War is not the best way of settling differences; it is the only way of preventing their being settled for you. — G. K. Chesterton

Story of the English - Helene Guerber

The Siege of Calais

Having cut the French army to pieces at Crecy, Edward, who was anxious to secure a good seaport in France, set out to besiege Calais, a strongly fortified city within sight of the Dover cliffs.

The town was bravely defended by a gallant Frenchman named Jean de Vienne, and in spite of the English ships blocking the port, and the English army surrounding it on all sides, the French held out stanchly. As no provisions were allowed to enter, the governor soon saw that the people would suffer from famine, so he sent out all the old men, women, and children. These were allowed to pass through the English ranks to join their friends elsewhere. But although the number of inhabitants was thus greatly diminished, and the food carefully portioned out, the famine became so great that the people of Calais ate cats, dogs, and rats, and even boiled old boots to make soup.

Month after month passed by, and although their sufferings grew greater every day, they still held out bravely, hoping the French king would send them help or drive away the English army. Once more the city gates opened, and a second troop of thin and haggard people came out; but Edward was now so angry at the obstinate resistance of Calais that he would not let them pass, and they died of hunger between the city walls and the English camp.

Finally the city was forced to surrender, but Edward declared that he would kill all the inhabitants unless six of the most prominent citizens came to him, barefooted and in their shirts, each with a rope around his neck, and bringing the keys of the city gates. When this message was delivered by the governor, the people of Calais groaned aloud, for they felt that their end was near. But St. Pierre, one of the wealthiest men in town, stepped forward, offering to be the first of the six required victims.

Two of his relatives immediately imitated him, and they were soon followed by three other noble-hearted volunteers. The six victims, in the prescribed attire, then went before Edward, escorted to the gates by their weeping kinsmen. When the Englishmen saw the Calais burghers appear, they were touched to the heart, all except Edward, who, in spite of the entreaties of the Black Prince and all his courtiers, ordered that they should be hanged at once.

The guards were about to obey, when good Queen Philippa knelt before her husband, imploring him to spare the lives of those six brave men. She spoke so movingly that all who heard her wept; then she gently reminded Edward that she had come over the sea to bring him the joyful news of the victory of Neville's Cross, won over the Scots, whose king, David Bruce, was now her prisoner.

Her entreaties softened Edward's heart, and he gave her the six Calais burghers, to deal with as she wished. Philippa had them led to her own tent, where they were richly clothed, royally feasted, and, after receiving many gifts, were sent back unharmed to their rejoicing relatives.

Philippa and the Burghers of Calais.

As Calais now belonged to the English, Edward ordered all the Frenchmen to leave it and go and live elsewhere. He next peopled the city with his own subjects, and had it guarded by an English garrison. Hither English boats brought tin, wool, and other merchandise, to sell to the French merchants who came there to buy.

Although Edward had hitherto been so successful, he was now obliged to stop making war, and to conclude a seven years' truce with France. He was forced to suspend his conquests because a terrible pestilence, called the black death, had made its way into Europe from Asia, and was now carrying off thousands of people.

The black death raged for several years, and killed about one third of the population. It was so deadly because people in those days did not know that three things are necessary for good health: pure air, pure water, and great cleanliness, not only of the body, but also of all its surroundings—clothing, houses, and streets.


Front Matter

Early Times
The Druids
The Britons
Caesar in Britain
Queen Boadicea
The Great Walls
The Great Irish Saint
The Anglo-Saxons
Brave King Arthur
The Laws of the Saxons
The Story of St Augustine
Three Great Men
The Danish Pirates
King Alfred and the Cakes
Alfred conquers the Danes
A King's Narrow Escape
The King and the Outlaw
The Monasteries
An Unlucky Couple
St Dunstan
King Canute and the Waves
A Saxon Nobleman
Lady Godiva's Ride
The Battle of Hastings
The Conquest
Lords and Vassals
Death of William
The Brothers' Quarrels
Arms and Armour
The "White Ship"
Matilda's Narrow Escapes
Story of Fair Rosamond
Thomas a Becket
Murder of Thomas a Becket
Richard's Adventures
Richard and the Saracens
The Faithful Minstrel
Death of Richard
The Murder of Arthur
The Great Charter
The Rule of Henry III
A Race
Persecution of the Jews
The Conquest of Wales
A Quarrel with France
The Coronation Stone
The Insolent Favourite
Bruce and the Spider
Death of Edward II
The Murderers punished
The Battle of Crecy
The Siege of Calais
The Age of Chivalry
The Battle of Poitiers
The Peasants' Revolt
Richard's Presence of Mind
A Tiny Queen
Henry's Troubles
Madcap Harry
A Glorious Reign
The Maid of Orleans
The War of the Roses
The Queen and the Brigand
The Triumph of the Yorks
The Princes in the Tower
Richard's Punishment
Two Pretenders
A Grasping King
Field of the Cloth of Gold
The New Opinions
Death of Wolsey
Henry's Wives
The King and the Painter
A Boy King
Lady Jane Grey
The Death of Cranmer
A Clever Queen
Elizabeth's Lovers
Mary, Queen of Scots
Captivity of Mary Stuart
Wreck of the Spanish Armada
The Elizabethan Age
Death of Elizabeth
A Scotch King
The Gunpowder Plot
Sir Walter Raleigh
King and Parliament
Cavaliers and Roundheads
The Royal Oak
The Commonwealth
The Restoration
Plague and Fire
The Merry Monarch
James driven out of England
A Terrible Massacre
William's Wars
The Duke of Marlborough
The Taking of Gibraltar
The South Sea Bubble
Bonny Prince Charlie
Black Hole of Calcutta
Loss of the Colonies
The Battle of the Nile
Nelson's Last Signal
The Battle of Waterloo
First Gentleman of Europe
Childhood of Queen Victoria
The Queen's Marriage
Wars in Victoria's Reign
The Jubilee