting work, trade could be attracted, with permission, in the said pea ore in this country for the sake of the profit which it brings since this type of ore is very useful in smelting and can be gathered at little cost without much digging". At his request, the cost of extraction, washing and transport abroad was calculated; in fact, von Roll was convinced that the Solothurn ore could never be smelted in this country because of shortage of wood. He made enquiries concerning the possibilities of selling crude ore even with the mining director Gruner in Aarau who supplied ore to the iron smelters in the Black Forest.

Von Roll started the exploitation of peat deposits in Matzendorf at his own expense, expecting the manufacture of smelting crucibles to flourish from this. At the same time, he negotiated with the director of the iron works in Courredlin, Rebetex, who was genuinely interested in buying pea ore. At the same time, he contacted Heinrich Murer, the owner of the hammer factory, who was looking for a supplier of iron ore in large volume. Amid all these promising developments, unrest broke out in Switzerland at the beginning of 1798, bringing these negotiations to an end.


The Swiss Government and a large part of the population in cities and on the land adopted an unmistakably negative attitude to the French Revolution. French refugees were accepted with due sympathy, those members of the French Ambassador's staff who showed revolutionary leanings were expelled, road transport to France was stopped. The French Legation left the embassy buildings in Solothurn in 1792. The old world was breaking up at the seams. "The different political attitudes and the border situation, particularly since the occupation of the bishopric of Basle, gave an excuse for military measures, violations of borders, many incidents and friction. Since the occupation of the Jura valleys by the French, the concealed animosity of the Council changed into weak complaisance towards French demands" (Hermann Büchi).

When the expected help from Berne failed to materialize, Solothurn collapsed. On 2 March 1798, Marshal von Roll, his military career at an end with the revolution, together with General Altermatt, the commander-in-chief of the Solothurn troops, rifle batallion Captain Weltner, the elders Brunner and von Vivis and General Schauenburg ceased fire and surrendered the town. After that day, the aristocracy was "not only politically powerless but regarded the bringing of freedom as the object of their desire" (Altermatt). The French burdened them with "excessive demands for quarters, took them hostage and imposed disproportional payments on them". Their demands soon reached as much as 2 million Francs payable at short notice. To secure this payment, the liberators took 10 aristocrats as hostages to Strasbourg and Hüningen. However, in spite of the sequestration of the patricians' assets, "not more" than half a million Francs were paid. There was nothing left in the kitty but not "because the aristocrats were not as rich as was generally believed, particularly since the French pensions and annuities were stopped", as has been written everywhere, but because the aristocrats' wealth was tied up mainly in the land and a sudden conversion of their rights would have resulted in economic collapse and an uprising of the peasants. Even the loss of half a million Livres meant a serious weakening of the financial position of the families which were affected and of the Cantons from whose treasuries the French extracted another 915000 Livres in cash and foreign securities. The von Roll family also had to make great sacrifices in order to retain the iron works.