A Queen obtains mercy for six heroes

June 2, 2014

The die was cast. Calais must surrender….

King Edward III of England

King Edward III of England

[King] Edward said: “…Tell the Commandant that six of the principal citizens must come, barefoot and bareheaded, with ropes around their necks, and the keys of the city in their hands. These six shall lie at my mercy….”

The bells were rung, and all the citizens assembled in the marketplace, men and women. Vienne recounted what had passed, and announced King Edward’s terms…. Then the richest man in town, Eustace de Saint Pierre stood up and said: “Gentlemen, it would be great pity to suffer so many people to die of starvation, if means there be to prevent it. It that were possible, such means would please our Savior, Jesus Christ. I believe that if I die to save my townsmen, I shall find grace with God. I will be the first of the six.” Then a second rich man, John Daire, stood up and said, “I will be second.” Then James Wisant, a cousin of the other two, stood up as the third, and his brother Peter Wisant, as fourth. Then two others….

Queen Philippa of Hainault begging her husband, Edward III to spare the lives of six burghers in 1347.

Queen Philippa of Hainault begging her husband, Edward III to spare the lives of six burghers in 1347.

Sir Walter Manny presented them to the King…. [who] remembered the losses he had suffered at sea from Calais pirates…. “Cut off their heads,” he commanded. All those present entreated the King to have mercy; but he would not listen to them…. Then Queen Philippa, great with child, fell on her knees: “Gentle Lord,” she said, “since I crossed the seas in great danger to see you, I have not asked one boon. Now, I ask you humbly, for Blessed Mary’s Son’s sake, for my love’s sake, be merciful to these men.” The King answered: “Lady, I wish you had been anywhere but here. I cannot refuse you. I give them to you; do with them as you please.”

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Henry Dwight Sedgwick, The Life of Edward the Black Prince, 1330-1376: The Flower of Knighthood out of all the World (Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1932), 65-7.

Short Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 390

 

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