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.

Situated on the Channel between France and Flanders, and with England tantalisingly close to the northwest, Dunkirk (or "Dunkerque” as the French insist on spelling it) 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.

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?

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.

Recommended

Hong Kong’s crown slips as Singapore takes over
Asian economy

Hong Kong’s crown slips as Singapore takes over

As international sentiment sours on Hong Kong, other Asian financial hubs – primarily Singapore – are snapping up business.
6 Jul 2022
Price of gas soars as Moscow turns off the taps
Gas

Price of gas soars as Moscow turns off the taps

As Russia cuts its gas exports to the EU, the price of natural gas continues to rise. Restricted supplies could see energy rationing and recession i…
6 Jul 2022
Low growth and high inflation: a toxic cocktail for anxious markets
Stockmarkets

Low growth and high inflation: a toxic cocktail for anxious markets

Low growth, high inflation, central bank tightening, a strong dollar, and the risk of recession is proving a toxic cocktail for world stockmarkets – a…
6 Jul 2022
How to cut the cost of childcare
Personal finance

How to cut the cost of childcare

Childcare is expensive, yet few people are drawing upon all the government support they are entitled to. Ruth Jackson-Kirby explains what help is avai…
6 Jul 2022

Most Popular

Ray Dalio’s shrewd $10bn bet on the collapse of European stocks
European stockmarkets

Ray Dalio’s shrewd $10bn bet on the collapse of European stocks

Ray Dalio’s Bridgewater hedge fund is putting its money on a collapse in European stocks. It’s likely to pay off, says Matthew Lynn.
3 Jul 2022
Persimmon yields 12.3%, but can you trust the company to deliver?
Share tips

Persimmon yields 12.3%, but can you trust the company to deliver?

With a dividend yield of 12.3%, Persimmon looks like a highly attractive prospect for income investors. But that sort of yield can also indicate compa…
1 Jul 2022
Is inflation about to drop as recession takes hold?
UK Economy

Is inflation about to drop as recession takes hold?

Central banks are raising interest rates in an attempt to curb soaring inflation. But will that push the economy into recession? John Stepek looks at …
5 Jul 2022