Thursday, 5 May 2022

Crecy II

Oops, me head has just fallen orrrrrf, again! 

And, as promised we continue with the second episode of this epic tale. 

As previously noted, the English host was well-rested and had partaken of a sumptuous repast. This aspect of the battle often goes without comment. However, a well-rested man with his hunger appeased is a man ready to undertake mayhem and death. At the battle of Trebia (December 218 BC, Second Punic War), Hannibal ensured that his men were warmed by the fire and had eaten a hot meal. In contrast, the Roman army was cold and there was no provision to feed the men. After fording the freezing river Trebia the men were in a wretched state and proved to be easy pickings for the well-deployed Carthaginian army. Back to the battle in hand........  

At 4pm (26th August 1346) the French host, marching from the south, arrived on the scene. As the army was tired, hungry and disorganised after the day's march, King Phillipe's advisors suggested that the army rest overnight before commencing battle on the morrow. Sound council, no doubt, but the fates dictated otherwise. The king's marshals tried to exercise command but the proud haughty knights felt disdain for the pitifully small English army and would brook no delay. They surged forward followed by the men at arms, on foot. In the van, the Genoese crossbowmen formed up and at 300 paces released a flurry of bolts. The distance was too great and the English were unscathed. As the crossbowmen reloaded the English bowmen advanced, took station, and replied with a volley of arrows. The arrows were devastatingly accurate and sowed death and confusion in the Genoese ranks. This was their first encounter with English archery, and it was none to their liking. In the initial engagement, both mercenary leaders were slain. And then, as if ordained by Lord Thunnor himself, the heavens opened and hailed stone and iron unto the serried ranks of the discombobulated crossbowmen. It seems this was the first major battle, in European history, where primitive artillery unleashed its portent of doom. The arrival of these primitive noisemakers proved decisive and the crossbowmen began to retreat to the rear. The impatient/impudent French knights were not pleased with this development and the king's brother, the Comte d'Alencon, spurred his division to cut down his erstwhile allies. There followed a brief but vicious fight between the knights and mercenary bowmen. The English took advantage of this impromptu melee and poured arrows into the French and Genoese with veritable abandon. The storm of arrows caused great distress amongst the knights and, in particular, their mounts were sorely wounded.

Once he had dispensed with his allies, the doughty d'Alencon (silly Comte) continued to lead his division toward the English line of knights. Other divisions followed and began to advance, uphill. It is said that the archers held their 'fire' until the French knights were very close and only then released a deadly volley of arrows. As before the English archers were accurate and lethal, and again, the horses suffered greatly. By the time the French knights reached the English line, all momentum had been lost and the English men at arms struck down the French with poleaxes and swords. In the fray, the Comte was slain and the first wave was utterly destroyed. The French continued their ill-omened onslaughts sending wave after wave of knights to their doom as the English archers continued with their deadly arrow storm. The forward impetus of the knights was curtailed as the horses had to negotiate a battlefield littered with their dead and dying compatriots. The power of the 'knightly charge' was consequently dissipated making them easy pickings for the archers, English knights and foot soldiers. Waves of French knights continued until the light of the day was gone and it was clear to all that the French had lost the battle. The French king fought bravely and during the battle had two horses killed under him. Finally, he had to be dissuaded from certain death and was escorted from the field of carnage by his trusted/trusty advisors.  

At one stage of the battle, the blind king of Bohemia asked to be led into the fight in order that he may swing his sword at the English. His horse was tethered to his accompanying companions and thusly was led off to his predictable and inevitable doom. This bizarre episode illustrates the power and influence the 'Code of Chivary' had on this class of men. They were steeped in the Code from birth and trained exclusively for war and the exercise of their interpretation of honour and gallantry. 

The killing did not stop with the failing of light and the English archers and foot soldiers descended upon the dying and incapacitated, and with their long knives, propelled them to Valhalla with gusto.  

The battle of Crecy was a great victory for the English and the French were introduced to the deadly power of the English/Welsh longbow. And so began the '100 years war' between the two nations. The flower of French chivalry fell that day with 1,300 knights, and thousands of foot soldiers killed. The English lost no more than a hundred men. The French nobility was unsettled by the victory and its implications. Hitherto knights were invincible armoured warriors bestriding the medieval battlefield like colossi (steady Flaxen: too much waxing lyrical). Until now, the 'rules' of the game dictated that knights could and should only be killed by other knights. Or more likely taken hostage for ransom by their knightly counterparts. On that day, knights learned that a simple yeoman with a 'stick' and a clutch of arrows could defeat the Lordly; unprecedented and unsettling. Of course, the lesson was not lost upon Edward and the English nobility. The dynamics of medieval warfare had changed. 

When King Edward heard of the great slaughter he was much disheartened as he had been robbed of a significant source of revenue. Apparently, he was genuinely saddened at the death of King John describing him as the 'crown of chivalry'. As a mark of honour, Edward appropriated the dead King's crest, three ostrich feathers, and to this day it remains the emblem of the Prince of Wales. 

And so ends the 'Saga of the Battle of Crecy'. If prompted, I could continue with this refrain and post further articles relating to the '100 years war'. Gentle readers, let me know in the comments your thoughts.   




  1. I'd like to hear more about the '100 years war' please. I remember it as no more than a paragraph in History books at school... and yet if the Battle of Crecy reveals a foundational change in warfare (and by extension peacefare) for the societies of the time then there is much more to understand.

    The winners write the history, of course, but what they write is based on the narratives they live by...

  2. Sackerson says: if only honour were not so romantic:

    Burma, 23 January 1945: like the Saxons of Maldon, the Japanese embrace their doom...

    "On the day that Monywa was taken, other troops of the 20th Division, pressing on, reached the Irrawaddy at Myinmu. Near here, a few days later, there was a fight with a large Japanese party attempting to withdraw over the river. Resisting stubbornly, the enemy had been almost annihilated, when the last survivors, in full equipment and with closed ranks, under the astonished eyes of our men, marched steadily into the river and drowned."

    Field Marshal Viscount Slim, "Defeat Into Victory", Pan Books (1999 edn.), p.418
    (This incident also mentioned here: