The Hundred Years War – Crécy

Posted on Wednesday 19th August 2015

The Battle of Crécy, fought on 26 August 1346, was the first great victory of the humble longbow and the yeoman archer, who would reign supreme on the battlefields of Europe for nearly 150 years. This article by Battlefield History TV's Tim Saunders describes the Hundred Years War up to Crécy.
With the bi-centenary of Waterloo behind us this autumn we look forward to the 700th Anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt on St Crispin’s Day, 25 October 2015. Agincourt was one of the three military high points (for the English!) in a series of conflicts known as the Hundred Years War, which it is generally accepted staggered into life around 1337 and finally petered out in 1453.
Relations between fourteenth century medieval states were never easy, as their normally warlike rulers sought territory, power, money and status. In the case of England and France, tensions dated back to the Norman Conquest when Duke William by seizing the crown elevated himself to the status of a King and even though Normandy had been lost the English King, thanks to the marriage of Eleanor of Aquitaine to Henry II and the Gascon lands she brought, owed homage to the King of France; a natural source of difficulty!
Edward III believing that war was increasingly inevitable advanced his own claim to the French throne and eventually changed the Arms of England to reflect this.
There was a constant low level war in the Channel based on piracy and raids on each other’s ports and coastal settlements. This was becoming problematic for the English and very expensive; something had to be done. Also financially France was jealous of the huge revenues from England’s wool trade with Flanders and then there was the ‘Auld Alliance’ between France and Scotland, which meant England was always looking over her shoulder to the north as well as south to the machinations of Paris.
The war began with the French massing a fleet in their northern ports and a series of testing raids mainly to and from Gascony, along with an increase in English cross channel attacks. It is probable that Philip VI intended to invade England but in June 1340 Edward and a fleet of around 200 ships commanded by Edward III, crammed with archers and men of arms sailed into Sluys. Here they destroyed the French, Genoese and Castilian ships and galleys at a trifling cost; the contribution of the longbow being a largely unrecognised (by the French) and a portent of things to come!

The Battle of Sluys.

The less well-known Battle of Sluys was a naval victory as significant as Trafalgar in securing England from invasion by the French for a significant period of the war but the coastal raids continues.
Freed from the threat of invasion Edward could be more aggressive in his operations against France the largest and most successful of these campaigns was mounted in 1346. Edward sought allies from the Holy Roman Empire, Flanders and even from within France and the costs of the campaign were to be met by parliament authorised taxation and loans, covering these costs would be a key aim of the campaign.
The Army assembled at Porchester before sailing across to land in a bay towards the Northern tip of the Cotintin Peninsular. From here the English army cut a swath across Normandy in a cheavauchee, burning and looting towns and village, while the fleet destroyed ports and French shipping. The considerable wealth in goods and chattels that flowed into England during this phase of the campaign, which culminated in the sacking of Caen, enriched the exalted and humble Englishman alike.

The Crécy Campaign: Porchester to Calais.

With little interference from the French so far Edward marched east burning out all those who stood in his way. The French, however, slow to mobilize, held the line of the Seine forcing the Army up stream towards Paris before it could force a crossing of the great river. But as the English approached the broad marshy valley of the Somme their difficulties multiplied. Here the crossing points were all strongly held against them and what is more, the size of the main French was growing rapidly and closing in. The list of places where the English tried to cross grew steadily as the Army made its way down stream. As they went the number of options open to Edward dwindled. It was an increasingly desperate situation!
Whether through treachery, the French preferred option, or a knight who had served in Pontieu the very last ford at Blanchetaque, in a desperate battle, was forced by the English in the face of stiff resistance by Genoese crossbowmen and men of arms commanded by the unfortunate Goddimar de Fey. The English had escaped with negligible losses through what was a remarkable feat of medieval arms, from what was looking like certain destruction.
Resupplied with food and loot from Noyelles and Le Crotoy the army rested in the Forest of Crecy and began battle procedure for the fight that would surely come the following day – on ground of Edward’s choosing.
The English were drawn up in two main divisions with the steep chalk banks in the centre held by Welsh spearmen and archers. They watched and waited, as retinue after retinue of French converged on the battlefield. Little did they know that the Philip’s army was already falling into confusion as afternoon approached. Wise council advocated Philip delay until the following morning but so ardent and impetuous for battle were the French nobility that the battle would begin that very afternoon of 26 August 1346.

Map: The Battle of Crécy.

The Genoese crossbowmen without their pavise shields led the advance but when they halted to engage the English the division of French men of arms behind them simply rode over them, such was their scorn of the Genoese for their part in the escape of the English army the day before. The English archers fired into the scrum; horses fell, men screamed as the first French attach descended into bloody chaos.
French attacks continued as more and more knights and their retinues pressed forward. At one stage the fifteen year old Black Price was hard pressed and help was sent for but with ‘tough love’, having been assured that the Prince was on his feet and fighting, King Edward refused help. Wave after ill coordinated wave, between nine and twenty of them, advanced against the English only to be thrown back. Contingents of French arriving as the twilight set in, attacked even though the battle was clearly lost; the demands of chivalry meant they couldn’t be on the battlefield without laying a sword on the enemy. All they achieved was to swell the ranks of French dead and prisoners.
The English losses were trifling but that of French knights and men of arms on the field was so great that France militarily weakened for ten years. Crecy was the first great victory of the humble longbow and the yeoman archer, who would reign supreme on the battlefields of Europe for nearly 150 years.
Crecy 1346 is the first film of three in the Hundred Years War series. At 108 minutes long it is a full analysis of the campaign and battle, filmed as the BHTV team of historians and battlefield guides follow the course of Edward’s army across Normandy the Seine and the Somme to the very ground where the flower of French chivalry was all but destroyed by a vastly outnumbered English Army.

King Edward III of England.

England's coat of arms from 1198 until 1340, when Edward III changed it to the design shown below.

English coat of arms from 1340, inclusion of the French Ancient reflecting Edward's claim to the French throne..

Man of Arms of the Crecy period: only basic protection was available for the majority of soldiers of the time. Plate armour was in its infancy and a rarity only afforded by the wealthy. Photo Medieval Combat Society/BHTV

A depiction of the Battle of Crécy from Froissart’s Chronicle.

Froissart’s Chronicle: Burial of the French dead after Crécy.

Taking it Further

100 Years War: Crecy 1346
ISBN: 5060247620442

Only £9.99 RRP £16.99

On 11 July 1346 the Anglo/Welsh army of Edward III started to disembark in the bay at St Vaast in the Cotentin Peninsula. In a period of 12 months this army won 3 major battles Caen, Blanchtaque and Crecy and captured Calais, which would remain in English hands until 1558 a thorn in the side of France. This campaign was the first major chapter in the story of the Anglo-French conflict that was later called the 100 years War.

This campaign is not only notable for the…
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