Pale of Calais

Pale of Calais
Motto: Veritas Temporis filia
"Truth, the daughter of Time"
The Pale of Calais (yellow) in 1477.
The Pale of Calais (yellow) in 1477.
Status Overseas possession of England
Capital Calais
Common languages English, Dutch, French, Picard
Roman Catholic (from 1534 Church of England)
• 1347–1377
Edward III (first)
• 1553–1558
Mary I (last)
• 1353
Reynold Cobham (first)
• 1553–1558
Thomas Wentworth (last)
Historical era Late Middle Ages
3 August 1347
8 May 1360
8 January 1558
2 May 1598
Currency Pound sterling
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Blason Courtenay.svg County of Boulogne
Kingdom of France
Today part of France

The Pale of Calais (Middle English, Cales /ˈkæləs/;[1] West Flemish: Kales; French: Calaisis) was a territory in what is now France, whose sovereigns were the monarchs of England following the Battle of Crécy in 1346 and the subsequent siege, until 1558.

While English, the province was democratically represented in the Parliament of England by members elected by the free Calais constituency. Historically part of Flanders, the Pale was bilingual: English and Flemish were commonly spoken.[2][3][4]

The hardships endured during the prolonged siege of 1346–1347 are the subject of Auguste Rodin's poignant sculpture of 1889, The Burghers of Calais. After several centuries of peace and prosperity, France again ignited the great tribulations of the burghers of the Pale of Calais by launching the Siege of Calais in 1558 to expand French imperial ambitions over the Dutch in Flanders.

A Pale is a "jurisdiction, area".[5] English “Cales” (now supplanted by French Calais), derives from Caleti, an ancient Celtic people who lived along the coast of the English Channel.[6]


Gold quarter noble of Edward III minted in Calais between 1361 and 1369.

Calais was a prize of war won in the Battle of Crécy of 1346 by Edward III of England after a long siege. Its capture gave England not only a key stronghold in the world’s textile trade centered in Flanders, but provided a strategic, defensible military outpost for England to regroup in future wars on the continent; the city's position on the English Channel could be reinforced over the short distance by sea. English sovereignty was confirmed under the Treaty of Brétigny, signed on 8 May 1360, when Edward renounced the throne of France in return for substantial lands, namely Aquitaine and the territory around Calais.[7] By 1453, at the end of the Hundred Years' War, the Pale was the last part of mainland France in English hands. It served successfully as a base of English expeditions; for example in 1492, from it Henry VII launched the Siege of Boulogne.

The short trip across the Strait of Dover afforded convenient garrison and supply by sea. However, the lack of natural inland defences necessitated the construction and maintenance of military fortifications, at some expense. Nevertheless, a critical factor in the stability of English government there over the centuries was the rivalry of France and Burgundy, both of which coveted the strategic position of the city; each left it to the English rather than to concede it to each other. Eventually, political strategies shifted at the division of Burgundian territory in the Low Countries between France and Spain and, when Henry VIII suffered setbacks in the Sieges of Boulogne (1544–1546), the approach to Calais opened to the south. Then in 1550 the Crown, in a crisis of royal succession, withdrew from Boulogne.[8]

The Pale of Calais remained part of England until unexpectedly lost by Mary I to France in 1558. After secret preparations, 30,000 French troops, led by Francis, Duke of Guise, took the city, which quickly capitulated under the Treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis (1559). In England, blame was attached to the Queen, entrenching Protestant resolve against her. Although, the loss of the Pale of Calais was a blow to the English economy less than was feared, the retreat of English power was a permanent blot to her reign. Indeed, the chronicler Raphael Holinshead records that a few months later a distraught Mary, lying on her death bed, graphically confided to her family her feelings: “When I am dead and opened, you shall find ‘Calais’ lying in my heart”.[9] Subsequently, the English wool market adjusted and the English textile trade shifted up to the Habsburg Netherlands.[10]

During English governance, the weavers of the Pale maintained their output, which industry was a distinctive mark of Flemish culture.[2] At the same time, the Pale performed as an integral part of England in election of its members to Parliament, and as English citizens the Pale sent and received people to and from various parts of the British isles.


The English Pale of Cales, ca 1360.

The territory of the Pale of Calais comprised the modern French communes of Andres, Ardres, Balinghem, Bonningues-lès-Calais, Calais, Campagne-lès-Guines, Coquelles, Coulogne, Fréthun, Guemps, Guînes, Les Attaques, Hames-Boucres, Hervelinghen, Marck, Nielles-lès-Calais, Nouvelle-Église, Offekerque, Oye-Plage, Peuplingues, Pihen-lès-Guînes, Sangatte, Saint-Pierre (Calais absorbed Saint-Pierre-lès-Calais inhabited with 33290 inhabitants in 1885, now southern part of Calais), Saint-Tricat and Vieille-Église.

The area of the Pale of Calais is difficult to appraise since the boundaries were ill-defined over swampy land and waterways, which constantly changed. The Pale spread over Gravelines to as far as Wissant, covering about 20 square miles (52 km2).[11][8] The French were continually reclaiming small pieces of the territory, particularly in the southwest.[8] Over those wetlands, the territory was roughly divided in low hills on the west and the lower coastlands to the east.[8]

See also


  1. ^ Rose, Susan (2008). Calais: An English Town in France, 1347-1558. pp. 107, 156.
  2. ^ a b Dumitrescu, Theodor (2007). The early Tudor court and international musical relations. England: Ashgate Publishing Limited. p. 53. ISBN 978-0-7546-5542-8.
  3. ^ Rose, Susan (2008). Calais: An English Town in France, 1347-1558. pp. passim.
  4. ^ Sandeman, George Amelius Crawshay (October 2009). Calais under English Rule. pp. 48, 61, 81. ISBN 9781115448154.
  5. ^ "Pale (noun)". The New Oxford American Dictionary (3rd ed.). 2013.
    See also: The English Pale in Ireland.
  6. ^ Harper, Douglas. Online Etymology Dictionary.
  7. ^ Fisher, H.A.L. (1936). A History of Europe. Great Britain: Edward Arnold & Co. p. 322.
  8. ^ a b c d Sandeman, George Amelius Crawshay (October 2009). Calais under English Rule. p. 114. ISBN 9781115448154.
  9. ^ Bentley, James (1991). The Gateway to France. London: Viking. p. 10. ISBN 0670832065. Retrieved 26 September 2016.
  10. ^ Hunt, Jocelyn (1999). The Renaissance. New York: Routledge. p. 97. ISBN 0-203-98177-4.
  11. ^ Darian-Smith, Eve (1999). Bridging divides: the Channel Tunnel and English legal identity in the new Europe. University of California Press. p. 77. ISBN 0-520-21610-5.

Coordinates: 50°56′53″N 1°51′23″E / 50.94806°N 1.85639°E / 50.94806; 1.85639