Writer’s Deep Dive: The Battle of Crécy

Today I am covering a battle in which an outnumbered force on the run was pitted against a superior enemy. I hope it will give you inspiration when you throw your protagonist and their scrappy group of followers against a larger force.

Now, let’s dive in!

The Basics

The battle of Crécy was fought at the beginning of the Hundred Years’ War. The English army, led by King Edward III and accompanied by his heir, Edward the Black Prince, landed on the Cotentin Peninsula on July 12th, 1346. Their landing took the French completely by surprise. They began cutting a swath southwest through the fertile region. [1] Their biggest prize was Caen, which they looted for five days.

The English had picked an ideal time to invade. The main French army was committed to the siege of Aiguillon, in the southwest. Plus, the French treasury was almost empty. The English army carved a path of destruction to within two miles of Paris.

King Philip VI of France ordered every able-bodied man into his service and showed up on July 31st at Rouen to lead them personally. [2] On his orders, the French carried out a scorched earth tactic, removing or destroying all sources of food in the surrounding countryside. This forced the English to spread out to forage. Phillip then hemmed them into an area that had been stripped of all food. However, King Edward broke his army out and choose a defensive position at Crécy-en-Ponthieu to face the pursuing French. [3] He had between 7,000 and 15,000 soldiers against a French force that number between 20,000 and 30,000.

Edward III’s route through France. Image source.

While he waited, King Edward had his army dig pits and ditches, then carefully arrayed them on a sloping hillside. His flanks were protected by the towns of Wadicourt on his right and Crécy on his left, which stood on the banks of the River Maye.[4] The other advantage they held was the 5,000 archers armed with English longbows. Many of them were shooting arrows tipped with bodkins, pointed thin arrowheads that could penetrate plate armor, especially at close range. Contemporary sources record arrows frequently piercing armor. [5] These archers were also shooting between ten to twelve arrows in a minute.

The placement of forces. Image source.

The French advanced in the afternoon, displaying their sacred banner, known as the oriflamme, which indicated that no prisoners would be taken. [6] A sudden heavy downpour started. The French brought out their Genoese crossbowmen, but they had a shorter range and slower rate of fire than the English archers. Also, the rain caused their strings to stretch since they couldn’t unstring their crossbows like the English could unstring their longbows. They shot off a few half-hearted volleys before retreating. Many were cut down by the French for cowardice. [7]

A 15th century painting of the English longbowmen facing the Genoese crossbowmen. My favorite detail is the man in the bottom left corner running away with an arrow in his bottom. Image source.

The French cavalry charged, but it was disorganized, and uphill on muddy ground pocked with pits. [8] Plus, they were under withering fire from the English archers, many of whom targeted the horses rather than the well-armored knights. The charge disintegrated as riders were thrown from dead or wounded mounts and injured horses ran panicked across the battlefield. The French who reached the English line were exhausted and easily cut down by the men-at-arms. However, the French mounted charge after charge, late into the night. King Philip had two horses killed from beneath him and took an arrow to the jaw. [9] The bearer of the oriflamme was wounded and abandoned the banner. [10] When fresh French forces arrived in the morning, they were routed and chased for miles by the English. [11]

The losses were incredibly lopsided, with the French taking significant causalities, numbering between 2,000 to 4,000. The English, however, lost roughly three hundred men. [12] King Edward marched his army to Calais, which he captured after a siege of eleven months. The English would hold the port for the next two hundred years, and it provided them with a base of operations in France that gave them an advantage throughout the rest of the war. [13]

Edward III counting the dead after the battle. Image source.

The Write Angle

The battle of Crécy proves that a smaller force can defeat a larger one, even when behind enemy lines. The superb use of terrain, tactics, and battlefield preparation prove to be an enormous advantage to the English. They might not have been as successful if they had not picked the ground as carefully.

The other major advantage was the use of the longbow, a weapon that was unique to the English. The French tried using the Genoese crossbowmen to counter the longbowmen, but they were outmatched in rate of fire and range. Plus, it is incredibly hard to unstring a crossbow. The rain caused the strings to stretch, reducing their range. The English, however, could unstring their longbows easily and store the strings in oiled pouches until they were needed, preventing them from stretching and preserving their power.

One of the biggest reasons the French lost this battle was because they were in too much of a hurry and continued to mount disastrous charge after disastrous charge. A chronicler of the period put it best: “By haste and disorganization were the French destroyed.” [14]


I hope this was helpful. Let me know if you have questions or suggestions by using the Contact Me form on my website or by writing a comment. I post every Friday and would be grateful if you would share my content.

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Let’s get writing!

Copyright © 2022 Rebecca Shedd. All rights reserved.

[1] Rodger, N.A.M. (2004). The Safeguard of the Sea. London: Penguin. ISBN 978-0140297249.
[2] Sumption, Jonathan (1990). The Hundred Years War 1: Trial by Battle. London: Faber & Faber. ISBN 978-0-571-13895-1.
[3] Burne, Alfred (1999) [1955]. The Crécy War. Ware, Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions. ISBN 978-1840222104.
[4] DeVries, Kelly (1998) [1996]. Infantry Warfare in the Early Fourteenth Century. Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell Press. ISBN 978-0-85115-567-8.
[5] Rogers, Clifford (1998). "The Efficacy of the English Longbow: A Reply to Kelly DeVries" (PDF). War in History. 5 (2): 233–242. doi:10.1177/096834459800500205. S2CID 161286935. Archived from the original (PDF) on 3 February 2019. Retrieved 22 October 2018.
[6] DeVries, Kelly (1998) [1996]. Infantry Warfare in the Early Fourteenth Century. Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell Press. ISBN 978-0-85115-567-8.
[7] DeVries, Kelly (2015). "The Implications of the Anonimo Romano Account of the Battle of Crécy". In Gregory I. Halfond (ed.). The Medieval Way of War: Studies in Medieval Military History in Honor of Bernard S. Bachrach. London: Routledge (published 5 March 2015). pp. 309–322. ISBN 978-1472419583.
[8] Bennett, Matthew (1994). "The Development of Battle Tactics in the Hundred Years War". In Anne Curry & Michael Hughes (eds.). Arms, Armies and Fortifications in the Hundred Years War. Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell Press. pp. 1–20. ISBN 978-0851153650.
[9] Rogers, Clifford (1998). "The Efficacy of the English Longbow: A Reply to Kelly DeVries" (PDF). War in History. 5 (2): 233–242. doi:10.1177/096834459800500205. S2CID 161286935. Archived from the original (PDF) on 3 February 2019. Retrieved 22 October 2018.
[10] Livingstone, Marilyn & Witzel, Morgen (2004). The Road to Crécy: The English Invasion of France, 1346. London: Routledge (published 19 November 2004). ISBN 978-0582784208.
[11] DeVries, Kelly (1998) [1996]. Infantry Warfare in the Early Fourteenth Century. Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell Press. ISBN 978-0-85115-567-8.
[12] Ayton, Andrew (2007c) [2005]. "The English Army at Crécy". In Ayton, Andrew & Preston, Philip (eds.). The Battle of Crécy, 1346. Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell Press. pp. 159–251. ISBN 978-1843831150.
[13] Burne, Alfred (1999) [1955]. The Crécy War. Ware, Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions. ISBN 978-1840222104.
[14] Schnerb, Bertrand (2007) [2005]. "Vassals, Allies and Mercenaries: the French Army before and after 1346". In Ayton, Andrew; Preston, Philip (eds.). The Battle of Crécy, 1346. Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell Press. pp. 265–272. ISBN 978-1843831150.

5 Comments on “Writer’s Deep Dive: The Battle of Crécy”

  1. Pingback: The Writer’s Guide to Medieval Army Tactics | Rebecca Shedd - Author

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