King Edward III of England (b. 1312, d. 1377) spent most of his fifty-year reign at war, first with Scotland and then with France. Although contrary to the romantic interpretation of medieval warfare that has been glorified in Hollywood films, wars in the Middle Ages were not often won or lost by pitched battle. War “cruel and sharp” was a slow, torturous process. The siege was arguably the most common form of encounter during this period, and with siege came famine, disease, and destruction. Edward was particularly famous for his chevauchées, mounted raids that left great swathes of countryside devastated. As a result, besieged cities were often surrounded by miles of burnt and decimated land.
This sculpture by Auguste Rodin is of the surrender of the Burghers of Calais to Edward in 1347. Standard siege practice included negotiations, both for conditional respite and surrender. The law of storm technically allowed a besieging army to ignore the clemency requests of the inhabitants, but forethought dictated leniency: if Edward showed mercy, perhaps the French would show mercy in the future if the situation happened to be reversed. Instead of massacring the whole population of Calais, Edward agreed to only take a few important men of the city —Jean Froissart writes six, which is likely what Rodin referred to, but other sources like the Chronicle of St. Omer indicate that there were eight men—into custody and have them put to death. The men came out from the town dressed humbly, carrying the keys to the city.
“And then he said to them: ‘Oh you of Calais, where did you find the heart to dare to hold out so against me? And did you not realize that I am more powerful than you, and that I had made an oath to conquer you? You held out against me wrongly, and therefore I will not have any pity on you.” (St. Omer Chronicle as quoted in The Wars of Edward III by Clifford Rogers, 143)
According to the sources, Edward’s Queen, who was heavily pregnant, and many members of the royal retinue fell to their knees and asked Edward to grant the Burghers mercy, which he agreed to do.
“And then the councilors of the King of England took four knights and four bourgeois, who came to present themselves in front of the King, each knight with a naked sword in his hands, each burger with a noose in his arms.” (Ibid)
If you look closely at the sculpture, you can see one man holding the keys to the city, and the nooses around their necks.
The Met has a brilliant little pdf about the sculpture and the history.
The seven deadly sins are found in this verse:
Pride, anger, sloth,
Gluttony and greed,
Envy, lust are deadly sins,
So Christians all take heed.
—“A York Priest’s Notebook” (late 1470s)
Also, priests should warn their parishioners not to put their little ones in the same bed with them so that they will not accidentally roll over on them or suffocate them and thereby be found guilty of homicide. Nor should they carelessly restrain them in their cradles or leave them unattended day or night because of the danger that the baby’s mouth might be covered by the bedding even for a short time which could easily prove fatal.
—William of Pagula, Oculus sacerdotis (“The Priest’s Eye”) (c. 1320-23)