The year 1677 will mark a great turning point in the history of Saint-Omer, which received the visit of a distinguished guest: one of the greatest French monarchs, protector of the arts and sciences, an outstanding warlord... Louis XIV, the Sun King himself! This visit followed a short siege of a few days following the battle of Peene. That day, Saint-Omer became a French commune and broke away from the Flemish banner.

The Battle of the Peene

Let's dive back into our history: at the beginning of 1677, our territory was still attached to the Spanish crown, but the King of France was counting on recovering the northern part of the territory. After the famous battle of La Peene, won by d'Humières under the orders of the Duke of Orléans, the French troops took the direction of Saint-Omer in April.

The victory was quick. The act of capitulation was signed on the 19th and the Spanish soldiers driven out of the city militarily before the Duke makes his triumphal entry. This only half pleased his brother, Louis XIV, who was particularly attached to this conquest. If an entrance with great fanfare were to be organized in Saint-Omer, he alone should hold the top billing!

The royal entry on horseback into the cathedral of Saint-Omer

Thus, on April 30, around five o'clock in the afternoon, the king, dressed in his finest ceremonial clothes, passed the gate of Calais perched proudly on his horse in the company of a procession of great lords. and his men-at-arms. The great sovereign had won the hearts of many and all of Saint-Omer thronged his way to cheer him warmly! The supporters of the King of Spain did not spare ovations either… When you want to make old bones, it is fashionable to line up on the side of the winners…

After receiving the keys to the city, the Sun King went directly to the Abbey of Saint-Bertin and then visited the military installations before taking a detour through the marshes to discover a local curiosity that once attracted any good self-respecting traveller: the floating islands, large heaps of plants and peat resembling drifting rafts. After a night in the episcopal palace (now the courthouse), the king made a passage through the cathedral by entering on horseback through the north portal, before taking the road to Aire-sur-la-Lys.

Louis XIV battle of the peene
Gate with Sun King Emblems – PublicDomainPictures

The aftermath of the Battle of the Peene

Saint-Omer knew how to seduce the monarch: on July 22, 1680, on his way to Ambleteuse where a new port was to be built, he returned as a tourist, this time accompanied by the entire royal family and their sumptuous court! All these fine people slept at the Governor's Hotel, on the site of the current Sandelin Hotel and visited the territory for two days.

Since the attachment to France, a new life was offered to the Audomarois: the privileges of the city were reaffirmed, the ramparts were reinforced, the barracks built, the canal of Neufossé fitted out a little later... So many projects reflecting the excessive ambitions of the man who adopted the famous motto “Nec pluribus impar” (which could be translated as “Above almost everyone”…).

The day after Christmas 1680, the Great Comet crossed the Audomarois sky and was perceived as a divine sign linked to Saint-Omer's attachment to France… The sacred monarch now protected the Audomarois city.

Today, the House of the Battle of the Peene in Noorpeene is a museum dedicated to this turning point in history.

Author: Jérémie Flandrin – Article published in the October 2016 Audomarwouah magazine

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