Monday, 29 November 2010

The Siege of Calais by Edward III 1346

Having won a spectacular and bloody victory at the Battle of Crecy, Edward faced up to the changed situation in which he found himself. He no longer had to worry about any sort of pursuit by Philip nor, in all likelihood, to any sort of opposition at all from a French field army. He could march where he liked and do what he liked.

As ever, things were not so simple as they might appear. The English were short of almost every sort of supply that could be imagined. Without the fear of a French army on their track, they could now spare the time to attack towns and castles. Knowing this, most garrisons chose to surrender as soon as a force of Englishmen appeared. As a result the immediate food problem was soon solved. But the army was still short of arrows, horseshoes and other military necessities. Many men were wounded, needing care and rest.

On 2 September Edward and his army reached Boulogne. He demanded the prompt surrender of the town, but the garrison rightly guessed that Edward lacked serious siege equipment and refused. Edward moved on to the port of Wissant, which was captured. Edward stayed there long enough to write his letter home announcing the great victory, and to ask for reinforcements and supplies to be sent to him. Wissant was then burned, and by 4 September the army was outside the gates of Calais.

The city of Calais was one of the largest and most prosperous ports in northern France. That was enough to make it a tempting target for attack, but its position was strategic, both militarily and economically. If Edward had control of Calais and Dover he would be able to secure a tight grip on any shipping moving between the North Sea and the English Channel. Not only that but the port was ideally placed to handle English exports to the continent, easing the intractable and complex issues about customs and taxation that had bedevilled English government for decades.

The failure of any important noblemen or significant sections of the population to join Edward’s cause since he landed at St Vaast had by now convinced the English king that he was not going to get the French to accept him as their rightful king. Instead he was now looking for a very practical and solid gain from his campaign. He decided that Calais would be his.

The English began to build their siege works on 5 September.

This is an extract from the Battle of Crecy by Rupert Matthews

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