Ward's Book of Days.

Pages of interesting anniversaries.

What happened on this day in history.


On this day in history in 1558, Calais, the last English possession in Europe, was lost.

Calais had been an English possession since the time of Edward III who took the city after an eleven-month siege. After he captured the city, the king ordered the citizens to be massacred. He was, however persuaded to spare the citizens and accepted a token of six men, provided they would volunteer for execution. Six courageous volunteers duly appeared, with ropes around their necks, in accordance with the king’s demand. When Edward’s queen, Philippa, saw the sight, she was moved with pity and begged Edward to relent, which he duly did. The event was commemorated in the Nineteenth Century by the sculptor, Rodin, with his great work, The Burghers of Calais.  

Although he had spared the citizens’ lives, Edward evacuated the city and populated it with English people. Calais was used as a ‘staple’ that is a warehousing town for the distribution of English wool exports and a means of collecting taxes levied on wool. Calais was thought of as part of England and even sent representatives to the House of Commons. Over one of the gates of Calais were recorded these words: 

‘Then shalle the frenchmen Calias winne
When iron and leade lyke corke shall swimme’. 

In 1407, Dick Whittington was simultaneously Lord Mayor of London and Mayor of Calais.  

During the Hundred Years War, England gained and lost numerous possessions in France until they were finally beaten back and only held Calais.  

During the reign of Mary I, the garrison was weakened and security relaxed as France was not, at that time, thought to be hostile. This was a mistake for the French under Francis, Duke of Guise, took advantage of English negligence and took the city. When the news of the loss reached Queen Mary, she exclaimed “When I am dead and opened, you will find Calais written on my heart’.

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