Battle of Crecy 26th August 1346

The English and French positions at Crecy are clearly shown diagrammatically in a viewing tower on the approximate site of the windmill used as a command post by King Edward.

Map by Probert Encyclopaedia

The battlefield from King Edward's command post forward of the Crecy - Wadicourt road

King Edward selected a position on high ground forward of the road between Crecy-en-Ponthieu and Wadicourt. King Philip approached from Fontaine-sur-Maye and the battle took place in the triangle bounded by the roads from there to Wadicourt and Crecy, and the English positions on the ridge between the two.

The English ridge forward of the Crecy - Wadicourt road

Edward deployed his troops early on 26th August in two divisions with his 7,000 English and Welsh longbow archers in a shallow V formation in front of the 4,000 men-at-arms and dismounted knights. 5,000 Welsh and Irish spearmen were behind them. The King’s 16 year old son Edward, newly created Prince of Wales and known as The Black Prince, commanded the right division whilst the left division was commanded by the Earl of Northampton. The Black Prince was assisted by the Earls of Oxford and Warwick and Sir John Chandos. The King based himself on a roadside windmill with his reserve force under his direct command. The baggage train and horses were laagered to his rear. Early cannons are believed to have been deployed on the English flanks firing either stone or iron round shot and/or large arrows or crude grapeshot.

 

King Philip’s army comprised French, Bohemian, German, Savoyard and Luxembourg troops with 6,000 Genoese mercenary crossbowmen. His command structure was weak as the Constable of France, who usually commanded the French army in battle, was captured in the previous action at Caen. Philip’s army approached from Abbeville after crossing the River Somme and the vanguard leaders observed the English positions at about midday. Their recommendation to Philip was to rest overnight, concentrate their forces and attack the next day but in the Constable’s absence, and despite his army’s tiredness from their long march, the King was persuaded by more senior officers to attack that afternoon.

The French approach and what became the English killing fields. The Viewing Tower can be seen to the left

The French advanced from Fontaine-sur-Maye in line after 1600 hours in a short thunderstorm. The Genoese crossbowmen were in the front leading the attack and they were followed by a division of mounted knights and men-at-arms under command of the Duke of Alencon. He had three kings under command which included the almost completely blind King John of Bohemia who alone had predicted the English decision to stand and fight. The next division was commanded by the Duke of Lorraine and the Count of Blois whilst King Philip followed up with the reserve and rearguard.

 

Once they were within the usual crossbow range the Genoese loosed their bolts but they fell short, the rain having softened their bow strings. The Welsh and English archers, who kept their strings dry, stepped forward and shot a great arrow storm into the approaching French army with devastating effect. The Genoese died or fled, many being ridden over by the mounted French knights and men-at-arms advancing and struggling to get through the dead, wounded or withdrawing soldiers.

 

Throughout their attack they were subject to a continuous rain of yard-long arrows tipped with ‘bodkin’ heads often piercing their armour and slaying or wounding their horses. King John of Bohemia was among the casualties as they tried repeatedly to charge up the slope only to be stopped by the arrows. The cannons also fired and the smoke and unaccustomed noise probably added to the French army’s desperation.

 

Fighting continued until about midnight when King Philip rode off the battlefield and left his depleted army to flee. King Edward’s army held the field overnight and at dawn moved in to take wounded prisoners for ransom or to finish them off and rob the dead. English losses were very light whilst French losses were heavy with several thousand killed including 1,500 nobles and knights. Exact figures are uncertain but there was little close engagement and the proportions are consistent with the sequence of events. With the French now rendered ineffective Edward moved on to lay siege to Calais.

Memorial to King John of Bohemia on the Fontaine - Crecy road

Memorial to King John and the battle in Crecy

The Black Prince covered himself in glory throughout the battle, won his spurs for it and adopted the King of Bohemia’s armorial symbol as a mark of respect for his enemy’s bravery. Today the symbol is known as The Prince of Wales’ Feathers.

 

After Crecy the siege of Calais proved a tough task. A naval blockade and a large force dissuaded Philip VI from a relief operation and when the city surrendered in August 1347 it became an English base. The war now lapsed, a truce was negotiated through the pope and the Black Death, spread by rats or gerbils, gripped Europe.