Viewed in its present condition, no town in France unites more advantages than Havre: it is one of the keys of the kingdom; it commands the mouth of the river that leads direct to the metropolis; and it is at once a great commercial town and a naval station. Possessing such claims to commercial and military pre-eminence, it may appear matter of surprise that it should be of so recent an origin; but the cause is to be sought for in the changes which succeeding centuries have induced in the face of the country—
ego quae fuerat quondam durissima tellus
Esse fretum; vidi factas ex aequore terras.”
The sea continually loses here, and, without great efforts on the part of man to retard the operation of the elements, Havre may, in process of time, become what Harfleur is. At its origin it stood immediately on the shore; the consequence of which was, that, within a very few years, a high tide buried two-thirds of the houses and nearly all the inhabitants. The remembrance of this dreadful calamity is still annually renewed by a solemn procession on the fifteenth of January.
With regard to historical events connected with Havre, there is little to be said. It was the spot whence our Henry VIIth embarked, in 1485, aided by four thousand men from Charles VIIIth, of France, to enforce his claim to the English crown. The town was seized by the Huguenots, and delivered to our Queen Elizabeth, in 1562. But it was held by her only till the following year, when Charles IXth, with Catherine of Medicis, commanded the siege in person, and pressed it so vigorously, that the Earl of Warwick was obliged to evacuate the place, after having sacrificed the greater part of his troops. At the end of the following century, after the bombardment and destruction of Dieppe, an attack was made upon Havre, but without success, owing to the strength of the fortifications, and particularly of the citadel. For this, the town was indebted to Cardinal Richelieu, who was its governor for a considerable time, and who also erected some of its public buildings, improved the basin, and gave a fresh impulse to trade, by ordering several large ships of war to be built here. As ship-builders, the inhabitants of Havre have always had a high character: they stand conspicuous in the annals of the art, for the construction of the vessel called la Grande Francoise, and justly termed la grande, as having been of two thousand tons burthen. Her cables are said to have been above the thickness of a man’s leg; and, besides what is usually found in a ship, she contained a wind-mill and a tennis-court. Her destination was, according to some authors, the East Indies; according to others, the Isle of Rhodes, then attacked by Soliman IInd; but we need not now inquire whither she was bound; for, after advantage had been taken of two of the highest tides, the utmost which could be done was to tow her to the end of the pier, where she stuck fast, and was finally obliged to be cut to pieces. Her history and catastrophe are immortalized by Rabelais, under the appellation of la Grande Nau Francoise.