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Siege of Calais
The Siege of Calais in northern France began in 1346, towards the beginning of what would later be called the Hundred Years' War. King Edward III of England, who was at the time claiming kingship over France as well, defeated the French navy at Sluys in 1340, then went on to make raids throughout Normandy, culminating at the Battle of Crecy in 1346. By this point, the English army could no longer continue without renewed supplies, reinforcements, and aid from Flanders, so they withdrew north. The English ships had already left the shores of Normandy for England, and so Edward needed to seize a defensible outpost where his army could regroup, and be resupplied.
Calais suited his purposes perfectly. It was highly defensible, with a double moat and city walls built a hundred years earlier. The citadel in the northwest corner of the city had its own moat, and further fortifications. In addition, the city lay on the English Channel, meaning that once it was taken, it could be resupplied & defended easily by sea. Of course, as attractive as it was for Edward III, as a highly defensible position, this also made it quite difficult to seize.
In September of 1346, Edward's men approached the city, and immediately began making preparations for a drawn-out siege. The city walls and moats would not be easily breached or crossed. The siege attracted aid from both England and Flanders, and while King Philip (Philip VI of Valois) of France failed to interfere with the English supply lines or their army, Edward likewise failed to interfere with the supplying of the population of Calais by Genoese sailors loyal to France. For over two months little was accomplished by the English army; essentially a stalemate had been reached.
In November, the English were supplied with cannon, catapults, and long ladders, but attempts to breach or scale the walls continued to fail. By February, Edward had given up on attacking the city, and decided to simply starve them out. One more French supply convoy succeeded in supplying the citizens, but the English navy repelled all further supply attempts. Still, King Philip's armies did nothing to end the siege. In the spring, both English and French armies enjoyed reinforcements, but Philip still could not hope to defeat the attackers; the marshland surrounding the city also defended its attackers.
On August 1, the city lit fires signalling they were ready to surrender. Philip destroyed the encampment where his army had been planning to attack the English, so that it would not fall into enemy hands. Edward was persuaded by his advisors to allow the remaining citizenry to live, so, after providing them with some provisions, he allowed them to leave the city. Calais fell under English control, and remained as such until 1558, providing a foothold for English raids in France.
By June, the supply of food and fresh water within the city was nearly nil. A month later, after another convoy was stymied by the English fleet, 500 children and elderly were expelled from the city, so that the remaining healthy, middle-aged men and women might survive. The English refused to allow these exiles to approach them, and so they starved to death just outside the walls.
- Davis, Paul K. (2001). "Besieged: 100 Great Sieges from Jericho to Sarajevo." Oxford: Oxford University Press.
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