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The 100 Years War

Last time, on History Class: Phillip VI's France repeatedly provoked Edward III's England, and then,
when they responded, confiscated Guyenne. Then Edward decided to take advantage of his superior
bloodline claim to the French throne and go to war with Phillip over Guyenne.

St Vaast-la-Houge



River Orne
River Odon

Jean de Melan

12 July, 1346: Edward III lands his army on St Vaast-la-Houge in Normandy (surprisingly close
to where the Allies invade in 1944). It took approx. 750 ships to bring the army and their stuff. Between
7 and 10 thousand dudes, half of which was archers (this is pretty normal for the English). It took 5
days to disembark and get organized. Edward III's plan was to march along the coast toward Rouen and
then turn inland toward Isle de France (aka, the area where Paris is). He split them into 3 divisions; the
lead (vanguard/van) commanded by the Prince of Wales, his son, also known as the Black Prince (after
his armor: he really liked the color). The Rear guard is commanded by the Bishop of Durham. Edward
III commands the central. Meanwhile, Edward commanded 300 warships to sail north from the landing
and destroy everything up to 5 miles inland. Why? To deny France naval bases. A smaller army has
landed in Flanders to pin down French forces there. This is especially effective since the Flemish are
revolting against France and side with the English.
The march starts (for the main force) on 18th July. They arrive in Valognes, a town which is not
fortified and has no walls and no garrisons. And the gates are open. The town comes out to meet
Edward III and asks to get out of this with their lives. Edward issues a decree saying the people of
Valognes and their property will not be harmed. Then the English army loots whatever they want, and
when they leave Valognes is in flames.
Meanwhile, Phillip VI is scrambling to gather an army to fight the English. The Duke of
Normandy's (where Edward is atm) troops are off in the south, so Edward is rampaging unchecked.

Phillip sent a decree to gather an army, but it won't actually work until AT LEAST August (and right
now it's July). The best plan they had was to stall the English as much as possible at Caen, a town on
the River Orne, with a well-fortified castle. It's also the largest town in Normundy at the time.
Meanwhile, the Count of Eu transfers his entire army from the coast to Caen via the river Orne. He is
reinforced by Jean de Melun, lord of Tancarville. Edward's smaller army hits Flanders on the 21st,
further splitting Phillip's forces. Phillip issues ANOTHER decree to send same troops to Flanders.
Phillip VI himself heads to St. Denis (a cathedral right outside Paris, at the time) to receive the
oriflamme, a fancy French flag which means no prisoners (what it really means is no prisoners,
except noblemen who don't accidentally get killed. French Knights get a lot of ransom from nobility,
after all).
The English arrive at St Lo^ (40 miles from Caen), killing, burning, and looting everything they
find in a 15 mile wide swath. The French call it chevauche'e. The English do a lot of this during the 100
Years War, both for kicks and to cripple France's economy. This strategy makes retreating across the
same territory a VERY bad idea. The fleet sailing up the coast is doing the same thing. Some of the
ships get so full of loot that they have to go back to England to drop it off. The English have stolen
and/or burned everything on most of the coast of Normandy.
25 July: The English, pretty much unimpeded, arrive at Caen. Edward sends a messenger,
summoning Caen to surrender. The Bishop of Bayeux, who is in charge of Caen, tore up the letter and
tossed the messenger in his dungeon. Due to its size, location (low marshy ground studded with islands
caused by the Odon and the Orne rivers flowing around it), and castle (built by William the Conqueror
due to the first two factors), the town is rather defensible. The castle is great, but the town walls
AROUND the castle are falling apart. The richest citizens live on an island nearby (Ile St. Jean),
connected to the city by a bridge. Edward III assembles his army behind the ridge surrounding Caen,
spreads them out, brings EVERYONE from the baggage train into the army, and then pops them out on
a signal. All the defenders see is a giant line of English 'troops' stretching across the horizon. The
people of Caen are like oh hell no!, and they decide to defend the Ile St Jean instead of the castle.
200 men-at-arms and 100 crossbowmen, led by the Bishop of Bayeux are left to defend the castle, and
the rest are moved to Ile St Jean. The reason is unclear, but one theory goes that the wealthy of Ile StJean were very interested in protecting their wealth on the island, so they abandoned the nighimpregnable castle to go to the island.
There WAS a LONG section on weaponry, heraldry, and armor here, but Ive cut it down to the
essential details:

Edward III banned his knights from wearing their own heraldry so they wouldn't get confused,
so they all wore the Cross of St George over their armor. The French did no such thing.

English archers use the English longbow, an ENORMOUS bow as tall as a man (or more) with
150-160 pound pull. English Archers (in this army) can fire 10 aimed arrows a minute, with
perfect accuracy from 150 paces, for two hours (300ish feet/sec at launch). The arrowheads

come in various nasty flavors, too. Theyre also STRONG (150 pound pull * 10 arrows/minute
for two hours will do that to you), and often carry nasty choppy weapons to use when they run
out of arrows. The bowstrings (and therefore the whole bow) are ruined by water, but theyre
easy to unstring (so you can just put the string under your hat while you ford a river or

The French hire Genoese crossbowmen that use crossbows. Theyve got more range than a
longbow but take about a minute (AKA 10 aimed longbow arrows) to reload, so crossbowmen
use a shield called a Pavise to hide behind while they reload (the fanciest pavises stand on their
own, but less fancy ones need someone else to hold them up). They also take FAR longer to
unstring than longbows.

After that, the Black Prince's forces circled around Caen to the other side (by the abbey). The
French force was composed of 1000+ French men-at-arms and several hundred Genoese (from Genoa,
in Italy) crossbowmen, which would have been more than enough to defend the castle. The island, not
so much. The bridge had a barbican (gatehouse/mini-fortification thing), but it was on the wrong side
of the bridge (you're supposed to put it at the far end, to keep the enemy off the bridge. It was on the
near end, which I suppose is the right end to protect the Castle from the Isle). A part of The Black
Prince's forces, composed of archers and welsh hobelars (welsh spearmen) is mostly watching the
walls, as opposed to the bridge. They notice birds roosting on the battlements, indicating they're
unmanned. So, they try the gate, and it's unlocked. So, they go in, look around, and discover that the
Lower Town is pretty much deserted. They hunt for loot, and find nothing and nobody. Going through
the town, approaching the Ile, they realize that everybody has crossed the bridge and that the French
had thrown up a barricade on the bridge. So, they realize the French have moved to Ile St-Jean, and
figure out what's up (the Island is full of rich people that have chickened out). So, the archers and
hobelars attack the barricade without orders. It's well defended, by crossbowmen mostly, and they start
losing. And then the REST of the Black Princes forces show up, rushing the barricade crazy-people
style. And then the Prince realizes what's going on and asks one of his advisors what the hell is going
on and who ordered it; it quickly becomes apparent that NOBODY did, so he sends his marshal to stop
the attack, but he is swiftly ignored. After a few minutes, the prince concludes that if he can't STOP the
attack, he might as well support it, so he sends his men-at-arms into the fight, which, thanks to their
armor, changes the direction of the fight drastically.
Meanwhile, the smarter English archers (and some men-at-arms) start circling around the Island
to shoot into the flank of the barricade. Along that side of the river are boats, anchored with
crossbowmen to defend the river. Sadly for the French, it is low tide, so the archers discover they can
wade the river. The crossbowmen open fire, but they have to pop out to do it, and get shot by the
archers who aren't wading. While the crossbowmen do some damage, eventually they get whittled
down enough for some hobelars to get on the boat, and then it's pissed off Welshmen versus
crossbowmen and it's just a slaughter. With the boatmen dead, the archers and hobelars cross the river
into the Ile St-Jean. So, then the French realize that the English are in the streets of Ile St-Jean, and
things get messy. The English destroy the barricade, and now the barbican is pinned down by English
archers on both sides. The English pour past the Barbican, putting the Black Prince's entire army (and

part of Edward III's) on Ile St-Jean. As things go sour, a few French Knights flee through the English
into the castle, but pretty much everyone is either taken prisoner (nobles) or killed (everyone else), and
the city is looted. Both this battle and Cre'cy later are chaotic battles, due to a lack of control by the
English in the first and the French in the second. The English camp out in the city rather than burning
it. Edward III sends another messenger to the castle, demanding surrender. The Bishop continues to
refuse. Then Edward brings up his artillery and his foreign artillerymen (in the 100 Years War they're
always foreign and usually Italian or German.) They spend three days shooting at the castle, while the
French taunt them (throwing crap, hurtling insults, and mooning them). Finally Edward III goes forget
this, we're leaving. And they do! By the end, the French have approx. 2500 dead, soldiers and civilians
(not counting those cut down while fleeing, maybe 500). One witness claims 5000 dead (half the pop.
Of Caen). While the English Hobelars and archers took heavy casualties, only one man-at-arms died
(armor!). And the English march toward Ile de France (where Paris is). Some historians claim that
Edward's movement toward Paris was a feint, and the planned to cross the seine b/t Rouen and Paris,
while others think he decided to do that as he approached Paris.

Meanwhile, Phillip VI is trying to gather an army while the people get pissed about his
incompetence. He has no plan, and his army gathering at Rouen is disorganized, poorly equipped, and
confused. And way too many were local levies (aka grunts, aka 'not a match for the english'). And the
rest of the army is scattered.
August 12: The English come within 20 miles of Paris. Panic time! Phillip has about 8000 Menat-arms and 6000 Genoese crossbowmen, plus a bunch of regular infantry. But... They can't defend
Paris on both the North and South of the Seine, because that would be, you know, dividing your force
in the face of the enemy. Which even Phillip VI isnt dumb enough to do. AND he can't defend both of
the bridges west of Paris on both sides either. So, he decides to defend the north side of the bridges. He
sends a message to the troops defending those gcrossings telling them to destroy the bridge, which they
do. He plans to keep the English on the south side of the river, enabling him to focus on defending the
south side of Paris. It's not a bad idea. So he marches his army through Paris to some vineyardsgh,
assuming he's trapped the English. And then a messenger arrives saying The English have bridged the
river at Poissy they don't buy it for quite a while, but eventually they get it; the English cut down a
giant-ass tree and dragged it into place, bypassing the bridge and garrison altogether. The local forces
(200 levies) had no chance: a couple dozen men-at-arms drive them off, and then the rest of the army
crosses and smashes the bridge. The French sit around in Paris waiting for the English Army, who they
have now lost track of. Phillip VI moves his army to the north side of the Seine. By the time they figure
out where the English are, they are LONG gone off to the north, towards Amiens, where the French
army was assembling... who are long gone, since they were sent to Flanders. But, the English army is
running out of food and energy, while the French pursuing them are quite fresh. So the English are
about to get quite desperate...
So, now the English are exhausted and starving, with a fresh (and larger) French army
following them. And, because the French are fresh, they're catching up. So far, the English have been
unable to find a place to ford the Somme, since every spot they check has a garrison of French men-at-

arms. They discover a ford at Blanchetaque (a spot where the Somme broadens into a 2 mile wide tidal
marsh) that is lightly guarded, with almost no crossbowmen. The English manage to get within 100
yards of the north shore.
Midnight, August 24: the English start picking through the Marsh. At dawn, English archers
open fire on the French, picking off the few crossbowmen and doing a lot of damage, especially in the
middle of the formation, where the English men-at-arms attack. The French are routed, and the English
are now across the Somme. And then the French army catches up, but the English now hold the
garrison. So, the French have to turn around and go all the way back to Abbeville in order to cross the
Edward III moves his army north to Cre'cy forest, where he decides to stop running (seeing as
how they found a place to rest and a bunch of food). Edward III sets up battle formations, and tells his
archers to dig a trench all across the English line, deep enough to break a horse's leg. The English are
on top of a deceptively steep hill. The French start filtering in, but they're strung all along the road from
Cre'cy to Abbeville (and beyond). Phillip VI starts talking with his advisors, but they dont' know if
they should fight now or wait for the rest of the army. By late afternoon, the bulk of the French cavalry
and Genoese crossbowmen have arrived, while the baggage train (including the Pavises) isnt' there yet.
The majority of Phillip VI's advisors want him to go around the English army and cut them off from the
coast of Caley so they can't escape. A few nobles, however, encourage Phillip VI to fight now, since
they outnumber the English, and most of their cavalry and crossbowmen are there. Phillip VI has been
getting a reputation as being overcautious, and he's worried that if he doesn't give battle that some of
his noble commanders will lose faith in him, so he decides to fight right then. (a quick note: at the fight
is John of Bohemia, the blind king of bohemia). The English don't expect the French to give battle this
late in the day, but as it becomes obvious that the fight is going to happen, Edward III starts to organize
his dudes. And then it rains. Hard. And fast. The English archers are able to unstring their bows in time,
but the French crossbowmen have no such luck. When it ends, the archers re-string their bows. After
the rain ends, Phillip orders his crossbowmen forward, which they do reluctantly (since they don't have
shields). The English stand in front of their trenches (which the French can't see), and wait for the
crossbowmen to fire. Their bolts fall flat. The English go hell yes and pour down on the
crossbowmen and butcher them (like, 70-80% of the crossbowmen were dead within minutes). The
survivors run like hell. The rest of the French assume the crossbowmen are running on purpose because
they've been bribed by the English to flee. One of Phillip's brothers, d'Alencon, flips out and yells that
they've been betrayed by the Genoese crossbowmen, and his lead division attacks them (much to the
amazement of the English). And then his cavalry charges the English, without being ordered to do so.
And the hill is WAY steeper than they thought it was, so their (highly disorganized, rather than a proper
phalanx formation) charge peters out. And, on the way up they get shot at by the English archers
(shooting downhill, which makes them go even faster). All the French see is a storm of white streaks.
The arrows take out a lot of people, especially since the archers can cause domino effects by shooting
horses (horse falls down, knights behind the horse trip on it). And when they reach the trench, their
horses go down. Right in front of the English men-at-arms. So, yeah, they're dead. Thanks to the lack
of formation, the few French knights who get through are now in the middle of an infantry formation
(which is a pretty doomed situation). So, yeah, d'Alecon's attack is a fiasco (he bites it, btw), which

gives the French pause; their crossbowmen and lead element are all dead, and the English men-at-arms
are WAY better than they thought. The second wave gets their cavalry in order, and they hit the English
line HARD. But not, however, hard enough to break through. They do hit hard enough to start a hell of
a fight, especially on the Black Prince's side (for a bit his standard drops, meaning his standard bearer
got killed, meaning there were dudes right up in his grill). The English archers back up through the
men-at-arms and stand above the rest of the English army, letting them aim easily at the French since
they're on horses, and therefore above everybody else. So, yeah, the French's big mistake here is the
fact that they're mounted: the English learned from the Scots that cavalry charges at men-at-arms will
fail. The French, however, do not know this. About halfway through the battle, the English start taking
hostages, but pretty much all the rest of the French get butchered. When the English archers finally run
out of arrows, they join the melee with all the Nasty Nastiness That English Archers Carry. The French
fall back and attack again several times, but they are just not ready for this kind of fight: they get
slaughtered, and the English line does not break. Not even the 16 year old Black Prince, who took a
real pounding. The Bishop of Durham was begging Edward III to let him help the Prince (Edward III
held the bishop back because he wanted the Black Prince to prove himself), and when Edward finally
did let him join in, his men ALSO butchered the French. When all is said and done, the field is
LITTERED with dead Frenchmen, and Phillip VI has to get dragged out by his bodyguard, since he's
almost captured by the English (when it became apparent that the French loss was permanent, the
English reserves charged their cavalry into the French, and nearly got Phillip VI).