Tuesday, August 26, 2014

BATTLE of CRECY ~ August 26, 1346

The Battle of Crécy (occasionally called the Battle of Cressy in English) took place on 26 August 1346 near Crécy in northern France, and was one of the most important battles of the Hundred Years' War. The combination of new weapons and tactics have caused many historians to consider this battle the beginning of the end of chivalry.

Crécy was a battle in which a much smaller English army of 12,000 to 16,000 (depending on source), commanded by Edward III of England and heavily outnumbered by Philip VI of France's force of 35,000 to 100,000 (depending on source), was victorious as a result of superior weaponry and tactics, demonstrating the importance of the modern military concept of fire power. The effectiveness of the Welsh longbow, used en masse, was proven against armoured knights, contrary to the conventional wisdom of the day which held that archers would be ineffective and be butchered when the armoured units closed in.

In the battle, the French knights, protected by mail reinforced with plate, nearly exhausted by charging several miles into the fray (against their king's wishes) and having to walk through a quagmire of mud to charge up a shallow hill into English and Welsh arrow storms, were cut down. The result was that much of the French nobility died, perhaps even a third (estimates of the actual numbers in each army vary considerably, depending on the source).

Knights' armour had not yet evolved to the stage where longbows could not penetrate, and the knights' horses were barely protected at all. The storm of arrows killed or disabled the knights' mounts, and left the knights floundering about in the mud on foot beneath a withering fire.

Just as importantly, the hired Genoese crossbowmen who were at the forefront of the battle were not able to reach the defending English with their fire due to the rain slackening their crossbow strings. As the Genoese attempted to retreat, they were cut down by the French knights who considered the withdrawal to be cowardly. Therefore, the necessary support for the mounted knights was eradicated early on in the battle, mainly due to the French themselves.

The battle is seen by many historians as the beginning of the end of chivalry; during the course of the battle, many of the prisoners and wounded were killed. This was against the chivalric codes of warfare; and knights on horseback were no longer "undefeatable" by infantry.

Crécy may also have seen the first real use of cannon on the European battlefield, which were used only in small numbers by a few states during the 1340s. "Ribaldis", a type of cannon, were first mentioned in the English Privy Wardrobe accounts during preparations for the battle between 1345 and 1346, and they were perhaps employed against both the Genoese and the cavalry.

Similar cannon would appear also at the Siege of Calais in the same year, although it would not be until the 1380s that the "ribaudekin" was mounted on wheels.

The use of firearms at this battle is only mentioned in one contemporary account of the battle, that of Villani (d. 1348). Villani did travel abroad during much of the early 14th century, yet he had returned to his home in Florence at the time of the Battle of Crécy, so his information was likely second hand if not third or fourth hand. His account also conflicts with almost all of the other contemporary chronicles of this time on the events of the battle, specifically the use of firearms. In one of the later versions of his chronicle, Froissart does mention guns being used in the battle, but by that time firearms had become more common in warfare. His earlier versions fail to include any mention of firearms. So while firearms were perhaps employed, their possible effect on the battle should be viewed critically.

The political consequences of the battle were significant for Edward III especially, who had financed and supplied his expedition to Normandy with increasingly unpopular policies. The widespread use of purveyance and the arresting of ships to provide transport for his armies had left the King with potential sources of discontent in his kingdom. Likewise, the bold and unprecedented move to expand compulsory service, usually only required for defence of the coasts, to supply overseas service in France proved to be deeply unpopular with many of his subjects. However, the successes of the campaign did much to mute opposition when English Parliament was called at 11 – 20 September 1346.

English casualties were light but there were thousands of French dead, among them the counts of Flanders, Alençon, and Blois, Rudolph, Duke of Lorraine, and King John of Bohemia, a French ally. Charles IV from the House of Luxembourg (future Holy Roman Emperor) lost his father John of Bohemia and many of his best knights, with Charles himself escaping wounded from the field.

Image & Text:wikipedia.com

Returning from "Inglourious Basterds" at the Castro Theater three years ago last night, I learned the sad news that Senator Edward Kennedy had died at the age of 77. At least he lived far longer than any of his brothers (and four years more than my Dad or his father). I recall his eloquent eulogy at RFK's funeral in Saint Patrick's Cathedral NYC forty-four years ago! What promise-- destroyed two years later just before the first moon landing. If not a president... a great senator.

1 comment:


Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

Your article is very well done, a good read.

Titian in the Frari (Venezia)