Today in History: 26 August 1346 - Battle of Crécy

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Today in History: 26th August, in 1346, King Edward III’s English army annihilates a French force under King Philip VI at the Battle of Crécy in Normandy.


The Battle of Crécy took place in north-east France between a French army commanded by King Philip VI and an English army led by King Edward III.

The battle, which saw an early use of the deadly longbow by the English, is regarded as one of the most decisive in history.

The French attacked the English while they were traversing northern France during the Hundred Years' War resulting in an English victory and heavy loss of life among the French.

On July 12, 1346, the English army had landed an invasion force of about 14,000 men in the Cotentin Peninsula. From there, they marched northward, plundering the French countryside. It had burnt a path of destruction through some of the richest lands in France to within 2 miles (3 km) of Paris, sacking many towns on the way.

The English were hoping to link up with an allied Flemish army which had invaded from Flanders. Hearing that the Flemish had turned back, and having temporarily outdistanced the pursuing French, Edward had his army prepare a defensive position on a hillside near Crécy-en-Ponthieu. 

Late in the afternoon of 26 August the French army, which greatly outnumbered the English, attacked.

The Genoese crossbowmen led the assault, but they were soon overwhelmed by Edward’s 10,000 longbowmen, who could reload faster and fire much further. The crossbowmen then retreated and the French mounted knights attempted to penetrate the English infantry lines. In charge after charge, the horses and riders were cut down in the merciless shower of arrows.

By the time the French charges reached the English men-at-arms, who had dismounted for the battle, they had lost much of their impetus. The ensuing hand-to-hand combat was described as "murderous, without pity, cruel, and very horrible". The French charges continued late into the night, all with the same result: fierce fighting followed by a French repulse.

At nightfall, the French finally withdrew. Nearly a third of their army lay slain on the field, including Philip’s brother, Charles II of Alencon; his allies King John of Bohemia and Louis II of Nevers; and 1,500 other knights and esquires. Philip himself escaped with a wound. English losses were less than a hundred.

The English then laid siege to the port of Calais. The battle crippled the French army's ability to relieve the siege; the town fell to the English the following year and remained under English rule for more than two centuries, until 1558.

Crécy established the effectiveness of the longbow as a dominant weapon on the Western European battlefield.

The battle marked the decline of the mounted knight in European warfare and the rise of England as a world power.

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