Battle of Crécy

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© Bob Denton 2014

Battle of Crécy, 1346

The English army landed close to Cherbourg in the summer of 1346. They used some seven hundred ships to land an army of 10,000 mean.

Their landing was assisted by the fact that some 500 Genoese crossbowmen had not been receiving their pay from the French and their dispute over this resulted in their walked away from the French defending forces.

They proceeded down the peninsula and seized Caen, then on to take Lisieux. But on reaching Rouen they found the French had destroyed the bridges across the Seine. They carried further along the river to Poissy and set about repairing the bridge to effect a crossing. Eventually he managed to cross the Somme using archers to clear the far side and then infantry crossed to establish a base for the others to join them.

The English arrived at the forest of Crécy and had time to establish themselves on a small hill that was defensible because of natural boundaries at each flank. Their force now grown to between 10,000 and 15,000 strong were drawn up in three sections.

The vanguard was led by sixteen-year-old Prince Edward, later to be known as the Black Prince, the central was led by Edward III himself and the rearguard by the Earl of Northampton. They took up their position, then rested and waited for their enemy to arrive.

Among the English force were 7,000 English and Welsh foot archers and over 3,000 mounted archers, these would prove significant. They were arrayed in a V-formation at the crest of the hill, their flanks protected by baggage carts. The English also had time to dig ditches and pits in order to disrupt a cavalry charge. Edward ordered his troops to all fight on foot.

The French had 20,000 to 25,000 men, though some historians placed this as being much larger. Nut they arrived unrested and rather rushed in to battle. Philip placed his Genoese crossbowman in the front line, though their heavy wooden shields had been left on carts among the second wave of infantry. He arranged his cavalry among the second and third groups.

A heavy storm had dowsed the two armies before they engaged, the Anglo-Welsh longbowmen had sheltered their strings until the deluge stopped, the crossbowmen had taken no such precautions so their weapons were damaged, they should have waited for them to dry before their attack.

The much higher firing rate of the longbowmen, the rain-damaged condition of the crossbows and the lack of any shields meant the Genoese failed to even get in to a sensible range before they were being decimated. When the English fired some artillery they turned away from the battle. Philip had them slaughtered for what was perceived as their cowardice.

Philip order his cavalry and infantry to charge, they did so over the remnants of the retreating crossbowmen. The cavalry charge was disrupted by the gradient of the hill and the ditches and pits that the English had prepared.

Those that fell in to the traps or that were killed by the longbowmen acted as barriers to later waves of attack and they never reached the English lines in any numbers. Some did make it to the English lines and pressed it hard but Prince Edward led his men to repel them.

The hail of arrows and artillery had the horses running for cover. The French tried to assail the English lines perhaps as many as fifteen times, but as night began to fall mounted English cavalry joined the battle. Philip had been wounded and ordered the French to withdraw.

English archers proved that if they had good protection they could defeat a cavalry charge, this would change the nature of combat for the future.

The English dead is reported as just 100 men and their wounded numbers were light, the French losses were said to be 1,500 knights which included many important nobles, including the brother of the claimant Charles de Blois. The victory effectively suppressed the use of the French army for a decade.

Forward to Calais – Back to Breton Succession
Back to 1789 and all that!
© Bob Denton 2014