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September 13, 1544 – Surrender of Boulogne

The Siege of Boulogne – 18th Century Engraving after a 16th Century Painting (Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Henry VIII always had a romantic view of war. And after the death of Catherine Howard, he needed a new reason to feel young again. So he decided to join with Charles V to invade France – and decided that he himself would command his troops. To make a long story short, his plan was unrealistic, ill-conceived and expensive.

Suffolk and Norfolk were sent ahead and initiated sieges of Boulogne and Montreuil. Henry arrived in August to take command. Under Henry, the fortifications were undermined and the shelling was heavy. The lower section of the town fell quickly, then the upper town was taken and breached, but still the central keep held out. It is said that Edward Seymour stepped in and quietly bribed the townspeople to surrender in exchange for being allowed to leave with their goods…but whatever the impetus, Boulogne did finally surrender on September 13. The townspeople then left on the 14th and Henry entered the city in triumph on the 17th.

I’m going to let Edward Hall tell the story – he does a fine job. Here is the relevant excerpt from his Chronicle (though admittedly I modernized his language and rearranged his sentences just a touch):

The King’s Majesty in his royal person…encamped himself before Boulogne, on the north side, within less than half a mile of the town. His Grace remained there until the town was surrendered unto His Majesty; the which town he so sore assaulted and so besieged with such an abundance of great artillery that never was there a more valiant assault made, for beside the undermining of the castle, tower and walls, the town was so beaten with shells that there was not left one house whole therein: and so sore was laid to the charge of the Frenchmen that after the King had assaulted them by the space of a month, they sent forth of the town to the King two of their chief captains, called Monsieur Semblemound, and Monsieur de Hayes, who declared that the chief captain of the town with his retinue was contented to deliver the town unto His Grace, so that they might pass with bag and baggage. The King’s Majesty mercifully granted them this request. And so on the next day, the Duke of Suffolk rode into Boulogne, to whom in the King’s name they delivered the keys of the town. And in the afternoon all the Frenchmen departed out of Boulogne. The number of the strong and gallant men of war that came out of the town, were: 67 horsemen, 1,563 footmen, 800 gunners, 87 hurt men, and 1,927 women and children. So there was in all that came out of the town, 4,454, beside a great number of aged, sick and hurt persons that was not able to go forth from the town, The last person that came forth was Monsieur de Vervine, Grand Captain of the town, which when he approached near the place where the King stood, he alighted from his horse, and came to the King. And after he had talked with him a space, the King took him by the hand, and he reverently kneeling upon his knees, kissed his hand, and afterward mounted upon his horse and so departed.

The 17th day, the King’s Highness having the sword borne naked before him by the Lord Marquis Dorset, rode in to Boulogne like a noble and valiant conqueror. The trumpeters stood on the walls of the town, sounding their trumpets at the time of his entering, to the great comfort of all the King’s true subjects beholding the event.

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