[The Intercession of Queen Philippa for the Citizens of Calais]
Engraver: E. Dalziel
1862, rpt. 1910
10.6 cm wide by 16.3 cm high
From "England Under Edward the Third," chapter 18 in Dickens's A Child's History of England in the Centenary Edition
Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.
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Five days after this great battle, the King laid siege to Calais. This siege — ever afterwards memorable — lasted nearly a year. In order to starve the inhabitants out, King Edward built so many wooden houses for the lodgings of his troops, that it is said their quarters looked like a second Calais suddenly sprung around the first. Early in the siege, the governor of the town drove out what he called the useless mouths, to the number of seventeen hundred persons, men and women, young and old. King Edward allowed them to pass through his lines, and even fed them, and dismissed them with money; but, later in the siege, he was not so merciful — five hundred more, who were afterwards driven out, dying of starvation and misery. The garrison were so hard-pressed at last, that they sent a letter to King Philip, telling him that they had eaten all the horses, all the dogs, and all the rats and mice that could be found in the place; and, that if he did not relieve them, they must either surrender to the English, or eat one another. Philip made one effort to give them relief; but they were so hemmed in by the English power, that he could not succeed, and was fain to leave the place. Upon this they hoisted the English flag, and surrendered to King Edward. "Tell your general," said he to the humble messengers who came out of the town, "that I require to have sent here, six of the most distinguished citizens, bare-legged, and in their shirts, with ropes about their necks; and let those six men bring with them the keys of the castle and the town."
When the Governor of Calais related this to the people in the Market-place, there was great weeping and distress; in the midst of which, one worthy citizen, named Eustace de Saint Pierre, rose up and said, that if the six men required were not sacrificed, the whole population would be; therefore, he offered himself as the first. Encouraged by this bright example, five other worthy citizens rose up one after another, and offered themselves to save the rest. The Governor, who was too badly wounded to be able to walk, mounted a poor old horse that had not been eaten, and conducted these good men to the gate, while all the people cried and mourned.
Edward received them wrathfully, and ordered the heads of the whole six to be struck off. However, the good Queen fell upon her knees, and besought the King to give them up to her. The King replied, "I wish you had been somewhere else; but I cannot refuse you." So she had them properly dressed, made a feast for them, and sent them back with a handsome present, to the great rejoicing of the whole camp. I hope the people of Calais loved the daughter to whom she gave birth soon afterwards, for her gentle mother's sake. [Chapter 18, "England under Edward the Third"]
No doubt Edward III Plantagenet (1327-77), the victor of Crecy, was a brutal and ruthless warrior-king, but Dickens mitigates his deficiencies because of his being, in an Anglo-French dynastic rivalry, English. Moreover, Dickens, improves the domineering monarch's character by giving him a noble and tender-hearted companion on his campaigns, his wife, Philippa of Hainault, to whose intercession of behalf of the six burghers of Calais Edward accedes — albeit, reluctantly. Exasperated by the year-long siege of the key port and feeling all-powerful in the region after the slaughter of the French army at the Battle of Crecy, a triumph of the disciplined English long-bowmen over utterly confused French chevaliers in their cumbersome armour, Edward is prepared to make the citizens of Calais suffer for their intransigence. Neither Dickens's text nor Stone's illustration celebrates this dogged determination to resist the foreign invader, but it is most definitely the subject of one of the nineteenth-century's most admired statues, Auguste Rodin's The Burghers of Calais (i. e., Les Bourgeois de Calais (1889), by French patriot Auguste Rodin.
"The quality of mercy is not strained," as Shakespeare observed in The Merchant of Venice — a sentiment that often governs Dickens's attitudes towards martial victory. Although he could be jingoistic, as in the The Perils of Certain English Prisoners from the extra-Christmas number for 1857 in Household Words, Dickens regarded war as productive of nothing but wide-spread misery and destruction, as in "The Tale of Richard Doubledick" (one of the linked Christmas stories in Household Words for 1854), set during and immediately after the Napoleonic Wars. Since Dickens, too, was something of a Francophile and lived in northern France sporadically in the 1860s, it should not be surprising that the illustration accompanying the eighteenth chapter foregrounds not the great military victory of the English over the French in 1346 at Crecy, but rather the mercy of the English king at Calais a year later. For Dickens, mercy rather than vengeance is the measure of a victor's character. In Stone's wood-engraving, the elaborately dressed Flemish-French princess pleads for the lives of the six prisoners, only four of whom appear in the illustration. Neither they nor their judge, Edward the Third, is the subject of Stone's highly moral illustration. Rather, the Queen, entreating her angry husband on her knees and gesturing almost theatrically towards the undistinguished, plainly dressed hostages, occupies the central position, her posture contrasting in every respect her obdurate husband. Edward is still in his his armour, despite the fact that the citizens of Calais have surrendered, as Stone intends the reader to regard the English King as chiefly a victorious general (an honour that might more properly be bestowed upon his son, Edward the Black Prince); the English king's plate armour (consistent with the fourteenth century) bears the quartered arms of France and England, the fleur-de-lis and the rampant lion, to show his pretention to the French throne. Whereas he is imperium personified, his pleading wife exemplifies the quality of mercy. The benign interpretation that Dickens received of Philippa of Hainault from historians ultimately derives from chronicler Jean Froissart, who served from 1361 until her death in 1369 as secretary to this English queen of mixed French and Fleming origins. Her alabaster monument in Westminster Abbey, despite the homely face, still bears mute witness to her motherly piety and her lifetime's service to her adopted country under the personal motto in Flemish "Ich wrude muche" ("I labour much").
As a composition, the study contrasting personifications of wrath and mercy is masterful. Stone places the head of Philippa, emphasized by her elaborate head-piece, squarely in the centre of the illustration, mid-way between the upper-right quadrant, dominated by the head of Edward the Third (his royal authority signified by a mere coronet, his military power implied by his armour and, propped beside him, his sheathed broadsword). The reader's eye moves down the diagonal from the victor's head as he contemplates his captives to Philippa's head, suggestive of intercession as she watches his visage for a sign that he is relenting, and ultimately to the heads of the prisoners. Two have their eyes downcast, not daring to look up at their royal captor, while the elderly burgher (Eustace de Saint Pierre?) looks directly at the readers, further engaging us in the scene. In gesturing with her right hand, Philippa almost touches one of the prisoners, and so connects the prostrate group (her head above the level of their heads) and her pillar-like husband, whose right hand (his sword arm, suggestive of the retributive justice that he was about to administer) she clutches, as if to stay the prisoners' execution.
The King's clenched fist suggests his reluctance to relent — and his emotional dilemma. Behind the prisoners, impassively holding their halberds, stand Edward's guards, suggestive of his military authority, and behind all the figures appears a decorative band that connects all the figures spatially, perhaps implying that the scene occurs in a pavilion tent rather than the room of a burgher's home in occupied Calais. So exquisite is the detailing that Stone connects the figures of the standing, inflexible monarch (emblematic of justice and the law) and his tender-hearted but equally firm wife (a symbol of mercy) through their belts of similar dimensions, although Philippa's clasp bears an abstract design and Edward's reiterates the three lions of England on his armour. The four bars on Philippa's belt, perhaps implying the spirit of the Gospels, emphasize the vertical, whereas Edward's warbelt forces the eye horizontally across to the intercessor and the captives. Finally, in her white costumes with wing-like frills, Philippa becomes a dove of peace, contrasting the darker hues of her husband's armour — her elaborate fourteenth-century headpiece Stone may have derived directly from her monumental sculpture in Westminster Abbey. The subtle frill around the hem of his embroidered gambeson (arming doublet or aketon) reiterates the frills of the Queen's gown, as if suggesting that the master of war is capable of feminine compassion. The scene, calling for the victor to show restraint and forgiveness, is consistent with Dickens's message to his children and Stone's previous scenes, all of which emphasize the importance of the monarch's acting towards his or her people as a caring, just, and protective parent rather than a ruthless and exploitative egotist.
Avery, Gillian, ed. Charles Dickens: "A Holiday Romance" and Other Writings for Children with All the Original Illustrations. Everyman edition. London: J. M. Dent, 1995.
Cohen, Jane Rabb. Charles Dickens and His Original Illustrators. Columbus: Ohio State U. P., 1980.
Dickens, Charles. A Child's History of England in Works. Centenary Edition. 36 vols. London: Chapman and Hall; New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1910-12.
Falkus, Christopher, J. M. Roberts, et al. "Biographical Gallery: Philippa of Hainault, A Good Woman: b. 1312 d. 1369." "Chivalry: The Golden Age." Sir Winston Churchill's History of the English Speaking Peoples. No. 20. London: Purnell & BPC, 1969. Page 37.
Scenes and Characters from the Works of Charles Dickens; being eight hundred and sixty-six drawings, by Fred Barnard, Hablot Knight Browne (Phiz); J. Mahoney; Charles Green; A. B. Frost; Gordon Thomson; J. McL. Ralston; H. French; E. G. Dalziel; F. A. Fraser, and Sir Luke Fildes; printed from the original woodblocks engraved for "The Household Edition." New York: Chapman and Hall, 1908. Copy in the Robarts Library, University of Toronto.
Last modified 17 March 2013