- An English possession since 1347, the French Channel town of Calais was of immense military importance during the WARS OF THE ROSES. Whoever held Calais controlled the town’s 1,000-man garrison, the largest permanent military establishment under the English Crown, and also possessed a secure, fortified base and refuge from which it was possible to prey on Channel shipping or harry the coasts of England.By 1453, Calais was all that remained of the English empire in FRANCE. Maintenance of the town’s garrison and fortifications was expensive, consuming almost a quarter of the Crown’s annual revenues by the 1450s. Since 1363, the government had funneled the export of English wool through Calais; this practice allowed the Crown to collect customs duties more easily and concentrated the wool trade in the hands of the Company of the Staple, an association of wool merchants whose privileged position made them more willing to lend money to the king. Although the government used the Calais customs to pay the garrison, the fifteenth century witnessed a decline in the export of raw wool in relation to the export of woolen cloth. Because cloth merchants could trade where they pleased, the subsequent drop in the wool customs created a gap between revenues and expenses in Calais. Frequently unable to make up the difference, the government of HENRY VI faced recurring mutinies by the unpaid garrison.Edmund BEAUFORT, duke of Somerset, became captain of Calais in 1451. In 1454, after Somerset’s imprisonment and the establishment of the FIRST PROTECTORATE, nominal control of Calais passed to Richard PLANTAGENET, duke of York. However, the garrison denied York entry to the town until they were paid or given license to sell the wool in their custody. Occupied elsewhere, York never addressed the Calais issue, and the garrison remained defiant when Henry regained his senses and restored Somerset to the captaincy in 1455. After Somerset’s death at the Battle of ST. ALBANS in May 1455, York instituted his SECOND PROTECTORATE and handed the Calais captaincy to Richard NEVILLE, earl of Warwick. The earl finally entered the town in 1456 after negotiating a loan from the Staplers that allowed the garrison to be paid. By 1458, Queen MARGARET OF ANJOU, then in control of the English government, sought to undermine Warwick by denying him funds. The earl promptly built a fleet of ten vessels and began plundering foreign shipping in the Channel; his exploits paid his men, won him a heroic national reputation, and deeply embarrassed the Lancastrian regime.Summoned to LONDON,Warwick was attacked by royal guards during a fight between his servants and those of the king. He escaped and returned to Calais, where he openly defied the government. In September 1459, the earl took part of the Calais garrison to England to rendezvous with York’s forces at Ludlow. Led by Andrew TROLLOPE, the Calais contingent defected to the king, forcing the Yorkists to flee the Battle of LUDFORD BRIDGE. Warwick; his father, Richard NEVILLE, earl of Salisbury; and York’s son, Edward, earl of March (see Edward IV, King of England) took refuge in Calais. Appointed captain by Queen Margaret, Henry BEAUFORT, duke of Somerset, captured the Calais fortress of Guisnes, but failed to take the town. Swayed both by his reputation and by the fruits of his Channel piracy, the garrison remained loyal to Warwick. In January 1460, Warwick’s Calais fleet captured a Lancastrian flotilla in preparation at Sandwich, carrying off Richard WOODVILLE, Earl Rivers, and his son. In June, after returning from a conference with York in IRELAND, Warwick sent John DINHAM to seize Sandwich; possession of the town gave the Yorkists the bridgehead they needed to invade England from Calais and allowed Warwick to capture the king at the Battle of NORTHAMPTON in July. By depriving him of any possible assistance from England, Northampton forced Somerset to surrender Guisnes in return for his own freedom. Calais was thus secured for Warwick.After 1461, Edward IV, realizing Calais’s importance, spent heavily to modernize the town’s defenses. As part of the 1462 CHINON AGREEMENT, Queen Margaret agreed to cede Calais to LOUIS XI in return for French assistance. The plan collapsed when Louis, who had to seize the town from the Yorkists, was denied access to Calais by Duke PHILIP of BURGUNDY, whose territory bordered the English enclave. In 1469, Warwick, who retained the captaincy, launched his coup against Edward IV from Calais, where George PLANTAGENET, duke of Clarence, married the earl’s daughter, Isabel NEVILLE, and joined the earl in issuing a manifesto denouncing Edward’s government. In 1470, Warwick, in flight after the failure of his second coup, tried to enter Calais, but his deputy, John WENLOCK, Lord Wenlock, warned him that the garrison was loyal to Edward and advised him to land in France.In 1471, Thomas NEVILLE, the Bastard of Fauconberg, led part of the Calais garrison to England to support the Lancastrian READEPTION government headed by Warwick. In May, a month after Warwick’s death at the Battle of BARNET, Fauconberg unsuccessfully attacked London, and most of the garrison soon returned to Calais and to their Yorkist allegiance. In the 1470s, Edward IV gave the Calais captaincy only to his most trusted supporters— Anthony WOODVILLE, Earl Rivers, and William HASTINGS, Lord Hastings. In 1473, Edward imprisoned the diehard Lancastrian, John de VERE, earl of Oxford, at Calais. In 1484, part of the Calais garrison defected to Henry Tudor, earl of Richmond (see Henry VII, King of England), and allowed Oxford to escape. To ensure his control of the town, RICHARD III gave the captaincy to his bastard son, John of Gloucester, and installed a new garrison under his loyal servant James TYRELL. Because Gloucester was only a boy, his appointment made the king the effective captain of Calais. After Richard’s death at the Battle of BOSWORTH FIELD in 1485, Calais readily submitted to Henry VII. The town remained an English possession until captured by the French in 1558.Further Reading: Gillingham, John, The Wars of the Roses (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1981); Hicks, Michael,Warwick the Kingmaker (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1998); Ross, Charles, The Wars of the Roses (New York: Thames and Hudson, 1987).
Encyclopedia of the Wars of the Roses. John A.Wagner. 2001.
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