Today on August 3, 1347, the battered down French garrison finally surrenders after a long thirteen-month Siege of Calais.
The Siege of Calais marked the conclusion of the Crecy Campaign of the Hundred Years’ War. England’s House of Plantagenet and France’s House of Valois struggled for control of the French crown. A spat between two royal families turned into one of the longest conflicts in history. On July 12, 1346, King Edward III of England had landed in Normandy at the head of 14,000 soldiers. His archrival, King Philip VI of France, immediately assembled a large army to stop the invasion. The two sides clashed at the Battle of Crecy, which resulted in a decisive victory for Edward. The English army continued marching north to besiege the critical port city of Calais on September 4.
The well-fortified city was not going to easily fall. Its mighty defenses consisted of thick stone walls, a double moat and a citadel in the north-west corner. The surrounding terrain was mostly tidal marshlands, making it difficult to stabilize trebuchets and other artillery. Edward prepared for a lengthy siege by establishing a thriving camp with market days. The English made several attempts at breaching the walls by land and sea but were all repulsed. Under the command of Jean de Vienne, the French garrison was determined to hold the city. Throughout the winter of 1347, they received critical reinforcements and supplies from the sea. However, by the spring, the English had finished building a fortification that gave them command of the port. Calais could no longer be resupplied from the sea.
Nearly a thousand ships supported by 25,000 sailors were involved in resupplying the Siege of Calais. At its peak, there were over 32,000 English troops in Calais. In June 1347, Vienne sent a letter to King Philip informing him that food was scarce and they were on the verge of cannibalism. A month later, Philip marched north with an army to relieve Calais. Edward built several earthworks and defensive palisades and ordered his neighboring Flemish allies to send reinforcements. Upon arriving at Calais, Philip realized how outnumbered he was. Any attack would be futile so the French retreated. Vienne surrendered the city the next day. Edward expelled the French population and brought in English settlers. England held Calais for two centuries before finally falling back into French hands in 1558.