Follow in the footsteps of King Edward III as he crosses the English Channel in pursuit of the French Crown from his landing at St Vaast-la-Hougue to the battlefield at Crécy-en-Ponthieu. Discover how the battle developed and was fought leading to King Edward's English victory and the defeat of the flower of the French nobility in this the first major land battle of the Hundred Years War.
The closest living male relative to Charles IV in the male line was Philip, Count of Valois who was Charles' first cousin. The French nobility chose Philip to succeed Charles IV as the King of France and he was crowned as King Philip VI. The Plantagenet kings of England had become dukes of Aquitaine when Henry II of England had married Eleanor of Aquitaine in 1152 and from that point onwards the lands in Aquitaine were held in vassalage to the French crown. Edward III did not see himself as subordinate to Philip and refused to acknowledge Philip as his suzerain. Philip also clashed with Edward over Philip's interference in the King of England’s war against Scotland.
For nine years, it appeared that Edward had accepted Philip VI's ascendancy to the French throne, but in 1337 Philip confiscated Edward's lands in Aquitaine, on the grounds that Edward had breached his obligation as vassal. It was this, combined with Philip VI's interference in his war against Scotland, that prompted Edward III to reassert his claim to the French throne and in 1340 Edward formally assumed the title "King of France" and combined the French Royal Arms with the three lions of England.
King Edward certainly saw his counterclaim as an opportunity to stir up trouble for Philip VI by encouraging French malcontents to recognise him as king. He may also have seen it as a powerful weapon in negotiation, by offering to renounce his claim in return for large territorial concessions, such as the return and independence of Aquitaine or even the cession of Normandy and Anjou, the other former French lands of the Plantagenet kings, on the same terms.
On 1st January 1346 Edward III ordered an invasion fleet to be assembled at Portsmouth. His intention was to undertake a chevauchée through Normandy and across northern France plundering its wealth in order to severely weakening the prestige of Philippe VI King of France.
On Monday, 11th July 1346 Edward III and his sixteen-year-old son, Edward Prince of Wales, the Black Prince, set sail from Portsmouth in a fleet of 750 ships. Their army consisted of over 15,000 men: knights, men-at-arms, mounted archers, archers, foot soldiers and mercenaries from the Holy Roman Empire.
On Tuesday, 12th July 1346 the fleet carrying Edward III’s army landed near Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue, approximately 20 miles from Cherbourg. Among the first ashore were Thomas de Beauchamp 11th Earl of Warwick and Godefroy d’Harcourt, Viscount of Saint-Sauveur, who had been banished from France two years before and was one of the most powerful lords in Normandy.
There was no initial significant French response to the landing as the main French force was some distance away north of the River Seine. Robert VIII Bertrand de Bricquebec, the former Marshal of France, as the senior Frenchman in the area had summoned all local men of military age to muster in their local districts. The muster at Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue had to be abandoned and the company of Genoese crossbowmen based there deserted a few days before. Eight ships that had been assembled for the defence of Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue were also abandoned on the beach and the English burnt these soon after coming ashore. The villagers fled at the English approach and the forces at Robert de Bricquebec’s disposal were sparse and number just a few hundred men. With these he made a half-hearted effort to drive the English back, but was easily beaten off.
Edward III came ashore around midday, tripped and fell hitting his head causing a nose bleed. Many saw this as an ill-omen, but Edward characteristically shrugged it off by retorting that on the contrary it showed that the land was ready to receive him. The King and his entourage thereafter climbed the nearby hill to the Église St-Vigor at Quettehou where Edward III knighted a number of young noblemen, including Edward Prince of Wales and William de Montagu, the Earl of Salisbury, and Godefroy d’Harcourt paid homage to King Edward for his lands in Normandy recognising him as he liege-lord. After the ceremony Edward III is thought to have moved 3 kilometres to the north to La Pernelle, which is one of the highest points on the escarpment, before returning to Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue to set up his headquarters.
Not long after coming ashore at Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue, Edward III issued orders that the people of Normandy and their property were to be respected, towns and villages were not to be burnt, churches and holy places were not to be sacked, and the lives of the old, women and children were to be spared as they were all his French subjects. The army, however, appear to have ignored this order and in the tradition of the time plundered and burnt far and wide. On 12th July the villages of Réville and Jonville to the north of landings were set on fire, as was Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue the following day. As a result of this Edward III had to move his headquarters to Morsalines whilst he waited for his army to assemble.
On 18th July 1346 Edward III’s army broke camp and moved southeast from Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue towards Valognes. At Valognes Godefroy d’Harcourt set off for his ancestral home the Château de Saint-Sauveur-le-Vicomte which he found in ruins having been destroyed three years previously by his arch enemy Robert de Bricquebec. The remainder of the English army turned southwards down the Cotentin Peninsula through Montebourg and Sainte-Mère-Église to Saint-Côme-du-Mont where they spent the night. This is an area that today is famous for the American Paratrooper drops and seaborne landings at UTAH Beach on D-Day, 6th June 1944.
On 19th July 1346 Edward III’s army approached Carentan along the causeway leading from Saint-Côme-du-Mont across the marshlands of the Morass, in three divisions. The French had burned or destroyed the bridges on the approaches to the town, but these had been repaired by the English carpenters overnight. Carentan was defended by a wall and ditch on three sides and the river to the north of the church. It could and should have been stoutly defended, but the next morning, 20th July 1346, the bourgeoisie capitulated and the English entered the town without a fight. There was a brief struggle at the castle, but this too surrendered after a brief show of defiance. The town was subsequently looted and by midday it was a burning. One account attributes this to Edward III’s fury over the death of three of his Norman supporters, Jean de la Roche-Tesson, Guillaume Bacon and Richard de Percy, three years earlier but this may simply have been the consequence of the ill discipline of his army.
From Carentan, the English army continued its advance southwards following the causeway through the marshes towards St Lô all the time being harried by a French force commanded by Robert de Bricquebec’s eldest son of Robert (the younger). At Pont-Hébert, Robert the younger destroyed the bridge over the River Vire that was the only viable crossing point between St Lô and the estuary. The Black Prince’s division was the vanguard of the English army and when they reached Pont-Hébert on 21st July 1346 they found the bridge to be unusable. The English carpenters set about repairing the bridge unopposed and while the army waited to cross Edward III is thought to have stayed at the nearby Château d’Esglandes. After the English carpenters had repaired the bridge, King Edward and his army crossed the River Vire and continued their advance towards St Lô.
St Lô stands on the high ground to the east of a sweeping bow in the River Vire and Robert de Bricquebec hoped to make a stand against the English advance in this medieval walled town. On reaching the town he put his men and the town’s people to work repairing the defences that had been neglected. When the English army approached from the north on 22nd July 1346, however, he decided that his position was not strong enough and withdrew. On entering St Lô the English discovered the severed heads of Jean de la Roche-Tesson, Guillaume Bacon and Richard de Percy, the three Norman knights who had been executed for supporting Edward III three years earlier, impaled on spikes over the gate. These were taken down and given a proper burial, probably by Godefroy d’Harcourt.
A chronicler reports that over 1,000 barrels of wine were found in the town and the English army went on the rampage. The town was sacked and the inhabitants, who had remained believing that Robert de Bricquebec was going to defend the town, were either killed or if wealthy enough shipped back to England for ransom and the town looted. When the English army left to continue its advance St Lô was left in flames.
Philippe VI King of France meanwhile was still gathering in his men. He had issued a summons to arms in June, but the slow process of gathering an army took time and the French army was not likely to be ready to march before August. The French garrisons in the north were insufficient to offer any real resistance and they were not going to be any more successful that Robert de Bricquebec’s men. The best the French could hope to do was harass the English and try to delay their advance while Philippe VI’s army came in.
About the time that English army was at Pont-Hébert, Sir Hugh Hastings of Sutton Scotney, Edward III’s Lieutenant in Flanders, landed in Flanders with a small force of men-at-arms and archers. He had been commissioned by the King to raise forces from among his Flemish allies and lead them into France from the east whilst Edward lead his forces across Normandy and France from the west. The idea was that they would march into Artois and Picardy whilst Edward marched through Normandy towards them thereby giving Philippe VI a second force to be concerned about. On 22nd July 1346, King Philippe VI of France raised the “oriflamme”, the great banner of France, at Saint-Denis signifying that no quarter was to be given to the English invaders. The die was now cast for a momentous clash of arms as the two kings promoted their individual claims to the Throne of France.
Once beyond St Lô the English army moved into the rolling countryside of Calvados and advanced on a wide frontage. This was rich with farms, orchards, cattle and horses and was subjected to Edward III’s classic chevauchée tactics being plundered and burnt. It was intended to provoke Philippe VI into battle, demonstrate that Philippe was incapable of protecting his people and punishing those who opposed Edward III’s claim. At the same time the English fleet was harrying the Normandy coast destroying everything within an 8 km strip of coast between Cherbourg and Ouistreham, north of Caen. In all some 100 or more French ships were burned and a great deal of plunder taken.
On 23rd July 1346 Edward III gave orders for the army to gather at Torigny-sur-Vire about 15 kilometres south east of St Lô. An advance party under Sir Thomas de Holand was sent ahead, but the main body of the army did not follow as Edward leant that Robert de Bricquebec’s Frenchmen had been at Cormolain the night before. The King set off in pursuit and Thomas de Holand’s group left Torigny to rejoin the main army, but not before setting the town on fire and burning and plundering the countryside as they withdrew.
The English army left Cormolain the following day heading in the general direction of Caen. Again the town was put to the torch and the countryside plundered and burnt as they advanced. They stopped that night in the vicinity of Saint-Germain-d’Ectot before moving on the next day towards Fontenay-le-Pesnel where Edward III is believed to have spent the night of 25th July 1346 in a monastic cell at Le Cairon 3 kilometres south of Vendes and the Black Prince at Cheux 4 kilometres further east. They were just 18 kilometres from Caen.
On the evening of 25th July 1346 Edward III sent Geoffrey of Maldon, an English monk, to the officials of Caen calling on them to surrender. The King of England offered to spare the lives of the citizens, their goods and their homes, but the officials of Caen rejected the offer and Guillaume Bertrand, the Bishop of Bayeux and Robert de Bricquebec’s brother, had Geoffrey thrown into prison. Whether or not their decision was swayed by the inability of Edward III to keep his English army in check is not clear, whatever the reasons their decision was to have dire repercussions for the populace.
In the early morning of Wednesday, 26th July 1346 the English army left the vicinity of Fontenay-le-Pesnel to cross the relatively flat plain towards Caen. They advanced on a broad front with Edward III’s division to the south and the Black Prince’s division taking the more northerly route. The Black Prince probably crossed the area now covered by Carpiquet airport, passed close to the Abbaye d’Ardenne and on into Caen to the abandoned Abbaye aux Dames.
Caen was the second city of Normandy and had been built by William the Conqueror and further developed by Henry I, King of England. It had a population of around 10,000 and was surrounded by a low curtain wall dating from 11th century. The Château de Guillaume le Conquérant north of the city was quite strong but the curtain wall was in a poor state of repair. There were eight gates in the wall and twenty intervening towers, a slightly later tower, the Tour Guillaume le Roy, survives today on the site of one of these. The Abbaye aux Hommes was to the west of the city and the Abbaye aux Dames to the east. The wall to the south was protected by the River Odon, which flowed along the route of today’s Boulevard du Maréchal Leclerc. A bridge across the River Odon that was protected by towers at both ends led into the affluent Lie St-Jean, which was un-walled but protected by the River Odon.
The English army’s appearance before Caen was of course no surprise, as for days the refugees fleeing in front of the English advance had converged on the city with their carts and animals and now thronged the streets. Although defensible the two abbaye’s were abandoned due to lack of manpower. Inside the walls Raoul II de Brienne the Count of Eu and Guînes and Constable of France, and John de Melun, the Lord of Tancarville and Montreuil-Bellay, had a force of some 1,500 men including some 300 Genoese crossbowmen under the command of Robert de Warignies. They had improved the defences as best they could by using palisades and ditches to the north and west, and thirty ships moored along the banks of the River Odon to act as platforms for their archers to the south.
When the English army appear before the city, however, the French leadership were seized by doubt and decided to abandon the old city and concentrate their defences in the Île St-Jean. A detachment of 200 men-at-arms and 100 Genoese crossbowmen were sent to defend the castle and the remainder withdrew across the Pont-St-Pierre. The Bishop of Bayeux and women of high rank withdrew into the castle for protection whilst the women and children of lesser rank were sent out of the city to make their way to Falaise for safety.
The defences of the Île St-Jean were weak. The ships along the River Odon and the fortified Porte-St-Pierre to the north gave some protection, but to the south and east only the tributaries of the River Odon provided a barrier. The Porte-St-Pierre was orientated to defend the old city, not the Île St-Jean, and a barricade was hastily erected north of the gate in an effort to alleviate this problem. The water level of the river was low due to the dry summer making it possible for men to wade across where normally ships would pass.
The English assault on Caen began in an uncoordinated and haphazard manner with each division seemingly acting upon their own accord. The Black Prince’s division seized a gate and entered the old city. The Earl of Warwick entered with by a different gate with men-at-arms and archers. Both forces converged on the Porte-St-Pierre. On reaching the barricade a fierce hand-to-hand battle commenced and house in the vicinity were soon alight. King Edward seeing what was happening sent William de Bohun the Earl of Northampton and Sir Richard Talbot, 2nd Lord Talbot of Goodrich, to order the Earl of Warwick to withdraw his men. For whatever reason, that did not happen and the assault continued.
The fighting soon spread along the riverbank and two of the ships moored on the river were set alight. Others ships were boarded and men waded the river under fire of the Genoese crossbowmen. The French defenders at the Pont-St-Pierre soon found themselves surrounded, some managed to take refuge in the old city and others joined the defenders in Île St-Jean or the gate’s fortified towers. For the French, however, the writing was on the wall and those of rank began looking for opponents of equal status to take their surrender. Raoul de Brienne the Constable of France surrendered to Sir Thomas Holland and John de Melun, the Lord of Tancarville and Montreuil-Bellay and Chamberlain of France, surrendered to Sir Thomas Daniel a retainer of the Black Prince. The former spent the next three years in England whilst his ransom was paid and the latter was held at Wallingford castle until his release in 1348. Several hundred prisoners were taken including a number of rich citizens of the city, but many Frenchmen of lesser rank or of little value died where they stood. By comparison it is said that just one English man-at-arms was killed in the assault. It is more likely however that the number of casualties amongst the archers and infantry of both sides would have been high due to the savage nature of the fighting.
As dusk descended that evening only the 300 men-at-arms and crossbowmen were under the command of Robert de Bricquebec and his brother Guillaume, the Bishop of Bayeux, in the castle continued to resist. The English established their camp on the plains of Ardennes to the west and north of the city, in the vicinity of the present day communes of Saint-Germain-la-Blanche-Herbe, La Folie-Couvrechef and Hérouville-St-Claire.
In the morning of Thursday, 27th July 1346 five men were spotted leaving the castle. Three were killed and the other two taken prisoner. The message they were carrying remains a mystery as they gave very little information away. It may have been that Robert de Bricquebec was trying to get a message out that the castle was still in French hands and would continue to resist. This may have been a call for help or for others to also resist, it may even have been at the behest of his brother Guillaume, the Bishop of Bayeux, trying to give heart to the citizens of Bayeux in an effort for them to resist Edward III’s English. If it was the latter then Guillaume had been right to have been concerned as later that day emissaries from Bayeux arrived offering to surrender the city to King Edward, but he refused on the grounds that he was not able to protect the town. On Friday, 28th July 1346 Edward III’s men began to range far and wide pillaging and burning the countryside. This caused further concern in Bayeux and the following day another delegation of fifteen citizens arrived to finalise the surrender of that city.
On Monday, 31st July 1346 the English army left Caen to continue its journey eastwards in the direction of Rouen. On Wednesday, 2nd August 1346 they entered Lisieux where Edward III remained for two-days. They left Lisieux on Friday, 4th August 1346 intent on finding a crossing over the River Seine near Rouen. On Monday, 7th August 1346 they reached the river at Elbeuf, only to find that the bridge had been rendered unusable and a large French force commanded by Jean IV d'Harcourt, Godefroy d'Harcourt elder brother and Comte d'Harcourt, guarding the northern bank.
Having failed to find a crossing over the River Seine at Elbeuf the English army turned southwards towards Paris on Tuesday, 8th August 1346 seeking another place at which to cross. They headed for Pont-de-l’Arche the next bridge over the River Seine south of Elbeuf. At Pont-de-l’Arche they found the town walls manned and well protected, the castle garrisoned and the crossing denied to them. Edward III ordered an assault, but this was repulsed and English army moved on south to halt in the vicinity of Léry and Le Vaudreuil that night. On 9th August 1346 the English army recommenced their journey towards Paris, burning Léry and La Vaudreuil when they left, and crossed the River Eure near Louviers. It was a similar situation at Vernon, Mantes-la-Jolie and Moeulan-en-Yvelines with each crossing point being denied to King Edward’s English, the bridges had been rendered unusable and crossings being held by the French in force.
On Sunday, 13th August 1346 the English arrived in the vicinity of Poissy, just 20 kilometres from Paris. The bridge at Poissy had been broken and the town and neighbouring town of Saint-Germain-en-Laye had both been abandoned by the French. The arches of the bridge at Poissy were still standing and the English carpenters began repairing the bridge.
Later that day they had built a temporary span across the river using a 20 metre long tree and the English established a small bridgehead on the far bank. When news of this reached the French a contingent led by the Lords of Aufremont and Revel, who were on their way to join the main French force, was diverted to deny the crossing to King Edward’s English. The English bridgehead was only lightly held as the French approached, but William de Bohun led several hundred men across the narrow span to reinforce their tenuous hold on the northern bank. The French were too late.
Philippe VI moved his main force south through Paris on 15th August 1346 intent on meeting the Edward III’s army south of the River Seine outside of the city, but the English crossing of the river changed everything. The English army crossed the River Seine on 16th August 1346 and once across turned northwards intent on joining up with reinforcements that were due to arrive at Le Crotoy and the Flemish under Hugh Hastings. After crossing the river, they destroyed the bridge behind them and left Poissy in flames.
Philippe VI had reached the village of Antony, 10 kilometres south of Paris and 30 kilometres southeast of Poissy, when he learnt that Edward III’s army had crossed the River Seine. With the bridge at Poissy destroyed and the town in flames Philippe VI had to turn his army around and march it back through Paris in order to continue his pursuit of King Edward and his English army.
By nightfall on 16th August 1346 Edward III’s army had reached Grisy-les-Plâtres 26 kilometres north of Poissy. The following day they continued their journey northwards across the undulating countryside to Auteuil, a further 25 kilometres to the north and just 11 kilometres southwest of Beauvais. It was while at Auteuil that Edward III received Philippe VI’s challenge to single combat, to which he replied that Philippe could have come to him while he was at Poissy and that he would continue his march north to bring comfort to his friends and punish those that had rebelled against his authority. If Philippe VI wanted battle with Edward III he could do so wherever he found him and King Edward continued to move his army northwards towards the River Somme, which he knew he was going to have to cross at some point to join up with Hugh Hastings and his Flemish army. He tried probing the crossings at Hangest-sur-Somme and Pont-Rémy without success and continued to move northwards. The crossing of the River Somme was proving to be as difficult for Edward III’s English as had crossing the River Seine as all the bridges were either heavily guarded or burned. King Edward knew that time was of the essence and how important it was to get across the River Somme before Philippe VI’s larger French army caught up with him.
Philippe VI responded quickly to the English army’s departure from Poissy. He retraced his steps to Paris and made his way back through the city. Once through Paris he commenced a series of forced marches covering around 40 kilometres a day. Knowing that King Philippe was in pursuit the local French levies made life as difficult as possible for the English hiding supplies and harrying the English whenever possible. This caused the English to have to forage far and wide for supplies and slowed them up even more. By the time Edward III’s English army left the area of Beauvais Philippe VI’s French army was closing up fast.
In order to make better speed Edward III ordered that a potion of the English baggage train was abandoned and the foot soldiers were mounted on captured horses. He also tried to keep his army focused on speed rather than plunder, but that was easier said than done. He managed to stop them from attacking Beauvais, but time was lost while they plundered the village of Vessencourt, now part of the commune of Frocourt, and the Abbaye Saint-Lucien de Beauvais, where Edward III had spent the previous night, was set alight soon after he had left.
When the English reached Poix-de-Picardie it was spared the torch on payment of a ransom. After the bulk of King Edward’s army had marched on, however, the townsfolk attacked the small party that had remained to collect the money and they had to be rescued by the rearguard. Poix-en-Picardie was consequently put to the torch and its two castles raised to the ground. The two daughters of the Lord of Poix only avoided molestation when Sir John Chandos rescued them from the looting and pillaging English soldiers and they were subsequently escorted to Corbie on King Edward’s orders. Molestation of women of gentle birth and the clergy was strictly forbidden as was the destruction of religious houses and the King ordered twenty of the men responsible for burning the Abbaye Saint-Lucien de Beauvais to be hung.
Despite these diversions, which were beginning to eat up valuable time, the English army’s progress remained good and they reached Camps-en-Amiénois, about 20 kilometres from the River Somme, on 20th August 1346. Unkown to King Edward, however, the French made better progress and King Philippe arrived at Amiens that same day with the men he had brought up through Paris. The balance of numbers was beginning to swing into the French king’s favour by the addition of those mustered at Amiens and the men under the Count of Flanders at Abbeville.
On reaching the River Somme Philippe VI set about denying all of the crossings over the River Somme in order to trap the English army between that river and the River Seine. He had most of the bridges between Amiens and the sea rendered unusable and secured all the known crossing points with French troops on the right hand bank. The French king then sent a force along the left hand bank to drive the English toward the English Channel, before he too set off with the bulk of his army along the west bank a few days later.
As the English army drew close to Abbeville, King Edward III was running out of options. He had to find a crossing or get caught between the River Seine and River Somme. As they approached Airaines on 21st August 1346 a French force threatened the English rear guard and Hugh le Despencer, 2nd Baron le Despencer, and Robert de Ufford, 1st Earl of Suffolk, were sent to drive them off. The French chose to fight and sixty of them were taken prisoner and more than 200 were killed.
On 22nd August 1346 Edward III and the bulk of his army remained at Airaines, which had been abandoned upon the English army’s approach, whilst scouting parties were sent out to look for crossing places over the River Somme. These found that the French had destroyed many of the bridges and those crossing places that remained were well defended.
The Earl of Warwick and Godefroy d'Harcourt tried to force a crossing at Pont-Rémy where they were opposed by forces under the command of John, King of Bohemia. The English sustained some losses before they withdrew and moved southeast up the valley of the Somme to Fontaine-sur-Somme which they burnt.
About 3 kilometres upriver from Fontaine-sur-Somme was a causeway, but they found that this too was heavily defended and the bridge destroyed. The Earl of Warwick made no attempt to cross and pushed onwards to the next potential crossing at Longpré, but this too was well defended and once again no attempt to cross was made.
Leaving Longpré in flames the Earl of Warwick continued to Hangest-sur-Somme, but again they found the bridge had rendered unusable and a French force was present in numbers to deny them passage. This left just one more possibility, Picquigny, which was a further 8 kilometres upstream. The town stood high on the cliffs above the River Somme and was protected by a wall with fortified towers. There were four gates and a stone castle that had originally been built at the time of William the Conqueror and had been extensively repaired earlier that year. It was well defended and the Earl of Warwick, recognising that he did not have sufficient strength to assault the town, turned his men around and made his way back to Airaines to report the situation to King Edward.
Whilst the Earl of Warwick and Godefroy d'Harcourt were out looking for a crossing on 22nd August 1346 other events were taking place that would have a significant effect on Edward III. The Flemish army under Hugh Hastings had been besieging Béthune since 14th August 1346 and the Flemings, who had become discouraged by setbacks, abandoned the siege, burning their siege engines before leaving for home. King Edward learnt of the Flemish withdrawal two-three days later.
By 23rd August 1346 Edward III was aware that King Philippe’s French army was closing fast and that he would either have to find a place to cross the River Somme or turn and give battle. He was not yet ready for the latter and the English army left Airaines with some haste that morning. King Edward had reinforcements that were due to arrive at Le Crotoy and the Flemish army under Hugh Hasting was supposedly on route to join him once he was across the river. If he gave battle to the French Edward III wanted it to be on ground of his own choosing and at a time to suit him, and besides he already had a place in mind.
King Edward’s army initially moved west from Airaines towards the coast, but at Oisemont they turned northwards to bivouac at Acheux-en-Vimeu that night. They met with some resistance at Oisemont as the inhabitants had mustered to resist the English, but they were easily dispersed by a cavalry charge by Edward III’s men-at-arms. This led to more time being lost whilst the English army pillaged and burnt Oisemont and many of the inhabitants who had resisted were killed.
During 23rd August 1346 King Edward rode to Monts de Caubert, approximately 3 kilometres from Abbeville, to get a clear view of the town. The French rode out from the town to threaten King Edward’s small party, but the swift action of the Earl of Warwick drove the French back and allowed the King’s party to ride away. From this reconnaissance King Edward realised that taking the bridge at Abbeville was not a practicable option and that he would have to find somewhere else to cross the River Somme.
The last remaining known crossing point was at Blanchetaque where there was a narrow ford stretching across the widening expanse of the river as it neared the sea. There are a number of accounts as to how King Edward learnt of the ford’s existence, including one that Gobin Agrae, a Frenchman from the nearby village of Mons-Boubert, revealed its location to the King in return for 100 pieces of gold. Whatever the case, it was to Blanchetaque that the English army made its way next.
In the early hours of 24th August 1346 King Edward’s English army set off from Acheux-en-Vimeu towards the ford at Blanchetaque. When they arrived at the river just before sunrise the tide was just beginning to turn and the water level still too high to cross. 500 French men-at-arms, Genoese crossbowmen and around 3,000 infantry under the command of Godemar du Fay were present on the far back ready to defend the crossing and it was apparent that the English were going to have to fight if they were going to cross the River Somme at this point.
After a four-hour wait and with Frenchmen approaching the rear of their column, the Earl of Northampton and Reginald de Cobham, 1st Baron Cobham, led a small vanguard of 100 men-at-arms and 100 archers forward into the waist-deep river of the ford at around 08:00 hrs. The intent was to cross the fourteen feet wide ford and establish a bridgehead on the far bank into which King Edward could push his army and force the French back. They waded through the water in a tightly packed formation with the main body of mounted knights and men-at arms under the Earl of Warwick following close behind. As they neared the far bank the Genoese crossbowmen fired their bolts and the English column seemed to shiver as some of the missiles struck home. The English archers returned fire and let loose their arrows sending five or six clothyard barbed shafts into the Genoese for every bolt fired. As the Genoese fire began to slacken the Earl of Northampton and Reginald de Cobham led their small force of men-arms forward. As the vanguard began its advance King Edward suddenly spurred his horse into the press crying “Let those who love me follow me!” and the knights and men-at-arms under the Earl of Warwick plunged forward forcing the archers to the very edges of the causeway. The French drawn up across the narrow path leading from the ford dashed forward to engage the knights instead of standing firm and holding their ground. Perhaps they were eager to take the knights prisoner and hold them for ransom, but whatever the case they sacrificed their advantage and the fighting at the head of the ford soon descended into a mêlée at the water’s edge.
The English archers’ arrows continued to rain down on the French unable to join the mêlée and the Frenchmen began to give ground. This rearward movement gradually took on a life of its own as the French were forced back until they finally broke and fled in the ensuing confusion. King Edward’s English army was across the ford, but at the other end the vanguard of the pursuing French army commanded by John I, King of Bohemia and Jean IV d'Harcourt caught up with the English rearguard and wagon train as it entered the water. The killed or captured the few that still remained on the river bank, but the rising water prevented pursuit and they watched on in frustration as the English army crossed the River Somme to safety.
Once across the River Seine King Edward, knowing that the French were hot on his heels, gave thanks to God before dispatching Hugh Despenser with a force to Le Crotoy to meet up with the reinforcements and supplies that were due to land there. The Earl of Warwick’s men-at-arms pursued Godemar du Fay’s fleeing Frenchmen the bulk of whom made their way to Abbeville while some made for Sailly-Bray 5 kilometres to the north. The Earl of Warwick’s men-at-arms cut many of them down as they fled and the French loses at Blanchetaque were said to amount to 2,000, but whatever the figure they were certainly heavy.
Hugh Despenser’s force arrived at Le Crotoy to find that the expected English reinforcements and supplies had not arrived. The supplies had in fact not yet been loaded into the ships and the men were yet to assemble let alone set sail for France. Hugh Despenser’s men sacked the town that evening before beginning to forage for supplies. Noyelles-sur-Mer was sacked and Rue 10 kilometres further north was put to the torch. Cattle, provisions and wine from ships moored in Le Crotoy harbour were taken before they made their way to re-join King Edward’s main force.
At Blanchetaque, the two armies faced each other across the river; King Edward’s English on the eastern bank and King Philippe’s French on the western bank. They continued to watch each other for the remainder of the day and into the next. On 25th August 1346 King Philippe, knowing that he had little chance of securing a crossing at Blacnhetaque, gave the order for the French army to disengage and return to Abbeville, where they could cross the River Seine in order to continue the pursuit. King Edward now free to leave Blanchetaque led his army through the Forêt de Crécy towards the small town of Crécy-en-Ponthieu. They spent the night of 25th August 1346 on the eastern edge of the forest before moving the 4 kilometres to take up a defensive position at the eastern end of Crécy-en-Ponthieu where King Edward III of England had decided to make a stand. He was by now aware that Hugh Hastings’ Flemish and the expected reinforcements would not be joining his army and that he would only have the survivors of his original army at his disposal. This was somewhat depleted since it had left Caen and, whilst no accurate recorded figures exist, it is thought to have been between 14,000 and 15,000 strong. It consisted of some 3,000 knights and men-at-arms; 3,000 hobelars, many of who were mounted archers; 5,000 archers; 3,500 spearmen and 5 ribauldequin.
The ribauldequin was a late medieval volley gun in use during the 14th and 15th centuries that had a number of small-calibre iron barrels set up parallel on a platform. This was their first known use in battle and King Edward III’s ribauldequin each had twelve barrels and fired a salvo of twelve stone balls.
Hobelars were a type of light cavalry, or mounted infantry, used in Western Europe during the Middle Ages for skirmishing.
On returning to Abbeville King Philippe found that the bridge had been damaged and need to be repaired before his army could cross and it was not until Saturday, 26th August 1346 that he could continue his pursuit of King Edward’s English army. From Abbeville he set off on the Hesdin road and followed a route east of the Forêt de Crécy passing Saint Riquier and Noyelles-en-Chaussée. Just after passing Saint Riquier King Philippe leant that the English army had passed through the forest and were now in the vicinity of Crécy-en-Ponthieu, which was about 15 kilometres to his northwest. The French king sent out scouts to determine what King Edward’s forces were doing and turned his own army towards Crécy-en-Ponthieu. Henri le Moine de Bâle, a Swiss knight in King Philippe’s army, returned to report that the English were drawn up in battle order between the villages of Crécy-en-Ponthieu and Wadicourt. By this time the French army was advancing along the Chemin de l’Armée and their leading elements were about 5 kilometres from King Edward’s men.
The historical sources and accounts of the Battle of Crécy while fairly numerous are somewhat scant on detail about the dispositions and tactics employed by both sides. It is, therefore, impossible to say exactly where the battle was fought, though it is generally accepted that this was along the ridge in the vicinity of the Moulin de Crécy between the villages of Crécy-en-Ponthieu and Wadicourt. It is thought that King Edward’s English approached the town from the south through the Forêt de Crécy along the line of the modern day D111 and moved through the town to take up their positions along the ridge. Their precise alignment is, however, open to debate.
We know that they were arrayed in three divisions:
The Prince of Wales’ division was positioned approximately 300 yards in front of King Edward’s vantage point at Crécy windmill about halfway down the forward slope of the ridge. It consisted of 800 men-at-arms and was flanked on either side by 2,000 archers and 1,000 welsh bowmen. To support the 16 year old Prince, the Earl of Warwick and John de Vere, the 7th Earl of Oxford, were appointed as his chief officers.
Godefroy d'Harcourt was tasked with protecting the Prince in the event of anything untoward happening.
The Earl of Northampton’s division was placed about 300 yards to the left of the Prince of Wales’ division towards Wadicourt and further back towards the crest of the ridge. This consisted of 500 men-at-arms with 1,200 archers deployed on either flank.
The King’s division of 700 men-at-arms, 2,000 archers and 1,000 Welsh spearmen was held in reserve to the rear of the ridge on the plateau in front of Crécy Grange. Each group of archers was formed up in solid wedges.
The wagon train was located at Crécy Grange protected by the pages and servants.