10 Facts About the Battle of Crécy

10 Facts About the Battle of Crécy

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On 26 August 1346, one of the most famous battles of the Hundred Years War was fought. Near the village of Crécy in northern France, King Edward III’s English army was confronted by a larger, formidable French force – which included thousands of heavily-armed knights and expert Genoese crossbowmen.

The decisive English victory that followed has come to epitomise the power and deadliness of what is arguably England’s most famous weapon: the longbow.

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Here are 10 facts about the Battle of Crécy.

1. It was preceded by the Battle of Sluys in 1340

Several years before the Battle of Crécy, King Edward’s invasion force encountered a French fleet off the coast of Sluys – then one of the best harbours in Europe.

The first battle of the Hundred Years War ensued, during which the accuracy and faster rate of fire of the English longbowmen overwhelmed their crossbow-wielding French and Genoese counterparts. The battle proved an overwhelming victory for the English and the French navy was all but destroyed. Following the victory, Edward duly landed his army near Flanders, but he soon returned to England.

The English victory at Sluys helped pave the way for Edward’s second invasion of France six years later and the Battle of Crécy.

The Battle of Sluys.

2. Edward’s knights did not fight on horseback at Crécy

Following early success in northern France, Edward and his campaigning army soon discovered that the French king, Philip VI, was leading a large force to confront him.

Realising that the impending battle would be a defensive one, Edward III dismounted his knights before the battle. On foot, these heavy infantrymen were placed alongside his longbowmen, providing Edward’s lightly-armoured archers ample protection if the French knights managed to reach them.

It soon proved a wise decision.

3. Edward ensured his archers were effectively deployed

Edward probably deployed his archers in a V-shaped formation called a harrow. This was a much more effective formation than placing them in a solid body as it allowed more men to see the advancing enemy and fire their shots with accuracy and without fear of hitting their own men.

4. The Genoese crossbowmen were famed for their prowess with the crossbow

Among Philip’s ranks were a large contingent of mercenary Genoese crossbowmen. Hailing from Genoa, these crossbowmen were renowned as the best in Europe.

Generals from far and wide had hired companies of these expert marksmen to compliment their own forces in conflicts as ranging as bloody internal Italian wars to crusades in the Holy Land. Philip VI’s French army was no different.

For him, his Genoese mercenaries were essential to the French battle plan at Crécy as they would cover the advance of his French knights.

5. The Genoese made a grave mistake before the battle

Although it was their most-feared weapon, the Genoese mercenaries were not armed solely with a crossbow. Along with a secondary melee weapon (usually a sword), they carried a large rectangular shield called a “pavise”. Given the reload speed of the crossbow, the pavise was a great asset.

This model demonstrates how a medieval crossbowman would draw his weapon behind a pavise shield. Credit: Julo / Commons

Yet at the Battle of Crécy, the Genoese had no such luxury, as they had left their pavises back in the French baggage train.

This made them very vulnerable and they soon suffered heavily from the English longbow fire. So fast was the rate of fire of the English longbows that, according to one source, it appeared to the French army as though it was snowing. Unable to counter the longbowmen’s barrage, the Genoese mercenaries retreated.

6. The French knights slaughtered their own men…

Upon seeing the Genoese crossbowmen retreating, the French knights became outraged. In their eyes, these crossbowmen were cowards. According to one source, upon seeing the Genoese falling back, King Philip VI ordered his knights to:

“Kill me those scoundrels, for they stop up our road without any reason.”

A merciless slaughter soon followed.

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7. …but they soon became victims of a slaughter themselves

As the French knights took their turn at approaching the English lines, the reality of why the Genoese had retreated must have become clear.

Coming under a hail of archer fire from the English longbows, the plate-armoured horsemen soon suffered heavy casualties – so high that Crécy has become famous as the battle where the flower of the French nobility were cut down by the English longbows.

Those who made it to the English lines found themselves confronted not only by Henry’s dismounted knights, but also by infantry wielding vicious pole-arms – the ideal weapon for knocking a knight off his horse.

As for those French knights who were injured in the assault, they were later cut down by Cornish and Welsh footmen equipped with large knives. This greatly upset the rules of medieval chivalry which stated that a knight should be captured and ransomed, not killed. King Edward III thought likewise as after the battle he condemned the knight-killing.

8. Prince Edward earned his spurs

Although many French knights never even reached their opponents, those who engaged the English on the left side of their battle lines encountered the forces commanded by Edward III’s son. Also called Edward, the English king’s son earned the nickname “The Black Prince” for the black armour he possibly wore at Crécy.

Prince Edward and his contingent of knights found themselves hard-pressed by the opposing French, so much so that a knight was sent to his father to request aid. However, upon hearing that his son was still alive and wanting him to earn the glory of victory, the king famously replied:

“Let the boy win his spurs.”

The prince consequently won his fight.

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9. A blind king went into the battle

King Philip was not the only king fighting with the French; there was also another monarch. His name was John, the King of Bohemia. King John was blind, but he nevertheless still commanded his retinue to take him into battle, desiring to land one blow with his sword.

His retinue duly obliged and guided him into battle. None survived.

10. Blind King John’s legacy lives on

The Black Prince pays his respects to the fallen King John of Bohemia following the Battle of Crécy.

Tradition has it that after the battle, Prince Edward saw the emblem of the dead King John and adopted it as his own. The emblem consisted of three white feathers in a crown, accompanied by the motto “Ich Dien” – “I serve”. It has remained the emblem of the Prince of Wales ever since.

Battle of Crécy

The Battle of Crécy took place on 26 August 1346 in northern France between a French army commanded by King Philip VI and an English army led by King Edward III. The French attacked the English while they were traversing northern France during the Hundred Years' War, resulting in an English victory and heavy loss of life among the French.

The English army had landed in the Cotentin Peninsula on 12 July. It had burnt a path of destruction through some of the richest lands in France to within 2 miles (3 km) of Paris, sacking many towns on the way. The English then marched north, hoping to link up with an allied Flemish army which had invaded from Flanders. Hearing that the Flemish had turned back, and having temporarily outdistanced the pursuing French, Edward had his army prepare a defensive position on a hillside near Crécy-en-Ponthieu. Late on 26 August the French army, which greatly outnumbered the English, attacked.

During a brief archery duel a large force of French mercenary crossbowmen was routed by Welsh and English longbowmen. The French then launched a series of cavalry charges by their mounted knights. These were disordered by their impromptu nature, by having to force their way through the fleeing crossbowmen, by the muddy ground, by having to charge uphill, and by the pits dug by the English. The attacks were further broken up by the effective fire from the English archers, which caused heavy casualties. By the time the French charges reached the English men-at-arms, who had dismounted for the battle, they had lost much of their impetus. The ensuing hand-to-hand combat was described as "murderous, without pity, cruel, and very horrible". The French charges continued late into the night, all with the same result: fierce fighting followed by a French repulse.

The English then laid siege to the port of Calais. The battle crippled the French army's ability to relieve the siege the town fell to the English the following year and remained under English rule for more than two centuries, until 1558. Crécy established the effectiveness of the longbow as a dominant weapon on the Western European battlefield.

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!”.

Battle of Creçy

Date of the Battle of Creçy: 26th August 1346.

Place of the Battle of Creçy: Northern France.

Combatants at the Battle of Creçy: An English and Welsh army against an army of French, Bohemians, Flemings, Germans, Savoyards and Luxemburgers.

Commanders at the Battle of Creçy: King Edward III with his son, the Black Prince, against Philip VI, King of France.

Size of the armies at the Battle of Creçy: The English army numbered some 4,000 knights and men-at-arms, 7,000 Welsh and English archers and some 5,000 Welsh and Irish spearmen. The English army fielded 5 primitive cannon.

Numbers in the French army are uncertain but may have been as high as 80,000 including a force of some 6,000 Genoese crossbowmen.

Uniforms, arms and equipment at the Battle of Creçy: The power of the medieval feudal army lay in the charge of its mass of mounted knights. After the impact delivered with the lance, the battle broke into hand to hand combat executed with sword and shield, mace, short spear, dagger and war hammer.

Battle of Creçy on 26th August 1346 in the Hundred Years War: picture by Henri Dupray

Depending upon wealth and rank a mounted knight of wore jointed steel armour incorporating back and breast plates, a visored bascinet helmet and steel plated gauntlets with spikes on the back the legs and feet protected by steel greaves and boots, called jambs. Weapons carried were a lance, shield, sword and dagger. Over the armour a knight wore a jupon or surcoat emblazoned with his arms and an ornate girdle.

The French King commanded a force of Genoese crossbowmen, their weapons firing a variety of missiles iron bolts or stone and lead bullets, to a range of some 200 yards. The crossbow fired with a flat trajectory, its missile capable of penetrating armour.

Battle of Creçy on 26th August 1346 in the Hundred Years War

The weapon of King Edward’s archers was a six foot yew bow discharging a feathered arrow a cloth metre in length. Arrows were fired with a high trajectory, descending on the approaching foe at an angle. The rate of fire was up to one arrow every 5 seconds against the crossbow’s rate of a shot every two minutes the crossbow requiring to be reloaded by means of a winch. For close quarter fighting the archers used hammers or daggers to batter at an adversary’s armour or penetrate between the plates.

While a knight was largely protected from an arrow, unless it struck a joint in his armour, his horse was highly vulnerable, particularly in the head, neck or back.

The Welsh and Irish infantrymen, carrying spears and knives, made up a disorderly mob of little use during battle, being mainly concerned with ransacking the countryside and murdering the inhabitants or pillaging a battlefield once the combat was over. A knight or man-at-arms, knocked from his horse and pinned beneath its body, would be easily overcome by the swarms of these marauders.

The English army possessed simple artillery improvements in the composition of black powder reducing the size of guns and projectiles and making them sufficiently mobile to be used in the field. It seems that the French had not by the time of Creçy acquired artillery.

Winner of the Battle of Creçy: The English army of Edward III won the battle decisively.

Battle of Creçy on 26th August 1346 in the Hundred Years War: map by John Fawkes

Account of the Battle of Creçy:
Edward III, King of England, began the Hundred Years War, claiming the throne of France on the death of King Philip IV in 1337. The war finally ended in the middle of the 15th Century with the eviction of the English from France, other than Calais, and the formal abandonment by the English monarchs of their claims to French territory.

The battlefield of Creçy showing the windmill at which King Edward III positioned himself and the English reserve at the Battle of Creçy on 26th August 1346 in the Hundred Years War

On 11th July 1346 Edward III, King of England, with an army of some 16,000 knights, men-at-arms, archers and foot soldiers landed at St Vaast on the peninsular of the Contentin on the north coast of France, intent on attacking Normandy, while a second English army landed in South Western France at Bordeaux to invade the province of Aquitaine. One of the King’s first actions on landing in France was to knight his 16 year old son Edward, Prince of Wales (known to posterity as the Black Prince).

Edward then marched south to Caen, the capital of Normandy, capturing the town and taking prisoner the Constable of France, Raoul, Count of Eu.

Marching on to the Seine, the English Army found the bridges across the river destroyed, whilst news came in of an enormous army gathering in Paris under the French King, Philip VI, bent on destroying the invaders.

Edward’s army was forced to march up the left bank of the Seine as far as Poissy, approaching perilously close to Paris, before a bridge could be found, damaged but sufficiently repairable to allow the army to cross the river.

Once over the Seine Edward marched north for the Channel coast, followed closely by King Philip.

King Edward III crossing the River Somme before the Battle of Creçy on 26th August 1346 in the Hundred Years War: picture by Richard Caton Woodville

As with the Seine, the English found the River Somme an impassable barrier, the bridges heavily defended or destroyed, forcing them to march down the left bank to the sea. They finally crossed at the mouth of the river at low tide, just evading the clutches of the pursuing French. Exhausted and soaked Edward’s troops encamped in the Forêt de Creçy on the north bank of the Somme.

Edward III crossing the Somme before the Battle of Creçy on 26th August 1346 by Benjamin West

On 26th August 1346, in anticipation of the French attack, the English army took up position on a ridge between the villages of Creçy and Wadicourt the King taking as his post a windmill on the highest point of the ridge.

Edward, Prince of Wales, commanded the right division of the English army, assisted by the Earls of Oxford and Warwick and Sir John Chandos. The Prince’s division lay forward of the rest of the army and would take the brunt of the French attack. The left division had as its commander the Earl of Northampton.

Each division comprised spearmen in the rear, dismounted knights and men-at-arms in the centre. In a jagged line in the front of the army stood the army’s archers. Centred on the windmill stood the reserve, directly commanded by the King.

Edward the Black Prince at the Battle of Creçy on 26th August 1346 in the Hundred Years War: picture by Walter Stanley Paget

At the back of the position the army’s baggage formed a park where the horses were held, surrounded by a wall of wagons with a single entrance.

Philip’s army came north from Abbeyville, the advance guard arriving before the Creçy-Wadicourt ridge at around midday on 26th August 1346. A party of French knights reconnoitred the English position and advised the King that his army should encamp and give battle the next day when concentrated and fresh. Philip agreed, but it was one thing to make such a decision and quite another to impose it upon the army’s top level of arrogant and independent minded nobles all jealous of each other and determined to show themselves the champions of France. Most of the army’s leaders were for disposing of the English army without delay, forcing Philip to concede that the attack be made that afternoon.

It was the role of the Constable of France to command the kingdom’s feudal army in battle but the English had taken the Constable, Raoul, Count of Eu, at Caen. His authority and experience was sorely missed at Creçy, as the King’s officers attempted to control the mass of the army and direct it into the attack.

Charge of the French knights at the Battle of Creçy on 26th August 1346 in the Hundred Years War: picture by Harry Payne

The Genoese formed the van, commanded by Antonio Doria and Carlo Grimaldi. The Duke D’Alençon led the following division of knights and men-at-arms among them the blind King John of Bohemia, closely accompanied by two of his knights, their horses strapped on each side of the old monarch’s mount. In D’Alençon’s division rode two more monarchs the King of the Romans and the displaced King of Majorca. The Duke of Lorraine and the Court of Blois commanded the next division, while King Philip led the rearguard.

The French knights attack at the Battle of Creçy on 26th August 1346 in the Hundred Years War: picture by Richard Caton Woodville

At around 4pm the French moved forward for the assault, marching up the track that led to the English position. As they advanced, a sudden rainstorm swirled around the two armies. The English archers removed their bowstrings to cover inside their jackets and hats the crossbowmen could take no such precautions with their cumbersome weapons.

As the French army advanced the chronicler Froissart describes the Genoese as whooping and shouting. Once the English formation was within crossbow range the Genoese discharged their bolts but the rain had loosened the strings of their weapons and the shots fell short.
Froissart portrayed the response: “The English archers each stepped forth one pace, drew the bowstring to his ear, and let their arrows fly so wholly and so thick that it seemed as snow.”

Blind King John of Bohemia at the Battle of Creçy on 26th August 1346 in the Hundred Years War: print by DE Walton

The barrage inflicted significant casualties on the Genoese and forced them to retreat, exciting the contempt of the French knights coming up behind, who rode them down.

The clash of the retreating Genoese against the advancing cavalry threw the French army into confusion. The following divisions of knights and men-at-arms pressed into the melee at the bottom of the slope but found themselves unable to move forward and subjected to a relentless storm of arrows, making many of the horses casualties.

The Black Prince finds the banner of King John of Bohemia after the Battle of Creçy on 26th August 1346 in the Hundred Years War and adopts his badge of the three white feathers, still the emblem of the Prince of Wales

At this time a messenger arrived at King Edward’s post by the windmill seeking support for the Black Prince’s division. Seeing that the French could make little headway up the hill, Edward is reputed to have asked whether his son was dead or wounded and on being reassured said “I am confident he will repel the enemy without my help.” Turning to one of his courtiers the King commented “Let the boy win his spurs.”

The French chivalry made repeated attempts to charge up the slope, only to come to grief among the horses and men brought down by the barrage of arrows. King Edward’s five cannon trundled forward and added their fire from the flank of the English position.

In the course of the battle John, the blind King of Bohemia, riding at the Black Prince’s position, was struck down with his accompanying knights.

The struggle continued far into the night. At around midnight King Philip abandoned the carnage, riding away from the battlefield to the castle of La Boyes. Challenged as to his identity by the sentry on the wall above the closed gate the King called, bitterly, “Voici la fortune de la France” and was admitted.

The battle ended soon after the King’s departure, the surviving French knights and men-at-arms fleeing the battlefield. The English army remained in its position for the rest of the night.

In the morning the Welsh and Irish spearmen moved across the battlefield murdering and pillaging the wounded, sparing only those that seemed worth a ransom.

King Edward III greeting the Black Prince after the Battle of Creçy on 26th August 1346 in the Hundred Years War: picture by Benjamin West

Casualties at the Battle of Creçy: English casualties were trifling, suggesting that few of the French knights reached the English line. French casualties are said to have been 30,000, including the Kings of Bohemia and Majorca, the Duke of Lorraine, the Count of Flanders, the Count of Blois, eight other counts and three archbishops.

Follow-up to the Battle of Creçy: Following the battle King Edward III marched his army north to Calais and besieged the town. It took the English a year to take Calais due to its resolute defence.

The disaster at Creçy left the French king unable to come to the aid of this important French port.

King Edward III knighting the Black Prince after the Battle of Creçy on 26th August 1346 in the Hundred Years War

Anecdotes and traditions from the Battle of Creçy:

  • The Battle of Creçy established the six foot English yew bow as the dominant battlefield weapon of the time.
  • The French army followed the Oriflamme, a sacred banner lodged in times of peace in the church of St Denis to the West of Paris, but brought out in times of war to lead the French into battle.

Emblem and motto of King John of Bohemia blind and elderly at the time of the Battle of Creçy on 26th August 1346 in the Hundred Years War. King John rode into battle flanked by two of his knights his horse strapped to their’s. All the members of the King’s party died in the battle

King Edward III greets the Black Prince after the Battle of Creçy on 26th August 1346 in the Hundred Years War

References for the Battle of Creçy:

The Hundred Years War by Robin Neillands.

The previous battle of the Hundred Years War is the Battle of Sluys

The next battle of the Hundred Years War is the Battle of Poitiers

10 Facts About the 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.

8. It was also a success for the Germans.

Allied troops rest during the Battle. By Ryry33 – CC BY-SA 4.0 They had managed to gain a lot of ground and despite being beaten by the English initially, so the Battle of Mons was a strategic success for the German Army. While they had failed to eliminate the British threat they had crossed the Mons-Condé Canal and begun their push into France. The Germans managed to push the BEF and French armies back 250 miles, almost to Paris, before they were stopped at the Battle of the Marne, fought from September 5 th – 12 th 1914.

9. Moore had the same command as Colonel Custer.

The Air Cavalry was a new advent, with the development of air mobility tactics. Moore was appointed to command the newly named 7 th Air Cavalry (well, the 1 st Battalion thereof, at least).

Custer had led the 7 th Cavalry during the American Indian wars and died, along with all his men at his famed last stand. This parallel didn’t escape Moore, who must have been all to aware of the history of Little Big Horn when his battalion and the 2 nd were surrounded on all sides by a much larger and native force.


Following the death of Charles IV of France in 1328, Philip, Count of Valois, had been chosen as his successor and crowned King Philip VI of France, superseding his closest male relative Edward III of England through the ancient tradition of Salic Law, whereby Kingship could not be inherited through any maternal line, and thus adhering to agnatic succession. Edward had been reluctant to pay homage to Philip in his role as Duke of Aquitaine, resulting in Philip's confiscation of those lands in 1337, an act which provoked war between the two nations. Three years later, Edward declared himself King of France. The war had begun well for the English. They had achieved naval domination early in the conflict at the Battle of Sluys in 1340, [5] devastated the south west of France during the Gascon campaign of 1345 and Lancaster's chevauchée the following year, inflicted a severe defeat on the French army at Crécy in 1346, and captured Calais in 1347.

In the late 1340s and early 1350s, the Black Death had devastated the population of Western Europe, even claiming Philip's wife, Queen Joan, as well as one of Edward's daughters, also named Joan due to the disruption caused by the plague, all significant military campaigning was brought to a halt. Philip himself died in 1350, and was succeeded by his son, who was crowned King John II. In 1355, Edward III laid out plans for a second major campaign. His eldest son, Edward, the Black Prince, now an experienced soldier following the Crécy campaign, landed at Bordeaux in Aquitaine, leading his army on a march through southern France to Carcassonne. Unable to take the heavily fortified settlement, Edward withdrew back to Bordeaux. In early 1356, the Duke of Lancaster led an army through Normandy, while Edward led his army on a great chevauchée from Bordeaux on 8 August 1356. [6]

Edward's forces met little resistance, sacking numerous settlements, until they reached the Loire river at Tours. They were unable to take the castle or burn the town due to a heavy rainstorm. This delay allowed King John to attempt to pin down and destroy Edward's army. John, who had been besieging Breteuil in Normandy, organised the bulk of his army at Chartres to the north of Tours. In order to increase the speed of his army's march, he dismissed between 15,000 and 20,000 of his lower quality infantry, just as Edward turned back to Bordeaux. [7] The French rode hard and cut in front of the English army, crossing the bridge over the Vienne at Chauvigny. Learning of this, the Black Prince quickly moved his army south. Historians disagree over whether the outnumbered English commander was seeking battle or trying to avoid it. [8] In any case, after preliminary manoeuvres and failed negotiations for a truce, the two armies faced off, both ready for battle, near Poitiers on Monday, 19 September 1356.

Preparations Edit

Edward arrayed his army in a defensive posture among the hedges and orchards of the area, in front of the forest of Nouaillé. He deployed his front line of longbowmen behind a particularly prominent thick hedge, through which the road ran at right angles. The Earl of Douglas, commanding the Scottish division in the French army, advised King John that the attack should be delivered on foot, with horses being particularly vulnerable to English arrows. John heeded this advice, his army leaving its baggage behind and forming up on foot in front of the English. The English gained vantage points on the natural high ground in order for their longbowmen to have an advantage over the heavily armoured French troops.

English army Edit

The English army was led by Edward, the Black Prince, and composed primarily of English and Welsh troops, though there was a large contingent of Gascon and Breton soldiers with the army. Edward's army consisted of approximately 2,000 longbowmen, 3,000 men-at-arms, and a force of 1,000 Gascon infantry.

Like the earlier engagement at Crécy, the power of the English army lay in the longbow, a tall, thick self-bow made of yew. Longbows had demonstrated their effectiveness against massed infantry and cavalry in several battles, such as Falkirk in 1298, Halidon Hill in 1333, and Crécy in 1346. Poitiers was the second of three major English victories of the Hundred Years' War attributed to the longbow, though its effectiveness against armoured French knights and men-at-arms has been disputed. [9] [10] [11]

Geoffrey the Baker wrote that the English archers under the Earl of Salisbury "made their arrows prevail over the [French] knights' armour", [12] but the bowmen on the other flank, under Warwick, were initially ineffective against the mounted French men-at-arms who enjoyed the double protection of steel plate armour and large leather shields. [13] Once Warwick's archers redeployed to a position where they could hit the unarmored sides and backs of the horses, however, they quickly routed the cavalry force opposing them. The archers were also unquestionably effective against common infantry, who could not afford plate armour. [14] [15]

The English army was an experienced force many archers were veterans of the earlier Battle of Crécy, and two of the key commanders, Sir John Chandos, and Captal de Buch were both experienced soldiers. The English army's divisions were led by Edward, the Black Prince, the Earl of Warwick, the Earl of Salisbury, Sir John Chandos and Jean III de Grailly, the Captal de Buch.

French army Edit

The French army was led by King John, and was composed largely of native French soldiers, though there was a contingent of German knights, and a large force of Scottish soldiers. The latter force was led by the Earl of Douglas and fought in the King's own division. [16] The French army at the battle comprised approximately 8,000 men-at-arms and 3,000 common infantry, though John had made the decision to leave behind the vast majority of his infantry, numbering up to 20,000, in order to outrun and overtake the English and force them into battle.

The French army was arrayed in three "battles" or divisions. The vanguard was led by the Dauphin Charles, the second by the Duke of Orléans, while the third, the largest, was led by the King himself.

Negotiations Edit

Prior to the battle, the local prelate, Cardinal Hélie de Talleyrand-Périgord attempted to broker a truce between the two sides, as recorded in the writings of the English commander, Sir John Chandos. [17] Attending the conference on the French side were King John, the Count of Tankerville, the Archbishop of Sens, and Jean de Talaru. Representing the English were the Earl of Warwick, the Earl of Suffolk, Bartholomew de Burghersh, James Audley, and Sir John Chandos. The English offered to hand over all of the war booty they had taken on their raids throughout France, as well as a seven-year truce. John, who believed his force could easily overwhelm the English, declined their proposal. John's counter suggestion that the Black Prince and his army should surrender was flatly rejected. An account of the meeting was recorded in the writings of the life of Sir John Chandos and were made in the final moments of a meeting of both sides in an effort to avoid the bloody conflict at Poitiers during The Hundred Years' War. The extraordinary narrative occurred just before that battle and reads as follows:

. The conference attended by the King of France, Sir John Chandos, and many other prominent people of the period, The King, to prolong the matter and to put off the battle, assembled and brought together all the barons of both sides. Of speech there he (the King) made no stint. There came the Count of Tancarville, and, as the list says, the Archbishop of Sens (Guillaume de Melun) was there, he of Taurus, of great discretion, Charny, Bouciquaut, and Clermont all these went there for the council of the King of France. On the other side there came gladly the Earl of Warwick, the hoary-headed (white or grey headed) Earl of Suffolk was there, and Bartholomew de Burghersh, most privy to the Prince, and Audeley and Chandos, who at that time were of great repute. There they held their parliament, and each one spoke his mind. But their counsel I cannot relate, yet I know well, in very truth, as I hear in my record, that they could not be agreed, wherefore each one of them began to depart. Then said Geoffroi de Charny: 'Lords,' quoth he, 'since so it is that this treaty pleases you no more, I make offer that we fight you, a hundred against a hundred, choosing each one from his own side and know well, whichever hundred be discomfited, all the others, know for sure, shall quit this field and let the quarrel be. I think that it will be best so, and that God will be gracious to us if the battle be avoided in which so many valiant men will be slain. [18]

Fighting begins Edit

At the start of the battle, the English removed their baggage train from the field, prompting a hasty assault by the French, who believed the English to be retreating. [19] The fighting began with a charge by a forlorn hope of 300 German knights, led by Jean de Clermont. The attack was a disaster, with many of the knights shot down or killed by English soldiery. According to Froissart, the English archers then shot their bows at the massed French infantry. [20] The Dauphin's division reached the English line. Exhausted by a long march in heavy equipment and harassed by the hail of arrows, the division was repulsed after approximately two hours of combat. [21]

The retreating vanguard collided with the advancing division of the Duke of Orléans, throwing the French army into chaos. Seeing the Dauphin's troops falling back, Orléans' division fell back in confusion. The third, and strongest, division led by the King advanced, and the two withdrawing divisions coalesced and resumed their advance against the English. Believing that the retreat of the first two French divisions marked the withdrawal of the French, Edward had ordered a force under the Captal de Buch to pursue. Sir John Chandos urged the Prince to launch this force upon the main body of the French army under the King. Seizing upon this idea, Edward ordered all his men-at-arms and knights to mount for the charge, while de Buch's men, already mounted, were instructed to advance around the French left flank and rear. [22]

Capture of King John II Edit

As the French advanced, the English launched their charge. With the French stunned by the attack, the impetus carried the English and Gascon forces right into their line. Simultaneously, de Buch's mobile reserve of mounted troops fell upon the French left flank and rear. With the French army fearful of encirclement, their cohesion disintegrated as many soldiers attempted to flee the field. Low on arrows, the English and Welsh archers abandoned their bows and ran forward to join the melée. Around this time, King John and his son, Philip the Bold, found themselves surrounded. As written by Froissart, an exiled French knight fighting with the English, Sir Denis Morbeke of Artois approached the king, requesting the King's surrender. The King is said to have replied, "To whom shall I yield me? Where is my cousin the Prince of Wales? If I might see him, I would speak with him". Denis replied "Sir, he is not here but yield you to me and I shall bring you to him". The King handed him his right gauntlet, saying "I yield me to you". [23]

With the French King captured, and much of the French knights and soldiers having fallen trying to penetrate the barricaded English lines under constant fire with volley after volley from the thousands of long bows, and the remaining forces having pulled away and scattered in the subsequent chaotic aftermath, the battle was over that afternoon, ending in a disaster for the French and a stunning victory for the English.

Following the battle, Edward resumed his march back to the English stronghold at Bordeaux. Jean de Venette, a Carmelite friar, vividly describes the chaos that ensued following the battle. The demise of the French nobility at the battle, only ten years from the catastrophe at Crécy, threw the kingdom into chaos. The realm was left in the hands of the Dauphin Charles, who faced popular rebellion across the kingdom in the wake of the defeat. Jean writes that the French nobles brutally repressed the rebellions, robbing, despoiling, and pillaging the peasants' goods. Mercenary companies hired by both sides added to the destruction, plundering the peasants and the churches. [24]

Charles, to the misery of the French peasantry, began to raise additional funds to pay for the ransom of his father, and to continue the war effort. Capitalising on the discontent in France, King Edward assembled his army at Calais in 1359 and led his army on a campaign against Rheims. Unable to take Rheims or the French capital, Paris, Edward moved his army to Chartres. Later, the Dauphin Charles offered to open negotiations, and Edward agreed. [ citation needed ]

The Treaty of Brétigny was ratified on 24 October 1360, ending the Edwardian phase of the Hundred Years' War. In it, Edward agreed to renounce his claims to the French throne, in exchange for full sovereign rights over an expanded Aquitaine and Calais, essentially restoring the former Angevin Empire. [25]

English Edit

Froissart states that these men fought with the Black Prince:

Another account states that John of Ghistelles perished at the Battle of Crécy so there is some ambiguity as to this individual.

French Edit

Froissart states that these men fought with King John II:

Arthur Conan Doyle's novel Sir Nigel features the Battle of Poitiers. The impoverished young squire Nigel Loring captures King John II of France in the melee. He fails to realise that he has accepted the surrender of the King of France, and so does not gain the King's ransom. However King John admits that Nigel was his vanquisher, so as reward Nigel is knighted by Edward, the Black Prince.

The battle appears in passing in A Knight's Tale when Count Adhemar is called back to the war.

Bernard Cornwell's novel 1356, the final novel in The Grail Quest series telling the story of Thomas of Hookton, dramatises the battle of Poitiers.

Michael Jecks's novel Blood of the Innocents, the final novel in The Hundred Years War trilogy, dramatises the campaign that culminates with the battle of Poitiers.

Coldplay’s 2008 EP Prospekt's March uses the Battle of Poitiers painting by Eugène Delacroix as its album cover.