History of the town of Vieil-Hesdin

Some six kilometres upstream from Hesdin lies the village of Vieil-Hesdin (literally "Old-Hesdin"). Now home to fewer than 400 inhabitants, this village was once one of the most flourishing cities of Artois. Its garden of Eden was known as far as Italie.

At the foot of the castle grew a urban community that was mostly dedicated, above its market place, to the work of whool as soon as the 11th Century.

The confluence of artisans and traders had turned this city into the third biggest market town of Artois after Arras and Saint-Omer and it even reached up to 8,000 inhabitants. Protected by ramparts and deep moats, the city managed to escape the calamities of war and pillage and plunder for several centuries.
It was one of the first towns of France to have its own printing works. It housed several charitable organisations and hospitals. Jean sans Peur posted its military camp there and made produce arms and painted flags.

From siege to siege, from prestige to destruction

Miniature illustration showing Simon de Hesdin giving its bible translation to the King of France

Throughout its history, Vieil-Hesdin came under the control of various famous figures, among whom the Counts of Flanders and Artois, the King of France and the Dukes of Burgundy to name but a few.

The latter played a significant part in the good fame of the city and its embellishment. They invested large amounts of money in what we may call their “second homes”. They completed the development of the castle grounds that used to reach north as far as La Ternoise (and which became the territory of the municipality of Parcq along the RD 939). It was a place of prestige, where “marvel  machines” were exhibited and which became famous across Europe. No doubt it could be said that it was the ancestor of our amusement parks. Alliances were sealed there, treaties signed.

The old Hesdin was coveted by many, as it played the role of a stronghold on the border between France (to the south) and territories held by the Habsburg dynasty (to the north). Between 1475 and 1553, the city changed hands seven times and was under siege 10 times !

Eventually, advances in artillery equipment got the better of the old valley fortress which had become particularly vulnerable in spite of its high walls.

Without pity for a city that had withstood 12 centuries of assaults and which had been one of his ancestors’ favourites, Charles V ordered its destruction, after besieging it one last time. Ambroise Paré, surgeon to King Francis I and the father of modern surgery, was among the defenders of the besieged city, but nothing could change the mind of the angry Charles V, who wanted nothing left of this prestigious city. The new Hesdin was built as briefly 6 kilometers away in a completly new fashion : star shaped fortifications that announce Vauban.

Destroyed in one month

Siege of Hesdin

Furious of not being able to take Mets, Charles V prepare a campaign with 60,000 men. He takes Thérouanne in April 1553 and destroys it, then he surrounds Hesdin. The imperial forces sweep away the ramparts, skatter most of the surrounding walls.  The French people, inhabitants of Hesdin, take refuge in the castle. The imperials bombard the city nights and days, then digg tunnels beneath the foundations of the castle. The city surrender the 18th of July. The Imperials get in and kill, sack and robb. They are real brutes whithout any pity. They destroy the castle by blowing gunpowder in the tunnels they had previously digged; the towers are knocked down.

Charles V orders that the city and the caslte be destroyed. A month later, demolishers have finished their work : is only left the Clarisses convent and the Saint-Colette chapel.

Keep the memory of a tumultuous past

Balise sur le sentier de randonnée médiéval à Vieil-Hesdin

The soil of Vieil-Hesdin has preserved the most invaluable of riches: memory. It is not uncommon to find in a garden or a field an object dating back to this legendary past...

Neglected or unknown from our contemporaries, Vieil-Hesdin has vivedly intrested the University of Boston and Chicago (USA) wich published works spreaded in most big american universities and even at Oxford in England.

It was time that the inhabitants of the actual Vieil-Hesdin become the witnesses of a glorious past that lies discreetly under our feet and for wich we can stil see vestiges and even imagine the old appearance...