- Calais: An English Town in France, 1347–1558, and: The Calais Garrison: War and Military Service in England, 1436–1558
Like the proverbial bus, we have waited many years for a decent book on English-held Calais, only to find two arriving at almost precisely the same moment. Unlike buses, however, it is a fortunate rather than unhappy co-incidence that two volumes on the subject have been published almost simultaneously by Boydell and Brewer. It is, in particular, our good fortune that both books offer historical accounts of the highest quality, whilst approaching the subject from very different methodological perspectives. Susan Rose offers a beautifully written and thoroughly researched academic narrative of the history of the town of Calais from its capture by Edward III in 1347 to its surrender to the forces of the French commander, the duke of Guise, in 1558 during the reign of Mary Tudor. David Grummitt provides a meticulous and more narrowly focussed scholarly monograph on the garrison of Calais. His study begins in 1446, a decisive year in the history of Calais, when the defeat of the besieging Burgundian forces at the town gates helped secure an invincible reputation for Calais which, at least in part, ensured its safety well into Tudor times. Although both books cover a similar hundred year period the wholly different approaches adopted by the authors means that there is very little sense of overlap or repetition: these books nicely complement each other and are important in their own right.
Susan Rose provides a straightforward and clearly articulated history of the town of Calais under English rule. Her book is an excellent synthesis of what actually happened, drawing for the most part on published primary sources (especially contemporary chronicles) and a large body of secondary material. It is arranged chronologically, each chapter focussing on a clearly defined and logical stage in the town’s development, often concentrating on a specific theme or set of circumstances. This works because there were distinct phases in the development and history of the town. For example, it makes perfect sense for the book to have focussed its attention on the Calais Staple at the end of the fifteenth century when a period of peace between England and France and a new organisation of wool customs heralded a period of marked prosperity for the merchants who traded through the town. Similarly, there is an earlier chapter which considers the role of Calais in the Wars of the Roses, when it notably became the focus of rivalry and ambition between the Yorkist and Lancastrian factions.
Throughout the book, Rose handles the evidence deftly: her treatment of the famous ‘burghers of Calais’ incident, in which Edward III was seemingly at the point of summarily executing the senior French citizens of the town shortly after it fell to him in 1347 only to have a change of heart when his Queen begged him to show mercy, shows a healthy regard for the medieval propensity to stage-manage such moments and infuse them with symbolic meaning (i.e. ‘Edward The Merciful’). There are many varied and fascinating points of detail which make the book immensely readable: for example, the comment by the fourteenth century chronicler, Thomas Walsingham, that there was not a lady in the whole of England who did not enjoy a share of the rich pickings from the booty taken after Edward III’s victorious campaign of 1347; or the considerable and on-going struggles of the Calais citizens to maintain the town’s harbour facilities in the face of storm [End Page 1312] damage and strong tidal currents; or the fact that in order to ensure the security of the merchandise, wool was transported...