| Our Island Story|
|by H. E. Marshall|
|A child's history of England from earliest legendary times delightfully retold. Beginning with the stories of Albion and Brutus, it relates all the interesting legends and hero tales in which the history of England abounds through the end of the reign of Queen Victoria. Ages 9-12 |
EDWARD III. OF WINDSOR—THE STORY OF THE SIEGE OF CALAIS
 FIVE days after the battle of Crecy, Edward began to besiege
the town of Calais. He did not fight, for the fortifications
were so strong that he knew it would be useless. He made his
men build a ring of wooden houses round Calais, in which
they could live until the people of the town were starved
into giving in.
When the Governor of Calais saw what Edward was doing, he
gathered all the weak, poor, and old people, who were not
able to fight, and sent them out of the town. He did this so
that there would be fewer people to feed, and therefore the
food they had in the town would last longer.
King Edward was surprised to see all these people leave the
town, and he asked them what it meant, "We have no food nor
money, and cannot fight," they replied, "so the Governor has
sent us away."
Then Edward, instead of making them return into the town,
gave them a good dinner and some money, and allowed them to
go safely through his camp, to the country beyond.
For nearly a year Calais held out bravely. Day after day the
people hoped that the King of France would come with his
army to help them. But day after day
 passed and no one came.
"We have eaten everything," wrote the Governor to Philip,
"even the cats, and dogs, and horses, and there is nothing
left for us but to die of hunger unless you come soon. You
will get no more letters from me, but if you do not come,
you will hear that the town is lost and all we who are in it
At last one morning, the watchman on the walls saw the gleam
of spears, and heard the drums and trumpet-call of the
When the good news was told, the joy in Calais was great.
Pale and thin from want of food, hardly able to walk or
stand, the people yet crowded to the walls. Oh, what joy! At
last they would be free! The king had not forgotten them.
But the day passed. There was no movement in the French
camp. No battle-cry was heard, no sounds of war.
"To-morrow," said the men of Calais sadly, "to-morrow the
king will fight. To-morrow we will open our gates to our
But the next day and the next passed by, while the King of
England strengthened his camp, and the King of France talked
Then one morning the sun shone upon the army of Philip of
France, with its gay banners and glittering spears, as it
turned and marched away, without having struck one blow for
the town and its brave defenders.
Calais was left to misery and tears. All hope was lost. "Our
king has forsaken us," said the people sadly.
When the Governor saw that there was indeed no hope, he
mounted upon the walls, waving a white flag. King Edward saw
the signal and sent two of his knights to talk with the
"Are you willing to give up the town?" they asked.
"Yes," replied the Governor,
"we have kept the town
 well and truly for our king, but now we can hold out no longer. We
have nothing more to eat, and we are all perishing of
hunger. I will yield the town and castle, with all its
riches and treasures, if King Edward will grant us our
"Nay," replied the knights, "our noble King will not accept
these terms. You and your people have been too stubborn in
resisting him, and have cost him to much. You must give
yourselves up, freely and entirely. Whom he pleases he will
set free, whom he pleases he will put to death."
"These terms are too hard," replied the Governor, "we have
only done our duty, we have fought for our King and master,
as you have for yours. We know the King of England is noble
and generous. It cannot be that he will deal so hardly with
us. Go back, I entreat you, and beg him to have pity."
So the two knights rode back and told King Edward what the
Governor had said.
But Edward was stern. "I will listen to no conditions," he
said. "What! am I to wait twelve months, and then have the
saucy rascals make conditions? No, let them yield themselves
entirely into my hands."
But Edward's knights were so full of admiration for the
noble men of Calais, and they begged their King so earnestly
to be merciful, that at last he gave way.
"My lords," he said, "I cannot hold out against you all. Go
back to the Governor; tell him to send to me six of the
chief men of Calais. They must come dressed in their shirts,
with bare heads and feet, with ropes round their necks, and
with the keys of the castle and town in their hands. These
six shall be mine to do with what I will. The rest shall go
One of the knights who had before spoken to the
now returned and told him what the King had said.
"I beg of you," said the Governor, "to wait until I have
spoken to the townspeople. It is they who must give the
"I will wait," said the knight.
The Governor left the walls, and going to the market-place
told the bellman to ring the great bell. At the sound of it
all the people of Calais, both men and women, hurried to the
town hall. They were full of wonder and hope. They knew
something great must have happened. "What is it?" they
asked, "what is it?"
When the people were all gathered together the Governor
stood up among them and spoke. He told them of all that he
had said and done, and what a hard answer the King of
England had returned.
When he had finished speaking, the men groaned and the women
wept. They were all worn with suffering and hunger. For
weeks and weeks they had not had enough to eat, and they
could no longer bear the pain of it. But, where would six
men be found brave enough to give their lives for the
others? Even the Governor who, all through the terrible
year, had encouraged and cheered the people, now lost heart.
Hiding his face in his hands he, too, burst into tears.
For a few minutes there was dreadful silence, broken only by
low sobs. Then a brave man called Eustace de St. Pierre
stood up. He was one of the richest and most important men
of the town.
"Friends," he said, "it would be a great wrong to allow so
many people to die if in any way it could be prevented. I
have such faith and trust in God that I pray He will not
forget me if I die to save my fellow townsmen. I offer
myself as the first of the six."
 When Eustace had finished speaking, the people crowded round
him. They fell at his feet, they kissed his hands, they
thanked and blessed him. Then, amidst the sobs and cries of
the people, another and another man rose, till six of the
richest merchants of Calais stood together, ready to die for
With ropes round their necks, with bare feet and heads, and
carrying the keys of the town in their hands, these six
brave men walked through the streets, followed by the
townspeople, who wept and sobbed and blessed them as they
The Governor, who was hardly able to walk, rode before them,
mounted upon a poor, little thin pony. When they came to the
gates of the town, he commanded them to be opened, and the
gates, which for a whole year had opened neither to friend
nor foe, now swung wide. The Governor passed out and, with
bent heads, the six men followed, feeling that they were
saying farewell for ever to their beloved town. Then the
heavy gates were closed again behind them.
The Governor led the way to the outer wall where the
English knight still waited. There he stopped.
"As Governor of Calais," he said, "I deliver up to you these
six citizens. I swear to you that they are no mean men, but
the richest and greatest of our town. I beg of you, gentle
sir, out of the goodness of your heart, to pray the King
that he will not put them to death."
"I cannot answer for what the King will do," replied the
knight, "but this I swear to you, I will do all that is in
my power to save them."
Then the barriers were opened, the six brave men passed out,
and the Governor slowly and sadly returned to the town.
The knight at once brought the six men of Calais to
King's tent. There they fell upon their knees, presenting
the keys of the city to him. "We are yours to do with what
you will," they said, "but, noble King, pity our misery and
The King looked at them darkly. He hated the people of
Calais, not only because they had held out against him for
so long, but because they often fought with his ships at sea
and did them much damage. So, instead of listening to the
prayers of the brave men, he ordered their heads to be cut
All the lords and knights round him begged him to have
mercy, but he would not hear. The knight who had brought the
men from Calais, begged hardest. "All the world will say
that you have acted cruelly, if you put
these men to death," he said.
"They come of their own free will, and give
themselves into your hands in order to save their fellows.
Such a noble deed should be rewarded, not punished."
But the King only waved his hand, as if to say that he did
not care what all the world said, and ordered the headsman
to be sent for.
Then Queen Philippa fell upon her knees beside him, weeping.
"Ah, my dear lord," she said, "I have never before asked a
favour from you, but now I beg you, by the love you have to
me, let these men go."
The King looked at her in silence, and tried to raise her
from her knees, but still she knelt, and still she begged
for the lives of these brave men.
"Ah, lady," said Edward at last, "I would you were anywhere
but here, for I can refuse you nothing. Take the men. They
are yours. Do with them as you please."
Then there was rejoicing indeed. The Queen led the men away
to her own rooms. She ordered clothes to be
 given to them,
and made a great feast for them. They had not had such a
dinner for many months. When they were clothed and fed Queen
Philippa sent them away, each with a large sum of money.
So ended the siege of Calais.
Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics