Our Lady of Victory at Tourney (1340)
One of the first, and certainly one of the most decisive engagements of the Hundred Years War, was the naval battle of Sluys, fought on June 20th in the year 1340.
The French had amassed a large fleet of ships for the intended invasion of England, but King Edward III of England met them with a fleet of approximately the same size at Sluys, an engagement that meant the destruction of nearly the entire French fleet. The loss of the French fleet meant that the war between France and England would take place on French soil.
After his victory at Sluys, King Edward III landed with his army and began the siege of Tourney, or Tournai, on July 23rd. (Tournai was a Flemish city, but it was loyal to the French king and housed a garrison of French troops.) Edward had 1,300 men-at-arms and 3,000 archers, as well as 5,455 infantry reinforced by perhaps 1,000 Flemish men-at-arms. He had every advantage, as his army was larger than that of Philip VI of France, he had a good supply line, and rather than reject his presence, many of the Flemish were his allies, and the morale of his army was good.
Philip VI of France remained many miles away from Edward with his army, so Edward sent him a challenge in which he claimed to be the rightful king of France. “Such a great force of men as we have assembled cannot long hold together, without causing harm and destruction to the people and to the land, something which every good Christian should eschew, and especially princes and others who hold themselves for governors of men; therefore we greatly desire that the matter be concluded soon, and that, to avoid the death of Christians, as the quarrel is between you and us, that the debate of our challenge be conducted by our two bodies.”
Philip declined the offer, as Edward was a younger and more vigorous man. The English besiegers cut off the town from any supplies of food, defeated any who sallied forth from the town to attempt to break the siege, and bombarded Tournai with siege engines and canon fire. The lands all around were ravaged and burned.
The siege had gone on only one month when the inhabitants were running out of food and beginning to starve. The inhabitants carried the keys of the city into the church of Our Lady, for they knew that the Queen of heaven alone was able to deliver them from the English, who had besieged them for forty days. No sooner had they testified this confidence in the Blessed Virgin, than the siege was raised, and it came about in this way.
Jeanne of Valois, the sister of Philip and mother-in-law of Edward, left the convent for the purpose of trying to make peace between the two. She went first to Philip, who refused to negotiate for fear of losing face. These were his lands that were being invaded, and it would not do that he should seem unwilling to defend them.
Jeanne went next to Edward, who felt certain that Tournai was about to collapse. Still, she was able to prevail upon him, and the siege was ended through the intercession of two noble women.