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King Edward III’s military tactics were the sole reason for the English victory at Crecy in 1346. Not only that, he was the reason for English success overall in the early stages of The Hundred Years War. The war was started because of a feudal dynastic struggle over the Duchy of Aquitaine, and also the French throne. The first major battle was dominated by Edward, it took place at Sluys in 1340. It was a naval battle, that despite his inexperience as an admiral, Edward took the reigns and led his country to a glorious victory over the French navy. After gaining complete access to France through the English Channel Edward led his men into France, and a battle that is placed among the greatest victories of all time. The battle of Crecy took place on August 26th 1346, Edward placed his men in defensive positions in between the towns of Crecy and Wadicourt. He then waited while the Massive French army of nearly 25,000 prepared for battle. The English men, 11,000 strong watched as the first line of French began their attack, they continued to watch as they were driven away by a rain of arrows. This was the theme of the battle. Edward’s strategy was perfect, and the English suffered minor casualties. In the end, Crecy left the French questioning themselves. The Hundred Years War shifted to the favour of the English, at least during the first third of the war, in what most call, Edward’s war.
The English inheritance of the Duchy of Aquitaine began when Eleanor of Aquitaine married King Henry II in 1152. Edward III inherited it when he became king in 1327. Edward also had the right to lay claim to the French throne when King Charles IV died in 1328. Charles was the last remaining son of Phillip IV, all three of Phillip’s sons died without producing a male heir to the throne. Since Edward III was the son of Isabella, Phillip IV’s daughter, he lay in direct bloodline of the French King. Although ” King Edward III was a more direct descendent, he at first conceded the throne to the favourite among the French nobility, Phillip of Valois.” He did this under the circumstances that he would maintain ownership of the Duchy of Aquitaine. Phillip of Valois was son to Count Charles of Valois, and nephew to Phillip IV. Edward eventually decided that he would lay claim to the French throne. This caused an uproar between the French and English sides. The main French deterrent was Edward’s forfeiture of the Duchy of Aquitaine, the main English deterrent was to lay claim to the French crown itself. Both sides attempted to reach these goals, and the result was the beginning of The Hundred Years War.
By the end of the first two years of war ” Edward had merely saddled himself with a mountain of debt and constitutional crisis.” To make the English problems worse the French navy was pressing. The French raided Portsmouth and Southampton in 1338, Dover and Folkestone in 1339. By the summer of 1340 word had reached Edward that an enemy armada was located near Sluys, and was preparing to clear English vessels from the sea lanes to provide room for an invasion of England. Edward saw this as his chance to make a strike on the French navy, he decided that he would lead the attack. “His tactics were essentially military: Froissart says that he manned ships so that each vessel filled with men-at-arms was flanked by 2 of archers, his invariable procedure on land.” Edward, a great military leader simply used his ships to create a land battle of close combat. The English arrived while the French fleet was still in the Zwin Channel. This proved to be a great advantage for the English because the French had 213 ships, which proved to be far too many. They were clustering together and making it difficult for them to defend themselves. Edward invited the French to make a head on attack, because of the restricted area. Indeed the French admirals ordered a massive frontal attack. This played directly into the hands of Edward and his archers. “The decisive advantage of the English ships lay in their much larger complement of non-mariners, experienced and well-equipped men-at-arms and archers. The longbow once again proved to be greatly superior to the crossbow and their Italian auxiliaries.” The battle of the front lines began in the afternoon, the French rear lines could only watch in dismay the massacre of their front lines. They lacked the space to join or escape the fight. When the English had fought through the front lines, they found the rear ships to be smaller than those in the front line, making them easier to capture. By the end of the battle ” the French suffered a moral catastrophe on a scale unequalled until modern times. Of 213 French ships present at the battle the English captured 190.” The only part of the French fleet to escape without major casualties were the Genoese, led by Barbenera. The French fleet was nearly wiped out entirely, both admirals Quieret and Behuchet were killed along with nearly 18 000 Frenchmen. “We must admire the confidence with which Edward, a wholly inexperienced naval commander – and a man who suffered from sea sickness and was afraid of storms – embraced the opportunity to fight a fleet action.” “Sluys ended the threat of French invasion, gave the English command of sea-lanes, at least for the time, and enormously enhanced Edward’s reputation”. It also enhanced the reputation of the English archer, who emerged as the most overpowering warrior in battle.
The longbow proved to be the dominating weapon for the English armies. The French had never developed the longbow because of the great skilled needed to effectively use it. It required years of training. Because Edward had come up with the system of indenture of recruitment, he was able to produce professional archers. In fact, “in the 14th century, parliament passed repeated statutes forbidding other forms of village entertainment, anything, in short, that diverted men from archery”. The bows were roughly six feet long, they could pierce some armour from up to 400 yards away, and had a firing rate 6 times as great of a cross bow. It was also much less complicated, making weapon malfunctions far less common. Even if the string were to break, the longbow was light enough that an archer could carry an extra with him. The longbow was superior to the cross bow, and also proved to be superior to the feudal knight tion of the English archer, who turned out to be the most dominant warrior in battle.
With the devastation of the French navy, the English had clear access to France. Edward launched small chevauchee campaigns not long after Sluys. He and his son Prince Edward, led men through northern France burning and raiding the towns. This was done in attempt to lure the Phillip VI into battle. Finally Phillip planned an attack to expel Edward and his men from France. The French followed the English army to Crecy. It was here between the towns of Crecy and Wadicourt that Edward prepared for battle. “Edward had deployed his troops in person, laughing with them according to Jean le Bel and urging every one of them to do his duty, making even cowards into heroes.” He placed his men in three sections. The first of which was the front line, consisting of dismounted men-at-arms with archers on the left and right flanks. They were led by Edwards son the Prince of Wales and a host of nobles. The second was a group of men-at-arms placed behind the front line, they were used to replace the dead or fallen men of the front lines. Edward commanded the reserves at the rear. Edward used many strategies defensively to give his men the advantage. “A large number of pit-traps had been dug across the approaches to the English lines.” This would cause the French cavalry difficulty when charging, making horses stumble or fall to give the archers a chance to kill many of the riding knights. Along with this, the archers were protected by baggage carts, which were encircled around them, preventing any French cavalry from reaching them. Beneath the carts were “a number of gunpowder cannons.” These were used mostly to cause noise and fear. Edward had decided to defend his ground in the best possible place. The English were protected by the Maie river and the marshes that surround it on their right flanks. The Crecy Grange protected their rear, and baggage carts that Edward set up in the town of Wadicourt protected their left flank. The French were forced to attack from the front because of a lack of space, just as they did at Sluys. Edward had forced the French to cross into a valley, making them run uphill to reach the English front lines. This was a great advantage for the English archers. “The heroes of the French side were so confident in their numbers of their army that individuals asked for specific men on the English side as their prisoners”. The French had 6,000 Genoese fighting with them, along with 12,000 men-at-arms and a total of 20,000 to 25,000 total men under Phillip’s control. Although, Davis in his book 100 decisive battles tells us there were 20,000 knights and as many as 60,000 total men on the French side. The French armies were divided into 9 battalions, which were split into 3 lines of men. The front line was made up of the Genoese cross bowmen and about 300 cavalry, it was led by King John of Bohemia. The second line was made up of the elite French cavalry and led by the Count of Alencon, King Phillip’s younger brother. The third line was commanded by Phillip and made up the remainder of the cavalry. “It is probable that the infantry were placed in their own formations on the wings of each of the three battalions”. As the sun began to set on the 26th of August the first line of the French began to advance.
“The French crossbowmen began the attack; their crossbow bolts did not reach the English, however, but fell a long way off. Much to the terror of the crossbowmen, the English archers began to pick off their closely packed enemies with arrows, and they ended the hail of crossbow bolts with a rain of arrows”. This put the advancing Genoese cross bowmen into a panic and they turned back to retreat. The French knights proclaimed them traitors, the cavalry charged straight through the Genoese, slaughtering them on their way to battle. The cavalry charge was easily turned away by the archers. The archer’s strategy was to shoot the first line of horses, making it difficult for the others to go over or around them. Many of the horses were already having difficulty keeping their feet because of the pits dug in front of the English lines. “The French line was badly disordered by stumbling horses.” The few cavalry that reach English lines were massacred by the young Prince and his men. Prince Edward “displayed marvellous courage against the French in the front line, running through horses, felling knights, crushing helmets, cutting lances apart, avoiding the enemy missiles; as he did so, he encouraged his men, defended himself, helped fallen friends to their feet, and set everyone an example”. Still the French nobles rallied against Edwards defence, they charged again, and were once again slaughtered and driven back. The French put together 15 cavalry charges by the waning hours of the night, and charge 4 times in the morning. “When (King Edward) was pressed for reinforcements he is said to have replied, let the boy win his spurs. He did so”. And so did the whole of the English army.
Alongside the 16 year old prince earning a name for himself, so did the English army as a whole. “Approximately 1,500 French knights were killed or captured, and another 10,000 foot soldiers lay dead. The English casualties numbered less than 100″. The English army became recognized as an elite force. Edward III was the cause of this great success. He imposed the system of indenture, he also made laws requiring men to spend time practising their weapons. This gave King Edward and his nobles a vast pool of talented men to choose from. It also meant that men would be selected form local areas, men who knew each other. This local recruiting made an army of higher morale, and great unit cohesion. This great force that Edward put together became an army of professional soldiers, one that put France in their place during the first forty years of Hundred Years War. The second major result of the Crecy victory was the decline of the chivalrous mounted knight. The knight, previous to Crecy was an armoured fighting machine, he could overwhelm lesser enemies and was dominant in battle. But the longbow changed that, “able to pierce armour at more than 200 yards, the longbow meant that the mounted knight became little more than a large target”. This fact left the French in shock after their defeat at Crecy. The extreme loss of knights and nobles, along with 10,000 foot soldiers depleted their forces. Edwards war began with a bang, or rather the twang of a longbow slicing through the heart of the French military.
“Control in battle was all important-it was Edward’s great strength, as was his skill in choosing ground and deploying units to suit it”. This was the theme of the first major battles of The Hundred Years War. Edward dominated the war with his great tactics, his ability to control his men, and his wonderful presence around his men. Edward made the French doubt themselves. They questioned themselves, and no one was there to answer it, at least not until the 15th century, long after Edward’s death. The French were in pieces after Crecy, their greatest warrior, the knight was one of the most ineffective soldiers in battle. Edward, in his battles, was able to make numbers a disadvantage, he would turn a mighty host of enemy soldiers into a stampeding mob. This is why King Edward III was such a dominant factor in the Hundred Years War, and also why the first forty years of the war, is now called, Edward’s War.
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