The Burghers of Calais: A Historical Myth
Immortalized by Rodin, heroes of the Hundred Years’ War and symbols of French patriotism, the Burghers of Calais will forever be remembered. Every French history book tells the story of the six burghers who, in 1347, sacrificed themselves to save the lives of the inhabitants of the town of Calais from the British invader. According to Jean Froissart’s Chronicles, published in the fourteenth century, King Edward III of England laid siege to the French town of Calais. According to his Chronicles, after eleven months, with people in great need of food and water, six of the leading citizens offered themselves as hostages to King Edward in exchange for the freedom of their town. Although the King intended to answer favorably to their wish, his wife, Philippa, convinced him to spare them. Popular belief holds that their becoming hostages was a heroic act and though various sources suggest otherwise, their status as heroes remains undisrupted even today. How and why the story became a heroic legend is the subject of Moeglin’s investigation. According to Jean-Marie Moeglin’s research, Froissart, Jean Le Bel before him, and other chroniclers of the time, manipulated certain aspects of the story to create a heroic legend of the burghers who saved Calais which served the national history of France, France’s patriotic need, and King Philippe VI’s credibility. Their sacrifice was in fact a ritual which was very common in the Middle Ages. Unfortunately, the true moral value of the burghers’ story will be forever influenced by the historiography of the time. This thoroughly researched account is also a fascinating and gripping investigation to rehabilitate the six men. Les Bourgeois de Calais: Essai sur un mythe historique tells the story of the burghers of Calais in a way that has never done before.
Jean-Marie Moeglin : Former graduate of L’Ecole normale supérieure and former member of the Institut universitaire de France, Jean-Marie Moeglin is a professor of Middle Ages History at the University of Paris XII-Val de Marne and a director of L’école pratique des hautes études.