Cambridge Historical Reader: Primary - Cambridge Press

Queen Philippa and the Brave Men of Calais

Just about the time when "the Good king Robert" lay dying, a famous young king, known as Edward III, began to reign over England. He gave up the idea of trying to conquer Scotland, and claimed the kingdom of France, which was a much larger and richer country.

So he took an army across the English Channel, and beat the French in the famous battle of Crecy. He then led his men towards the town of Calais, which is only about twenty miles from our own port of Dover. Calais was a very strong place, having thick walls and a deep ditch round it.

The king had little wooden huts made for his soldiers, stretching all the way round Calais; and, in front of the harbour, he placed ships full of armed men. Thus, you see, no one could pass through to help the men of Calais, or take food to them.

The king of France came with a large army to try to save the town; but a great marsh lay between him and the English. His troops could not cross this, and so the poor people in the town began to lose all hope of being saved from the enemy.

Nearly a year passed, and many of the people of Calais died of hunger. They had eaten the horses, the dogs, the cats and even the rats and mice. But now these were gone, and there was nothing left for them but to give up their town to the English.

Battle of Crecy


So, with hearts full of sorrow, they pulled down their own flag from the wall of the town, and put up the banner of England instead. When king Edward saw this, he sent his brave knight, Sir Walter Manny, who spoke over the wall to the governor of the town. The governor asked that the people of Calais might go free, if they gave up their town to the English.

But Edward was very angry and said he would put all the people to death, unČless six of the chief men came out to him, with ropes round their necks, bare-headed and with bare feet. In their hands they were to bring the keys of the town, and give up their own lives that the rest of the people might be spared.

When the governor heard this, he called a meeting of the townsmen in the market place. He then, amid loud weeping and cries of distress, gave them the stern message of the English king.

At last, one of the richest men stepped forward, and said, "I will give my life as a ransom for the rest." When he had spoken, five others promised to do likewise. So these six noble men, clad in nothing but their night-shirts, and with ropes round their necks, set out for the English camp.

Edward III


When they reached king Edward's tent, they handed him the keys of the gates, and fell on their knees, praying for mercy. But the king looked sternly at them, and ordered them to be at once put to death. Then many of his brave knights, with Sir Walter Manny at their head, pleaded for the lives of these brave men; but Edward's only reply was, "Let the headsman be summoned."

At this trying moment, good queen Philippa fell at her husband's feet. "Gentle sire," said she, "I have crossed the sea, in great danger, to bring you good news. For our dear Lord's sake, spare the lives of these brave men."

The king, looking at her tenderly, said, "Ah! dame, I wish you had not been here. But I cannot refuse you anything, so take these men away, and do with them just as you please."

You may be sure that the good queen was delighted. She led the six brave men to her own tent, clothed them and gave them a good meal. Then, with rich presents in their hands, they returned to their homes, to tell the happy tidings to their friends and neighbours.