The Build up to the Battle of Crécy
Updated: Nov 15, 2020
In 1337, Philippe VI of France confiscated the Duchy of Aquitaine from England, sparking the conflict that would later be known as the Hundred Years' war, and giving the grounds for many great battles, with victories for both sides, one of which was the Battle of Crécy. The build up to this well known battle was momentous, and showed two powerful rulers vying for the upper hand...
The circumstances for the Hundred Years’ War had arisen in 1328 when Charles the 6th of France died leaving no direct heir. The two possible candidates were Philippe, Count of Valois and Edward III, King of England, with Edward III being the more obvious choice, having descended from the line of Philippe IV and his only grandson although through the female line of his mother, Isabella of France. The French nobility used these grounds (of Isabella being female) as an excuse to bar Edward III from succession and elected Philippe of Valois to be the new King. However, it wasn't for another nine years until Edward would make his claim, the confiscation of the Duchy of Aquitaine giving him the grounds to do so (without Philippe as his liege lord he could go to war against him).
These some of the major events that led up Crécy:
Edward III launched an invasion through Flanders with German and Flemish allies to take the pressure off small Anglo-Gascon Garrison that had been attacked at the opening to the war
In May 1340 Edward III became aware of a large French fleet gathering in the Zwyn estuary, so launched an expedition into Flanders, with about 120 ships that engaged in battle trying to prevent an invasion to the South Coast of England. These ships were filled with longbow-men and men-at-arms. As the English ships got close by they dropped anchor, but then dropped the anchors and hoisted sail, appearing to the French that they were about to sail away, so the French fleet let loose chains and chased the English. At this point the English turned about and sailed into the French fleet. The longbow-men, who were now in range, let loose hails of arrows and men-at-arms boarded French ships, to the result that the whole fleet but 24 ships were sunk or captured, giving the English victory at the battle of Sluys.
In 1340 the Truce of Esplechin Is signed, and although it doesn't settle any of the main issues it is still beneficial to the English; Edward had no choice but to sign it as he was virtually bankrupt and he gave him some time to repair his finances which is critical in this stage of the war.
During this time civil war erupted in Brittany between Jean de Montfort and Charles de Blois, Edward supported de Montfort in return for de Montfort's recognition that he was King of France. In August 1342 Edward sent a small army to Brittany under the command of William de Bohun, who landed at Brest and destroyed eleven Genoese galleys before marching South and taking Vannes. This campaign continued to go well as de Bohun marched the army across Brittany and defeated the French army on the 30th September, in the Battle of Morlaix. In October Edward himself landed in Brittany with a larger force, recapturing Vannes and marching towards Rennes. However, a large French army stood in the way, but before a battle could take place, papal legates from Avignon managed to arrange a small truce which was extended in 1343 to try to stop the conflict from further spreading so nothing further happend that year, or in subsequent
Edwards intention in 1345 had been to invade on three fronts, however Edwards expedition couldn't be set up in time, but the Earl of Derby had landed at Bayonne 1344,and had collected soldiers from Bordeaux, before going on to recapture the fortresses of La Reole and Aiguillon, but it was not until 1346 that they could change to the offensive in Aquitaine when Jean, who was now Duke of Brittany,supplied an army at Aiguillon. Charles de Blois was still very much at large however and was pressurising the small English garrisons in Brittany. This wasn’t a problem however, due to an event involving Sir Thomas Dagworth who was visiting the English garrisons across Brittany, when he was surprised by Charles de Blois with about two-thousand men shortly before dawn. Dagworth had eighty men-at-arms and one-hundred archers. However, after finding a good position on a hill, Dagworth fought the battle, and by the end of the day, the French withdrew, leaving many dead or wounded on the field.
And now onto the actual Crécy campaign:
In the summer of 1346, Edward launched an invasion of 1,200 ships, landing at La Hogue with 11,500 men. The French didn't take this force particularly seriously until on August 7th, when, after making his way through Normandy (sacking it) and Plundering Caen, Edward reached the River Seine. During this time, Philippe was assembling his army. Simultaneously to Edward's march through Normandy, an Anglo-Flemish army was making it's way south, from Flanders and another French army under the command of Philippe's son, Jean Duke of Normandy, coming north from an unsuccessful siege of Aiguillon. Philippe's plan was to keep Edward's army on the south of the river, and force him to battle there, by destroying all bridges west of Paris, and preventing him from joining up with his Flemish allies.
Edward was driven east along the Siene, with Philippe mirroring his movements on the northern bank. Philippe had the advantage, and Edward was in danger of being trapped between the armies of Duke Jean and Philippe so was desperate to cross. As Edward neared Paris, the citizens started to panic, as Edward's patrols went so far as burning the suburbs. It was then that Philippe made up his mind: he rushed east to protect his capital, after evacuating Poissy and burning the bridge. Edward's army repaired the bridge, but at this point, believing that Edward's intent was to take Paris, Philippe issued a challenge to battle which Edward accepted (according to some sources) possibly to lure Philippe's army to the south of the river, which worked. As soon as Edward had news that Philippe's army was prepared on a chosen field, on the south of the river, he crossed his army at Poissy and continued to march north, in the hope to meet up with the Flemish army.
However, Philippe started to catch up quickly, covering about seventy miles in about three days, while Edward had to stop for food and supplies, slowing him down. By the 20th August, Philippe's advance guard had reached the Somme, and the English army was twenty-five miles to the south-west. Now Philippe controlled all the crossings to the Seine to the south, the Somme to the north and his army blocked any eastern passage. Edward appeared to be trapped. On the 23 and 24 of August, Edward and his army stayed at Blanchetaque, and it was there that a French prisoner told Edward of a crossing, a causeway across the Somme. A place that could be wadded through at low tide, at a place where the river was covered by marches for about a mile on each bank. On the night of the 24 August, Edward took his whole army to the crossing to be ready at low tide. It was guarded by a small French force, so the English had to fight their way across, but did so successfully, and by about 10:00 on the morning of the 25 August, Edward's army had crossed the Somme.
Philippe was not aware that Edward had managed to cross the Somme and was steadily advancing on the south of the river, but by the time that he had reached Blanchetaque, the whole English army had crossed and had escaped. The army spent the night in the Forest of Crécy. On the morning of the 26th, Edward marched the army out of the forest, and to a good defensive position on the probable route that Philippe would take from Abbeville to Boulogne. This was where he waited for Philippe and for battle.
A Brief History of Medieval Warfare by Peter Reid, The Plantagenets by Dan Jones, The Black
Prince by Michael Jones
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By Goran tek-en, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=77132640