The Battle of Crecy
Bataille de Crécy
26 August 1346
Philip VI                                                                                 Edward III
(Links are to coins of the key participants)

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The road to Crecy: Edward III invaded France in the summer of 1346. He landed at St. Vaast, near Cherbourg, on July 12.  This is to the left on the route map. He arrived with an army of about 15,000, a large force for the time. After a rest, he set off to the east. The map traces out his route. He attacked and sacked Caen. He skirted Rouen, which was very heavily defended, and proceeded almost to the gates of Paris. He sent his son Edward, who became known as The Black Prince, on a raid to burn several villages within sight of the walls of Paris. At this point, Edward III turned north, planning to meet up with a Flemish army.

Philip VI mounted an army that paralleled the route of the English army, though with a lag, on the northern leg of Edward's march. However, he did not immediately engage. Edward had difficulty finding a place to cross the Somme and ended up at the mouth of the river, to the left of Abbeville on the map. The map is hard to read - this activity is now in the top right quadrant. He succeeded in crossing at low tide. His troops fought a rear guard action with those of  king John of Bohemia, a French ally. Edward was now north of the Somme, but the expected meeting with the Flemish did not materialize, as they were discouraged by some of their own military experiences on the way to meet Edward.

Edward's forces were now weakened from the march, short on rations and suffered a significant loss of war horses. His forces reached the vicinity of Crecy, in lands that were his mother's property. He set about looking for a battlefield where he could face the French. He found it between the villages of Crecy and Wadicourt.

This is the view Edward had as he aligned his troops. He was on a rise and able to look out over the battlefield. There was a windmill on the site that served as a watch tower. Today there is a tower about 2 - 3 stories tall that offers an overview of the battlefield. One of the two buildings to the right is a beet factory, built where the initial engagement occurred.

Edward was outnumbered but had an organizational advantage. He arranged his forces in three groups, one under the command of his son, the Black Prince, who was to be so successful at Poitiers. Another was under the command of the Earl of Northampton, while Edward commanded the third which was to serve as a reserve. Edward had about 9,000 effective troops by this time, the French a larger, but uncertain number, including mercenaries. The Prince's and Northampton's divisions were arranged with men-at-arms in the middle and bowmen on each flank, to give an enfilading coverage.

Philip was less organized, and was essentially forced to advance in the face of his overly zealous troops, even though he was advised to wait until the next day. In fact, he sent the order to delay the attack but some of the impetuous French knights went ahead regardless and dragged the tired French forces into battle. Froissart describes it like this: "the kings, dukes, counts and barons did not advance in any regular order, but one after another, as they pleased. As soon as King Philip came in sight of the English, his blood began to boil, such was his hatred." Philip suffered from organizational ineptness, the constraints of action by independent nobles and the sense in his army of the dictates of chivalry.

The French attack started late in the day, after 4 PM, with mercenaries from Genoa, backed by mounted troops. The Genoese crossbow troops led the attack. In the picture of the battlefield above, they came from the right hand side of the photo and at about 150 yards from the English, they were engaged. The English longbow men let lose a rain of arrows that that gave the Genoese immediate and heavy causalities. They ran into the full force of English longbow attacks, which demoralized them and they broke, heading for the rear. In addition to the longbows, Edward had some primitive cannons with him and their noise added to the shock and confusion of the French.

The Genoese retreat infuriated the French who essentially started to cut down their own mercenaries to get to the English. This early French group was led by the king's brother, the duke d'Alencon.

While the French attacked repeatedly (fifteen times says Seward) they never overcame the English. At one point when the Prince was pressed by the French his father's response was supposedly 'let him earn his spurs.' The king ultimately sent a small relief force to help the Prince. Finally Philip withdrew and left the English to the field. The English did not realize the extent of their victory, since it was so dark by now that they couldn't see the field. When they realized it the next day, they were too spent to pursue and capitalize on their battlefield success.

They continued their march to the sea and took Calais, which remained the last English territory to be surrendered to France, long after the effective end of the war.

What accounted for the dramatic outcome of the battle? On the English side, Edward had a very disciplined and skilled group of troops. His longbow men were well trained and experienced. He had good officers commanding each of his divisions. While the Prince was new to this, he was supported by experienced fighters. Edward got to chose the ground. He picked a spot where the English held the high ground and were able to fight downhill. Edward reacted defensively. The French came to him rather than vice versa. Edward controlled his troops with a unified command. For example, when the Prince's division was pressed, he was supported by Arundel from Northampton's division. Edward recognized that longbow men, non-nobles, had an essential role to play in medieval combat. Edward realized that he could not withdraw from the field and easily regroup, adding an element of motivation.

On the other hand, Philip was not an effective military leader. The French forces lacked a unified command and control structure. Individual nobles engaged with their troops as they reached the battlefield. The French remained committed to a type of chivalry that was becoming militarily obsolete. The French did not respect the role of the non noble in combat. They did not chose the ground and they attacked uphill. They did not appreciate the significance of the longbow, an error they continued to make in future battles. They were essentially undisciplined and disorganized in their attack.

French allies with coinage who died at Crecy

King John of Bohemia at Crecy
 (1310-46)

For a larger image click here

AR prager groschen, 27mm. Obv inner legend: +IOHANNES:PRIMV_, outer legend: DEI GRATIA BOHIMIE, central crown. Rev *+* GROSSI PRAGENSES, central lion.

One of the interesting sidelights of the battle was the fact that king John of Bohemia joined the battle on the French side. The interest is that he was blind. He tied his horse to those of his knights and they went into battle together. John and most of his group were slaughtered, a not unsurprising result when led by a blind king and all tied together. These photos are of a memorial marker to John off the battlefield, with the inscription that he 'died for France.' The sign on his shield was three white plumes, and Edward the Black Prince adopted this as an element on his own coat of arms after the battle.
 
 


Louis de Nevers de Crecy (1322 - 46 )

For a larger image click here

AR gros au lion, 26mm, 3.81gr. Obv. inner legend: LVD/OVI/C'COM/MES, central cross. Outer legend:
+BNDICTV::SIT: NOMEN:DNI:NRI ___. Rev: MONETA FLAND, central lion Minted in Ghent (1340 - 43). Seller ID
(Singer) VanG 2582; G 201. (I am unfamilar with these references.)

Sources:

Burne, A.H., The Crecy War

Desmond Seward, The Hundred Year's War, Atheum, N.Y., 1978 (Map - p 89.)

Jolliffe, John (translator), Froissart's Chronicles.