The Battle of Crecy originated on February 1, 1328, with King Charles IV of France’s death. Since the king died without leaving behind a son, the Capetian dynasty ended. As a result, the question of succession arose amongst the French. After much debate, the succession came down to Philip of Valois and King Edward III of England. Philip of Valois was the paternal cousin of Charles, while Edward was the son of the king’s sister, Isabella of France. Ultimately, the French assembly chose Philip, and he became King Philip VI.
Upon his accession, Philip VI established the Valois dynasty. Although initially accepting the French assembly’s decision, Edward III later changed his mind. During the early years of his reign, Philip sought to assert his authority over the English king. After Philip seized the duchy of Gascony away from Edward, the king decided to press his claim to the French throne. In turn, England declared war on France in 1337, which began the Hundred Years’ War.
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.
The Battle of Crecy proved to be pivotal in the Hundred Years’ War. It saw the decline of traditionally mounted cavalry and the rise of England as a European power. The battle also began a series of setbacks for France during the war. Over the next 20 years, France suffered multiple defeats from England. It wouldn’t be until Charles V became king in 1369 that the French would begin to recover from the battle of Crecy.
Adams, S. (n.d.). Battle of Crécy. Retrieved November 21, 2020, from https://www.britannica.com/event/Battle-of-Crecy
History.com Editors. (2010, March 03). Battle of Crecy. Retrieved November 21, 2020, from https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/battle-of-crecy