The Battle of Crécy was fought August 26, 1346, during the Hundred Years' War (1337-1453). Landing in 1346, Edward III of England sought to conduct a large-scale raid through northern France in support of his claim to the French throne. Moving through Normandy, he turned north and was engaged by the Philip VI's army at Crecy on August 26. The fighting saw Italian crossbowmen driven from the field by Edward's longbow-equipped archers. Subsequent charges by the Philip's mounted knights were similarly defeated with heavy losses. The victory crippled the French aristocracy and allowed Edward to advance and capture Calais.
Largely a dynastic struggle for the French throne, the Hundred Years' War began following the death of Philip IV and his sons, Louis X, Philip V, and Charles IV. This ended the Capetian Dynasty which had ruled France since 987. As no direct male heir lived, Edward III of England, Philip IV's grandson by his daughter Isabella, pressed his claim to the throne. This was rejected by the French nobility who preferred Philip IV's nephew, Philip of Valois.
Crowned Philip VI in 1328, he called for Edward to do homage to him for the valuable fief of Gascony. Though initially unwilling to this, Edward relented and accepted Philip as King of France in 1331 in return for continued control over Gascony. By doing so, he surrendered his rightful claim to the throne. In 1337, Philip VI revoked Edward III's control of Gascony and commenced raiding the English coast. In response, Edward reasserted his claims to the French throne and began building alliances with the nobles of Flanders and the Low Countries.
The War Begins
In 1340, Edward scored a decisive naval victory at Sluys which gave England control of the Channel for the duration of the war. This was followed by an invasion of the Low Countries and an abortive siege of Cambrai. After plundering Picardy, Edward withdrew back to England to raise funds for future campaigns as well as to deal with the Scots who had used his absence to mount a series of raids across the border. Six years later, having assembled around 15,000 men and 750 ships at Portsmouth, he again planned to invade France.
A Return to France
Sailing for Normandy, Edward landed on the Cotentin Peninsula that July. Quickly capturing Caen on July 26, he moved east towards the Seine. Alerted that King Philip VI was assembling a large army in Paris, Edward turned north and began moving along the coast. Pressing on, he crossed the Somme after winning the Battle of Blanchetaque on August 24. Tired from their endeavors, the English army encamped near the Forest of Crécy. Eager to defeat the English and angry that he had failed to trap them between the Seine and Somme, Philip raced towards Crécy with his men.
The English Command
Alerted to the approach of the French army, Edward deployed his men along a ridge between the villages of Crécy and Wadicourt. Dividing his army, he assigned command of the right division to his sixteen-year old son Edward, the Black Prince with assistance from the Earls of Oxford and Warwick, as well as Sir John Chandos. The left division was led by the Earl of Northampton, while Edward, commanding from a vantage point in a windmill, retained leadership of the reserve. These divisions were supported by large numbers of archers equipped with the English longbow.
Battle of Crecy
- Conflict: Hundred Years' War (1337-1453)
- Date: August 26, 1346
- Armies and Commanders:
- Edward III
- Edward, the Black Prince
- 12,000-16,000 men
- Philip VI
- 20,000-80,000 men
- English: 00-300 killed
- French: around 13,000-14,000
Preparing for Battle
While waiting for the French to arrive, the English busied themselves by digging ditches and laying out caltrops in front of their position. Advancing north from Abbeyville, the lead elements of Philip's army arrived near the English lines around mid-day on August 26. Scouting the enemy position, they recommended to Philip that they encamp, rest, and wait for the entire army to arrive. While Philip agreed with this approach, he was overruled by his nobles who wished to attack the English without delay. Quickly forming for battle, the French did not wait for the bulk of their infantry or supply train to arrive (Map).
The French Advance
Advancing with Antonio Doria and Carlo Grimaldi's Genoese crossbowmen in the lead, the French knights followed with lines led by the Duke D'Alencon, Duke of Lorraine, and Count of Blois, while Philip commanded the rearguard. Moving to the attack, the crossbowmen fired a series of volleys at the English. These proved ineffective as a brief thunderstorm before the battle had wet and slackened the crossbowstrings. The English archers on the other hand had simply untied their bowstrings during the storm.
Death from Above
This coupled with the longbow's ability to fire every five seconds gave the English archers a dramatic advantage over the crossbowmen who could only get off one to two shots per minute. The Genoese position was worsened by the fact that in the rush to battle their pervises (shields to hide behind while reloading) had not been brought forward. Coming under devastating fire from Edward's archers, the Genoese began withdrawing. Angered by the crossbowmen's retreat, the French knights fired insults at them and even cut several down.
Charging forward, the French front lines fell into confusion as they collided with the retreating Genoese. As the two bodies of men tried to move past each other they came under fire from the English archers and five early cannon (some sources debate their presence). Continuing the attack, the French knights were forced to negotiate the slope of the ridge and the man-made obstacles. Cut down in large numbers by the archers, the felled knights and their horses blocked the advance of those to the rear. During this time, Edward received a message from his son requesting aid.Edward III counting the dead on the battlefield of Crécy. Public Domain
Upon learning that the younger Edward was healthy, the king refused stating "“I am confident he will repel the enemy without my help," and "Let the boy win his spurs." As evening approached the English line held, repelling sixteen French charges. Each time, the English archers brought down the attacking knights. With darkness falling, a wounded Philip, recognizing he had been defeated, ordered a retreat and fell back to the castle at La Boyes.
The Battle of Crécy was one of the greatest English victories of the Hundred Years' War and established the superiority of the longbow against mounted knights. In the fighting, Edward lost between 100-300 killed, while Philip suffered around 13,000-14,000 (some sources indicate it may have been as high as 30,000). Among the French losses were the heart of the nation's nobility including the Duke of Lorraine, Count of Blois, and the Count of Flanders, as well as John, King of Bohemia and the King of Majorca. In addition eight other counts and three archbishops were slain.
In the wake of the battle, the Black Prince paid tribute to the nearly blind King John of Bohemia, who had fought valiantly before being slain, by taking his shield and making it his own. Having "earned his spurs," the Black Prince became one of his father's best field commanders and won a stunning victory at Poitiers in 1356. Following the victory at Crécy, Edward continued north and laid siege to Calais. The city fell the next year and became a key English base for the remainder of the conflict.