The story

Battle of Crécy

On August 26, 1346, during the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453), the army of England’s King Edward III (1312-77) annihilated a French force under King Philip VI (1293-1350) at the Battle of Crecy in Normandy. The battle, which saw an early use of the deadly longbow by the English, is regarded as one of the most decisive in history.

Battle of Crecy: Background

In mid-July 1346, Edward landed an invasion force of about 14,000 men on the coast of Normandy. From there, the English army marched northward, plundering the French countryside. Learning of the Englishmen’s arrival, King Philip rallied an army of 12,000 men, made up of approximately 8,000 mounted knights and 4,000 hired Genoese crossbowmen. At Crecy, Edward halted his army and prepared for the French assault.

Battle of Crecy: August 26, 1346

On August 26, Philip’s army attacked. The Genoese crossbowmen led the assault, but they were soon overwhelmed by Edward’s 10,000 longbowmen, who could reload faster and fire much further. The crossbowmen then retreated and the French mounted knights attempted to penetrate the English infantry lines. In charge after charge, the horses and riders were cut down in the merciless shower of arrows. At nightfall, the French finally withdrew. Nearly a third of their army lay slain on the field, including Philip’s brother, Charles II of Alencon (1297-1346); his allies King John of Bohemia (1296-1346) and Louis of Nevers (1304-46); and some 1,500 other knights and esquires. Philip was wounded but survived. English losses were considerably lower.

The battle marked the decline of the mounted knight in European warfare and the rise of England as a world power. From Crecy, Edward marched on to Calais, which surrendered to him in 1347.

The Battle of Crécy – the massacre of French chivalry

Beginning of the Hundred Years’ War between England and France. The battle when 8000 soldiers of the English army defeated a French force of 35,000. French knights charged the enemy sixteen times and they were sloughtered, mostly by English elite bowmen.

Who has not heard about the Hundred Years War being fought in France in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries? This bloody conflict between England and France began with British claims to the rights of French crown. One of the first, and the most important events of this war was the Battle of Crécy. In this battle one disciplined army won against the army twice bigger, but poorly led by ignorant leaders.

Edward The Black Prince (son of Edward III) on the battlefield

Before the Battle

On 26 August 1346 the English army led by Edward III met French forces of Philip VI near Crécy, in northern France. Before that, Edward’s army was retreating north and Philip’s plan was to chase them and fight at the fords of the Somme, what would give an advantage for the French. The English, however, overcoming the weak resistance of the ford’s defences, managed to cross the river at the last minute and they chose the convenient for themselves place for a battle.

Before the battle Edward and his army took up positions on a hill, what gave them strategic advantage on French. They spent entire day on strenghtening their defensive lines with barbed wires, ditches and palisade. English troops were set in three lines, 2 km (1.2 miles) wide. Before the first line they prepared lots of pits and sharpened logs to slow down the French charges. The battlefield was also covered with a large number of metal stars mutilating horses’ hooves. Edward’s royal command ordered English knights to fight alongside ordinary soldiers and there was no opposition to it, however this situation was very unusual in those days.

English line during the battle – source

Two armies

English forces consisted of 8 to 14 thousand soldiers, including 2-3 thousand heavy knights, 5-10 thousand elite archers and 1 thousand spearmen. They also had 3 cannons (and this is the first confirmed use of an artillery on a field of battle in the history) but their effectiveness was rather psychological.

English archers were one of the deadliest forces of medieval warfare. Equipped with long, made of yew wood bows they could shoot at range of 300 metres (1000 feet) and penetrate heavy knight’s armor from close distance. However, their biggest advantage was the fact that a proficient archer could take a shot every 5 to 6 seconds, while a crossbowman could shoot only twice a minute. These archers were fast-shooting killers, and if properly use in combat, they were extremely hard to stop.

English army was prepared and ready to take a fight. French king Philip came after them, having 20 to 40 thousand soldiers, including 12 thousand heavy knights and 6 thousand famous Genoese crossbowmen.

French knights, XIV Century

The rain of arrows

The battle started with a duel between Genoese crossbowmen and English Archers. These mercenary crossbowmen were known for their superior combat training and discipline. However, on that day they were exhausted after long march and strings in their crossbows were wet because of heavy raining (the English managed to hide their strings in their helmets before the battle). Furthermore, the Genoese left their pavises in camp – it meant no protection against enemy fire.

Despite all of these setbacks, the crossbowmen were sent to attack English lines and bravely began to march. They had to climb on a slippery slope with low visibility because of sun’s rays shining right at them. Somehow they managed to shot, but their bolts, launched by wet strings, did not reach the English lines. In the same time the crossbowmen were under a rain of English arrows, which were taking their lifes very quickly.

Genoese commander, watching hundreds of his men lying dead or wounded ordered his troops to retreat. French king Philip was sure their withdrawal was cowardly and sent French knights to charge. They did not wait for crossbowmen’s return and massacred them while Genoese were retreating.

French charge, not coordinated and left unorganized after killing their allies, was not able to break through English lines. They charged sixteen times, dying under the rain of English arrows, stopped by the mud and wolf pits. Only few groups of French knights reached their enemy, but they were all killed by Welsh and Irish spearmen.

English Archer

After the Battle

Many French nobles and their allies died on that day. One of them was Czech king John of Bohemia. 50-year old, blind warrior ordered his squires to tie him to his two knights and they charged the English army, choosing death before dishonor.

The Battle of Crécy is a rare example where smaller army defeated distinctly larger one. The French lost over 1500 knights and a few thousand infantry troops. The English army lost between 100 to 300 soldiers. Discipline won against impatience and conceit. Some historians claim that Crécy was the beginning of the end of chivarly.

After the battle, Edward besieged and captured Calais. The Hundred Years War began…

Fun Fact

Fact reminded to me by friend – everybody knows the gesture of showing somebody the middle finger. Did you know this gesture came from the Hundred Years War? As you know from the article, French hated English archers who used their longbows with such devastating effect. If they managed to capture one, they usually cut off his index and middle fingers. Before any fight, English archers taunted French by showing them these two fingers, what meant “I still have my fingers, and I’m ready to shoot you!”.

Crécy, battle of

Crຜy, battle of, 1346. The first great English land victory of the Hundred Years War was the high point of a campaign which began with the sack of Caen, and ended with the successful siege of Calais. Edward III landed unexpectedly in Normandy, and was forced by the French strategy of destroying bridges across the Seine to march almost up to Paris. He was able to repair the bridge at Poissy challenges to meet the French in open battle yielded no results, and the English army marched northwards. The Somme was crossed at Blanche-Taque, and at Crຜy in Ponthieu (département Somme) the English prepared for battle. Edward drew up his force on 26 August with knights and men-at-arms dismounted, flanked by archers. The French first sent forward Genoese mercenary crossbowmen, whose weapons, their bowstrings slackened by a shower of rain, proved no match for the English longbows. Cannon, used for the first time in a major battle, helped to terrify the French. The French cavalry charged through their own retreating crossbowmen. The English archers brought down many of the French horses the dismounted men-at-arms stood firm. Edward III commanded his men from the height of a nearby windmill his son the Black Prince, in the forefront of the fighting, provided charismatic leadership. The final stages of the battle witnessed moments of pointless chivalric heroism from the French, notably when the blind king of Bohemia was led into the mêlພ, his knights bound to him by ropes. All were slain. At the close, the English horses were brought forward, those who were still capable mounted, and the battle turned into a rout. After the victory, Edward laid siege to Calais, which surrendered in August 1347, giving the English a vital line of communication to the continent, which they kept for more than 200 years.

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Battle of Creçy

Date of the Battle of Creçy: 26th August 1346.

Place of the Battle of Creçy: Northern France.

Combatants at the Battle of Creçy: An English and Welsh army against an army of French, Bohemians, Flemings, Germans, Savoyards and Luxemburgers.

Commanders at the Battle of Creçy: King Edward III with his son, the Black Prince, against Philip VI, King of France.

Size of the armies at the Battle of Creçy: The English army numbered some 4,000 knights and men-at-arms, 7,000 Welsh and English archers and some 5,000 Welsh and Irish spearmen. The English army fielded 5 primitive cannon.

Numbers in the French army are uncertain but may have been as high as 80,000 including a force of some 6,000 Genoese crossbowmen.

Uniforms, arms and equipment at the Battle of Creçy: The power of the medieval feudal army lay in the charge of its mass of mounted knights. After the impact delivered with the lance, the battle broke into hand to hand combat executed with sword and shield, mace, short spear, dagger and war hammer.

Battle of Creçy on 26th August 1346 in the Hundred Years War: picture by Henri Dupray

Depending upon wealth and rank a mounted knight of wore jointed steel armour incorporating back and breast plates, a visored bascinet helmet and steel plated gauntlets with spikes on the back the legs and feet protected by steel greaves and boots, called jambs. Weapons carried were a lance, shield, sword and dagger. Over the armour a knight wore a jupon or surcoat emblazoned with his arms and an ornate girdle.

The French King commanded a force of Genoese crossbowmen, their weapons firing a variety of missiles iron bolts or stone and lead bullets, to a range of some 200 yards. The crossbow fired with a flat trajectory, its missile capable of penetrating armour.

Battle of Creçy on 26th August 1346 in the Hundred Years War

The weapon of King Edward’s archers was a six foot yew bow discharging a feathered arrow a cloth metre in length. Arrows were fired with a high trajectory, descending on the approaching foe at an angle. The rate of fire was up to one arrow every 5 seconds against the crossbow’s rate of a shot every two minutes the crossbow requiring to be reloaded by means of a winch. For close quarter fighting the archers used hammers or daggers to batter at an adversary’s armour or penetrate between the plates.

While a knight was largely protected from an arrow, unless it struck a joint in his armour, his horse was highly vulnerable, particularly in the head, neck or back.

The Welsh and Irish infantrymen, carrying spears and knives, made up a disorderly mob of little use during battle, being mainly concerned with ransacking the countryside and murdering the inhabitants or pillaging a battlefield once the combat was over. A knight or man-at-arms, knocked from his horse and pinned beneath its body, would be easily overcome by the swarms of these marauders.

The English army possessed simple artillery improvements in the composition of black powder reducing the size of guns and projectiles and making them sufficiently mobile to be used in the field. It seems that the French had not by the time of Creçy acquired artillery.

Winner of the Battle of Creçy: The English army of Edward III won the battle decisively.

Battle of Creçy on 26th August 1346 in the Hundred Years War: map by John Fawkes

Account of the Battle of Creçy:
Edward III, King of England, began the Hundred Years War, claiming the throne of France on the death of King Philip IV in 1337. The war finally ended in the middle of the 15th Century with the eviction of the English from France, other than Calais, and the formal abandonment by the English monarchs of their claims to French territory.

The battlefield of Creçy showing the windmill at which King Edward III positioned himself and the English reserve at the Battle of Creçy on 26th August 1346 in the Hundred Years War

On 11th July 1346 Edward III, King of England, with an army of some 16,000 knights, men-at-arms, archers and foot soldiers landed at St Vaast on the peninsular of the Contentin on the north coast of France, intent on attacking Normandy, while a second English army landed in South Western France at Bordeaux to invade the province of Aquitaine. One of the King’s first actions on landing in France was to knight his 16 year old son Edward, Prince of Wales (known to posterity as the Black Prince).

Edward then marched south to Caen, the capital of Normandy, capturing the town and taking prisoner the Constable of France, Raoul, Count of Eu.

Marching on to the Seine, the English Army found the bridges across the river destroyed, whilst news came in of an enormous army gathering in Paris under the French King, Philip VI, bent on destroying the invaders.

Edward’s army was forced to march up the left bank of the Seine as far as Poissy, approaching perilously close to Paris, before a bridge could be found, damaged but sufficiently repairable to allow the army to cross the river.

Once over the Seine Edward marched north for the Channel coast, followed closely by King Philip.

King Edward III crossing the River Somme before the Battle of Creçy on 26th August 1346 in the Hundred Years War: picture by Richard Caton Woodville

As with the Seine, the English found the River Somme an impassable barrier, the bridges heavily defended or destroyed, forcing them to march down the left bank to the sea. They finally crossed at the mouth of the river at low tide, just evading the clutches of the pursuing French. Exhausted and soaked Edward’s troops encamped in the Forêt de Creçy on the north bank of the Somme.

Edward III crossing the Somme before the Battle of Creçy on 26th August 1346 by Benjamin West

On 26th August 1346, in anticipation of the French attack, the English army took up position on a ridge between the villages of Creçy and Wadicourt the King taking as his post a windmill on the highest point of the ridge.

Edward, Prince of Wales, commanded the right division of the English army, assisted by the Earls of Oxford and Warwick and Sir John Chandos. The Prince’s division lay forward of the rest of the army and would take the brunt of the French attack. The left division had as its commander the Earl of Northampton.

Each division comprised spearmen in the rear, dismounted knights and men-at-arms in the centre. In a jagged line in the front of the army stood the army’s archers. Centred on the windmill stood the reserve, directly commanded by the King.

Edward the Black Prince at the Battle of Creçy on 26th August 1346 in the Hundred Years War: picture by Walter Stanley Paget

At the back of the position the army’s baggage formed a park where the horses were held, surrounded by a wall of wagons with a single entrance.

Philip’s army came north from Abbeyville, the advance guard arriving before the Creçy-Wadicourt ridge at around midday on 26th August 1346. A party of French knights reconnoitred the English position and advised the King that his army should encamp and give battle the next day when concentrated and fresh. Philip agreed, but it was one thing to make such a decision and quite another to impose it upon the army’s top level of arrogant and independent minded nobles all jealous of each other and determined to show themselves the champions of France. Most of the army’s leaders were for disposing of the English army without delay, forcing Philip to concede that the attack be made that afternoon.

It was the role of the Constable of France to command the kingdom’s feudal army in battle but the English had taken the Constable, Raoul, Count of Eu, at Caen. His authority and experience was sorely missed at Creçy, as the King’s officers attempted to control the mass of the army and direct it into the attack.

Charge of the French knights at the Battle of Creçy on 26th August 1346 in the Hundred Years War: picture by Harry Payne

The Genoese formed the van, commanded by Antonio Doria and Carlo Grimaldi. The Duke D’Alençon led the following division of knights and men-at-arms among them the blind King John of Bohemia, closely accompanied by two of his knights, their horses strapped on each side of the old monarch’s mount. In D’Alençon’s division rode two more monarchs the King of the Romans and the displaced King of Majorca. The Duke of Lorraine and the Court of Blois commanded the next division, while King Philip led the rearguard.

The French knights attack at the Battle of Creçy on 26th August 1346 in the Hundred Years War: picture by Richard Caton Woodville

At around 4pm the French moved forward for the assault, marching up the track that led to the English position. As they advanced, a sudden rainstorm swirled around the two armies. The English archers removed their bowstrings to cover inside their jackets and hats the crossbowmen could take no such precautions with their cumbersome weapons.

As the French army advanced the chronicler Froissart describes the Genoese as whooping and shouting. Once the English formation was within crossbow range the Genoese discharged their bolts but the rain had loosened the strings of their weapons and the shots fell short.
Froissart portrayed the response: “The English archers each stepped forth one pace, drew the bowstring to his ear, and let their arrows fly so wholly and so thick that it seemed as snow.”

Blind King John of Bohemia at the Battle of Creçy on 26th August 1346 in the Hundred Years War: print by DE Walton

The barrage inflicted significant casualties on the Genoese and forced them to retreat, exciting the contempt of the French knights coming up behind, who rode them down.

The clash of the retreating Genoese against the advancing cavalry threw the French army into confusion. The following divisions of knights and men-at-arms pressed into the melee at the bottom of the slope but found themselves unable to move forward and subjected to a relentless storm of arrows, making many of the horses casualties.

The Black Prince finds the banner of King John of Bohemia after the Battle of Creçy on 26th August 1346 in the Hundred Years War and adopts his badge of the three white feathers, still the emblem of the Prince of Wales

At this time a messenger arrived at King Edward’s post by the windmill seeking support for the Black Prince’s division. Seeing that the French could make little headway up the hill, Edward is reputed to have asked whether his son was dead or wounded and on being reassured said “I am confident he will repel the enemy without my help.” Turning to one of his courtiers the King commented “Let the boy win his spurs.”

The French chivalry made repeated attempts to charge up the slope, only to come to grief among the horses and men brought down by the barrage of arrows. King Edward’s five cannon trundled forward and added their fire from the flank of the English position.

In the course of the battle John, the blind King of Bohemia, riding at the Black Prince’s position, was struck down with his accompanying knights.

The struggle continued far into the night. At around midnight King Philip abandoned the carnage, riding away from the battlefield to the castle of La Boyes. Challenged as to his identity by the sentry on the wall above the closed gate the King called, bitterly, “Voici la fortune de la France” and was admitted.

The battle ended soon after the King’s departure, the surviving French knights and men-at-arms fleeing the battlefield. The English army remained in its position for the rest of the night.

In the morning the Welsh and Irish spearmen moved across the battlefield murdering and pillaging the wounded, sparing only those that seemed worth a ransom.

King Edward III greeting the Black Prince after the Battle of Creçy on 26th August 1346 in the Hundred Years War: picture by Benjamin West

Casualties at the Battle of Creçy: English casualties were trifling, suggesting that few of the French knights reached the English line. French casualties are said to have been 30,000, including the Kings of Bohemia and Majorca, the Duke of Lorraine, the Count of Flanders, the Count of Blois, eight other counts and three archbishops.

Follow-up to the Battle of Creçy: Following the battle King Edward III marched his army north to Calais and besieged the town. It took the English a year to take Calais due to its resolute defence.

The disaster at Creçy left the French king unable to come to the aid of this important French port.

King Edward III knighting the Black Prince after the Battle of Creçy on 26th August 1346 in the Hundred Years War

Anecdotes and traditions from the Battle of Creçy:

  • The Battle of Creçy established the six foot English yew bow as the dominant battlefield weapon of the time.
  • The French army followed the Oriflamme, a sacred banner lodged in times of peace in the church of St Denis to the West of Paris, but brought out in times of war to lead the French into battle.

Emblem and motto of King John of Bohemia blind and elderly at the time of the Battle of Creçy on 26th August 1346 in the Hundred Years War. King John rode into battle flanked by two of his knights his horse strapped to their’s. All the members of the King’s party died in the battle

King Edward III greets the Black Prince after the Battle of Creçy on 26th August 1346 in the Hundred Years War

References for the Battle of Creçy:

The Hundred Years War by Robin Neillands.

The previous battle of the Hundred Years War is the Battle of Sluys

The next battle of the Hundred Years War is the Battle of Poitiers

Edward III at Crécy

The Hundred Years’ War (1337–1453) was a dynastic struggle between France and England that laid the foundations of national consciousness in both countries. It was also a drawn-out slogging match, with major battles few and far between. The decisions of England’s King Edward III and France’s King Philip VI to break the pattern of maneuver and siege and fight a pitched battle near the village of Crécyen-Ponthieu on Aug. 26, 1346, marked a watershed moment in the conflict and had sweeping consequences.

Edward left Portsmouth, England, on July 11, 1346, with more than 600 vessels carrying about 15,000 troops. These included some 7,000 foot archers and 3,000 mounted archers, along with knights, men-at-arms and spearmen. It was a formidable force of seasoned and disciplined soldiers, devoted to their king and bent on plunder. The expedition landed against slight opposition near Cherbourg. Edward’s army marched into Normandy, and Philip organized his forces in opposition.

Historians have traditionally described the subsequent campaign as an ad hoc affair in which Edward drifted vaguely across northern France, seeking to secure his line of retreat while avoiding battle—and fighting at Crécy only by accident. Recent reappraisals by historians Clifford Rogers and Andrew Ayton, however, suggest that Edward plotted every move of his army with deliberation, fully intending to force a showdown with Philip.

Edward’s army marched eastward across the rich farmland of Normandy, plundering all the way. Pillage kept the English soldiers well fed and happy while undermining Philip’s standing. The French king had previously avoided open battle, but he could not ignore the destruction of one of his wealthiest domains.

The English crossed the Seine at Poissy, threatening Paris, then moved north, probing the guarded crossings of the Somme. Philip pursued in hopes of trapping them with their backs to the river. On August 24, however, the English forced their way across the Somme at a tidal ford called Blanchetacque. But instead of fleeing for the coast, Edward turned to challenge Philip.

The French king swallowed the bait. With his prestige crumbling, his finances fading and his anger brewing, he led his army over the river at Abbeville and advanced on the impertinent English. Edward faced a hard decision. The French army was double the size of his own. With his line of retreat secure, withdrawal was an option. The English king nevertheless chose to face the French and, he hoped, “make an end” to this troublesome war.

On August 26 Edward moved his army toward Crécy-en-Ponthieu, some nine miles from Blanchetacque. Selecting a strong defensive position in a field, he carefully deployed his forces in three “battles,” or divisions. Dismounted men-at-arms stood at the center of each battle, flanked by archers. The archers, most armed with the famed English longbow, angled forward to take attackers in the flanks. The French advanced almost pell-mell, anxious to grapple with the enemy. A force of 6,000 Genoese crossbowmen formed their vanguard, with some 12,000 impatient French cavalry crowding up behind. Ignoring advice to wait and deploy carefully, Philip ordered an immediate attack.

The Genoese advanced directly against the English and quickly fell victim to clouds of arrows that smothered their attack. Within minutes they broke and fled. Enraged at such apparent cowardice, the French cavalry rode down the Genoese from behind. A melee ensued as the French knights slaughtered their allies before breaking through to charge the English. Again and again they assaulted the English positions, only to be tripped up by caltrops and holes dug in the rain-slicked turf, mowed down by arrows and butchered by Edward’s men-at-arms.

Within a few hours the English had reduced Philip’s army to a rabble. The French king fled the field with his surviving knights, leaving behind more than 2,000 dead, including 1,542 noblemen. The English suffered fewer than 300 casualties. The outcome returned infantry to the fore and presaged the long decline of cavalry as a fighting force.

Edward’s decision to fight at Crécy had profound consequences. After the battle the English king led his army toward Calais, capturing the strategically important port after an 11- month siege. France collapsed into political and financial chaos after 1347 as the Black Death swept across Europe. Following another major English victory at the 1356 Battle of Poitiers and several more years of internal chaos, the French signed the humiliating Peace of Brétigny. Afterward, England dominated much of France until the rise of Joan of Arc in the 1420s.

Edward III’s strategic vision—long underappreciated—and tactical brilliance shone in his decision to fight at Crécy, establishing him as one of the great captains of military history.

Originally published in the January 2013 issue of Military History. To subscribe, click here.

Just history.

Known as one of the most decisive battles in English history and The Hundred Years war, Crecy has come to be known as a military revolution in its massive use of the longbow and the ultimate demise of the age of chivalry.

Previous battles had been fought mostly by the infantry and mounted knights. Battles before had adhered to chivalric code that had mostly kept the knights protected. Crecy was a game changer.

Edward III had inherited an England at war. He was fighting on two fronts, Scotland and Aquitaine in south west France. The battle of Dupplin Muir (moor) in Scotland proved to be a crucial turning point for Edward III for future conflicts. He had tried a new tactic whereby he arranged his advancing army into a crescent shape. As the Scots came in toward the middle where the enemy knights were wielding their swords and pikes, they forced the knights back but as they did so the left and right flank closed in on them. These flanks were armed with longbows and as the arrows rained down on the Scots they became crushed together, unable to use their weapons. Those that could turned and ran. This was followed by the battle of Halidon Hill which, once again using the longbow from an elevated position, obliterating the Scottish army. The tightly packed Scottish ranks were decimated while English losses were light.

King Edward III, only 20 years old, had now learned a valuable lesson in warfare which he would eventually put into great effect at Crecy.
This battle about as the culmination of a long running dispute between Edward and Phillip over the French crown, which Edward felt was rightly his through his mother Isabella of France. Phillip VI of France threatened to confiscate Aquitaine, land under the dukedom of Edward III.
In the time running up to the battle there were losses and gains by both the English and French navy in the channel. The threat of a French invasion on the south coast emboldened Edward to ask for an increase in taxes to send an army to Aquitaine. Parliament agreed the taxes. Subsequently on July 12th 1346, with an invasion force of 14,000 men and his sixteen year old son, Edward, later known as the Black Prince, he landed on the coast of Normandy.

The English army plundered their way through the countryside as they headed toward Paris. On hearing that Edward had landed in France, Phillip mustered an army of 12,000 men. His army was roughly made up of 8,000 mounted knights and 4,000 crossbowmen. A few miles short of Paris, Edward stopped and began to head north. They were being closely followed by Philips army which hoped to catch and crush them before they crossed the Somme. They failed. On 24th August Edward successfully crossed the Somme via a small ford near Saigneville. Phillip had not expected Edward to be able to cross the river, thinking by the time he reached Edward’s army they would most likely have either starved or drowned. As a result, he had not placed any defences at Saineville, which allowed Edward’s army to plunder and restock.

Edward reached Crecy and using the available time before Phillip caught up to his advantage. He placed his army into a defensive position on a slope knowing this would make it harder for the French cavalry. He also used the time to dig small pits with spears to impale the horses in the front line.
The English army was comprised of three main flanks. The sixteen year old Black Prince took command of the right flank that was placed slightly ahead of the other two and would take the brunt of the attack. Each division consisted of spearmen at the rear, dismounted knights and men at arms in the centre and in a jagged line at the front stood the archers. At the rear were the reserves, positioned centrally, and led directly by King Edward.

Late in the afternoon on 26th August, Philip’s army attacked. The Genoese crossbowmen led the assault. However due to heavy rain the night before the Genoese bows had become slack and ineffective. As a result, when they fired, their shots fell short. In contrast the English longbows were able to be unstrung and therefore were dry by the time it came to fire any arrows. The Genoese crossbowmen were quickly overwhelmed by Edward’s 10,000 archers, who able to loose ‘arrows flying so thick they appeared as snow’. Upon seeing the ineffectiveness of his crossbows, Phillip sent out his mounted knights, who trampled over the Genoese dead and dying and mowed down those trying to run back. At first the masses of the dead beneath them sent the knights into confusion but they soon gathered pace towards the English lines. Sixteen times the French mounted cavalry tried to charge upon the slope but each time were taken down either by arrows or were halted by their own dead horses and men on the battlefield.

At some point during this offensive the Black Prince came directly under attack and a messenger was sent to the king for aid. He is reputed to have asked whether his son be ‘wounded or dead?’ when he was reassured he was neither he said ‘I am confident he will repel the enemy without my help’ and turning to one of his knights famously adding ‘Let the boy win his spurs!’

During the battle, upon hearing of the impending defeat of the French, the blind King of Bohemia rode into battle with his two knights by his side. He aimed for the Black Prince’s position and was cut down along with his knights who it was said could easily have made their escape, but refused to leave their Lord, preparing to die in battle beside him. Popular legend states that at this point the Prince plucked three ostrich feathers from his helmet and these became his emblem and the emblem of The Prince of Wales. It is seen today on one side of the current two pence piece.

At around midnight King Phillip abandoned the carnage and retreated from the field, where he was soon followed by his few remaining knights and men at arms. The English forces followed him to Poitiers where the French king was captured and taken to the Tower of London where he was held ransom for 3,000,000 gold crowns. Edward was heralded for his victory which sent a shockwave throughout Europe. For many kings that followed he was emulated and came to be known as one of the greatest kings England has ever had.

Two Dynasties, Two Kings

At the time of Henry’s death, the Holy Roman Empire was dominated by two major dynasties – the House of Luxembourg and the House of Habsburg . In 1314, when Henry’s successor was to be elected, John was only 18 years old and considered too young to be a viable candidate. Therefore, the Luxembourg faction settled for Louis IV (known also by his nickname ‘the Bavarian’), who hailed from the House of Wittelsbach.

Although Louis was elected King of the Romans, and was subsequently crowned Holy Roman Emperor in 1328, his election was not without opposition. In fact, two elections had been held in 1314, and the Habsburg candidate, Frederick the Handsome (or ‘the Fair’), was elected during the first round. A second election (with different prince-electors) was held the next day by the Luxembourg faction, who were not satisfied with the result of the previous day.

As a consequence, there were two kings of Germany, each claiming to be the rightful ruler. The conflict dragged on until 1325, when Frederick finally recognized Louis as the legitimate king. For much of the conflict between Louis and Frederick, John threw his support behind the former. John was rewarded accordingly when Louis emerged victorious.

The Hundred Years’ War

At the beginning of the conflict, France held multiple advantages over the English. Unlike England, France was a prosperous, European power. The kingdom also had more resources, including a larger military force. Although at a disadvantage, the English had a disciplined army that used a deadly weapon: the English longbow. On August 26, 1346, both forces would meet in Normandy to decide the fate of France.

The Battle of Crecy

A month before the battle, Edward III arrived on Normandy’s coast with an army of 14,000 men. The English subsequently began causing havoc in the French countryside. Upon learning of Edward’s arrival, Philip VI responded by raising an army. Once assembled, the French king had 12,000 soldiers under his command. Meanwhile, Edward stopped his army in Crecy and took a defensive formation. In turn, Philip arrived with his forces ready to expel the English from France.

During the afternoon of August 26, the French attacked the English position. 4,000 Italian crossbowmen led the charge against the English. However, their weapons proved inferior to the English longbow. Unlike the crossbow, the longbow could reload faster. Combined with 10,000 archers, the English quickly massacred the Italians. In response, the surviving crossbowmen fled the battle.

Since the crossbowmen had failed, Philip VI commanded his 8,000 knights to begin assaulting the English infantry. As with the crossbowmen, English archers effectively utilized their longbows against the knights. Again, the archers rained down waves of arrows, killing many French knights in the process. Throughout their reckless charges, the French continued to be struck down by English arrows. Those who made it to the English lines were overwhelmed and killed. Realizing that he had lost, a wounded Philip ordered his remaining troops to retreat.


After the battle had concluded, nearly a third of the French army had been killed. Amongst the dead were Philip VI’s brother, Charles, and King John of Bohemia. John’s son, Wenceslaus, barely escaped with his life. In contrast to the French, the English army had suffered a minor loss of life. While the French lost thousands of soldiers, the English lost less than 200. Building on his victory, Edward III later led his army to Calais, which surrendered the following year.

Edward III and the Battle of Crécy

Richard Barber examines recently unearthed sources to construct a convincing scenario of Edward III’s inspired victory over the French in 1346.

The Genoese crossbowmen halted at the foot of the slope. It had been a long hot day, marching to encounter the English army, which at last was in sight. Giovanni could see a group of men on the hill and to his surprise they were all dismounted. He had expected a mounted army, small perhaps, but very like the French troops coming up behind him, with their splendid steeds and banners. Instead there were rows of men, whose armour did not show whether they were knights or not and whose shields he could not make out at a distance. On either side of the group there were carts, as so often on a battlefield, and he assumed these were simply parked as a rough barrier to prevent an attack from the flank. An easy job, he thought, and it should soon be over, with some booty to take home, particularly as the English had been in the field for weeks and were said to be short of supplies.

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Edward The Black Prince

Edward of Woodstock was born in – unsurprisingly – Woodstock, on June 15th 1330. He was the eldest son of King Edward III and Philippa of Hainault, but alas he never actually became king, dying one year before his father on 8th June 1376, at only 45 years old. Edward’s limited years did not limit either his prowess or his progress however, as he was a prolific and successful medieval warrior and remains famous for his achievements even to this day.

Arguably he is most notorious for his brutal ‘Sack of Limoges’, and some would have us believe that it was this supposed ‘massacre’ that led to Edward being known as ‘The Black Prince’ however all may not be what it seems. In fact, he was only known as ‘The Black Prince’ from Tudor times onwards, over one hundred and fifty years after his own death. During his life he was simply known as ‘Edward of Woodstock’.

The exact reason for his sinister sounding reputation is still debated by historians to this very day there are several theories from his armour to his attitude. Edward grew up the quintessential medieval prince, being taught the duties of both a soldier and a knight from early childhood. He was instructed in the codes of chivalry and was an avid jouster, so avid in fact, that James Purefoy portrays the character of Edward The Black Prince in the classic medieval romp ‘A Knight’s Tale’.

Edward was just seven years old when negotiations for his betrothal began. Edward married his father’s cousin Joan of Kent in 1362 and had two legitimate children, the eldest of whom died at the age of 6 of plague, but the younger son Richard went on to become King Richard II on his grandfather’s death in 1377, only a year after his own death. The marriage of cousins was certainly not unusual for royalty in Medieval Europe, and indeed even later. An array of mistresses had already provided him with several illegitimate children by the time of his marriage and this was also not unusual for the time.

The Black Prince at the Battle of Crécy.

Edward was only 13 years old when he was made Prince of Wales, and a mere 3 years later he had already proven himself in battle. The battle in question was Crécy in North Eastern France in August 1346. It was a total victory for the English and devastating to the French. Edward frequently fought the French during the Hundred Years’ War. Another decisive victory for Edward came in September 1356, when he defeated the French at Poitiers and even took the French King prisoner! However, it was for Limoges that he is remembered. England ostensibly owned the town of Limoges and Edward ruled over the town as Prince of Aquitaine. However, Edward was betrayed by a turncoat Bishop, Johan De Cross. He welcomed a French garrison into the town and they promptly took it from the English in August 1370.

Edward was swift to retaliate and this is what some historians argue bred his pejorative misnomer. One contemporary chronicler put the number of civilians slaughtered in Edward’s revenge as high as 3000, which undeniably contributed to Edward’s chilling moniker. However recent historical discoveries, particularly a letter from Edward himself and other evidence from different contemporary chroniclers puts the number at more like 300. This is not to dismiss the atrocity however: some 300 dead in just one medieval town, would still have felt like an enormous slaughter for the time. Regardless of how many actually died, Edward took the town back for the English in October of the same year.

Setting Limoges aside, there are several other theories as to how Edward earned the name of ‘The Black Prince’. The first being his general cruelty to those he defeated in battle, although there is little specific evidence that he was any more cruel than other contemporary medieval princes. Furthermore, when French King John ‘The Good’ surrendered to Edward at Poitiers, he was treated with the respect and courtesy due a royal. He was taken to the Tower of London and then ransomed back to the French and no mistreatment was recorded.

Some argue it was as simple as the fact that Edward was known to wear black armour into battle. Others postulate that perhaps it was due to the bronze armour of his effigy in Canterbury Cathedral turning black over time, that led to the Prince being known as ‘Black’, for his battle dress as opposed to his temperament. A more likely possibility is that his coat of arms, consisting of three ostrich feathers on a black background led to his name. This would have been visible at his jousting matches (of which he was an avid and successful participant) and also on the battlefield. It was after his success at Crécy that Edward adopted the ostrich feather sigil below, which bore the words ‘Ich Dein’, meaning ‘I serve’.

After his military successes in France, Edward’s attention turned to Spain where he helped the deposed King Pedro the Cruel of Castile defeat his illegitimate brother Henry of Trastamara, who had challenged him for the Spanish throne in 1367. Edward defeated him at Nájera in Castile and was awarded the ‘Black Prince’s Ruby’ by the Spanish King. The ruby remains in the Imperial State Crown as part of The Crown Jewels to this very day.

Edward was also one of the 25 founding knights of the Order of the Garter. He was clearly a successful and impressive man with a number of achievements to his name.

How Edward died is in dispute as he suffered from many illnesses. The causes of his death range from dysentery to old war wounds some attribute his death to cancer, others to sclerosis, or nephritis. The exact cause will probably never be known, but what is known is that he died before he was able to ascend the throne.

Upon his death he was interred in Canterbury Cathedral, where a space was kept beside him for his wife, although sadly she was actually buried next to her first husband.

He was very particular as to what was to happen after his death. One instruction was that the inscription below be visible to all those passing by his final resting place. There are theories that his choice to be buried in Canterbury Cathedral was almost a death bed confession of his sins, as Canterbury Cathedral is considered a place of repentance and penance. His motivations for this were never made explicit, but perhaps the epitaph below sheds some light.

‘Such as thou art, sometime was I.
Such as I am, such shalt thou be.
I thought little on th’our of Death
So long as I enjoyed breath.
On earth I had great riches
Land, houses, great treasure, horses, money and gold.
But now a wretched captive am I,
Deep in the ground, lo here I lie.
My beauty great, is all quite gone,
My flesh is wasted to the bone”

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