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The Siege Of Calais
by [?]

Terrible and long-enduring had been the siege of Calais. For a whole year it had continued, and still the sturdy citizens held the town. Outside was Edward III., with his English host, raging at the obstinacy of the French and at his own losses during the siege. Inside was John de Vienne, the unyielding governor, and his brave garrison. Outside was plenty; inside was famine; between were impregnable walls, which all the engines of Edward failed to reduce or surmount. No resource was left the English king but time and famine; none was left the garrison but the hope of wearying their foes or of relief by their king. The chief foe they fought against was starvation, an enemy against whom warlike arms were of no avail, whom only stout hearts and inflexible endurance could meet; and bravely they faced this frightful foe, those stout citizens of Calais.

An excellent harbor had Calais. It had long been the sheltering-place for the pirates that preyed on English commerce. But now no ship could leave or enter. The English fleet closed the passage by sea; the English army blocked all approach by land; the French king, whose great army had just been mercilessly slaughtered at Crecy, held aloof, nothing seemed to remain for Calais but death or surrender, and yet the valiant governor held out against his foes.

As the days went on and no relief came he made a census of the town, selected seventeen hundred poor and unsoldierly folks, “useless mouths,” as he called them, and drove them outside the walls. Happily for them, King Edward was just then in a good humor. He gave the starving outcasts a good dinner and twopence in money each, and passed them through his ranks to make their way whither they would.

More days passed; food grew scarcer; there were more “useless mouths” in the town; John de Vienne decided to try this experiment again. Five hundred more were thrust from the gates. This time King Edward was not in a good humor. He bade his soldiers drive them back at sword’s-point. The governor refused to admit them into the town. The whole miserable multitude died of starvation in sight of both camps. Such were the amenities of war in the Middle Ages, and in fact, of war in almost all ages, for mercy counts for little when opposed by military exigencies.

A letter was now sent to the French king, Philip de Valois, imploring succor. They had eaten, said the governor, their horses, their dogs, even the rats and mice; nothing remained but to eat one another. Unluckily, the English, not the French, king received this letter, and the English host grew more watchful than ever. But Philip de Valois needed not letters to tell him of the extremity of the garrison; he knew it well, and knew as well that haste alone could save him one of his fairest towns.

But he had suffered a frightful defeat at Crecy only five days before the siege of Calais began. Twelve hundred of his knights and thirty thousand of his foot-soldiers–a number equal to the whole English force–had been slain on the field; thousands of others had been taken prisoner; a new army was not easily to be raised. Months passed before Philip was able to come to the relief of the beleaguered stronghold. The Oriflamme, the sacred banner of the realm, never displayed but in times of dire extremity, was at length unfurled to the winds, and from every side the great vassels of the kingdom hastened to its support. France, ever prolific of men, poured forth her sons until she had another large army in the field. In July of 1347, eleven months after the siege began, the garrison, weary with long waiting, saw afar from their lookout towers the floating banners of France, and beneath them the faintly-seen forms of a mighty host.