Rodin’s Six Burghers

place du Soldat
62100 Calais

“They are voluntarily bound to the same sacrifice but each of them plays the role suited to his individuality given his age and position” (Auguste Rodin)

At the foot of the clock tower and elegant Town Hall stands Auguste Rodin’s famous original 19th century life size bronze statue of the Burghers of Calais. Sculpted in 1895, the bronze work consists of six statues recalling the final year of the Hundred Years War. The work depicts the moment when Eustache de St Pierre together with a band of five other prominent citizens assembled here in 1357 to surrender the keys of the starving city of Calais to King Edward III.

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Edward III of England wanted a base in France and Calais seemed to be the obvious choice. He began his siege on 3 September 1346 expecting an easy Victory. The townsfolk held out for eleven long months, but the famine caused by by the seige forced them to capitulate.

The crestfallen men with shaven heads and wearing only their shirts turned expecting to be executed. They were willing to sacrifice their lives to save Calais from being massacred by Edward III. at the end of his eight-month siege. Their heroism moved the King’s French wife Philippine of Hainault to plead successfully for their pardon. Edward bowed to his wife’s wishes and spared the band of six men and the Calasiens.

Take a moment to examine each statue. Notice the veins and the clenched muscles, and the tension in their torsos betraying their proud apprehension about the imminent humiliation.