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THE SIEGE OF CALAIS
 AFTER the battle of Crécy Edward with his victorious
army marched to Calais, and
laid siege to the town. Calais was on the coast, and
would be a safe and convenient
haven for the English when they wished to sail to
It was in September 1346 that King Edward arrived at
Calais. He knew that the town
was too strong to be taken by assault, but he believed
that if he could starve its
inhabitants they would be forced to surrender.
So the king prepared for a long siege, building around
Calais another town, made of
wood, in which he determined to live, summer and
winter, until Calais was taken.
The governor of the besieged town was John de Vienne,
He soon saw that even with
great care the food in the city would not last long. So
he ordered the old men,
women and children, who could not fight, to leave the
One day the sad procession passed slowly out of the
gates of Calais, and came to the
The English soldiers asked them why they had left the
city. "We are poor," they
answered, "and are either too old or too young to
fight, so the governor has sent us
away, for he cannot feed us during the siege."
When King Edward heard what had befallen these hapless
folk, he ordered that they
should be given a good dinner. After their meal they
were allowed to go away, the
king first giving a two-shilling piece to each of the
forlorn band, "the which grace," says
Froissart, "was commended as very
handsome, and so indeed it was."
 Winter passed, spring came, and then summer, and
during all these months
Philip had sent no help to Calais. Famine stared the
defenders of the city in the
face. Sometimes fisher folk in the neighbourhood had
succeeded in getting food into
the town, but even this had now ceased to be possible.
John de Vienne wrote in despair to King Philip,
"Everything has been eaten, cats,
dogs, and horses, and we can no longer find victuals in
the town, unless we eat human flesh.
"If we have not speedy succour, we will issue forth
from the town to fight, whether
to live or die, for we would rather die honourably in
the field than eat one another."
At length, in July 1347, Philip with a large army was
seen to be approaching. How
the starving folk rejoiced when they saw the banners of
their king floating in the
breeze. Now their hunger would soon be satisfied, now
the gates of Calais would soon
be flung wide open, and once again they would be free.
But day after day passed, and Philip could find no way
to reach the town, so well
were all its approaches guarded by the English king.
Each day seemed a year to the
starving people, yet their hopes were still centred on
the king. But alas! while
Philip talked of peace he found no way to reach the
It had been some comfort to the people to crowd upon
the walls of Calais, and look
at the tents of Philip's army, where there was food in
abundance, food that soon
would surely be theirs. But one day in August, to the
dismay of the starving folk,
they saw that the tents were gone. Philip and his army
were marching away from the
besieged town. Then indeed the brave inhabitants of
Calais were in despair. Their
last hope was gone. Their king had not fought a battle
to save them; nay, he had not
even managed to send them a little food; he had gone
away and left them to their
fate. Sobs and cries broke from the hearts of the
desperate, starving people.
 There was now nothing to be done but to submit to
the King of England, and Sir
John de Vienne tried to make terms with the victor.
But Edward was in no mood to make terms. The siege had
lasted long, and the king had
lost many brave soldiers and spent much good money
while the citizens of Calais had
held their city against him.
He sent Sir Walter de Manny to the governor of the town
to say that it must be
surrendered to him without any conditions, while the
inhabitants were to yield
themselves to him that he might do with them as he
"The terms are too hard," pleaded John de Vienne to Sir
Walter. "Go back and beg
your king to have mercy upon us."
So Sir Walter went back to King Edward, and besought
him to grant easier terms to
the brave men of Calais.
At first the king refused to listen, but when all his
knights added their entreaties
to those of Sir Walter, the king at length yielded.
"Go then," he said, "and tell the governor of Calais
that the greatest grace they
can find in my sight is that six of the most notable
burghers come forth from their
town bare-headed, bare-footed, with ropes round their
necks and with the keys of the
town of Calais in their hands! With these will I do
according to my will, and the
rest I will receive to mercy."
John de Vienne listened until Sir Walter de Manny had
delivered his message, then
slowly he went to the market-place, and bade that the
great bell of the city be
rung. As the clang of the bell, slow and solemn, fell
upon the ears of the people,
they hastened to the square to hear what their brave
governor had to tell.
But when they knew the king's will, the poor starving
folk wept bitterly. Even John
de Vienne could no longer try to comfort them, for the
tears were streaming down his
own cheeks as he saw the despair of the people.
 Bitterly the hungry folk wept, for they deemed
that there was not one, and
certainly that there were not six, burghers who would
give their lives to save them
all from death.
Then, so Froissart tells us, as the sobs of the people
fell upon his heart, Eustace
de St. Pierre, the richest burgher of the town, arose.
"Sir," he said to the governor, "it would be a great
pity to leave this people to
die by famine or otherwise. . . . I have great hope to
find favour in the eyes of our
Lord if I die to save this people."
When the people heard these words they threw themselves
at the feet of the good man,
weeping for joy. Then slowly, one after another, five
other burghers stepped
forward, and offered to give up their lives for the
sake of the other citizens of
On the 5th August 1347 St. Pierre with five burghers
noble as himself, bare-headed,
bare-footed, with ropes round their necks, and the city
keys in their hands, walked
along the streets of Calais, followed by the tears and
blessings of the starving
folk they were leaving behind.
When they reached the gates they were thrown open, and
the six burghers passed
bravely out to their doom.
As King Edward gazed upon these men in their pitiful
guise, he grew angry,
remembering his own good soldiers who had perished
during the long siege, and he
ordered that the six burghers should at once be
The king's knights begged him to be merciful, but
Edward only bade them be silent
and do his will.
Sir Walter de Manny dared yet again to plead that the
burghers' lives might be
spared. "Gentle sir," he said to the king, "you have
renown for gentleness and
nobleness, be pleased to do nought whereby it may be
But the king turned upon the knight furiously, saying,
"Sir Walter, hold your peace.
Let them fetch my headsman."
Then his wife, Queen Philippa, fell at her lord's feet.
"Ah, gentle sir," she cried,
"I pray you humbly, as a special
 boon, for the
sake of Holy Mary's Son and for
the love of me, you will please to have mercy on these
As he looked at the queen bending at his feet, the
king's heart at last grew kind,
and he answered, "Ha, dame, I had much rather you had
been elsewhere than here. But
you pray me such prayers that I dare not refuse you,
and though it irks me to do so,
there, I give them up to you; do with them as you
Gladly Queen Philippa thanked her lord. Then rising to
her feet she speedily led the
six burghers to her own rooms. Here they were clothed
in clean robes and given a
good dinner, for well the queen knew that for many
months they had had nought to eat
save only enough to keep them alive. Then the brave
burghers were sent safely back
to the people for whom they had dared so much.
Calais now belonged to the English, and for more than
two hundred years it remained
an English stronghold.
Philip had suffered heavy losses during the war, and in
1347, when the siege of
Calais was over, he was glad to agree to a truce with
England for ten years.
Thus, for a time, France was delivered from war. But a
terrible calamity, as bad as
war itself, overtook her in 1348, for the plague called
the Black Death, which had
already been causing havoc in Italy, reached France.
Men, women and children were stricken down in a day by
the dread disease. And there
were few who dared to tend the sick, lest they too
should catch the terrible
illness. Only a few monks and nuns went bravely in and
out among the dying people,
carrying with them for protection nought save the Cross
For two long years the Black Death claimed its victims.
Then, in 1350, it gradually
disappeared, and men, women and children were able once
again to do their work, to
play their games, without fear clutching at their
hearts lest they should be the
next to be smitten with the Black Death.
While the Black Death still raged, the lord of
 chastened it may be
by fear of the terrible plague, determined to go into a
monastery. He therefore sold
his land to Philip, on condition that it should never
be joined to the crown of
France, but should always belong to the eldest son of
the king. From this time,
therefore, the eldest son of the French king always
bore the title of the Dauphin,
and ruled over the land which had once belonged to the
lord of Dauphiny.
Philip, like other kings of whom you have read, was
often in need of money, and to
procure it he had put heavy taxes on his subjects.
Before his death he imposed a new
tax on salt, called Gabelle. This tax was bitterly
resented by the poor people both
now and in later years.
In 1350 Philip the Fortunate died. And you have seen
for yourselves that never was a
less fitting name found for any king than the one the
people bestowed on Philip of