When the last troops of the army of Philip VI left Calais, the city had no choice but to surrender its keys in the hope that the lives of its inhabitants would be spared in recognition of the heroism shown during the siege. However, England was eager to reward the hours and lives of its men spent in that campaign, so it had no intention of leaving without a tribute of blood. Although some of his men tried to convince him to accept the capitulation, Edward III made it a condition that the city’s submission be paid for with the sacrifice of six noblemen.
When the mayor of Calais gathered the population to communicate the terms of the agreement, the citizens wept and fell into a desperate silence. At that point, one of the wealthiest patricians, Eustache de Saint-Pierre, stood up and said he was ready to submit. After him, five other illustrious men did likewise, thus completing that procession of death which, in exchange for the keys of defeat, would be the instrument of salvation.
In memory of that day in 1347 – marked by the heroism of the six who were willing to sacrifice their own lives in order to obtain a royal pardon for the rest of their fellow citizens – there stands a monumental bronze sculpture by Auguste Rodin, so expressive that one could say it was modeled with bare hands while it was still hot out of the furnace. What a dark period, those Middle Ages that produced so many characters worthy of a pedestal!