Siege of Calais (1596)
|Siege of Calais|
|Part of the Franco-Spanish War (1595-1598) and the Anglo–Spanish War|
The Siege of Calais. Collection Rijksmuseum Amsterdam.
| Kingdom of France
|Commanders and leaders|
| Henry IV of France
Sir of Widessan †
François d'Orléans Supported by:
Maurice of Nassau
| Archduke Albert
Luis de Velasco
|Calais: About 7,000 men
Relief forces: Unknown
|Casualties and losses|
|Thousands of dead or prisoners
The Siege of Calais of 1596, also known as the Spanish conquest of Calais, took place between 8 April and 24 April 1596, as part of the Franco-Spanish War (1595-1598), in the context of the French Wars of Religion, the Anglo-Spanish War (1585–1604), and the Eighty Years' War. The city fell into Spanish hands after a short siege by the Spanish forces commanded by Albert VII, Archduke of Austria and Governor-General of the Spanish Netherlands. The citadel of Calais resisted few days more, but finally the Spanish troops, led by Don Luis de Velasco y Velasco, Count of Salazar, captured the strength by storm. The Spanish success was the first action of the first campaign of Archduke Albert.
Since 1562, France was in the grip of the French Wars of Religion in which Spain had regularly intervened in favour of the Catholic League of France, most notably in the sieges of Paris or Rouen, and other battles as Craon in 1592, or Blaye in 1593. But only, in 1595, the war was officially declared between the two countries by the new King Henry IV of France, who had the year before converted to Catholicism and been received into Paris to be crowned.
Henry IV was attempting to reconquer large parts of northern France from hostile Spanish-French Catholic forces. In 1595, the Spanish army led by Don Pedro Henríquez de Acevedo, Count of Fuentes, took the initiative, conquering a great number of French towns, castles and villages, including Doullens. In the spring of 1596, the French army led by Henry IV laid siege to La Fère, under control of the Catholic League of France.
After the death at Brussels of the Archduke Ernest of Austria, on 20 February 1595, Albert was sent by Philip II of Spain, to succeed his elder brother as Governor-General of the Spanish Netherlands, charge assigned to the Count of Fuentes, until the arrival of Albert to the Low Countries. He made his entry in Brussels on 11 February 1596, and his first priority was the conflict with Henry IV of France. On 29 March, Albert left Brussels, and went to Valenciennes, where met the forces of the Spanish Army of Flanders, and advanced over France in late March, but instead of sending it to relieve La Fère, it turned towards Calais, where it arrived on 8 April.
Capture of Calais
The French troops at Calais, composed in part by Huguenots, and English mercenaries sent by Elizabeth I of England to support Henry IV, were taken completely by surprise. Henry, was on the point of capturing La Fère, after a long and costly siege, and couldn't spare any troops to relieve the port city, and his English and Dutch allies reacted too slowly. Queen Elizabeth of England sent Sir Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, with 6,000 soldiers to support the Anglo-French defenders, but Elizabeth demanded to Henry that Calais should return to English rule after her intervention. However, while the two monarchs dickered, the excellent work of the Spanish troops was crucial, and made it impossible the English help. Moreover, Maurice of Nassau, Prince of Orange, on hearing the news, hurried to Zeeland to prepare a fleet to relieve Calais, but the city fell the day in that the first Dutch ships took to the sea.
The city fell to the Spaniards after ten days of siege, after which only the citadel remained in French hands. The French general François d'Orléans-Longueville, Duke of Château-Thierry and of Fronsac, tried to break the siege by sea, and help the city with supplies and fresh troops, but was successfully stopped by the bombardments of the Spanish artillery. Finally, Henry IV also tried to relieve the city, and with a great part of his troops, abandoned the siege of La Fère, and advanced towards Calais.
Citadel of Calais
On Wednesday, 24 April, the Spanish troops led by Don Luis de Velasco stormed the citadel. All fought with great courage but the French forces could not match the skill and experience of the professional Spanish and Walloon assault force. The French lost thousands of men in the assault, and a great part were taken prisoners. The Spanish lost around 200 dead and wounded. The Governor of Calais, Seigneur de Widessan, and some of his captains, were executed. With the capture of the citadel, the whole city was under Spanish control, and the hopes of Henry IV to retain the city under his control vanished.
Into the citadel, the Spaniards took a valuable treasure, composed, among other things, by a large amount of gold and silver coins, horses, and a great quantities of gunpowder and supplies.
The conquest of the city by the Spanish Army of Flanders, led by Archduke Albert, was a resounding victory, and a severe blow to Henry IV of France, and his Protestant allies. Calais was of strategic importance, for it gave Spain an excellent port to controlling the English Channel, along with Dunkirk. Having left behind a strong garrison, Albert advanced with the army over the nearby stronghold of Ardres. The defenders offered stiff resistance, but were forced to surrender on 23 May. The day before, La Fère finally fell to Henry IV's troops. The next target of Albert was Hulst. In the middle of July, the assault on the town was launched, and little more than a month later, Hulst capitulated to the Spaniards.
Calais was under Spanish control during two years, when it was ceded by Spain to French control after the Peace of Vervins in 1598.
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