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Battle of Crécy

Battle of Crécy

The Battle of Crécy on 26 August 1346 CE saw an English army defeat a much larger French force in the first great battle of the Hundred Years' War (1337-1453 CE). Edward III of England (r. 1327-1377 CE) and his son Edward the Black Prince (1330-1376 CE) led their professional army to victory thanks to a good choice of terrain, troop discipline in the heat of battle, use of the devastating weapon the longbow, and the general incompetence of the French leadership under King Philip VI of France (r. 1328-1350 CE). Crécy would be followed up by an even more impressive victory at the Battle of Poitiers in 1356 CE as England got off to a flier in a conflict that would rumble on for 116 years.

The Hundred Years' War

In 1337 CE Edward III of England was intent on expanding his lands in France and he had the perfect excuse as via his mother Isabella of France (b. c. 1289 CE and the daughter of Philip IV of France, r. 1285-1314 CE), he could claim a right to the French throne as nephew of Charles IV of France (r. 1322-1328 CE). Naturally, the current king, Philip VI, was unwilling to step down and so the Hundred Years' War between France and England began. The name of the conflict, derived from its great length, is actually a 19th-century CE label for a war which proceeded intermittently for well over a century, in fact, not finally ending until 1453 CE.

The English longbow was then the most devastating weapon on the medieval battlefield.

The first major action of the wars was in June 1340 CE when Edward III destroyed a French fleet at Sluys in the Low Countries. Next, an army led by the Earl of Derby recaptured Gascony for the English Crown in 1345 CE. Then, to prepare for a field campaign in French territory, Edward III's eldest son, Edward of Woodstock, aka Edward the Black Prince, was charged with torching as many French towns and villages as he could along the Seine Valley through July 1346 CE. This strategy, known as chevauchée, had multiple aims: to strike terror into the locals, provide free food for an invading army, acquire booty and ransom for noble prisoners, and ensure the economic base of one's opponent was severely weakened, making it extremely difficult for them to later put together an army in the field. Inevitably, ordinary troops also took the opportunity to cause general mayhem and loot whatever they could from the raids. This was a brutal form of economic warfare and, perhaps, too, it was designed to provoke King Philip into taking to the field and facing the invading army, which is exactly what happened.

Troops & Weapons

Both sides at Crécy had heavy cavalry of medieval knights and infantry but it would be the English longbow that proved decisive - then the most devastating weapon on the medieval battlefield. These longbows measured some 1.5-1.8 metres (5-6 ft.) in length and were made most commonly from yew and strung with hemp. The arrows, capable of piercing armour, were about 83 cm (33 in) long and made of ash and oak to give them greater weight. A skilled archer could fire arrows at the rate of 15 a minute or one every four seconds. The English army also included a contingent of mounted archers which could pursue a retreating enemy or be deployed quickly where they were most needed on the battlefield.

The French, although they had some archers, relied more on crossbowmen as firing a crossbow required less training to use. The main contingent in Philip's army was composed of Genoese crossbowmen. The crossbow, though, had a seriously slower firing rate than the longbow, about one bolt to five arrows in terms of speed of delivery.

As many as 15 waves of French cavalry attacks were driven back & the English discipline ensured that nobody broke from their defensive formation.

In terms of infantry, the better-equipped men-at-arms wore plate armour or stiffened cloth or leather reinforced with metal strips. Ordinary infantry, usually kept in reserve until the cavalry had clashed, had little armour if any and wielded such weapons as pikes, lances, axes, and modified agricultural tools. Finally, Edward's army did boast some crude cannons - the first to be used on French soil - although their impact would have been limited given the poor technology of the period as they could not, for example, fire downhill.

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Battle

On 26 August 1346 CE the two armies met proper, after a few skirmishes along the way, near Crécy-en-Ponthieu, a small town south of Calais. King Edward, leading his army in person, had landed at Saint-Vaast-La-Hougue near Cherbourg on 12 July and then marched eastwards. The king met up with the Black Prince's force and, perhaps as a reward for his successful raids, the prince was knighted by his father. Caen was then captured on 26 July, and the invading army turned north at Poissy just west of Paris to finally arrive near Crécy. King Philip, meanwhile, led his army from nearby Abbeville.

The numbers at the battle of Crécy are disputed, but historians agree the English army was significantly smaller than the French, perhaps around 12,000 against 25,000 men. Some historians put Edward's army at 15,000 men. King Edward's army attempted to overcome their numerical disadvantage by taking a defensive position on a small rise overlooking the River Maie. Edward's force was split into three divisions and the flanks were protected on one side by a forest and marshy ground, and on the other by the small village of Wadicourt. The French would have to both narrow their lines of troops and attack uphill. Edward made things even more difficult for the enemy cavalry by having holes dug into the open ground in front of his own lines.

Just before the battle commenced, the English king gave a rousing speech to his troops, at least according the medieval chronicler Jean Froissart (c. 1337 - c. 1405 CE):

Then the king leapt on a palfrey with a white rod in his hand…he rode from rank to rank, desiring every man to take heed that day to his right and honour. He spake it so sweetly and with so good countenance and merry cheer that all such as were discomfited took courage in the seeing and hearing of him.

(quoted in Starkey, 231)

The French cavalry charged first but got into a muddle when the order to advance was given but then retracted as the French king realised they were charging directly into a low, late-afternoon sun. Some French cavalry carried on moving forward regardless while others retreated. The Genoese crossbowmen employed by King Philip then advanced to the accompaniment of drums and trumpets but quickly broke their ranks after they realised they were fully exposed to the enemy archers. The French king, seeing the retreat of the Genoese, ordered his own cavalry to charge at and through them causing even greater confusion. The French heavy horse then continued to attack in waves, but the Welsh and English archers, possibly positioned on the flanks of the English men-at-arms, proved devastating.

Edward was using the very same troop formation that had won him his success at Halidon Hill against the Scots back in 1333 CE. French knights were knocked off their horses and had their armour pierced by the powerful English arrows coming at them from multiple directions. The French simply could not find an answer to the range, power, and accuracy of the English longbow. As the battle wore on and became more confused, King Edward's army benefitted from its greater battle experience and discipline, gained the hard way through fighting in Scotland and Wales.

As many as 15 waves of French cavalry attacks were driven back, and the English discipline ensured that nobody broke from their defensive formation to recklessly pursue the fleeing cavalry where they would surely have been cut down by the numerically superior French infantry in the rear. In contrast, although the French knights and their European allies were experienced, Philip's infantry was composed of poorly trained and unreliable militia, and even the knights proved totally ill-disciplined. The English king then gained further mobility by having his knights dismount and proceed towards the enemy in tight ranks supported by pikemen and with a vanguard of archers.

Prince Edward, then aged just 16, led the English army's right wing alongside Sir Godfrey Harcourt. The prince fought with aplomb, but there had been a moment of great danger when the French seemed about to overwhelm the Prince's troops. Sir Godfrey called for reinforcements but, according to the medieval chronicler Jean Froissart (c. 1337 - c. 1405 CE), writing in his Chronicles, on hearing of his son's plight King Edward, who was watching the proceedings from a handy vantage point by a windmill, merely stated that if his son could extricate himself from his difficulties then he would win his spurs that day (spurs being a mark of knighthood and presumably to be awarded to Edward in his full knighting ceremony when he got back home). The Black Prince was ultimately saved by his standard-bearer Richard Fitzsimon, and the French were driven back.

As so many of the French nobility were cut down and the army's leadership eliminated, so the superior numbers of French infantry became only academic, there was nobody left to command them. By nightfall, the result was already clear. King Edward had won the battle with around 300 casualties compared to the 14,000 fallen French, the massacre a result of the French having raised their banner, the Oriflamme, to give no quarter. Traditionally, 1,542 French knights met their deaths (some historians would put the figure as high as 4,000). The flower of France's nobility and that of its allies was eliminated, including King John of Bohemia (r. 1310-1346 CE), the King of Majorca, the Count of Blois, and Louis of Nevers, the Count of Flanders. King Philip, unseated from his horse twice, was lucky to escape the debacle. It was after the battle, at least according to legend, that Prince Edward adopted the emblem and motto of the fallen King of Bohemia - an ostrich feather and Ich Dien or 'I serve'. Over time the ostrich feathers became three, and they remain today the symbol of the Prince of Wales.

Aftermath

The victory at Crécy became the stuff of legend, with the cream of those knights who had fought there rewarded with membership of Edward III's new exclusive club: the Order of the Garter (c. 1348 CE), England's still most prestigious relic of medieval chivalry. The victory also signalled that, at last, England was no longer the inferior of France, a position it had endured ever since the Norman Conquest of England by William the Conqueror in 1066 CE. Another commemoration which survives today (or at least a partial one), is the so-called Crécy window of Gloucester Cathedral which shows many of the noble figures involved in the battle and their coats of arms.

Back on the medieval battlefield, in July 1347 CE, an English army captured Calais after a long siege. Meanwhile, David II of Scotland (r. 1329-1371 CE) and an ally of Philip VI, had invaded England in October 1346 CE. Durham was the target, but an English army defeated the Scots at the Battle of Neville's Cross on 17 October 1346 CE). King David was captured and Edward III now seemed unstoppable. A decade later, another great victory would come against the French at the Battle of Poitiers in September 1356 CE. This success was even more significant than Crécy because the king of France was captured.

After a period of peace from 1360 CE, the Hundred Years' War carried on as Charles V of France, aka Charles the Wise (r. 1364-1380 CE) proved much more capable than his predecessors and began to claw back the English territorial gains. By 1375 CE, the only lands left in France belonging to the English Crown were Calais and a thin slice of Gascony. During the reign of Richard II of England (r. 1377-1399 CE) there was largely peace between the two nations, but under Henry V of England (r. 1413-1422 CE), the wars flared up again and witnessed the great English victory at the Battle of Agincourt in October 1415 CE. Henry was so successful that he was even nominated as the heir to the French king Charles VI of France (r. 1380-1422 CE). Henry V died before he could take up that position, and the arrival of Joan of Arc (1412-1431 CE) in 1429 CE saw the beginning of a dramatic rise in French fortunes as King Charles VII of France (r. 1422-1461 CE) took the initiative. The weak rule of Henry VI of England (r. 1422-61 & 1470-71 CE) saw a final English defeat as they lost all French territories except Calais at the wars' end in 1453 CE.


The Battle of Crécy – the massacre of French chivalry

Beginning of the Hundred Years’ War between England and France. The battle when 8000 soldiers of the English army defeated a French force of 35,000. French knights charged the enemy sixteen times and they were sloughtered, mostly by English elite bowmen.

Who has not heard about the Hundred Years War being fought in France in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries? This bloody conflict between England and France began with British claims to the rights of French crown. One of the first, and the most important events of this war was the Battle of Crécy. In this battle one disciplined army won against the army twice bigger, but poorly led by ignorant leaders.

Edward The Black Prince (son of Edward III) on the battlefield

Before the Battle

On 26 August 1346 the English army led by Edward III met French forces of Philip VI near Crécy, in northern France. Before that, Edward’s army was retreating north and Philip’s plan was to chase them and fight at the fords of the Somme, what would give an advantage for the French. The English, however, overcoming the weak resistance of the ford’s defences, managed to cross the river at the last minute and they chose the convenient for themselves place for a battle.

Before the battle Edward and his army took up positions on a hill, what gave them strategic advantage on French. They spent entire day on strenghtening their defensive lines with barbed wires, ditches and palisade. English troops were set in three lines, 2 km (1.2 miles) wide. Before the first line they prepared lots of pits and sharpened logs to slow down the French charges. The battlefield was also covered with a large number of metal stars mutilating horses’ hooves. Edward’s royal command ordered English knights to fight alongside ordinary soldiers and there was no opposition to it, however this situation was very unusual in those days.

English line during the battle – source http://ringingforengland.co.uk/st-george/

Two armies

English forces consisted of 8 to 14 thousand soldiers, including 2-3 thousand heavy knights, 5-10 thousand elite archers and 1 thousand spearmen. They also had 3 cannons (and this is the first confirmed use of an artillery on a field of battle in the history) but their effectiveness was rather psychological.

English archers were one of the deadliest forces of medieval warfare. Equipped with long, made of yew wood bows they could shoot at range of 300 metres (1000 feet) and penetrate heavy knight’s armor from close distance. However, their biggest advantage was the fact that a proficient archer could take a shot every 5 to 6 seconds, while a crossbowman could shoot only twice a minute. These archers were fast-shooting killers, and if properly use in combat, they were extremely hard to stop.

English army was prepared and ready to take a fight. French king Philip came after them, having 20 to 40 thousand soldiers, including 12 thousand heavy knights and 6 thousand famous Genoese crossbowmen.

French knights, XIV Century
Source: http://ru.warriors.wikia.com/

The rain of arrows

The battle started with a duel between Genoese crossbowmen and English Archers. These mercenary crossbowmen were known for their superior combat training and discipline. However, on that day they were exhausted after long march and strings in their crossbows were wet because of heavy raining (the English managed to hide their strings in their helmets before the battle). Furthermore, the Genoese left their pavises in camp – it meant no protection against enemy fire.

Despite all of these setbacks, the crossbowmen were sent to attack English lines and bravely began to march. They had to climb on a slippery slope with low visibility because of sun’s rays shining right at them. Somehow they managed to shot, but their bolts, launched by wet strings, did not reach the English lines. In the same time the crossbowmen were under a rain of English arrows, which were taking their lifes very quickly.

Genoese commander, watching hundreds of his men lying dead or wounded ordered his troops to retreat. French king Philip was sure their withdrawal was cowardly and sent French knights to charge. They did not wait for crossbowmen’s return and massacred them while Genoese were retreating.

French charge, not coordinated and left unorganized after killing their allies, was not able to break through English lines. They charged sixteen times, dying under the rain of English arrows, stopped by the mud and wolf pits. Only few groups of French knights reached their enemy, but they were all killed by Welsh and Irish spearmen.

English Archer
Source: http://www.nationalturk.com/

After the Battle

Many French nobles and their allies died on that day. One of them was Czech king John of Bohemia. 50-year old, blind warrior ordered his squires to tie him to his two knights and they charged the English army, choosing death before dishonor.

The Battle of Crécy is a rare example where smaller army defeated distinctly larger one. The French lost over 1500 knights and a few thousand infantry troops. The English army lost between 100 to 300 soldiers. Discipline won against impatience and conceit. Some historians claim that Crécy was the beginning of the end of chivarly.

After the battle, Edward besieged and captured Calais. The Hundred Years War began…

Fun Fact

Fact reminded to me by friend – everybody knows the gesture of showing somebody the middle finger. Did you know this gesture came from the Hundred Years War? As you know from the article, French hated English archers who used their longbows with such devastating effect. If they managed to capture one, they usually cut off his index and middle fingers. Before any fight, English archers taunted French by showing them these two fingers, what meant “I still have my fingers, and I’m ready to shoot you!”.


This Day In History: The Battle of Crecy Was Fought (1346)

On this day in history, the battle of Crecy was fought between the armies of France and England. On July the 12th, 1346, Edward the Third of England landed with an invasion force of about 15,000 men on the coast of Normandy. From here, the English army marched northward, plundering the French countryside. Learning of the English army&rsquos arrival, King Philip of France gathered an army of 12,000 men together, made up of approximately 8,000 mounted knights and some 4,000 hired Genoese crossbowmen. At Crecy, Edward halted his army and prepared for the French to attack. On the afternoon of August 26, Philip&rsquos army attacked, even though he was outnumbered, it was to prove a disastrous miscalculation.

The Genoese crossbowmen, who were mercenaries, led the assault, on the English line, but they were soon overwhelmed by Edward&rsquos 10,000 archers. They could reload faster and fire much further than the Genoese. The crossbowmen had to retreat. After this, the French mounted knights attempted to break the English infantry lines. In repeated charges, the horses, and their riders were cut down in the merciless shower of arrows. Many knights were thrown from their horses and because of the weight of their armour could not move and were killed by the English infantry. The night, the French finally withdrew. Nearly one-third of their army lay dead on the field, including members of the French Royal Family and the nobility. Some 1,500 other knights and squires died in the battle. Large numbers of French knights had been made a prisoner and held for ransom by the English. Philip himself escaped with only a flesh wound. English losses are reported to have been a fraction of the French losses, possibly one hundred men.

The battle marked the decline of the mounted knight in European warfare and the rise of England as a world power. From Crecy, Edward marched on to Calais, which surrendered to him in 1347. This strategic port was to remain in English hands for two hundred years.

The battle was part of the One Hundred Years War. The One Hundred Years was a series of wars that raged from 1336 to 1453. It was fought by successive Kings of England in order to gain land or even the Crown of France. After the death of Phillip IV, there was a dispute over who should inherit the throne. The English king had a claim through his mother. The English King Edward III invaded France to secure his claim to the throne and this began the series of wars that have come to be known as the Hundred Years War. At this time, the English kings had many territories in France such as Calais and Gascony and from these locations they were to regularly launch invasions throughout the wars. For over a hundred years the English and the French fought each other.

After the death of Phillip IV, there was a dispute over who should inherit the throne. The English king had a claim through his mother. The English King Edward III invaded France to secure his claim to the throne. Edward claimed the throne through his mother Isabella, a French princess. This began A series of wars that have come to be known to history as the Hundred Years War, even though they actually lasted longer than a century. At this time, the English kings had many territories in France such as Calais and Gascony and from these locations they were to regularly launch invasions throughout the wars. For over a hundred years the English and the French fought each other.

Initially, the English seized large areas of France after the great English victories at Crecy and Poitiers. At the Battle of Poitiers, Edward&rsquos son, The Black Prince defeated a larger army in central France. Soon half of France came under the control of the English crown . There was a French counterattack and this led to nearly all the conquered territories being reconquered. There was a long pause in the war, but no peace treaty was signed. The wars began again in 1415 when Henry V invaded France.


Crécy, battle of

Crຜy, battle of, 1346. The first great English land victory of the Hundred Years War was the high point of a campaign which began with the sack of Caen, and ended with the successful siege of Calais. Edward III landed unexpectedly in Normandy, and was forced by the French strategy of destroying bridges across the Seine to march almost up to Paris. He was able to repair the bridge at Poissy challenges to meet the French in open battle yielded no results, and the English army marched northwards. The Somme was crossed at Blanche-Taque, and at Crຜy in Ponthieu (département Somme) the English prepared for battle. Edward drew up his force on 26 August with knights and men-at-arms dismounted, flanked by archers. The French first sent forward Genoese mercenary crossbowmen, whose weapons, their bowstrings slackened by a shower of rain, proved no match for the English longbows. Cannon, used for the first time in a major battle, helped to terrify the French. The French cavalry charged through their own retreating crossbowmen. The English archers brought down many of the French horses the dismounted men-at-arms stood firm. Edward III commanded his men from the height of a nearby windmill his son the Black Prince, in the forefront of the fighting, provided charismatic leadership. The final stages of the battle witnessed moments of pointless chivalric heroism from the French, notably when the blind king of Bohemia was led into the mêlພ, his knights bound to him by ropes. All were slain. At the close, the English horses were brought forward, those who were still capable mounted, and the battle turned into a rout. After the victory, Edward laid siege to Calais, which surrendered in August 1347, giving the English a vital line of communication to the continent, which they kept for more than 200 years.

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2,500 Soldiers Roaming the Countryside, Looting and Burning

In France, Edward organized his army into three “battles.” He commanded the largest in the center. He appointed Godfrey de Harcourt marshal of the right battle and the Earl of Warwick marshal of the left.

Edward wanted to join the Anglo-Flemish army for an attack on Paris. His initial route followed the coast southeast from La Vaast to St. Lô. During the first 10 days, Harcourt’s 500 men-at-arms and 2,000 archers roamed the countryside, looting what they could carry off and burning what they could not. At night they fell back on Edward’s position. Warwick’s battle marched on the English left, keeping in touch with the English fleet following the coast.

Edward crossed the River Vire at St. Lô and continued southeast from there. Fourteen miles from St. Lô, Edward abruptly changed direction to march northeast toward Caen. The army moved in the same formation as before, Warwick on the left, Harcourt on the right, cutting a path of destruction 12 to 15 miles wide.

As he approached Caen, Edward sent a cleric forward with a message demanding that the town surrender. If the town did, he would respect the lives and property of the people. The Bishop of Bayeux answered by tearing up the letter and throwing the cleric in prison.

Caen had a castle with a moat on two sides. The new town lay on an island in the Orne River with the old town between it and the castle. Edward chose to attack the weakest of the three targets, the old town. His men advanced in three columns with the marshals’ banners in front. They swept through the lightly defended old town and wheeled toward the new town. At the bridge of St. Pierre, stiff French resistance stopped the attack, but at another bridge the English pushed across to turn the French flank.

Two French leaders at the bridge of St. Pierre were Count Eu, the constable, and the Earl of Tancarville, the chamberlain. They retreated toward the town but were trapped outside the gates. Well-known among the chivalry of Europe, they could expect to be ransomed if captured but they were afraid they would be caught and killed by archers who did not know them. Riding toward the gate was Sir Thomas Holand whom they knew from campaigns in Grenada and Pressia. They called to him as he passed, then surrendered along with 25 knights.

After losing 500 men in Caen to civilian attacks Edward decided to burn the town, but Harcourt stopped him. Many people in the town would resist, costing the English more casualties, he argued. Harcourt continued by saying that Philip was so unpopular in the area that if Edward left the town alone, the people would support him within a month. Thus Edward spared Caen.

Philip had not been idle while the English ravaged Normandy. Word of the invasion arrived at his chateau at Becoiseau shortly after Edward landed in France. He summoned all the nobles who were not with Prince John and asked for help from his friends.

Coming to join him was John of Luxembourg, King of Bohemia. Luxembourg was the most renowned fighter in Europe. Between wars, he participated in many tournaments for the pure joy of fighting. In one, he received an injury that left him blind in one eye.


Battle of Crécy - History

The Battle of Crécy, was an important English victory during the Hundred Years' War.

The battle was fought on 26 August 1346 near Crécy, in northern France. An army of English, Welsh and allied troops from the Holy Roman Empire led by Edward III defeated a much larger army of French, Genoese and Majorcan troops led by Philip VI of France. Emboldened by the lessons of tactical flexibility and utilisation of terrain learned from the earlier Saxons, Vikings and the recent battles with the Scots, the English army, despite being heavily outnumbered by the French, won a decisive victory.

The battle saw the rise in power of the longbow as the dominant battlefield weapon, whose effects were devastating when used en-masse. Crécy also saw the use of some very early cannon by the army. The combined-arms approach of the English, the new weapons and tactics used, which was far more focused on the infantry than previous battles in the middle-ages and the killing of incapacitated knights by peasantry after the battle has led to the engagement being described as "the beginning of the end of chivalry".

The battle crippled the French army's ability to come to the aid of Calais, which fell to the English the following year. Calais would remain under English rule for over two centuries, falling in 1558. Upon the death of the French monarch Charles IV in 1328, the throne was legally supposed to pass to Edward III of England, the closest male relative. A French court, however, decreed that the closest relative of Charles was his first cousin, Philip, Count of Valois. Philip was crowned as Philip VI of France.

Edward II won several naval battles before returning to England to raise more funds for a future campaign and to build an army. On 11 July 1346, Edward set sail from Portsmouth with a fleet of 750 ships and an army of 15,000 men. With the army was Edward's sixteen-year-old son, Edward of Woodstock, a large contingent of Welsh soldiers and longbowmen, including those from Llantrisant and allied knights and mercenaries from the Holy Roman Empire. The army landed at St. Vaast la Hogue, 20 miles from Cherbourg. The intention was to undertake a massive chevauchée across Normandy, plundering its wealth and severely weakening the prestige of the French crown. Carentan, Saint-Lô and Torteval were all razed, after which Edward turned his army against Caen, the ancestral capital of Normandy. The English army sacked Caen on 26 July, plundering the city's huge wealth. Moving off on 1 August, the army marched south to the River Seine, possibly intending to attack Paris. The English army crossed the Seine at Poissy, however it was now between both the Seine and the Somme rivers. Philip moved off with his army, attempting to trap and destroy the English force.

Attempting to ford the Somme proved difficult all bridges were either heavily guarded or burned. Edward vainly attempted to probe the crossings at Hangest-sur-Somme and Pont-Remy before moving north. Despite some close encounters, the pursuing French army was unable to bring to bear against the English. Edward was informed of a tiny ford on the Somme, likely well-defended, near the village of Saigneville called Blanchetaque.

On 24 August, Edward and his army successfully forced a crossing at Blanchetaque with few casualties. It was said that the Welsh longbowmen had played a pivotal role to achieve this. Such was the French confidence that Edward would not ford the Somme, the area beyond had not been denuded, allowing Edward's army to resupply and plunder Noyelles-sur-Mer and Le Crotoy were burned. Edward used the respite to prepare a defensive position at Crécy-en-Ponthieu while waiting for Philip to bring up his army. The position offered protection on the flanks by the River Maye to the west, and the town of Wadicourt to the east, as well as a natural slope, putting cavalry at a disadvantage.

Edward deployed his army facing south on a sloping hillside at Crécy-en-Ponthieu the slope putting the French mounted knights at an immediate disadvantage. The left flank was anchored against Wadicourt, while the right was protected by Crécy itself and the River Maye beyond. This made it impossible for the French army to outflank them. The army was also well-fed and rested, putting them at an advantage over the French, who did not rest before the battle.

The English army was led by Edward III, primarily comprising English and Welsh troops along with allied Breton and German mercenaries. The exact size and composition of the English force is not accurately known. Andrew Ayton suggests a figure of around 2,500 men-at-arms nobles and knights, heavily armoured and armed men, accompanied by their retinues. The army contained around 5,000 longbowmen, 3,000 hobelars (light cavalry & mounted archers) and approximately 3,500 spearmen.[8] Clifford Rodgers suggests 2,500 men-at-arms, 7,000 longbowmen, 3,250 hobelars and 2,300 spearmen.[9] Jonathon Sumption believes the force was somewhat smaller, based on calculations of the carrying capacity of the transport fleet that was assembled to ferry the army to the continent. Based on this, he has put his estimate at around 7,000–10,000.

Welsh freemen were mercenaries, soldiers of fortune and no one's vassals, in sharp contrast to the feudal English (and French) cavalry, where knights did most of the fighting, each "lance" supported by a team of grooms, armourers and men at arms under its lance-corporal, vassals serving at the command of their lord, giving unpaid the military service that their land holding demanded. Welsh freemen, like their Genoese counterparts - and like the Gurkhas today - were there for pay (six pence per day) and booty. The change Crécy made to warfare, the European balance of power and the social order cannot be exaggerated and was permanent. It took fifty years before cavalry - with new, expensive horse-armour - regained anything like its former pre-eminence. The value of the longbow as a long-range killing weapon re-established the importance of skilled, professional foot-soldiers, leading to mercenary armies and a balance between infantry and cavalry. English and later British power became of Continental importance.

The power of Edward's army at Crécy lay in the massed use of the longbow a powerful tall bow made primarily of yew. Knights on horseback - heavy cavalry - had dominated the battlefield since the later years of the Roman Empire , lost their dominance. Infantry had been unable to withstand the terrifying and irresistible charge of a massed formation of armoured knights on heavy horses with long lances that could reach over shields and outreach pikes. The new weapon, introduced by Henry III of England 100 years before, used by Welsh archers serving Edward I at the battle of Falkirk in 1298 and Edward III against Scottish knights at Halidon Hill in Berwickshire in 1333, had never before been used to its full potential. It had taken decades to work out how to maximise its range and power, perfect its accuracy and develop tactics and training to exploit it to the full. Edward III later declared in 1363 that archery had to be practised by law, banning other sports to accommodate archery instead.

The French army was led by Philip VI and the blind John of Bohemia. The exact size of the French army is less certain as the financial records from the Crécy campaign are lost, however there is a prevailing consensus that it was substantially larger than the English. The French army likely numbered around 30,000 men.

The English army was deployed in three divisions, or "battles". Edward's son, Edward, the Prince of Wales commanded the vanguard with John de Vere, the Earl of Oxford, Thomas de Beauchamp, the Earl of Warwick and Sir John Chandos. This division lay forward from the rest of the army and would bear the brunt of the French assault. Edward himself commanded the division behind, while the rear division was led by William de Bohun, Earl of Northampton. Each division composed of spearmen in the rear, men-at-arms in the centre and the longbowmen arrayed in front of the army in a jagged line. Edward ordered his men-at-arms to fight on foot rather than stay mounted. The English also dug a series of ditches, pits and caltrops to maim the French cavalry.

The French army came north from Abbeyville, the advance guard of his army arriving at the Crécy ridgeline at around midday on 26 August. After reconnoitring the English position, it was advised to Philip that the army should encamp and give battle the following day. Philip met stiff resistance from his senior nobles and was forced to concede that the attack would be made that day. This put them at a significant disadvantage the English army was well-fed after plundering the countryside and well-rested, having slept in their positions the night before the battle. The French were further hampered by the absence of their Constable. It was the duty of the Constable of France to lead its armies in battle, however, the Constable Raoul II of Brienne, Count of Eu had been taken prisoner when the English army sacked Caen, depriving them of his leadership. Philip formed up his army for battle the Genoese under Antonio Doria and Carlo Grimaldi formed the vanguard, followed by a division of knights and men-at-arms led by Charles II, Count of Alençon accompanied by the blind King John of Bohemia. The next division was led by Rudolph, Duke of Lorraine and Louis II, Count of Blois, while Philip himself commanded the rearguard.


Just history.

Known as one of the most decisive battles in English history and The Hundred Years war, Crecy has come to be known as a military revolution in its massive use of the longbow and the ultimate demise of the age of chivalry.

Previous battles had been fought mostly by the infantry and mounted knights. Battles before had adhered to chivalric code that had mostly kept the knights protected. Crecy was a game changer.

Edward III had inherited an England at war. He was fighting on two fronts, Scotland and Aquitaine in south west France. The battle of Dupplin Muir (moor) in Scotland proved to be a crucial turning point for Edward III for future conflicts. He had tried a new tactic whereby he arranged his advancing army into a crescent shape. As the Scots came in toward the middle where the enemy knights were wielding their swords and pikes, they forced the knights back but as they did so the left and right flank closed in on them. These flanks were armed with longbows and as the arrows rained down on the Scots they became crushed together, unable to use their weapons. Those that could turned and ran. This was followed by the battle of Halidon Hill which, once again using the longbow from an elevated position, obliterating the Scottish army. The tightly packed Scottish ranks were decimated while English losses were light.

King Edward III, only 20 years old, had now learned a valuable lesson in warfare which he would eventually put into great effect at Crecy.
This battle about as the culmination of a long running dispute between Edward and Phillip over the French crown, which Edward felt was rightly his through his mother Isabella of France. Phillip VI of France threatened to confiscate Aquitaine, land under the dukedom of Edward III.
In the time running up to the battle there were losses and gains by both the English and French navy in the channel. The threat of a French invasion on the south coast emboldened Edward to ask for an increase in taxes to send an army to Aquitaine. Parliament agreed the taxes. Subsequently on July 12th 1346, with an invasion force of 14,000 men and his sixteen year old son, Edward, later known as the Black Prince, he landed on the coast of Normandy.

The English army plundered their way through the countryside as they headed toward Paris. On hearing that Edward had landed in France, Phillip mustered an army of 12,000 men. His army was roughly made up of 8,000 mounted knights and 4,000 crossbowmen. A few miles short of Paris, Edward stopped and began to head north. They were being closely followed by Philips army which hoped to catch and crush them before they crossed the Somme. They failed. On 24th August Edward successfully crossed the Somme via a small ford near Saigneville. Phillip had not expected Edward to be able to cross the river, thinking by the time he reached Edward’s army they would most likely have either starved or drowned. As a result, he had not placed any defences at Saineville, which allowed Edward’s army to plunder and restock.

Edward reached Crecy and using the available time before Phillip caught up to his advantage. He placed his army into a defensive position on a slope knowing this would make it harder for the French cavalry. He also used the time to dig small pits with spears to impale the horses in the front line.
The English army was comprised of three main flanks. The sixteen year old Black Prince took command of the right flank that was placed slightly ahead of the other two and would take the brunt of the attack. Each division consisted of spearmen at the rear, dismounted knights and men at arms in the centre and in a jagged line at the front stood the archers. At the rear were the reserves, positioned centrally, and led directly by King Edward.

Late in the afternoon on 26th August, Philip’s army attacked. The Genoese crossbowmen led the assault. However due to heavy rain the night before the Genoese bows had become slack and ineffective. As a result, when they fired, their shots fell short. In contrast the English longbows were able to be unstrung and therefore were dry by the time it came to fire any arrows. The Genoese crossbowmen were quickly overwhelmed by Edward’s 10,000 archers, who able to loose ‘arrows flying so thick they appeared as snow’. Upon seeing the ineffectiveness of his crossbows, Phillip sent out his mounted knights, who trampled over the Genoese dead and dying and mowed down those trying to run back. At first the masses of the dead beneath them sent the knights into confusion but they soon gathered pace towards the English lines. Sixteen times the French mounted cavalry tried to charge upon the slope but each time were taken down either by arrows or were halted by their own dead horses and men on the battlefield.

At some point during this offensive the Black Prince came directly under attack and a messenger was sent to the king for aid. He is reputed to have asked whether his son be ‘wounded or dead?’ when he was reassured he was neither he said ‘I am confident he will repel the enemy without my help’ and turning to one of his knights famously adding ‘Let the boy win his spurs!’

During the battle, upon hearing of the impending defeat of the French, the blind King of Bohemia rode into battle with his two knights by his side. He aimed for the Black Prince’s position and was cut down along with his knights who it was said could easily have made their escape, but refused to leave their Lord, preparing to die in battle beside him. Popular legend states that at this point the Prince plucked three ostrich feathers from his helmet and these became his emblem and the emblem of The Prince of Wales. It is seen today on one side of the current two pence piece.

At around midnight King Phillip abandoned the carnage and retreated from the field, where he was soon followed by his few remaining knights and men at arms. The English forces followed him to Poitiers where the French king was captured and taken to the Tower of London where he was held ransom for 3,000,000 gold crowns. Edward was heralded for his victory which sent a shockwave throughout Europe. For many kings that followed he was emulated and came to be known as one of the greatest kings England has ever had.


Battle Report: Crécy, centuries in the making

Edward III is known as perhaps one of England’s greatest Kings but without his battles against France, Edward would have likely blended into the menagerie of Plantagenet Monarchs. One such battle that puts both Edward III and his son, Edward ‘The Black Prince’ of Wales firmly in the pantheon of Great Englishmen is the Battle of Crécy.

Edward The Black Prince receives the grant of Aquitaine from his father King Edward III (1390) SOURCE: British Library/Public domain

Prelude to war

England and France had been military and political rivals since the conquest of England by William of Normandy back in 1066, with the two kingdoms coming to blows more than once. By the reign of Edward III (1327-1377) the rivalry had reached fever pitch, with the young English king asserting his right, through his mother, to rule France as its closest male heir. You might be wondering ‘how on earth did an English king claim the throne of France?’ and the answer is simple (very complicated). After the death of Philip IV of France in 1328, there were no direct male heirs to inherit the crown, the closet being the old king’s nephew, Edward of England. His mother, Isabella of France, who was Philip’s sister could not inherit the crown herself due to France’s rules against the crown passing matrilineally (through a female heir) and thus Isabella, tried to claim the throne for her son. Understandably, the French nobility were unhappy at the thought of both an English king and, one that would have inherited through a women on their throne, choosing to elect the dead king’s Valois cousin, Philip, who would become Philip VI.

For the first few years of Edward’s reign, he didn’t really pursue his claim, allowing the Valois count to sit on ‘his’ throne with little complaint from Edward, but when in 1337 Philip VI confiscated Edward’s continental territories around Gascony, Edward’s tactics changed. It wasn’t until 1340 that Edward III officially made his claim on the French throne, quartering his coat of arms with the French Lily or Fleur de Lis, launching a successful naval attack on the French fleet at Sluys. the massive victory that saw the massive French navy destroyed by the smaller and more nimble English fleet, lead to relativity no gains on land and a truce as called after attempts to gain the support of Brittany ended in stalemate.

The coat of arms of Edward III after 1340, see the Leopards of England quartered with the Fleur de Lis of France SOURCE: Sodacan via Wikimedia Commons

The Crécy campaign

BY 1346, Edward and his now 16 year old son, The Black Prince, were ready to attack French lands again. Unlike previous attempts, this time, Edward would land an army in northern France and carry out what was called a chevauchee, a fancy way of saying commit mass arson and destruction across a wide area of enemy territory.

Edward’s force landed on the Cotentin Peninsula in July, almost exactly 600 years before the allied forces would land there during the invasion of France during World War II, and carried out their scorched earth along the Normandy coast. As Edward and his 15,000 strong army moved through Normandy, they were stalked by Philip and his French knights, that had gathered to push Edward back into the sea. ideally, Edward would not fight the French army in the field as the French had the most dangerous and best equipped army in the world. Made up of thousands of heavily armoured knights supported by mercenary Genoese crossbowmen, a combination that had won France countless battles in the past. Eventually, Edward knew that he would have to fight Philip’s army but he knew that he would need to use the terrain and superior tactics to beat his much larger enemy.

Philip’s army was made up of almost 12,000 knights alone, with a further 12,000 infantry men and 5,000 to 6,000 Genoese crossbowmen in reserve. Along side the King of France, was the blind king John of Bohemia, whose troops helped to bloat the French army even further pushing the total French numbers to around 30,000 men. The French forces dwarfed the English army made up mainly of archers (over 8,000) with just a few thousand mounted knights and men-at-arms of their own.

By early August, the English army were just 20 miles (32km) away from Paris, but Edward chose to turn his army north to meet up with his flemish allies that had invaded from Flanders. Philip’s much larger force were still shadowing the English and had managed to circumvent the invaders, trapping them on the wrong side of the Somme.

Map of the route of Edward III's chevauchee of 1346 SOURCE: Wikimedia Commons user: Newm30

With all of the river crossings blocked by the French army, Edward learned of a potential ford at Blanchetaque near the mouth of the Somme, arriving with his army on 24th August. Meeting a contingent of some 4,000 frenchmen, Edward ordered his longbowmen march into the river to suppress the enemy forces, allowing the rest of the army to cross. the Battle at Blanchetaque was a resounding success for the English, with the longbows using their superior range and rate of fire to keep the French pinned down, a tactic that would come to haunt the French later.

The Battle of Crécy

On 26th August, the English army arrived at the small northern village of Crécy, a good defensive position between a river and mashy areas. Edward’s aim had been to escape to Flanders where his allies would have been able to help him and possibly stop the French from advancing but, he knew that Philip would catch up with him and cut off any route of retreat. Edward had his men divided into three battles, with his dismounted men-at-arms in the centres and archers on the flanks. As well as this, Edward had his men dig trenches along their front line paired with a mass array of tipped stakes, to slow down the thousands of enemy cavalry that would undoubtably be crashing into their lines. The English army had the whole day to get themselves ready for the battle as the French had been marching and didn’t reach the English lines until late on in the afternoon. Going against all conventional wisdom, instead of waiting and resting possibly until the next day, Philip and the French decided they would attack as soon as they laid eyes on Edward’s Forces, ordering the crossbowmen to advance on the English archers.

The crossbowmen advanced under torrential rain that both slowed them down and, slackened their bow strings, meaning they had to get painfully close to the English lines. Using this poor weather, the longbows of England opened fire at the advancing soldiers, decimating them as they turned to retreat. The furious heavy cavalry in the rear, saw the cowardly crossbows turn from the fight and charged directly into them cutting many of their fellow French and Genoese comrades down in pure rage at their supposed cowardly retreat.

A modern depiction of mercenary Genoese Crossbowmen firing and reloading behind their large Pavise shields, something they didn’t have a Crécy as they were left on the baggage train SOURCE: Pinterest

With the added confusion created by the French cavalry and crossbowmen, more and more arrows rained down on the confused French right flank who didn’t even get close to the English infantry waiting behind their defences. It is important to remember that even at relatively close range, an arrow was unlikely to pierce heavy plate armour but the mass of projectiles played havoc on the advancing cavalry who had their horses killed from underneath them and the sheer force of a projectile hitting you at over 90 miles per hour would be enough to knock you down and cause serious blunt force trauma as well as piercing poorly protected areas of your body. Both the physical and psychological effects of thousands of arrows showering the advancing French, soon forced the few remaining knights to turn and flee the field with just catastrophic losses and no damage done to the English lines.

After a failed cavalry attack on the English left flank, the afore mentioned Blind (actually blind!) King John of Bohemia, instructed his men to strap him to his horse, point him at the enemy and join him on a suicidal charge into the English right, coming face to face with the young Prince of Wales, Edward. Some how, the French and Bohemian knights managed to reach the lines of the English, forcing the bowmen behind the lines of men-at-arms. Things started to turn in favour of the French as the Standard of the now wounded heir to the throne fell, but the well rested troops that had been stationed on the left flank of the English lines quickly ran to protect the right flank, unsure if the Black Prince was even alive. The English reinforcements were enough to repel the cavalry attack, and with the very much alive, Prince Edward, he and his men, killed the king of Bohemia and routed his few remaining men.

Ether pure bravery or unbridled stupidity, the attack carried out by John of Bohemia was the most successful attempt by the French forces that whole day. With 13 more charges (yes, 13!) The French were unable to break the English lines getting stuck in the quagmire that was forming in front of the bowmen who were having a field day, cutting down French knights like it was target practice. It cannot be stressed enough, the enormous strength and endurance that the English longbowmen needed to fire continuously at the advancing cavalry.

After the vast majority of the French Knights were completely wiped out,King Edward marched his reserves around the sides of his archers and plunged them into the few remaining Frenchmen, causing an all out route. The French King fought valiantly, having two horses killed form under him before retreating with his life, a well and truly beaten French army had lost some 10,000 men and a large portion of the knightly class.

A beautiful depiction of the battle of Crécy by Jean Froissart (1337-1405) SOURCE: Public domain

A most complete victory

After the shocking defeat of the massive French army at Crécy, Edward and his army continued their march through northern France, laying siege to Calais, taking it a year later, allowing England a foothold in France for the next two centuries. Through Edward’s life time, the English cause in France continued to grow with more and more land taken, taking advantage of a weakened French monarchy leading to decades of success for Edward.

The success of Edward and his son, The Black Prince would not last forever and ultimately, the French throne stayed in French hands with the English under the feckless king Henry VI , eventually loosing the conflict that would be known to history as The Hundred Years war.

I hope you enjoyed this and would love to hear what you think, please leave me a comment and follow me on Instagram @chrisriley_ for more medieval history!


Part 3: The Battle of Crecy

Hello everyone, in today’s article we will be looking at one of the most famous battles of the Hundred Years War and one that marked the end of the supremacy enjoyed by the heavily armored knights of Medieval Europe: The Battle of Crécy. More important for us in examining this battle, however, will be the ramifications it would have for the future of the conflict, as it practically guaranteed that the war would drag on for many years to come.
Before we can get to this important battle, we need to return to the point where we left off in the last article. By the early 1340s, despite the resounding naval victory at Sluys, Edward III had lost most of the allies he had hoped to use against the French and was little better off than when the war started. An unexpected opportunity would present itself in 1341, however, when the Duke of Brittany died without a direct heir, sparking a succession conflict between the house of Blois and the house of Montfort. In an ironic twist, Phillip VI would support the house of Blois, whose claimant claimed succession by way of the Duke’s sister, Phillip VI’s cousin, while Edward III would support the Montforts, whose claimant was the former Duke’s half-brother. As a result, both Phillip and Edward ended up backing claimants whose justifications were the opposite of the ones each of them were using in their own dynastic struggle for the French throne
This smaller dynastic conflict helped give Edward a foothold from which he could continue the fight against Phillip and there would be some important gains made in this area. That said, the conflict would, overall, be relatively indecisive and would continue on for many years to come.
Reinvigorated by the conflict going on in Brittany, Edward eventually turned his attention back to France proper and sought a way that he could take the war to French soil. Accordingly, Edward gathered up and army of some 15,000 troops and the ships needed to transport them and set sail for the mainland. It is not entirely clear what Edward had planned initially since it seemed he at first intended to land his army in Gascony and operate from there, but after making little progress in the face of contrary winds and storms in the channel, decided to land in Normandy instead. Here he began his campaign of raiding through the French countryside, from here on to be referred to as a chevauchée.
These raids involved killing any civilians in the area the army passed through and thoroughly looting and burning the towns and villages along the way with the intention of both devastating the local economy and provoking the enemy to face the raiding English army in battle. This approach had largely been developed during the course of the wars between England and Scotland and proved especially devastating in the region of Normandy, since a number of the important towns in the area weren’t walled and so made for easy targets. At the same time, the landing in Normandy had taken the French completely by surprise and there were no significant forces in the area to contest Edward’s advance.
After raiding across Normandy, Edward proceeded to march down along the Seine River to Paris where he raided along the outskirts of the city. Edward did not have the siege equipment to besiege the city, however, and in any case the French king had finally mustered a large army to oppose Edward, forcing him to leave the area around Paris and start marching towards Flanders and relative safety. Loaded down with plunder, the English were hotly pursued by the French and were very nearly caught as they crossed both the Seine and Somme Rivers, which could have been a disaster for the English.
Once safely across the Somme, Edward no longer had to fear giving battle with the French since, even if the battle went poorly, he could now retreat to Flanders. As such, Edward chose to stop his forces near the small village of Crécy and fortify a position on a small hill with wooden stakes and small, deep holes in the ground intended to disrupt any attempt by the French cavalry to charge at his archers. From there, they waited for the French to arrive.
The first elements of the French army under King Phillip VI arrived late in the afternoon the following day. The army was strung out along the road leading to Crécy and since it was late in the day, Phillip decided to postpone the attack to the following day, once the rest of his army had arrived. The French nobles that accompanied him, however, were itching for a fight and their indiscipline forced Phillip to commit to the battle earlier than he’d hoped. Some Genoese mercenary crossbowmen were sent into action but these were easily outranged and out shot by the English archers and forced to retreat. The French cavalry, incensed by what they thought was the cowardice of the crossbowmen, charged right through them as they launched their attack on the English and trampled many of them to death.
The cavalry fared little better than the crossbowmen and most were killed or incapacitated by the rain of English arrows. The cavalry attacked several times as fresh French forces arrived on the battlefield but each charge achieved less success than the last as they found their way obstructed by the piles of dead knights and their horses from the previous assaults. Only a few assaults actually reached English lines but were mostly beaten off with relative ease by the dismounted English men-at-arms. As night fell, the French army had been broken and sent into a headlong retreat. Philip VI, himself having been struck in the neck by an arrow while leading one of the charges, could do little to stop the rout and fled the field accompanied by a handful of retainers. Edward and his army did not at first know the extent of their victory and did not want to risk pursuing the French army in the dark. The following morning they saw the carnage and realized just how bloody the previous day had been for the French. Although the exact casualties are unknown, the French likely suffered over 10,000 casualties from their starting size of 20-30,000 troops.
Once again free to move at will across the French countryside, Edward next made his way to the port city of Calais, the port geographically closest to England. He would lay siege to the city for many months but met with little success and his army suffered considerably under the terrible conditions of the siege. Never the less, the English had little to worry about from the French themselves. King Phillip arrived with his army during the course of the siege but was dismayed to find that the English had fortified their siege lines around Calais. Dispirited, Phillip left Calais to its fate and the city surrendered not long after. Edward was incensed by the town’s lengthy resistance and had at first intended to slaughter the inhabitants but was dissuaded by his pregnant wife, who said that doing so would mar the impending birth of his new child. Although Edward would spare the civilians, he did not permit them to remain in the city and forced them to leave with haste. The town would then be occupied by English settlers and merchants and would become an important base for future English campaigns into France.
Crécy and the capture of Calais were undoubtedly important victories for the English. The first not only demoralized the French but energized the English public back home, while the captured loot and prisoners from the battle and the rest of the campaign made Edward and his troops very wealthy. This wealth would prove very enticing in the campaigns ahead, as many Englishmen and foreign troops for hire would flock to Edward’s armies in anticipation of the loot to be had from the rich French countryside.
Yet, while the battle was undoubtedly an important step for the English, it is all too easy to overestimate its real importance. The French still had armies they could put into the field and, apart from Calais, the English hadn’t actually succeeded in making any long term territorial gains during the campaign. Similarly, as we can see from the previous article, this phase of the war would last until 1360, meaning that there would be another 14 years of fighting after this successful campaign. Indeed, had the French not actually engaged the English at Crécy, it is entirely possible that nothing of particular note would have happened as a result of this campaign and, for all the loot Edward’s army would have gained, they would have gained little of strategic importance and the French army would have remained just as formidable as it had been before the battle.
This fact should serve to underline the disadvantage under which the English were operating. They only had relatively limited resources and could only really accomplish anything if they could count on defeating the French forces in the field. Yet, even when they won resounding victories, these decisive victories did not mark the end of the ability of the French to eventually bounce back and raise further large armies to oppose the English.
As thin as the English margin for error was at this time, however, there was about to be a new factor added to the equation that would bring the fighting to a halt and further endanger the English cause. In the next article we will be looking at the Black Death and its impact on the Hundred Years War before looking at the campaign that would effectively mark the end of this first stage of the war. Until then, I hope you all have a good day.


BATTLES OF CRECY & AGINCOURT (BATTLEFIELD)

The Hundred Years War, a dynastic feud between England and France which actually lasted well over a century, was the definitive war in Western Europe during the late Middle Ages. Fought in four stages, ultimately with a French triumph, the Hundred Years War is actually most famous for three overwhelmingly lobsided English victories. Two of these, the Battle of Crecy in 1346 and the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, were fought seven decades but barely twenty miles apart from each other. In both cases, badly outnumbered English forces inflicted crushing defeats and massive casualties on the French, largely due to effective use of massed bowmen. These victories allowed the English to maintain the war on French soil for far longer than would otherwise have been possible.

History

The Hundred Years War began as a feud for control of the French monarchy. Thanks to convoluted laws of succession, Edward III of England inherited a semi-legitimate claim to the French crown in 1328. In 1337 he decided to press his claim, and hostilities broke out between England and France. The early years of the war were dominated by minor engagements, notably in Brittany. In 1340 the English fleet utterly destroyed the French fleet at Sluys, thereby securing the Channel, and the initiative, for the English for the next century.

In 1346 the English invaded France outright. Taking the French by surprise, the English seized Caen, the old capital of Normandy under William the Conqueror. They then began moving along the coast towards Calais. The French amassed a huge army to stop them. The two sides met at Crecy. The English arrived first, setting up a strong defensive position that maximized the use of their superior force of archers. The French arrived well after the English had time to rest and prepare. They basically charged right between the English lined, unprepared, and were cut to ribbons by wave after wave of arrows. By the time the slaughter was over, well over two thousand of their twenty thousand soldiers were casualties, while the English lost only a few hundred out of their ten thousand.

The English victory at Crecy opened the door to the English conquest of Calais, which became and remained an English possession until 1556. In addition to losing this key port, Crecy was a military and strategic disaster for France. It set the stage for the Battle of Poitiers two years later, which solidified English control of northern France until the 15th century. From 1346 to 1415, there were two long periods of warfare and two long periods of peace. In 1415 hostilities resumed for the third time.

Under Henry V of England, the English almost perfectly recreated their campaign of a century earlier. Landing with a large force in Normandy, he re-captured territories that had been liberated by the French. In response the French amassed another army and chased the English to Agincourt. This time the English were outnumbered three-to-one, but the outcome was still the same, with even higher casualties. Massed English bowmen inflicted perhaps as many as ten thousand casualties, with a loss of about one hundred English soldiers. This victory allowed the English to stay in France for a further forty years, before the French drove them out of Normandy utterly.

Visiting

Of the two battlefields, which can both easily be visited on one day, Agincourt is the more interesting from a visitor standpoint. Markers note the sites where the engagements took place, and there is large gravesite where the dead from the battle are buried. A small museum in the village of Azincourt features artifacts from the battle. The Crecy battlefield boasts a tower built on the site of the windmill from which Edward III commanded the battle.