The Battle of Crecy, also called Battle of Cressy, took place on 26 August 1346 near Crecy in northern France, and was one of the most important battles of the Hundred Years’ War. Edward III, King of England, began the Hundred Years War, claiming the throne of France on the death of King Philip IV in 1337. On July 11, 1346, Edward III landed at St Vasst on the peninsular of the Contentin on the north coast of France with an army of some 16,000 knights, men-at-arms, archers and foot soldiers, with the purpose of 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, later known as the Black Prince.
As they marched toward the Seine, the English Army found the bridges across the river destroyed. Then they heard the news of an enormous army gathering in Paris under the French King, Philip VI, to fight the invaders. So, Edward’s army was forced to march up along the left bank of the Seine as far as Poissy, getting close to Paris, before a bridge could be found to cross the river. Having crossed the Seine, Edward went north for the Channel coast, followed closely by King Philip. When the English found the River Somme, the bridges were either heavily defended or destroyed. This forced them to march down the left bank to the sea. They finally crossed the Somme at its mouth at low tide, evading the clutches of the pursuing French. Exhausted and soaked Edward’s troops made camp in the forest of Crecy on the northern bank of the Somme.
The Battle of Crecy began on August 26, 1346, when the English army took up position on a ridge between the villages of Crecy and Wadicourt in anticipation of the French attack. the King took as his post a windmill on the highest point of the ridge. The French army, commanded by Philip VI, was not well organized, due to overconfidence on the part of his knights. The French tactical mindset was centered on the use of cavalry, and Philip was naturally confident that his cavalry could overwhelm Edward’s much smaller cavalry contingent. Philip set up his Genoese mercenary crossbowmen, under Ottone Doria, in the front line, with the cavalry in the back. The French even went as far as to leave the pavises, the only means of defence for the crossbowmen, behind, along with the infantries. Both decisions proved deadly mistakes.
The first attack was carried out by the Genoese crossbowmen, who shot a series of volleys with the purpose of disorganizing and frightening the English infantry. This was followed by the sound of musical instruments, brought by Philip VI to scare the enemy. But the crossbowmen would prove completely useless. With a firing rate of around 1-2 shots every minute, they were no match for the longbowmen, who could fire one shot every 5 seconds.
The crossbowmen did not have their shields, which were needed to cover their bows during the long reloading procedure. Under the hail of English arrows, the Genoese crossbowmen were unable to approach the English lines to the point where their crossbows would have been effective. Decimated, they retreated, as any trained professional soldier would have done. The knights, however, hurled insults at the crossbowmen. Calling these crossbowmen cowards, the knights and kings hacked down their own men. The fault was not the crossbowmen’s, for the decision of leaving the shields was made by the king. Meanwhile waves of longbow fell on the French. At this the French knights decided it was time to charge, and they ran right over the retreating Genoese in an unorganized way. The English longbowmen continued firing as the infantry advanced, and many French knights fell along the way.