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One of the most devastating weapons in history, the bow has been used by every race on earth for food and for fighting. Seldom surpassed in elegance and simplicity, this device, combines efficient storage with the precise release of energy with deadly effect. It generated significant range and velocity and with its long, thin projectile, converted energy into a high degree of penetrating power.

For thousands of years, man had lived in peril of life and limb, frequently risking all to confront with his bare hands, fleet-footed food or fierce foe. With this lethal, long-distance weapon, fired from a safe distance, he had the power to kill, no matter the fierceness nor the fury of what he faced. At two hundred and fifty yards, the arrow became a missile unmatched for the time. In the hands of skilled and experienced archers, it attained its full capabilities - accuracy and fast firing. As a weapon of war, it could certainly bring down a human.

Yew English Longbow

Various kinds of wood were used, but the best for the bow was slow-grown mountain yew from Spain. English yew grew quickly, was coarse-grained, knotty and too defective to be relied upon. The bow was usually six feet long and pulled 100 pounds. Bow strings, two of which were always carried, were made of flax, linen or hemp and were impregnated with beeswax to repel rain and dew. They were secured to the bow with a spliced loop at one end and what was called a timber hitch at the other.

The arrow, twenty-four of which were carried at the archer's side, was usually a little less than a yard in length, with a barb of iron and fledged with goose or peacock feathers. At the battle site, arrows were placed headfirst in front of the fighter. Archers carried a heavy, iron-pointed stake, which driven into the ground before them, afforded a deadly obstacle to the charging horses and their pounding hooves. When his supply of arrows was exhausted, the archer had three alternatives: he could await the arrival of the supply wagons; he could dash forward and pick up arrows fired that had missed the mark and lay on the ground; or he could abandon the bow and mix in the melee with his sword.

Hand-to-hand combat

Military Crossbow 14th - 15th Century

The crossbow or arbalist was a powerful weapon fired from the shoulder like a rifle. Its overall length was about 30 inches, the span of the bow about 26 inches and the weight 4.75 pounds. The iron stirrup in which the foot was placed was used to facilitate spanning the bow - or drawing the string. While more potent than the longbow, it took longer to arm and let fly. A good crossbowman might loose three square-headed shafts, called quarrels, in a minute, whereas a good archer could fire twelve arrows in a minute and unless you oould fire at least ten in a minute, you were not qualified to fight in the English army. A crossbowman carried fifty quarrels with him and his equipment was usually transported in a wagon.

It was the longbow more than any other arm, that changed the course of history in Europe. It dominated the battlefield and revolutionized medieval methods of warfare, by triumphing over the heavy, mail-covered and later plate-clad, cavalrymen. The, knight, an armour-plated warrior on horseback, had for a long time, been master of the mayhem on the battlefield. French chivalry refused to concede any serious role in war to a non-noble and to kill an adversary from a distance was held in scorn. The archer was called "a coward who dared not come close to his foe."

No matter. This new weapon instilled fear in those who faced it, for its range and rate of fire made fighting fatal even for those who clanked about in armour. In south Wales the practice of drawing the long bow had already attained an astonishing efficiency. One of the Edward I's knights had been hit by an arrow, which pierced not only the skirts of his mailed shirt, but his mailed breeches, his thigh, the wood of his saddle and finally sank deep into his horse's flank.

A lengthy period of training was required to develop the speed and skill needed to use the longbow effectively. It was never used by the French because the common people, the peasants, were forbidden in France to possess arms. In England, yeomen were allowed, indeed, commanded by the state in statues, to train at archery. It became the national preoccupation, replacing pastimes like football, handball, cricket, cock-fighting and "other games of no value," These diverted men from practising archery and those who dared do otherwise than practise, practise, practise, suffered serious consequences including execution. The practice included physical training in order to develop strong muscular men able effortlessly to bend the bow and send its missile with lightning speed toward a target. Under the critical eye of aged experts, orders were given to, "Stand straight and steady with firm hand. Loose it easy, steady and yet sharp."

Training manuals survive that describe how use of the longbow was taught. It began at the age of eight and was nurtured and fostered over the years. Young arms were trained to maintain a strong, steady grasp of the bow. Boys stood like statues holding a round stick, straight and stiff in their left hands. When a lad could bring down a squirrel at a hundred paces, he was ready to become an archer in the king's army, where training continued under a master marksman, whose critical eye and words of rough praise or curt censure were ever present.

Practice makes Perfect

Steadiness in the face of fear was foremost. It was one thing to hit a bullseye, while practising in a peaceful pasture. It was quite another to hit a head in the heat and havoc of battle, with great stallions thundering towards you and glaring eyes behind every visor fixed fiercely on the foe to finish off with one fell swoop of the great sword.

Medieval Battle Tanks

Unstoppable at close quarters, the knight, "a terrible worm in an iron cocoon," was attired in the 14th century invention, plate armour, which supplemented chain mail that could be penetrated by the crossbow. Carrying a lance to unhorse the adversary, he also had a two handed sword that hung from his belt and an 18-inch dagger on the other side. His war horse was armoured by plates protecting nose, chest and rump. Even though plate provided protection from most missiles for both stallion and his mount, expert archers could always find a way to wound and even kill.

Basinet (Pointed Helmet) with detachable visor

The helmet, formerly open over the face, now had added protection in the form of a visor hinged by removable pins at the brow or on each side. They learned to keep the pointed apex of their armoured heads down to deflect the shafts that whizzed passed them, Dark and stuffy inside, the only access to air was eye slits and small ventilation holes. In spite of the helmet's point and polished armour, instant death was alway near any knight who wore it. In the heat of day, some were tempted to lift their visors or remove their neck gorgets. When they took a look, it was often their last, for skilled archers picked the unprotected face and neck as tantalizing targets. Drills had drummed one direction into them: "Archers, draw your arrows to the head."

Philip the Bold of Valois

France became a cornucopia of wonder and wealth for English raiders. Their huge wagon trains trailled across the countryside on frequent forays of looting and plunder, devastating in the process wide areas of the country.

Wagon Trains

These chevauchees, raids and sieges, became a way of life for English nobles seeking fortunes from ransom and pillage. Booty brought great wealth to England, for the profits of war included precious artifacts from churches, abbeys and manors. More rewarding by far, however, was the fabulous wealth from the ransom racket, huge amounts paid by kings and rich nobles for their freedom. Such sums were frequently used to build great castles in England.

Bodium Castle, Sussex, built with the fortune filched from the French.

Lord Bradeston, a commander at the battle of Crecy, commissioned the following window as a memorial to the great victory. While it might seem ironic that the wealth doubtless made from plunder and rapine would be used to embellish a sanctuary, it might also have served to ease a troubled conscience.

Gloucester Cathedral Presbytery
Great Crecy Window

They succeeded in this regard, but their decision to devastate the countryside created only hatred and hostility. While the policy was ordered by their leaders, little restraint was expected from soldiers longing for loot in a foreign land unhindered by its laws and language.

It has been stated that next to religion, chivalry was the strongest of the ideas which filled the minds and hearts of men of another age. Consequently, the Arthurian ethic and code of chivalry ensured knights took no part in the pillage and rapine. Not unlike the lesser louts, they longed for loot too and since one third of anything taken became theirs, they made no attempt to interfere with the nasty, nefarious undertakings of their underlings. Knights mounted in full regalia would have found it awkward and difficult to dismount to participate in the plundering, but they could easily oversee the dirty doings from horseback.

Crowning of Edward III by Froissart

Edward III came to power at the head of a group of nobles, many of whom had opposed his father. When he was crowned in 1327, the barons got the combative king they craved. Edward's first military adventure was in Scotland, whose military capability was diminished somewhat by the death of Robert the Bruce in 1329 and the accession of his five-year old son, David. Despite being weakened, the Scots succeeded in expelling the English. This was not a completely unhappy finish for Edward, who had become preoccupied with a war against a far more important foe - France.

Ed III was deeply committed to the chivalric ideals of his age and he depended on a policy of war abroad to keep "busy giddy minds with foreign quarrels." Affable, courteous and usually in control of his temper, Edward preferred to settle quarrels with his nobles with conciliation rather than confrontation. It was a policy of harmony at home with military adventure abroad.

Since Henry II's reign, English kings had been dukes of Acquitaine, which included much of the southwest of France. Any monarch who failed to defend them would lose prestige at home and abroad.

English in France in 14th Century

These possessions were the source of great frustrations for the French, whose monarchy as its power prospered, attempted to subordinate all the fiefs like Gascony. The aggravation festered and fostered other irritants between the two countries, like French support of the Scots and the numerous sea fights between British and Norman sailors. Added to these constant complaints, was English anger over the French rejection of Edward's legitimate claim to the French throne. Froissart clearly documented the ardent desire of the English court to fight for its possession and not even Philip VI's preparation for a crusade against the Turks, prevented Edward from preparing to invade and become king of France. He spend great sums on building a network of alliances with princes and powers on France's eastern borders. An ongoing part of the process of recovering the old inheritance in France was frequently fought battles that occurred from time to time all over France.

Considered to be at the height of his ego and energies, Edward basked in extravagant displays and exemplified all the qualities of the time that were greatly admired in a king: love of pleasure, tournaments, battle, glory and the hunt.The king was gracious, but vain and no stranger to wild and wanton ways. Well-built and vigorous, the sovereign was a self-satisfied individual with long-flowing golden hair, mustache and beard. He was thirty-four at the time of the critical conflict at a place called Crecy.

Edward III

'Effigy' of Edward III

This funeral effigy of Edward III was thought to have been taken from his death mask, as it shows one side of his mnouth twisted with paralysis.

Effigy of Edward III
Westminster Abbey

Because France was a large, unwieldy kingdom, the English took advantage of its size and openness by seizing and occupying sections of the country. This led in time to them becoming overlords of much of the south-western coastline. The English sovereign's suzerainty over sections of France was resentfully tolerated by French kings until 1337, when Philip VI of France 'confiscated' the English Fief's Duchy of Guyenne from Edward III.

Duchy of Guyenne

Siege in France During Hundred Years War

This resulted in a clash between Edward and Philip of Valois, which grew into a conflict over the crown of France. It quickly ripened into a war, that lasted longer than anyone ever expected. Based on the fact that his mother, Isabel, was the sister of the late King Charles of France, Edward threw caution to the winds and laid claim to the French throne. Not unnaturally, Philip disputed the claim, commenced clobbering the claimant and the resultant battles to decide who would be king of France lasted from 1337 until 1453. This became known as the Hundred Years War.

In August of 1346, Edward massed 15,000 men. His forces, horses, food and supplies for man and beast were carried to the continent on a fleet of some seven hundred cogs of between 30 and 70 tons. A cog of about 30 tons would be needed to carry 30 horses, so he required 400 cogs to transport all the horses needed for this expedition. Horses were stabled in slings, but stood on their hooves, the slings needed to prevent them from slipping when the ship rolled or pitched.

Preparing for a fight in France was no easy matter. Apart from the feeding of men and animals, much administrative work had to be done before the dawn. Weapons had to be sharpened, armour to be repaired as required and arrows issued. The knights needed horses, four each, their esquires, three each and men-at-arms, two each. The assault across the channel required that 14,000 horses be bought and transported to France. Horses need hay. The cavalry ration was 20 pounds of hay and 8 pounds of oats a day. This works out to be 175 tons of food per day. Food had to be sufficient for the first five days in hostile country plus two days' crossing. This resulted in the necessity of having 1225 tons plus straw for the decks collected and transported across the channel. Wagon trains were also a source of worry for commanders. 120 to 150 were needed for each division. Three such wagon trains took up four miles of road space and moved so slowly, narching men left them well behind. Little wonder war required armadas and taxpayers.

All knights wore the jupon over their body armour, emblazoned with their heraldic arms. Knights still carried a shield, about 2-feet long and 18-inches scross the top, painted with their arms. Any knight with a retinue or who was a banneret or higher, carried a pennon of his heraldic colours on his lance. Horses were armoured more efficiently against arrows on the head, neck and breast with either steel or cuir bouilli armour and carried trappings, again of the principle colours of the owner's coat of arms, hanging loosely from the withers and across the back to protect the legs and flanks. The horse and the sword were also important as marks of status. Knights' armour had a psychological effect on both the wearer and the observer. Sound and display using trumpets, war cries and marching in time, served not only as evidence of military efficiency, but also boosted the courage of one side, while unnerving the enemy.

Clash of Colours

Patterns/Colours on Surcoats and Caparisons


The medieval martial display of knights made a bold and colourful scene with their armour glinting in the sun with the many colours of their jupons, shields and trappings - the brave outward panoply of chivalry, soon to be bloodied in battle. The glitter, colour and patterns of heraldry had its purpose in battle. The standard interpretation is that heraldic display was a means of identification, so that warriors could differentiate between friend and foe. Others suggest that it was more a means of distinguishing a military elite "based upon a concept of individual martial prowess". It motivated men to perform honourable and valorous deeds, since the doers could be identified through their heraldic arms, thereby bringing glory (or shame) to the family and to the lord as well as the individual. Their bravery would never be in doubt. On the other hand banners were "functional tools of command, being used to convey instructions to the men".

Drill Movements with appropriate words of command.
(28,29 - Recover your pike and charge)
(30,31,32 - Place pike against right foot, stick your pike in the ground and draw sword.)
(32 - Lay down pike.)
(33 - Take up pike.)
Contemporary Armour and Equipment

Warfare then was upfront and personal. Even the king could kill or get clobbered. Face to face fighting was cruel, barbarous and bloody. Hand to hand combat occurred even in skirmishes when there was slashing and smashing whether on foot or horseback. Archers helped to reduce the numbers before hand-to-hand hacking began.


Reconstructed excavated cog from 1380

They sailed from Southampton and Portsmouth to Normandy, landing at St. Vaast-La-Hougue in the Contentin peninsula. When Edward launched his claim to the Kingdom of France, it is uncertain how seriously he took it. He marched to the Seine and turned towards Paris, but initially showed no desire to confront Philip's forces in a pitched battle. In fact, when he learned they were large and looming, he decided not to proceed to Paris, but instead headed in a north-westerly direction towards the coast, so as to secure escape by boat if needed.

Despite this somewhat tentative tendency, Edward's claim to the throne served him well, for it gave him the appearance of a righteous cause.

High noon occurred on Saturday, 27 August 1346, when the two armies clashed at Crecy. The battle ranks as one of England's glorious victories.

Crecy Battlefield
The scene of savage fighting is now a peaceful pasture

On Friday 26th, Edward camped in the fields for the country round about had a plentiful supply of wines and victuals and if they had need of them, they had provisions following in carts and other carriages. That night the king provided supper for all his chief lords of his host and "made them good cheer."

On Saturday 27th, Edward moved his army to the field of Crecy and prepared for battle. He chose a perfect position for his forces on rising ground, protected on the flank by the great wood of Crecy and on the other by his wagons. French attackers had to advance up a slope, which gave Edward's archers a clear field of fire. The king established his command post at a windmill on a broad hilltop above the village of Crecy, from where he could see the entire battlefield.

Today the windmill is a wooden look-out tower used by tourists savouring seeing the site of that great battle. It stretches away before them, a gentle, rolling countryside, the lovely land sloping to the south-east and terraced in places with fields interspersed with trees.

The Windmill where Edward watched and waited is now a Tower. ..

Edward commended his cause to God and the Blessed Virgin. All his footsoldiers were prepared for the enemy's attack. The war horses and coursers were kept with the food-train, ready for the pursuit of the fleeing French. Riding a small palfrey, Edward, with a white wand in his hand and wearing a fine surcoat of crimson and gold above his armour, rode up and down the ranks, rousing their spirits with well-chosen words. "He spake it so sweetly and with so good countenance and merry cheer, that all such as were discomfited took courage in the seeing and hearing of him." Then at nine in the morning, they they ate and drank at ease, their weapons and helmets lying on the ground beside them. The king entered into his oratory and kneeled down before the altar, praying God devoutly that if he fought the next day, "that he might achieve the journey to his honour." Then about midnight he laid him down to rest.

Edward's army totalled some 15000 men. It included 7000 English and Welsh bowmen and 1500 Welsh and Cornish knifemen. These forces were mounted for marching, but designed to fight on foot.

The king put 4000 men under the command of his sixteen year-old son, the Black Prince. Later in the midst of the mayhem, an aid raced to the king pleading for help lest his son be killed. "Is my son dead or stunned or so seriously wounded he can not go on fighting?" queried the king. "No, thank God," was the breathless reply. Coolly, the king responded, "Go back to him and those who have sent you and tell them not to send for me again today a long as my son is alive. Let the boy win his spurs." And he did.

Known during his lifetime as Edward of Woodstock or Duke of Cornwall or Prince of Wales, his famed name did not exist until coined in the 16th century. Tradition says it stemmed from the black cuirass the king ordered him to don prior to the battle of Crecy.

Prince of Wales Winning his spurs at Crecy

The French had a different version for the alias. To them he was a black soul, for death and damage followed in his wake. He was one of France's most feared foes for he regularly wreaked ruination on their nation.

English Depicted by the French as Devils Incarnate

Edward III Bestowing a part of France on his son, the Black Knight


Black Prince

"In war, was never lion rag'd more fierce,
In peace was never gentle lamb more mild,
Than was that young and princely gentleman.

Effigy of Black Prince
Edward Prince of Wales

Effigy of Black Prince
Canterbury Cathedral
photo by
G. Wilson

Effigy of Black Prince Uncaged

Crowning of Philip IV

Philip's army, gigantic for the time, rolled along in pursuit of their foe. His old fashioned force of armoured horsemen was larger, but less effective than Edward's. The English king raised his army by a system of indenture. For a fixed figure, the lords agreed to provide for a specific period of time, a number of knights and soldiers. This was well suited for overseas exploits, since the fighters were ensured compensation, even if loot was lacking. Philip's forces resulted from the traditional military obligations due the sovereign from his nobles, fighting, not yea for pay, but because 'we have to'. The knights from both countries were equally capable and courageous, but the French militiamen were an inferior fighting force.

When Philip arrived on the scene, he was met by eager knights full of ardour. But it was not to kill and conquer, so much as to seize and hold for ransom the richest prize. The King of Majorca besought the King of England as his prize; others wanted the prince, others the Earl of Northhampton, others various leaders according to their degree of nobility. This clamour concerned Philip, who feared their fervour to find the right person to capture alive, would dampen their determinatiion to fight and finish off the invaders. Froissart said the French knights shouted, "Down with them! let us slay them all," but then added, "There is no man, though he were present at the journey, that could imagine or shew the truth of the evil order that was among the French party and yet they were a marvellous great number."

Philip decided to take no chances and ordered the banner called Oriflamme [**] to be unfurled. It signified that "the mercy of the French was so enflamed, that it could not preserve any man's life, just as oil on fire cannot spare anyone in its flames."


Battle of Crecy
Oriflamme Flying
by Josef Mathauser

Edward decided to return the favour and he ordered the unfurling of his flag on which a dragon was painted clothed with his arms. From this he was nicknamed "Drago," which signified that he had the savageness of a leopard and the mildness of lilies was now changed into draconian cruelty.

White Dragon Banner

The English stood in the field from daybreak until vespers, looking on as the French forces, already an impressive multitude, overflowed onto the field with fresh troops. The sun was about to set when Philip decided to turn them loose on the English, who were models of composure as they calmly awaited the onslaught. The vanguard of Philip's forces was to be formed by 7000 Genoese crossbow-men. Behind them in all its aristocratic splendour, the French cavalry was massed, their ranks already in great disorder.

According to the chronicler Froissart, the scene was total confusion. Every detail of the day, including the weather, augured ill for the French. A heavy downfall had rendered the bowstrings on the Genoese crossbows somewhat limp. When the sun finally shone, it was directly into their eyes. Pleading fatigue from their 18-mile march in full battle order bearing heavy weapons and stores of bolts, the crossbow men sought time to rest before the fight began. Their pleas were met with catcalls of contempt from those who had ridden all the way. Scornful stares and disdainful comments greeted the Genoese, as they reluctantly moved into position.

With resounding trumpets, drums and kettledrums with strident clairons, seven thousand Genoese moved forward to meet the force that watched and waited. Ready or not, the Genoese girded their loins and loaded their crossbows. Hoping the hullabaloo would frighten the foe and at the same time bolster their own spirits, they bellowed like thunder and advanced. When they halted, they launched the first lot of quarrels which flew, but not far enough. Still hollering hopefully, they moved forward some more, bent, reloaded and fired again, but failed to faze the foe.


At the clamour of the crossbow men, the English archers thrust their stakes into the ground making a series of fierce-looking fences beyond the front ranks. Each archer collected his arrows about him, took one, "slid the notch into position along the greased string, pulled back the shaft until the goose feathers touched his cheek and aimed." The sky darkened and with a whistling, wind-like sound, a thousand arrows pierced the air and punctured the enemy. The French army lurched to life and lumbered off on their horses across the muddy expanse. Hoping their pointed helmets would deflect the darts of death that whizzed past them, they charged at the bowman and straight into the stakes, whose sharp points impaled their horses. Rearing wildly, they threw their rider into the arms of the bowman. Heavily armoured and lying helpless on the ground, they were easy prey for the bowman who proceeded to club them to death. Other horses terrified and maddened with the pain of their punctures, rolled in agony on the ground or galloped off in a frantic flight to find relief.

The withering wall of arrows quickly quelled the Genoese shower of quarrels. Having no shields, they dropped like flies from the shafts saturating the site. Daunted and demoralized by the missiles, "that fell like snow," they recoiled and in a rout raced towards the ranks of the French knights and men-at-arms, who watched just out of arrow-shot. The whole sad scenario lasted but a minute or two.

Suspecting treachery and incensed by the faint-hearted flight of his crossbowmen, King Philip cried out, "Kill me those scoundrels for they stop our road without reason." Cursing the cowardice of the fleeing Genoese, the Count of Alencon shouted,"Ride down the rabble who block our advance." The French knights, "in haste and evil order," surged forward on their young war-horses and agile coursers in a hopelessly disorganizied charge. Lacerating the loins of their mounts, the French thundered into their addled allies, trampling under horses' hooves the madly, milling mercenaries. Cries of terror and shrieks of pain rose from the frantic fellows, dodging and darting to avoid being felled by the fury of the deadly blows of the raw, young knights, all panting for the honour of capturing the king of England.

Cavalry versus Cavalry

The charge brought the French knights within range of the arrows, that pierced the mail of men and mounts. The English had dug holes, a foot by a foot, in the ground in front of their lines to impede the onrush of the French cavalry. The passionate and reckless knights launched charge after charge on the English men-at-arms, well protected on either side the the bowmen. Seemingly insensible to the human cost of their confused, chaotic charges, the cream of French chivalry and their stumbling horses fell victim to the wind of withering missles. They charged 15 times "from sunset to the third quarter of the night," each beginning and ending in hopeless disorder. Their last charge into the storm of arrows occurred in pitch blackness. Froissart, wrote that no one present could imagine, let alone describe, the confusion, resulting from their disorganized indiscipline.

Battle of Crecy
by Loyset Liédet

Onward Edward


Archers in Action

During pauses in the pathos, English archers left their lines to race forward and retrieve arrows that lay on the ground. No attempt was made to tear them fron the fallen Frenchmen.

Extracting a shaft from the shoulder

In order to remove the arrows, large forceps were used to grasp the barbs and bend them back to the stem of the arrow to retract them. Another way was to work a small iron or bronze tube onto one of the barbs and retract that barb into the tube. The same was done with the other with much care and diligence.

Maddened by the pain of the barbs, deeply peppering their flesh, the great stallions reared hideously and fell or bolted, their agonized neighs adding to the din of war. Protected by mounds of horses piled atop one another, "like a litter of piglets," the longbowmen dealt death to the chevaliers with impunity. Increasing darkness meant archers could no longer see the foe at which they fired, so they simply shot into the midst of the milling mass of knights and horses. The melee continued until midnight.

King Philip was wounded in the neck by an arrow and had one horse killed beneath him. When he attempted to organize yet another charge leading just sixty men-at-arms, a concerned count took the king's bridle and pleaded with him to leave the field. "Lose not yourself wilfully; if ye have loss at this time, you shall recover it again at another time."

Among the fallen French were many illustrious names - counts, dukes and kings - the most famous of whom was the blind King John of Bohemia. Preparing like the others for the approaching battle, he addressed his lords thus. "My Lords, you are my men, my friends, my companions-in-arms. Today I have a special request to make of you. Take me far enough forward to strike a blow with my sword."

In order to acquit themselves well and not lose the king in the press, they tied their horses together by the bridles and set the king in front, so that he might fulfill his wish. They rode into the enemy and the king was able to use his sword, flailing it about as he fought most bravely. He was reported to have said, "Let it never be the case that a Bohemian king runs [from a fight]!" He died in battle. They were found the next day lying round their leader with their horses still fastened, the king's body linked to the lords who had guided him forward. [*] His son was less rash and dashed to safety.

Darkness fell and the French men-at-arms wondered about leaderless, some falling in with the English. who immediately killed them for no one was spared. Meanwhile King Philip fled the field with a few of his nobles, shaking with anger and lamenting the loss of so many lords to a handful of English. They came to the castle of La Broye whose gate was shut and drawbridbe drawn up. The king called for the captain of the castle who appeared at the parapet and shouted down, "Who comes knocking at this hour?" "Open your gate, Captain, it is the unfortunate King of France." Cautioned not to tarry too long lest the English have followed close behind, so they had some refreshments and left the castle at midnight, taking guides who knew the country. Theyt rode hard and a daybreak reached Amiens where they lodged in an abbey, the King declaring he would go no further until he had heard of fate of the Franch army.

When all the hooting,hollering and shouting had ceased, the English concluded the French had fled the field. Great fires and torches told of their triumph,. They slept that night at their posts, well relieved they had escaped annihilation. They awoke Sunday morning and praised God in thanksgiving for their victory. A thick fog shrouded the countryside and when it burnt off, hell yawned before them. Daylight revealed the awful scene: dead and dying humans and horses strewn about the field where they fell, some four thousand, mostly "men of superior dignity."

"Among the English there were pillagers and irregulars, Welsh and Cornishmen armed with long knives," Their task was to scour the bloody field fo find any in difficulty of dying. Regardless of rank or ransom, counts, barons, knights and squires were slain without mercy. The king later lamented this loss of so much loot, for liberation money would have flowed into his coffers, instead of being cast away by all the cutting. He commanded heralds to identify the noblest knights and arrange for their burial in hallowed ground. No one bothered to count the many militiamen buried in a oommon pit or those who became feasts for the beasts and birds attracted by the smell of death.


Great was the marvel of this defeat. Edward had won one of the major victories of Western history. Until Crecy, the English were ill-thought of as soldiers, while the French were foremost among fighters. France's troops were excellent but her army was non-existent for they refused to cultivate the disciplined art of war. The victory amounted to a military revolution, a triumph of fire power over armour. It sent tremors of doubt and dread through the ranks of the chivalry. Edward III's name rang throughout the known world. Philip pretended to be less impressed, describing the debacle as, "The Raid and retreat of Edward III."

For the first time on the field of battle, French noblemen had been struck down by the common fellow on foot or as Froissart put it, "by archers who are not rich men." Done without the need to cross swords, the deed changed and challenged the honour of knighthood as never before. Archers were the crucial element. English success was based on the their firepower from a fixed position. A plentiful supply of arrows - some say as many as 300,000 - won the war at a distance. Crecy was the first major battle in Europe in which the skills learned on the Scottish highlands vanquished the vaunted French foe. Europe marvelled at the miracle. Crecy had a longer tale to tell.

Winston Churchill said the astounding victory at Crecy ranked with Waterloo and Blenheim as a supreme achievement of the English army.

Edward III Defeating the Scots by Loyset Liédet

Edward's tactic was defensive, but his strategy was offensive. His military prowess was based on two premises: that the enemy would attack if goaded to do so, or he would because he was arrogant enough to attack no matter the circumstances. Crecy proved the archer, supported by dismounted men-at-arms, could beat off any cavalry charge. The long, heralded heyday of the hussar began to fade that day and with it the military supremacy of the aristocracy. It marked a major stage in the age-long contest between mounted and dismounted men. The victorious exploits of fearsome fighting archers of a young nation so recently united, gave them an intimidating reputation in a relatively short time. National pride was high and the power of the country's arms was to be known for centuries to come.

Edward III

Among the nobles who fought at Crecy and survived to fight again at Poiters (1356) was Sir John de Montacute. Later he became the steward of King Richard II and died 1389. His effigy lies in Salisbury Cathedral.

Effigy of Sir John de Montacute
photo by
G. Wilson

The irony of it all was that Edward III, who so loved chivalry that he had created the Order of the Garter, the most noble and highest English Order of Chivalry, had himself hastened the end of its exemplar, the knight on horseback. The Order's first members were Edward,his son, the Black Prince and several knights. Fast foward 760 years and the Order of the Garter's 1000ths member is Prince William, who joined the illustrious group on 16 July 2008, by order of his mother, Queen Elizabeth II.

Edward had won a battle, but his claim to the throne of France remained unsettled. However, his forces were fatigued and he knew Philip could quickly muster military of some magnitude, so deciding discretion was the better part of valour, he headed for the coast and Calais, He laid siege to that city and forced it to capitulate by starvation. Edward offered to spare its inhabitants the sword, if six of Calais's leading citizens submitted to him with halters around their necks and the keys to the town in hand. They did so and were taken aback to be told they would be executed on the spot.

Wretches awaiting the woesome words: "Off with their heads."
Rodin's Burghers of Calais

The pathos moved Queen Philippa, Edward's wife, who pleaded for their lives; the king relented and let them live.

If it was supposed that chivalry moulded outward behaviour to some extent, it seldom failed to do so. "It did not transform human nature any more than other models man has made for himself. If the code was but a veneer over violence, greed and sensuality, it was, nonetheless, an ideal towards which man's reach, as usual, exceeded his grasp. The sack of Normandy led by the King of England himself was the prototype of all that was to follow in which the invaders overran, spoiled and robbed without mercy."

[*]Henry of Luxemburg John the Blind (10 August 1296 - 26 August 1346) was the Count of Luxembourg from 1309 and King of Bohemia from 1310 and titular King of Poland. He was the eldest son of the Holy Roman Emperor Henry VII and his wife Margaret of Brabant. John had been blind for a decade and becmae well known for being killed while fighting without sighting in the Battle of Crécy at age 50.

[**]The Oriflamme (from Latin )aurea flamma, "golden flame," was the battle standard of the King of France.

It was originally the sacred banner of the Abbey of St. Denis,a monastery near Paris. The banner was red or orange-red and flown from a lance. It was suggested that the lance was originally the important object, with the banner a decoration - but that this changed over time. Its colour stems from the legend of it being dipped in the blood of the recently-beheaded St. Denis. Although the azure ground (blue background of St. Martin of Tours) strewn with gold fleur-de-lis remained the symbol of royalty until the fourteenth century, the Oriflamme became the royal battle standard of the King of France, and it was carried at the head of the king's forces when they met another army in battle. The Oriflamme was first used by Louis VI in 1124 and was last flown in battle at Agincourt in 1415. When the Oriflamme was displayed on the battlefield, it indicated that no quarter was to be given, hence it was called, "the oriflamme of death".

Jean Froissart
Chimay, Belgium

Froissart, one of the most vivid chroniclers of the Middle Ages, said his avowed purpose in writing was to ensure:

"That the honourable enterprises, noble adventures and deeds of arms performed in the wars between England and France may be properly related and held in perpetual remembrance."

He wrote three or four decades after the events he describes. His fascinating accounts are described as, "sometimes very accurate, sometimes pure invention and sometimes 'gossip raised to the height of genius'."

"His picture is a fascinating portrait of fourteenth century chivalry as it wanted to see itself."

No matter the military nor its manner, England was without a doubt

Black Prince Ruby

The Black Prince's Ruby is the giant ruby set on the front cross pattée of the Imperial State Crown. It is a bead-shaped spinel weighing roughly 170 carats (34 g), about the size of a chicken egg. The known history of the Black Prince's ruby commences with the King of Granada, in whose possession it was when it was coveted by Don Pedro, the King of Castile. That monarch took the direct road to possession by killing the owner and annexing the stone in the year 1367. In that year a very signal service was performed for Don Pedro by an English force under the Black Prince at the Battle of Nagera, near Victoria. In gratitude, Don Pedro presented the great ruby to the Black Prince. The ruby was worn by Henry V. in his coroneted helmet at the Battle of Agincourt. During a personal encounter between Henry V. and the Duc d'Alencon, a sword cut from the Duc sliced off a piece of the King's coronet, but the great ruby remained unhurt and came victorious with its owner out of the battle. After the execution of Charles I., the "large ballas ruby, pierced and wrapt in paper," and valued at £4, was bought by some unknown person, who evidently gave or sold it back at the Restoration, as we find it again in the State Crown of Charles II. The ruby is now the central ornament in the Imperial State Crown.

Black Prince Ruby now part of State Crown


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