Siege of Calais (1346)
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|Siege of Calais|
|Part of the Hundred Years' War|
|Kingdom of England||Kingdom of France|
|Commanders and leaders|
|Edward III of England||Jean de Vienne|
||7,000 to 8,000 citizens|
The Siege of Calais began in 1346, early in the Hundred Years' War (1337 to 1453). Edward III of England asserted dominion over France, and defeated the French navy in the Battle of Sluys in 1340. He went on to make raids throughout Normandy, the last of which led to the Battle of Crécy in 1346. By then, Edward's army in France required supplies and reinforcements from Flanders, so they withdrew to the north. English ships had already left Normandy for England. Edward needed a defensible port where his army could regroup and be resupplied.
The English Channel port of Calais suited Edward's purposes. It was highly defensible. It boasted a double moat and substantial city walls built a hundred years earlier. The citadel in the northwest corner of Calais had its own moat and additional fortifications. Once taken, Calais could be resupplied and defended easily by sea. But the defences which made Calais attractive to Edward also made it difficult to seize.
The English laid siege. Philip VI of France failed to deliver relief, and the starving city surrendered after almost a year. The Kingdom of England held Calais until 1558. It was her last possession in mainland France.
Edward's men approached Calais in September 1346. The city's substantial walls and moats could not be easily breached or crossed. Edward received aid from England and Flanders. King Philip of France failed to interfere with the English army and their supply lines. Edward likewise failed to interfere with aid to the people of Calais by sailors loyal to France. The English accomplished little for over two months.
In November the English were supplied with cannon, catapults, and long ladders, but could not breach the city walls. Edward broke off the attack by February and initiated a siege. One more French supply convoy succeeded in reaching the city, but the English navy repelled all further supply attempts. Still, King Philip continued his assault. Both armies received additional reinforcements that spring. Philip's French forces still could not displace the English, who benefited from a position surrounded by marshland.
By June, the city's supplies of food and fresh water were nearly depleted. Another French supply convoy was blocked by the English fleet two months later. Five hundred children and elderly were expelled from the city so that the remaining healthy adult men and women might survive. One version of events holds that the English refused to allow these exiles to approach, so they starved to death just outside the city walls. That version of events was contradicted by the contemporary Flemish chronicler Jean Le Bel, who praised Edward III for his charity in feeding and granting free passage and a small monetary gift to each expelled person.
On August 1, the city lit fires signaling they were ready to surrender. Philip destroyed the encampment from which his army had been planning to attack the English so that it would not fall into their hands. Edward was persuaded by his advisers to allow the remaining citizens to live. After providing them with some provisions, he allowed them to leave the city.
Calais fell under English control and remained as such until 1558, providing a foothold for English raids in France. Calais was finally lost by the English monarch Mary I following the 1558 siege of Calais.
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- Jaques 2007, p. 184.
- Jaques, Tony (2007). Dictionary of Battles and Sieges. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-313-33537-2.