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Posted on Sep 6, 2007 in Front Page Features, Stuff We Like

Battlefield Visit – Crecy

Armchair General

I can remember the moment it happened quite vividly.  Picture the scene, there I was, sitting at my desk, minding my own business quite happily, surfing the Armchair General website when my Wife announced our holiday plans for 2007.

"We’re driving through France to Spain and back again".

"Oh joy!" I replied, somewhat less than enthusiastically, being one of those terribly boring people who doesn’t really feel the need to go anywhere for their holidays and who would be quite happy sitting at home watching old war movies.  The prospect of three days’ travelling to get to our destination didn’t exactly excite me either – with two small children both aged under five sitting behind me, I had visions of utter chaos…  On the other hand…the constant driving rain of the last three months in the UK was a persuading factor in leaving these soaked shores behind, and so I agreed – but it was not as if I really had a choice.

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And then it hit me…

"Hey!  We can visit the battlefield at Crécy whilst we’re in France – it’s on the way!"

My wife looked at me blankly…

Perhaps it’s not so odd, given my country’s rich history, that a battle which took place in 1346 shouldn’t generally be on the lips of everyone alive today.  It’s not as if the Hundred Years’ War was the only conflict we’ve ever been in, and when it comes to the medieval era, the Battle of Agincourt tends to be the one that people know about.

Nevertheless, the Battle of Crécy was one of the most important battles of the Hundred Years’ War.  Fought in northern France, the battle saw an outnumbered force of between 8,000 to 12,000 Englishmen engage and defeat a French force of between 30,000 and 72,000 men with the use of superior firepower.  Some reports estimate that the Battle saw as many as a third of the French nobility of the time killed in action in what would become a disastrous humiliation for France.

A couple of years ago, during another jaunt through France, I recalled seeing a heritage sign alongside the motorway.  The French are justly proud of their history and tend to mark historic locations for tourists – and I promised myself that one day I would visit the battlefield.

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The historic background places the Battle of Crécy as the second major battle of the Hundred Years’ War.  The war started in 1337 as a result of rising tensions between France and England which saw King Edward III declare war on his French neighbour Philip VI of France and the first major battle of the war was a naval action which took place at Sluys.  During the Battle of Sluys, the vast majority of the French fleet was destroyed – thus securing the English Channel on both sides for the English and ensuring that future battles would take place on French soil rather than as part of a French invasion of England.

On July 12th 1346, King Edward began an invasion of France, attacking through Normandy, sacking the French city of Caen and marching south.  On August 25th, 1346, Edward’s army arrived near Crécy and prepared to fight, deploying his forces along a  ridge between Crécy itself and the nearby town of Wadicourt.

Estimates of the number of troops on both sides cannot be accurately made – but it is possible that the English may have been out numbed by as many as six to one.  Up to 7,000 of the English troops consisted of 7,000 English and Welsh archers.  Occupying the flanks of the English army, the archers manned pits which would prevent a French cavalry attack. The English army had themselves been ordered to fight, to a man, on foot.

Philip VI of France had earlier ordered that the bridges of the Somme be burned to prevent Edward’s advance South, and this caused some delay in his own troops arriving on the battlefield as they were forced to wait for the tides.  Once assembled however, the impetuous and overconfident French nobles ordered an immediate attack on the English, despite having been instructed to wait until the next day.

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