17 October 1662

Dunkirk to France buys Dunkirk off Charles II of England for 40,000 pounds.

Second World War: Western Front/ Offensive in the West, May/June 1940. Embarkation of the British expedition force in Dunkirk, after advance of the German Wehrmacht, on 27 May 1940.-British soldiers on board a transporter.-Photo (Scherl / SV-Bilderdienst).

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 lives. 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.