On this day in Tudor history, 7th January 1558, in the reign of Queen Mary I, England lost Calais to the French.
It was a devastating blow as Calais had been held by England for over 200 years and was an important port for English wool exports. Mary I was said to have exclaimed "“When I am dead and opened, you shall find ‘Philip’ and ‘Calais’ lying in my heart”.
Find out exactly what happened in today's talk.
Also, on this day in history, on 7th January 1536, Catherine of Aragon, first wife of King Henry VIII, died at Kimbolton Castle. Find out about her sad end in my video from last year:
Also on this day in history:
- 1557 – Death of Balthasar Guercy, surgeon and physician. He was buried at St Helen's, Bishopsgate. He had been physician to Anne Boleyn in 1532, and had been imprisoned briefly in the Tower of London in 1543 for supporting papal authority.
- 1581 – Death of Giulio Borgarucci, Dr Julio, in London. He was buried at St Botolph without Bishopsgate. Borgarucci had come to England as a Protestant refugee and, after treating the Dudley and Sidney families, was made Physician to the Royal Household in 1573.
- 1619 – Burial of Nicholas Hilliard, goldsmith and miniaturist, at the parish church of St Martin-in-the-Fields, London. Hilliard is known for his beautiful portrait miniatures of the English court in the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I, and his paintings of Elizabeth I: the “Pelican” portrait and the “Phoenix” portrait.
On this day in Tudor history, 7th January 1558, England lost Calais.
Thomas Wentworth, the Lord Deputy of Calais, was forced to surrender when French troops led by the Duke of Guise stormed the castle.
The Pale of Calais on the coast of Northern France had become an English territory in 1347 after a siege following the English victory at the Battle of Crécy in 1346. This was in the reign of King Edward III. It became increasingly important as by the mid-15th century, it was the only English possession in mainland France and it became the main port for exporting English wool abroad.
In 1554, Queen Mary I, eldest daughter of King Henry VIII, married Philip of Spain and in 1557 England became involved with Philip’s war with France, which was ruled by Henry II at the time. The French king, concerned about English troops supporting those of Spain, secretly planned an attack on Calais. Philip of Spain got wind of this attack and warned the English government, who set about raising troops to send across the channel. However, as historian Richard Cavendish noted in an article for History today, England was in the grips of an influenza epidemic so it was hard to find men fit enough to go.
On 31st December, Thomas Wentworth, Lord Deputy of Calais, wrote to King Philip reporting that the French were camped three leagues from Calais and that he was concerned about them launching an attack.
On 1st January, Philip sent the following message to Wentworth:
“We have had sure information to-day that the French are about to make an attack with all their forces on Calais. We wish to inform you by this messenger, in order that you may urgently take all possible precautions, with your customary vigilance, for the defence of that fortress and the frustration of the enemy's designs. It is desirable that you should report by special messenger to the Queen, our consort, informing her of everything that you require from that kingdom. If there is anything else we can do to contribute to the defence of Calais and defeat of the enemy, we will gladly use our best efforts, for there is nothing of greater importance for our interests and those of the Kingdom of England.”
On 2nd January, Wentworth reported to Philip that “The enemy is by the bridge very near this town. He has 20,000 men, foot and horse, and is skirmishing with us all the time” and begged the king for help. The following day, he wrote again, saying “They have set their batteries in position, and have stormed the castle at the entrance to the port, and also the other castle on the road leading to France. Thus they have occupied all our territory, and nothing remains for them to do except to take this town” and concluding that “We have little hope, unless your Majesty sends us relief”. Wentworth added “Whatever befalls, I am determined to die at my post.”
English troops under the leadership of the Earl of Rutland arrived at Dover on 3rd January ready to set off across the Channel to Calais, but found out that Calais could not be reached because the French were occupying the beaches. England could not help.
On 6th January, 200 of Philip’s soldiers from Gravelines tried to enter the Pale of Calais, but were unsuccessful, being driven off by the French. Calais was on its own.
On 7th January 1558, Philip wrote to Don Luis Carvajal telling him that the harbour castle had fallen and that Calais was beseiged and being shelled. He ordered him to move the Spanish fleet out of the harbour to stop the French seizing their supplies, and to join the English fleet out at sea. Philip added “If the English go on requesting you to throw troops into Calais, and you see that this can be done without taking too great risks or loss of reputation, I will leave the decision to you; but you yourself are not to leave the fleet, and you will take the greatest pains to keep me informed of what happens.” The fleet had luckily already been moved out of the port.
The French siege was successful and Calais fell to the French on this day in 1558. Here is an account by JeanPerdrix, who is described as “townsman of Calais” who “came to this town of Gravelines” where he declared:
“On 7 January, at 2 o'clock after midnight, the French entered the castle of Calais by a breach which they had opened in it.
The French had entered the castle before the townsmen knew they were there.
At about three o'clock, a parley began with the French. At about 6 o'clock, it was learnt that an agreement had been reached and that the town had been surrendered, the garrison's lives being spared, but every one taken prisoner.
As soon as the town was surrendered, it was sacked by the French, and all the inhabitants taken prisoner.
As the defenders were only 2,000 strong they were compelled to surrender.
Within the castle, there was a man-at-arms of Calais called Middleton, having about 20 men-at-arms with him, who had entered the town.”
The loss of Calais, a territory which had been held for over 200 years, was a huge blow for Mary I and England, and it is said that Mary exclaimed to one of her attendants, “When I am dead and opened, you shall find ‘Philip’ and ‘Calais’ lying in my heart”.