Surprise at Calais (La sorpresa de Calais)

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Surprise at Calais (La sorpresa de Calais)

Among the victories which took place at the beginning of the government of Archduke Albert is the Surprise at Calais in 1596, which is represented in the first tapestry of the series. However, in 1598 Spain had to return some of these strongholds, Calais and Ardres among others, because of the peace of Vervins signed between Spain and France.

Archduke Albert and don Luis de Velasco

The siege of the town of Calais, a sea harbor over the Pas-de-Calais and facing the coasts of England, was the first enterprise of the archduke after ascending to the government of Flanders in 1596. The city surrendered on April 17th, 1596, and the castle was taken eight days later. The very Archduke Albert of Austria could be recognized among the assaulters on the background of this 1st cloth of the series, the largest one, portrayed as one of the captains encouraging the Spanish tercios at the shore of the channel. Don Luis de Velasco stands out among them; asCount of Salazar and general under the orders of the archduke, he led the three Spanish infantry companies assaulting Calais.

The troops

The troops –infantry, pikemen and arquebusiers– stand in the harbor next to the palisade built to delimit the channel which, as a moat, could be opened or closed to flood the perimeter of the fortress. To the right of this first plane, a tower next to the entry arch to the stronghold and the so-called Old Fortress can be seen.

The town

The walls and houses of the town are represented in a distant third plane, in which the towers of fortresses and churches stick out behind the smother of the charge, which opened a breach in the wall on April 15th, 1596. The cavalry has been represented on minute scale on the upper third of the cloth, to the right and left of the city, opposite the road to Gravelines and next to the bridge of Nullet.

A victorious border

War trophies pile up in the motley border, interspersed with palms of victory and with crisscrossed clubs and maces. Some Latin banners are included in the center of the top border, and also underneath the emblems of the side borders and the lower medallion, which contains the 12th labor of Hercules.

Between the Royal Palace and El Pardo

This tapestry has been dedicated to the decor of the Armory of the Royal Palace in Madrid since 1919, along with those entitled Night assault on Ardres and Combat in the trenches of Hulst. The four remaining tapestries —Assault to the fortress of Calais, Withdrawal to France of the garrison of Ardres, Assault and taking of the trenched field of Hulst and The Taking of the stronghold of Hulst—were set aside in 1945 to the executive office of Francisco Franco in the Royal Palace of El Pardo, where they can be seen nowadays.


A Latin inscription in the central banner of the top border reads: CALETANA. EXPEDITIO/ PRIVS. GERIT. AVDITAT/ QVAM. PARARI [Expedition to Calais, whose success was known before its preparations]. Beneath the scene of Hercules fettering Cerberus, an inscription: NON IANITOR. ORGI. TERRVIT [Not even the keeper of Orcus scared him]. The mottos of the side emblems are HAC. ALITE [With this wing], beneath Pallas Atenea, and HAVD. FATO. SED. FATIO [not out ouf luck, but of effort], beneath Virtue.

Series Triumphs and battles of Archduke Albert

First tapestry in the series

Model Otto van Veen y Hans I Snellinck

Manufacture Martin Reynbouts, Bruselas, 1597-1599

Fabric Gold, silver, silk and wool

Size 355 x 603 cm

Location Royal Palace of Madrid

Origin Collection of Philip IV

On display Royal Armoury

National Heritage Inv. N. 10005712


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