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

Battlefield Visit – Crecy

Armchair General

Weary and unprepared, the French first charged the English positions at 16:00.  However, at the time of that first charge, the weather changed from a steady drizzle to bright sunshine, and the French, dazzled by the sudden light, were at an immediate disadvantage.  With the charging French 150 yards away, the English archers opened fire, supported by cannon fire which is said to have disoriented the first wave of French infantry.

The initial French attack was supported by Crossbowmen, however each Crossbowman was only able to fire three or four times a minute, whereas the highly trained and experienced Longbowmen on the English side could fire four times as many arrows.  In order that it might maintain an effective army at all times, medieval England saw sports such as Football outlawed in favour of Longbow practice – which was compulsory for all boys from the age of five.  As a result, the Longbowmen of England were able to maintain a constant, withering fire upon their opponents who were not only hampered during their advance by manmade obstacles, but whom had left their shields behind in the baggage train and who were unprotected as a result.

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Sounding a retreat, the first wave turned to flee, only to run into a second wave which ran them down.

Contemporaneous accounts indicate that the French charged a total of fifteen or sixteen times that afternoon, only to be defeated each time.  At one stage during the battle, Edward’s son, "The Black Prince" was nearly overwhelmed but the King refused to send help, insisting that his son should "win his spurs".  This confidence in the Prince is said to have inspired the troops around him and he did indeed prove himself worthy of his father’s faith.

At nightfall, Philip VI retreated, having been wounded himself.  It is said that only sixty men accompanied him during his flight, the rest of his army having been smashed on the battlefield.  Estimates of between 12,000 and 30,000 French dead have been made, including 1,200 French Knights.  For the French, defeat was bitter, and controversial since it is said that after the battle, English peasants dispatched the mortally wounded French Knights with a dagger to the armpit as they lay on the ground.  Edward was said to have been displeased at this as it was normal custom for a ransom to be paid for captured nobility.  As a result of this act, the Battle of Crécy was said to have heralded the beginning of the end of the "Age of Chivalry".

The English victory at Crécy ended the conventional wisdom of the day.  Until Crécy, Knights on horseback had always been considered invincible on the battlefield, and archers would usually be wiped out when fighting more heavily armed infantry.  However discipline and overwhelming firepower won the day and this would have historic repercussions.

As a proud Englishman myself, I could not resist the temptation to stand on the battlefield of Crécy, and I herewith present some photos from my (very) brief stop at the site.  Click the thumbnails for larger versions:

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There are signs pointing toward the battlefield from several miles
away.  The actual battlefield is literally just a couple of hundred yards
outside the town of Crécy itself.

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From the ground, there’s not much to see, just lots of fields and gently
undulating countryside.  It seems very exposed.

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Off to one side of the road, a lovely observation tower
allows an excellent view of the battlefield.  There’s a
diagram of the battle layout at the top – sadly covered in graffiti.

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From the top of the tower, one can see that the countryside isn’t quite as
flat as it appears on the ground.

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At the base of the observation tower one can see these faded coats of arms and
an information plaque

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Yours-truly at the marker on the battlefield – yes,
I know I look a mess, that’s what six hours in the
car does to you…
and I’d forgotten to bring a
copy of
 ACG for the photo!

So there you go, that was just part of what I did on my holidays – and the children were as good as gold in the car too!

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