Today’s installment concludes England Looses Her Last French Territory,
our selection from The Popular History of England by Charles Knight published in 1862.
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Previously on England Looses Her Last French Territory.
Place: Calais, France
The importance of Calais was thus described by Micheli, the Venetian ambassador, only one year before it finally passed from the English power:
“Another frontier, besides that of Scotland, and of no less importance for the security of the kingdom, though it be separated, is that which the English occupy on the other side of the sea, by means of two fortresses, Calais and Guines, guarded by them (and justly) with jealousy, especially Calais, for this is the key and principal entrance to their dominions, without which the English would have no outlet from their own, nor access to other countries, at least none so easy, so short, and so secure; so much so that if they were deprived of it they would not only be shut out from the Continent, but also from the commerce and intercourse of the world. They would consequently lose what is essentially necessary for the existence of a country, and become dependent upon the will and pleasure of other sovereigns, in availing themselves of their ports, besides having to encounter a more distant, more hazardous, and more expensive passage; whereas, by way of Calais, which is directly opposite to the harbor of Dover, distant only about thirty miles, they can, at any time, without hinderance, even in spite of contrary winds, at their pleasure, enter or leave the harbor–such is the experience and boldness of their sailors–and carry over either troops or anything else for warfare, offensive and defensive, without giving rise to jealousy and suspicion; and thus they are enabled, as Calais is not more than ten miles from Ardres, the frontier of the French, nor farther from Gravelines, the frontier of the imperialists, to join either the one or the other, as they please, and to add their strength to him with whom they are at amity, in prejudice of an enemy.
“For these reasons, therefore, it is not to be wondered at that, besides the inhabitants of the place, who are esteemed men of most unshaken fidelity, being the descendants of an English colony settled there shortly after the first conquest, it should also be guarded by one of the most trusty barons which the King has, bearing the title of deputy, with a force of five hundred of the best soldiers, besides a troop of fifty horsemen. It is considered by everyone as an impregnable fortress, on account of the inundation with which it may be surrounded, although there are persons skilled in the art of fortification who doubt that it would prove so if put to the test. For the same reason Guines is also reckoned impregnable, situated about three miles more inland, on the French frontier, and guarded with the same degree of care, though, being a smaller place, only by a hundred fifty men, under a chief governor. The same is done with regard to a third place, called Hammes, situated between the two former, and thought to be of equal importance, the waters which inundate the country being collected around.”
Ninety years later Calais was regarded in a very different light: “Now it is gone, let it go. It was but a beggarly town, which cost England ten times yearly more than it was worth in keeping thereof, as by the accounts in the exchequer doth plainly appear.”
The expedition against Calais was undertaken upon a report of the dilapidated condition of the works and the smallness of its garrison. It was not “an impregnable fortress,” as Micheli says it was considered. The Duke of Guise commenced his attack on January 2d, when he stormed and took the castle of Ruysbank, which commanded the approach by water. On the 3d he carried the castle of Newenham bridge, which commanded the approach by land. He then commenced a cannonade of the citadel, which surrendered on the 6th. On the 7th the town capitulated. Lord Wentworth, the Governor, and fifty others remained as prisoners. The English inhabitants, about four thousand, were ejected from the home which they had so long colonized, but without any exercise of cruelty. “The Frenchmen,” say the chroniclers, “entered and possessed the town; and forthwith all the men, women, and children were commanded to leave their houses and to go to certain places appointed for them to remain in, till order might be taken for their sending away.
“The places thus appointed for them to remain in were chiefly four, the two churches of Our Lady and St. Nicholas, the deputy’s house, and the stable, where they rested a great part of that day and one whole night and the next day till three o’clock at afternoon, without either meat or drink. And while they were thus in the churches and those other places the Duke of Guise, in the name of the French King, in their hearing made a proclamation charging all and every person that were inhabitants of the town of Calais, having about them any money, plate, or jewels to the value of one groat, to bring the same forthwith, and lay it down upon the high altars of the said churches, upon pain of death; bearing them in hand also that they should be searched. By reason of which
proclamation there was made a great and sorrowful offertory.
“While they were at this offertory within the churches, the Frenchmen entered into their houses and rifled the same, where were found inestimable riches and treasures; but especially of ordnance, armor, and other munitions. Thus dealt the French with the English in lieu and recompense of the like usage to the French when the forces of King Philip prevailed at St. Quentin; where, not content with the honor of victory, the English in sacking the town sought nothing more than the satisfying of their greedy vein of covetousness, with an extreme neglect
of all moderation.”
Within the marches of Calais the English held the two small fortresses of Guines and Hammes. Guines was defended with obstinate courage by Lord Grey, and did not surrender till January 20th. His loss amounted to eight hundred men. From Hammes the English garrison made their escape by night.
This ends our series of passages on England Looses Her Last French Territory by Charles Knight from his book from The Popular History of England by published in 1862. This blog features short and lengthy pieces on all aspects of our shared past. Here are selections from the great historians who may be forgotten (and whose work have fallen into public domain) as well as links to the most up-to-date developments in the field of history and of course, original material from yours truly, Jack Le Moine. – A little bit of everything historical is here.
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