History of War

CRÉCY

CRÉCY-EN-PONTHIEU, PICARDY, FRANCE 26 AUGUST 1346

It is a summer’s day in northern France, and on a Picardy hillside tens of thousands of soldiers have assembled to engage in a battle of two kings. One is defending his kingdom while the other has come to claim it. Two other monarchs are also present, but common soldiers dominate this noticeably regal battle.

Genoese crossbowmen are ordered by the French king, Philip VI, to attack the positions of his English rival, Edward III. As they advance a thunderstorm breaks out, and when it clears deadly arrows replace the raindrops. These shots are so rapid that the chronicler Jean Froissart reported, “it seemed as if it snowed”. The sun then shines into the crossbowmen’s eyes so that they are now blind as well as beleaguered. The Genoese flee from this hellish eruption. The bloody encounter begins a battle that will transform European battlefields.

This momentous engagement became known as the Battle of Crécy, and it was the first of three major English victories during the Hundred Years’ War – the other two being the Battles of Poitiers and Agincourt. Although Agincourt became the most famous of the three, and Poitiers involved the capture of a French king, it is Crécy that is arguably the most important.

It confirmed the military reputation of Edward III, established the fighting career of his heir, Edward 'the Black Prince', and heralded the rise of the longbow and infantrymen in medieval warfare. Crécy also signalled the decline of knightly chivalry on the battlefield, despite the fact that Edward III established the Order of the Garter two years later. In fact, Edward’s chivalric ostentations were only skin-deep, and Crécy was a manifestation of the English king’s pragmatically ruthless strategies and his burning ambition to rule not just one kingdom, but two.

“IN RETALIATION, EDWARD DECLARED HIMSELF KING OF FRANCE THREE YEARS LATER IN 1340, AND HIS LONG-DESIRED CONFLICT BECAME AN OPEN WAR”

“Excesses, rebellions and disobedient acts”

Although the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453) was a series of intermittent conflicts conducted over a very prolonged period, its root

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