The Battle of Crecy - 26th August 1346
During the opening years of the Hundred Years War the English army once again found itself in France under the leadership of King Edward III. As far as the English were concerned, Crecy was a battle that took place by accident. King Edward did not intend to fight a major battle at all. He had captured Caen and was proceeding to plunder Normandy on his way back to the Channel port of Boulogne. King Edward's Army was trapped between the Seine and the Somme, the French had broken the bridges and the Royal Navy had mutinied through lack of pay and were not available to lift the English Army off the coast. King Edward had no choice but to track in land in an effort to find a ford across the Somme. They arrived at a village on the Somme asking the whereabouts of a ford. After denials of such a ford with threats to burn down the village the Blanchetagne ford was disclosed. The tide was on the way out, King Edward sent a force of archers to attempt the ford, they were successful and formed a bridgehead. The decision was taken to cross the ford, guides were sent forward to fins a suitable battleground to face the French and thus open up the way to Calais/Boulogne. Almost the whole of the English Army crossed the Somme before the incoming tide stopped the crossing.
The English fielded approximately 5,500 archers, 1,000 Welsh infantry and 2,500 men at arms. A total of around 9,000 fighting men, maximum. It was a raiding force, rather than an army. Ranged against them was the cream of the French army; 6,000 professional infantry including the famed Genoese crossbowmen, 10,000 men-at-arms and 14,000 feudal militia, a total of 30,000 men.
The English position lay along a shallow ridge between Crecy and Wadicourt. King Edward chose a good defensive position with his right flank resting on a small river and some marshy ground. To his front was a damp, reedy hollow. The English occupied the rising ground. They dug pits in front of a hedge to increase its defensive value against cavalry charge. For formation they were arranged in three "battles" - the Black Prince, Edward's son on the right, The Earls of Northampton and Arundel on the left, and Edward in the centre and slightly to the rear. The archers were formed up in wedges, slightly forward, on the flanks of the men-at-arms of each "Battle" to enfilade any attack on the men-at-arms.
Edward's outnumbered force waited until the late afternoon on 26th August for the expected French attack. With parts of the French army still strung out in line of march, and probably in defiance of their cautious King's orders but confident in their numerical advantage, Philip's nobility decided to attack. Their only infantry support were the Genoese and French crossbowmen.
Outranged by the English longbowmen, their ranks were shot to pieces. As they fled they were ridden down by the impatient French knights as they surged forward to attack. The English (and Welsh) men-at-arms and archers stood their ground as they watched the cavalry horses slow in the muddy terrain. The rain that had been falling had also dampened the cords of the French crossbows and so delayed their rate of fire. Most of the French knights were also shot down in hail of arrows and those that did reach the English lines were cut down by the men-at-arms in localized counter attacks. Throughout the day as each division of French knights reached the battlefield they attacked over the same ground and by late evening there had been as many as fifteen charges, each repulsed with heavy casualties. Piles of dead men and horses further impeded the later assaults.
With the chivalry of France decimated by an army one-third its size, the English victory sent shockwaves through Europe. It signalled the end of centuries of domination of the battlefield by the mounted knight. A major factor in the French defeat was their failure to understand that they were dealing with disciplined, professional infantry whose weapon handling skills and tactics had been honed to a pitch of high efficiency. It took a special kind of man to stand firm in front of a determined cavalry charge and repeated charges had failed to break the English line.
By the time Philip withdrew the remnants of his army he had lost 1,542 nobles and knights with 10,000 infantry and militia killed. The English army had lost 100 men.
After the battle Edward resumed his march and besieged Calais which fell the following year. The French army had been destroyed.