Siege of Saint Omer, 1677

The French made attempts to capture the important Artois town of Saint Omer in the 16th century, then again in 1638 and 1647, but failed repeatedly. This was due to the marshy ground and strong fortifications, which the Spanish strengthened after the first French attacks. But Saint-Omer's days were numbered when Louis XIV prepared to invade the Spanish Netherlands, which he believed rightfully belonged to France.

Contemporary painting of the siege of Saint Omer.

In 1677 the French King planned to bring his forces across the border and strike at Valenciennes and Cambrai. A seperate force was to coincide an attack on Saint Omer with the King's arrival at Valenciennes in late February.

In February, French troops encircled Saint Omer, isolating it from the outside world. By the beginning of March, the attackers had taken the outlying defensive works at Clairmarais and Arques, and by the end of the month the French were in possession of the advanced works to the north that protected the canals and roads into the town.

The first days of April saw the first French batteries installed, and they were soon at work battering the town's outworks. Although the siege seemed to be progressing well for the French, the whole operation was threatened when William III Orange marched south with a Dutch army, intending to relieve Saint Omer. The Dutch advanced to within 20km of the town, but they were defeated by French forces under Philippe I of Orléans at the Battle of Cassel.

After the aversion of this danger, the besiegers carried several of the outworks (which had been breached by the batteries) by assault in mid-April. On 19th April, they were finally in possession of the counterscarp, facing the main wall, the last line of the town's defences. The garrison of Saint-Omer capitulated on 22nd April.

The town held for only 17 days after the batteries were installed, although the attackers were engaged in taking the outlying works for almost a month before this. One reason for the collapse of the town's defence could be that the already demoralised garrison lost hope after the defeat of the Dutch army at Cassel. It should be noted that Valenciennes capitulated on 17th March, allowing Louis XIV to undertake the siege of Cambrai, which capitulated on 17th April. Credit is due to the defenders of Saint Omer for the fact that they held out longer than either of these places (although Saint Omer's attackers were less numerous than the King's army).

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