Features

27 October 1662: England sells Dunkirk to France

Strapped for cash, King Charles II agreed to sell Dunkirk, England's port town on the Channel to France, on this day in 1662.

15-10-26-dunes-634

Situated on the Channel between France and Flanders, and with England tantalisingly close to the northwest, Dunkirk was ideally placed to create havoc during the 80 Years War. Beginning in 1568, the hostilities pitted the rebel Dutch United Provinces, England and France against the Spanish Empire.

The Spanish, who ruled Dunkirk as part of the Spanish Netherlands, used it as a base from which to launch raids against Dutch and English shipping, causing trade to all but grind to a halt. Then, at last, came victory against the Spanish and their piratical Dunkirkers'. In 1658, the town fell to a combined Anglo-French force following the Battle of the Dunes.

Subscribe to MoneyWeek

Become a smarter, better informed investor with MoneyWeek.

As part of the peace settlement, Dunkirk was awarded to the English. But while it was a glittering prize, it was also a liability England could scarcely afford. In short, the country was broke. The war had come at a heavy price and the English republic had been swept away. Charles II was crowned king in May 1660. But the coronation did nothing to end the internal strife facing the newly restored kingdom.

Whatever funds Charles could get his hands on he needed to keep his enemies at home in check. That meant the cost of garrisoning Dunkirk was just an added expense the king could do without. And there was always the risk that the port town on the continent could drag England into another foreign war. So, Dunkirk had to go. Besides, England had acquired a far more exotic outpost in Tangier on the North African coast the previous year. What was Dunkirk to that?

Advertisement
Advertisement - Article continues below

On 27 October 1662, the French king, Louis XIV, happily agreed to take Dunkirk off Charles's hands for the princely sum of five million livres. But the sale was far from popular at home. Samuel Pepys noted in his diary that he was "sorry to hear that the news of the selling of Dunkirk is taken so generally ill, as I find it is among the merchants".

The 'selling off of the family silver' was widely viewed as a national embarrassment, although as far as Charles was concerned, it was a necessary one. As the Venetian ambassador wily observed, it had been "a course [of action] to which in other circumstances [the English] would not descend". But even port towns have their price.

Also on this day

27 October 1986: the City's Big Bang

Read more here

Advertisement

Recommended

Visit/519858/how-long-can-the-good-times-roll
Economy

How long can the good times roll?

Despite all the doom and gloom that has dominated our headlines for most of 2019, Britain and most of the rest of the developing world is currently en…
19 Dec 2019
Visit/economy/600814/money-minute-friday-14-february-the-latest-from-rbs-britains-state-owned-bank
Economy

Money Minute Friday 14 February: The latest from RBS, Britain's state-owned bank

Today's Money Minute previews results from RBS – Britain’s state-owned bank – and from pharma giant AstraZeneca.
14 Feb 2020
Visit/economy/600813/money-minute-thursday-13-february-latest-numbers-from-barclays-and-centrica
Economy

Money Minute Thursday 13 February: latest numbers from Barclays and Centrica

Today's Money Minute previews earnings reports from Barclays Bank and Centrica, plus the latest US employment picture
13 Feb 2020
Visit/economy/600802/money-minute-wednesday-12-february-grim-times-for-european-industry
Economy

Money Minute Wednesday 12 February: grim times for European industry

Today's Money Minute previews industrial production in the eurozone, plus the latest from America's central bank.
12 Feb 2020

Most Popular

Visit/economy/uk-economy/600824/how-the-bbc-can-survive-the-end-of-the-tv-licence
UK Economy

How the BBC can survive the end of the TV licence

Th TV licence that funds the BBC is looking way past its sell-by date, says Matthew Lynn. Here's how it could survive without it
16 Feb 2020
Visit/economy/uk-economy/600837/rishi-sunak-new-chancellor-spending-splurge
UK Economy

Britain has a new chancellor – get ready for a major spending splurge

The departure of Sajid Javid as chancellor and the appointment of Rishi Sunak marks a change in the style of our politics. John Stepek explains what's…
14 Feb 2020
Visit/investments/property/600826/living-on-a-houseboat-the-pros-and-cons-of-a-floating-home
Property

Living on a houseboat: the pros and cons of a floating home

Living on a houseboat sounds romantic and peaceful. But it’s not as straightforward as it looks, says Nicole Garcia Merida
14 Feb 2020
Visit/investments/commodities/600729/the-rare-earth-metal-that-wont-be-a-secret-for-long
Sponsored

The rare earth metal that won't be a secret for long

SPONSORED CONTENT – You can’t keep a good thing hidden forever; now is the time to consider Pensana Rare Earths and the rare earth metals NdPr.
31 Jan 2020