Siege of Calais (1346–1347)
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|Siege of Calais|
|Part of the Hundred Years' War|
|Kingdom of England||Kingdom of France|
|Commanders and leaders|
|Edward III||Jean de Vienne|
The Siege of Calais (4 September 1346 – 3 August 1347) occurred when an English army under the command of King Edward III of England successfully besieged the French garrison of Calais. It was an important engagement early in the Edwardian phase of the Hundred Years' War.
During 1346, the English army attempted to take Calais by assaulting it outright. Although the English had surrounded the port, their siege lines were not tight and the French were still able get supplies into Calais, usually by sea. Once it became clear to Edward that an assault was unlikely to be successful, he tightened his investment of the city, including the sea approaches. This tactic ultimately proved successful and due to the lack of provisions the town surrendered on 3 August 1347.
The capture of Calais provided the English with an important strategic lodgement for the remainder of the Hundred Years' War and beyond. The port was not recaptured by the French until the reign of Mary I of England following the 1558 siege of Calais.
Edward III of England had asserted his claim to the throne of France in 1337, triggering war between the two nations. Edward decisively defeated the French fleet at the Battle of Sluys in 1340. His army then undertook several devastating chevauchée raids throughout Normandy, plundering its vast wealth, including the ancestral seat of Caen. This campaign climaxed with the Battle of Crécy in 1346, in which the French army of Philip VI of France was defeated.
By this time, Edward's army required supplies and reinforcements, so they withdrew to the north. Edward needed a defensible port where his army could regroup and be resupplied from the sea. The Channel port of Calais suited this purpose ideally. Calais was highly defensible: it boasted a double moat, substantial city walls, and its citadel in the north-west corner had its own moat and additional fortifications. The port could be resupplied and defended easily by sea and land.
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.
By November the English were supplied with cannon, catapults, and long ladders, but could not breach the city walls. Edward broke off the attack in 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 from their position, which was 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 signalling they were ready to surrender. Reportedly, Edward had offered to end the siege if citizens of Calais would surrender the keys to the city gates – and would sacrifice their lives. Six citizens, or "burghers", volunteered.[unreliable source?] 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. Philip destroyed the encampment from which his army had been planning to attack the English so that it would not fall into their hands.
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. The fall of Calais marked the capture of England's last possession in mainland France.
- Adams, Simon (27 March 2017). "Siege of Calais - Summary". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 3 August 2017.
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- Jaques, Tony (2007). Dictionary of Battles and Sieges. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-313-33537-2.
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