Initially the territory of the Belgae, a Celto-Germanic tribe, Northern France was subsequently conquered by the Romans. In 55 BC, Julius Caesar set sail to conquer England from Cap Blanc-Nez, a chalk and clay cliff that plunges 440 feet into the waves south of Calais. After the 5th-century defeat of the Romans, the region was incorporated into Neustria, one of the three territories that then made up France.
Part of the plain of Flanders. The Middle Ages saw a period of prosperity with the development of the cloth-making industry in the Flanders––the plain that continues into Belgium––and Artois. During the Hundred Years War, Calais capitulated to the English, who kept it for a century before it reverted to the French crown following a long siege in 1347. During the siege, six prominent citizens volunteered to be hanged in order to spare the people of Calais. The men were pardoned but their courage provided the inspiration for Rodin's magnificent 1895 sculpture of the six hostages that can be seen in one of Calais’ parks. The event prompted England’s Queen Mary Tudor to say, “After my death, you will find Calais written in my heart."
Theater for the 20th century Wars. A century later, most of Northern France was ruled by the House of Burgundy, while Flanders was brought under Austrian Hapsburg control before becoming part of the Kingdom of Spain. The marriage of King Louis XIV to Maria-Theresa of Spain in 1659 brought Flanders to the French crown and the King annexed the other northern areas under the 1678 Treaty of Nijmegen. In 1913, the Treaty of Utrecht definitively established the borders of Northern France. Already the site of many battles in WWI, no area in Western Europe suffered more wounds from the Second World War than Nord-Pas de Calais, especially the city of Dunkirk ("Church of the Dunes" in Flemish).
Picardy is one of the oldest provinces of France, and one of the richest too when it comes to the sheer number of historic sites.
Let's start with some of the most picturesque villages in all France; we have lots of them, among the best known of which is Gerberoy in the Oise. Sites of particular archaeological interest, like Samara in the Somme. A host of splendid Gothic cathedrals (Amiens, Senlis, Noyon, Laon, etc) and equally splendid châteaux (Condé-en-Brie, Chantilly, Pierrefonds – to name but a few). Numerous museums covering a wide range of interests and specialisations; abbeys and churches too.
It was from Picardy (Saint-Valery-sur-Somme) that William The Conqueror sailed; and it was in Picardy that the Battle of Crécy was fought, and that Henry VIII met François I of France at the Field of the Cloth of Gold.
A trip through Picardy is a lesson in history. A history that comes very close to the British heart. The fiercest battles of World War I took place in 1916 in the Somme; capturing high ground on the Chemin des Dames in the Aisne also cost thousands of French and British lives; Armistice was signed at 11am on the 11th November in 1918 at Rethondes in the forest of Compiègne, and it was in the identical railway carriage at the exact same spot that Hitler forced the French surrender in 1940.
Picardy has inspired many writers. Robert Louis Stevenson canoed the River Oise and recounted his exploits in his first work "An Inland Voyage", before going on to undertake the journey that lead to his writing "Travels with a Donkey". Ruskin described Amiens as one of his favourite towns, the "Venice of France", and its cathedral as "Gothic pure, authoritative, unsurpassable..."
Jules Verne lived most of his adult life in Amiens. Colette, Victor Hugo and Marcel Proust have sung the praises of the Picardy landscapes. Further back in time, La Fontaine drew from his knowledge of animal life near Château-Thierry to write his famous fables based on Aesop's. Alexandre Dumas, of Musketeer fame, was another native of Picardy. A number of museums celebrate the life and works of these great figures of French literature.