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Title: Crécy
Author: Belloc, Hilaire, 1870-1953
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Crécy" ***

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CRÉCY



[Illustration]



  CRÉCY


  BY
  HILAIRE BELLOC


  MCMXII
  STEPHEN SWIFT AND CO., LTD.
  16 KING STREET, COVENT GARDEN
  LONDON



CONTENTS


                                                     PAGE

  INTRODUCTION,                                         9

    I. THE POLITICAL CIRCUMSTANCES,                    20

   II. THE CAMPAIGN OF CRÉCY,                          29

  III. THE PRELIMINARIES OF THE BATTLE,                61

   IV. THE TERRAIN OF CRÉCY,                           91

    V. THE ACTION,                                    100



CRÉCY



INTRODUCTION


Between those last precise accounts of military engagements which
antiquity has left us in small number, and what may be called the modern
history of war, there lies a period of many centuries--quite 1400
years--during which the details of an action and even the main features of
a campaign are never given us by contemporary recorders.

Through all that vast stretch of time we are compelled, if we desire to
describe with any accuracy, and at any length, the conduct of a battle, to
"reconstitute" the same. In other words, we have to argue from known
conditions to unknown. We have to establish by a comparison of texts and
of traditions, and by other processes which will be dealt with in a
moment, a number of elements which, where a modern action is concerned,
numerous memoirs and official record often accompanied by elaborate maps
can put clearly before us.

We should note that the line of division between what we will call a
medieval battle and a modern one, though it cannot, of course, be
precisely established, corresponds roughly to the sixteenth century. The
battles of the seventeenth are for the most part open in detail to the
historian, from copious evidence afforded by contemporary writers and by
our considerable knowledge of the tactics and armament of the time. And
this, of course, is still truer of the eighteenth and of the nineteenth
centuries. Subsequent to the wide employment of printing, and throughout
the sixteenth century, the tendency shown by contemporaries to set down
detail steadily increases, but the whole of that century is transitional
in this matter.

The battles of the fifteenth, of the fourteenth, and earlier centuries,
differ entirely as to their evidence. We must gather it from manuscript
authorities, often rare, sometimes unique. Those authorities are, again,
not always contemporary. They never by any chance give us a map, and
rarely a definite topographical indication. They are summary, their
motive is ecclesiastical or civil rather than military, they present at
the best the picturesque side of an engagement, and at the worst they
preserve a bare mention of its date, or the mere fact that it took place.

Even in the elementary point of numbers, without some knowledge of which
it is so difficult to judge the nature of a field, we are commonly at a
loss. Where a smaller force upon the defensive has discomfited a larger
attacking force, the dramatic character of such a success (and Crécy was
one of them) has naturally led to an exaggeration of the disproportion.
The estimate of loss is very commonly magnified and untrustworthy, for
that is an element which, in the absence of exact record, both victors and
vanquished inevitably tend to enlarge. We are not as a rule given the
hours, sometimes, but not often, the state of the weather, and, especially
in the earlier cases, the local or tactical result is of so much greater
importance to the chronicler than the strategical plan, that we are left
with little more knowledge at first hand than the fact that A won and B
lost.

So true is this, that with regard to the majority of the great actions of
the Dark Ages no contemporary record even enables us to fix their site
within a few miles. That is true, for instance, of the decisive defeat of
Attila in 451, of the Mahommedans by Charles Martel in 732, and of the
final victory of Alfred over the Danes in 878.

Scholarship has established, with infinite pains and within small limits
of doubt, the second and the third. The first is still disputed. So it is
with the victory of Clovis over the Visigoths, and with any number of
minor actions. Even when we come to the later centuries, and to a more
complete knowledge, we are pursued by this difficulty, though it is
reduced. Thus we know the square mile within which the Battle of Hastings
was fought, but the best authorities have disputed its most important
movements and characters. Similarly we can judge the general terrain of
most of the Crusading fights, but with no precision, and only at great
pains of comparison and collation.

The battle which forms the object of this little monograph, late as was
its date, was long the subject of debate during the nineteenth century,
upon the elementary point of the English position and its aspect. And,
though that and other matters may now be regarded as established, we owe
our measure of certitude upon them not to any care upon the part of our
earliest informers, but to lengthy and close argument conducted in our
time.

There is no space in such a short book as this to discuss all the causes
which combined to produce this negligence of military detail in the
medieval historian: that he was usually not a soldier, that after the
ninth century armies cannot be regarded as professional, and that the
interest of the time lay for the mass of readers in the results rather
than in the action of a battle, are but a few of these.

But though we have no space for any full discussion, it is worth the
reader's while to be informed of the general process by which scholarship
attempts to reconstitute an engagement, upon which it has such
insufficient testimony; and as the Battle of Crécy is the first in this
series which challenges this sort of research, I will beg leave to sketch
briefly the process by which it proceeds.

The first thing to be done, then, in attempting to discover what exactly
happened during such a battle as that of Crécy, is to tabulate our
sources. These are of three kinds--tradition, monuments, and documents.

Of these three, tradition is by far the most valuable in most research
upon affairs of the Dark or Middle Ages, and it is nothing but a silly
intellectual prejudice, the fruit of a narrow religious scepticism, now
fast upon the wane, which has offered to neglect it.

Unfortunately, however, tradition is a particularly weak guide in this one
department of knowledge. In estimating the character of a great man it is
invaluable. It plays a great part in deciding us upon the nature of social
movements, in helping us to locate the sites of buildings that have
disappeared, and particularly of shrines; it gives us ample testimony (too
often neglected) to the authenticity of sacred documents, and to the
origin of laws. It is even of some assistance in establishing certain main
points upon a military action, if documents are in default. For instance,
a firm tradition of the site of a battle is evidence not only in the
absence of documents, but in negation of doubtful or vague ones, and so is
a firm tradition concerning the respective strength of the parties, if
that tradition can be stated in general terms. But for the particular
interest of military history it is worthless because it is silent. Even
the civilian to-day, and, for that matter, the soldier as well, who is
not accustomed to this science, would find it tedious to note, and often
impossible to recognise, those points which form the salient matters for
military history. There can be no tradition of the exact moments in which
such and such a development in a battle occurred, of contours, of range,
etc., save where here and there some very striking event (as in the case
of the projectile launched into the midst of Acre during the Third
Crusade) startles the mind of the onlooker, and remains unforgotten.

In the particular case of Crécy, tradition fixes for us only two
points--though these have proved of considerable importance in modern
discussion--the point where the King of Bohemia fell, and the point from
which Edward III. watched the battle.

Of monuments, again, we have a very insufficient supply, and in the case
of Crécy, hardly any, unless the point already alluded to, where the blind
king was struck down, and the cross marking it be counted, as also the
foundations of the mill, which was the view-point of the English
commander.

It is to documents, then, that we must look, and, unfortunately for this
action, our principal document is not contemporary. It is from the pen of
Froissart, who was but nine years old when the battle was fought, and who
wrote many years after its occurrence. Even so, his earlier version does
not seem to be familiar to the public of this country, though it is
certainly the more accurate.

Froissart used a contemporary document proceeding from the pen of one
"John the Fair," a canon of Liége. Of the lesser authorities some are
contemporary: notably Baker of Swynford, and Villani, who died shortly
after the battle.

But the whole bulk of material at our disposal is pitifully small, and the
greater part of what the reader will have set before him in what follows
is the result of an expansion and criticism of the few details which
writers of the period have bequeathed to us.

When the documentary evidence, contemporary, or as nearly contemporary as
possible, has been tabulated, the historian of a medieval battle next
proceeds to consider what may be called the "limiting circumstances"
within which the action developed, and these have much more than a
negative value. As he proceeds to examine and to compare them, they
illuminate many a doubtful point and expand many an obscure allusion.

For instance, in the case of Crécy, we carefully consider the contours,
upon the modern map, of a terrain which no considerable building
operations or mining has disfigured. We mark the ascertainable point at
which the Somme was crossed, and calculate the minimum time in which a
host of the least size to which we can limit Edward's force could have
marched from that to the various points mentioned in the approach to the
battle-field. We ascertain the distance from the scene of action to the
forest boundary. We argue from the original royal possession and
subsequent conservation of that forest its permanent limits. We can even
establish with some accuracy the direction of the wind, knowing how the
armies marched, how the sun stood relative to the advancing force, and
their impression of the storm that broke upon them. We calculate, within
certain limits of error, the distance necessary for deployment. We argue
from the known character of the armour and weapons employed certain
details of the attack and defence. We mark what were certainly the ancient
roads, and we measure the permanent obstacles afforded by the physical
nature of the field.

I give these few points as examples only. They are multiplied
indefinitely as one's study proceeds, and in the result a fairly accurate
description of so famous, though so ill attested, an action as this of
Crécy can be reconstituted.

With all this there remains a large margin which cannot be generally set
down as certain, and which even in matters essential must be written
tentatively, with such phrases as "it would seem," or "probably" to excuse
it. But history is consoled by the reflection that all these gaps may be
filled by further research or further discovery, and that each new effort
of scholarship bridges one and then another.

As to the critical power by which each individual writer will decide
between conflicting statements, or apparently irreconcilable conditions,
this must be left to his own power of discrimination and to the reader's
estimate of his ability to weigh evidence. He is in duty bound--as I have
attempted to do very briefly in certain notes--to give the grounds of his
decision, and, having done so, he admits his reader to be a judge over
himself: with this warning, however, that historical judgment is based
upon a vast accumulation of detail acquired in many fields besides those
particularly under consideration, and that a competent historian
generally claims an authority in his decisions superior to that reposing
upon no more than a mere view of limited contemporary materials.



I

THE POLITICAL CIRCUMSTANCES


The Battle of Crécy was the first important decisive action of what is
called "The Hundred Years' War." This war figures in many history books as
a continued struggle between two organised nations, "England" and
"France." To present it in its true historical character it must be stated
in far different terms.

The Hundred Years' War consisted in two groups of fighting widely distant
in time and only connected by the fact that from first to last a
Plantagenet king of England claimed the Crown of France against a Valois
cousin. Of these two groups of fighting the first was conducted by Edward
III., and covers about twenty years of his reign. It was magnificently
successful in the field, and gave to the English story the names of
_Crécy_ and of _Poitiers_. So far as the main ostensible purpose of that
first fighting was concerned, it was unsuccessful, for it did not result
in placing Edward III. upon the French throne.

The second group of actions came fifty years later, and is remembered by
the great name of _Agincourt_.

This latter part of the Hundred Years' War was conducted by Henry V., the
great-grandson of Edward III. and the son of the Lancastrian usurper. And
Henry was successful, not only in the tactical results of his battles, but
in obtaining the Crown of France for his house. After his death his
success crumbled away; and a generation or so after Agincourt, rather more
than one hundred years after the beginning of this long series of fights,
the power of the kings of England upon the Continent had disappeared. As a
visible result of all their efforts, nothing remained but the important
bastion of Calais, the capture of which was among the earliest results of
their invasions.

When we say that the ostensible object of all this conflict from first to
last was the establishment of the Plantagenet kings of England as kings of
France in the place of their cousins the Valois, we must remember what was
meant by those terms in the fourteenth century, when Edward first engaged
in the duel. There was no conception of the conquest of a _foreign_ power
such as would lie in the mind of a statesman of to-day. Society was still
feudal. Allegiance lay from a man to his lord, not from a man to his
central political government. Not only the religion, the thoughts, and the
daily conduct of either party to the war were the same, but in the
governing society of both camps the language and the very blood were the
same. Edward was a Plantagenet. That is, his family tradition was that of
one of the great French feudal nobles. It was little more than one hundred
years before that his great-grandfather had been the actual and ruling
Lord of Normandy, and of France to the west and the south-west, for the
first Plantagenet, had though holding of the Crown at Paris, been the
active monarch of Aquitaine, of Brittany, of Anjou, Normandy, and Maine.

So much for the general sentiment under which the war was engaged. As to
its particular excuse, this was slight and hardly tenable, and we may
doubt whether Edward intended to press it seriously. He engaged in the war
from that spirit of chivalric adventure (a little unreal, but informed by
an indubitable taste for arms) which was the mark of the fourteenth
century, and which was at the same time a decline from the sincere
knightly spirit of the thirteenth.

The excuse given was this. The French monarchy had descended, from its
foundation in 987 right down to the death of Charles IV. in 1328, directly
from father to son, but in that year, 1328, male issue failed the direct
line. The obviously rightful claimant to the throne, according to the
ideas of those times--and particularly of Northern France--was Philip of
Valois, the first cousin of the king, Charles IV., who had just died.

Charles IV. had been the son of King Philip IV., and Philip of Valois was
the son of Charles of Valois, Philip IV.'s brother. Philip of Valois was
therefore the eldest in unbroken male descent of the house.

It might be claimed (and it was claimed by Edward III.) that the daughters
of elder brothers and their issue should count before the sons of younger
brothers. Now there were two female heiresses or their issue present as
against Philip of Valois. Charles IV., the king just dead, had a sister
Isabella, and Isabella was the mother of Edward III. of England.

But an elder brother to Charles IV., namely, Louis X., had himself left a
daughter, who was now the Queen of Navarre.

If this principle that the daughter or the issue of the daughter of an
elder brother should count before the male issue of a younger brother had
been granted in its entirety, Edward would have had no claim, because this
elder brother of Charles IV., Louis X., had had issue--that daughter,
Joan, the wife of the King of Navarre. So Edward qualified this first
general principle, that one could inherit through women, by another
principle, to wit, that, though the _claim_ to the throne should proceed
through the _daughters_ of _elder_ brothers rather than through the _sons_
of _younger_ ones, yet the _throne_ could _itself_ only actually be held
by a male!

By this tortuous combination Edward III. advanced his claim. His mother
had been the grand-daughter of Philip III. of France, and he was a male.
Her father was the elder brother of Philip of Valois' father, so he
claimed before Philip of Valois.

The whole scheme is apparent from the following table:--

                           Philip III. 1270-1285.
                                      |
                                      |
             ----------------------------------------------
            |                                              |
  Philip IV. 1285-1314                               Charles of Valois
            |                                              |
       -------------------------------------               |
      |          |          |               |              |
  Louis X.   Philip V.  Charles IV. Isabella=Edward II.  Philip VI.
  1314-1316  1316-1322  1322-1328           |            1328-1350
      |                                     |            (_Crécy_)
      |                                     |               |
      |                                 Edward III.         |
  Joan=King of Navarre                      |              John
                                    Edward the Black     1350-1364
                                         Prince.         (_Poitiers_).

But, I repeat, we must not take Edward's political claim too seriously.
His real object was not so much to establish himself upon the throne of
France and to create a great French-speaking united monarchy of French and
British under the single rule of the Plantagenets, as to try a great
adventure and to see what would come of it.

It was this that gave to Edward's wars the character not of campaigns with
a fixed object, but GREAT RAIDS, the very successes of which were
unexpected and only half fruitful. It was this, again, which made him so
uncertain and vacillating as to how he should use those successes when
they came; which made him suggest now this, now that basis for peace after
each victory, but never to insist very particularly, however surprising
and thorough his work in the field, upon the French throne.

It was this, again, which gave to the actual results of his battles
haphazard consequences, as it were, the most notable and permanent of
which was the English hold upon Calais. And it was this which always left
so huge a disproportion between the object he in theory desired to obtain
and the forces with which he set out to attain it. To sum up, we shall
only understand the victory of Crécy and the succeeding twin victory of
Poitiers ten years later, if we conceive of the whole business as
something of a tournament rather than a true political or even dynastic
struggle.

Further, we must always remember that the leaders upon both sides came of
one society, were of one speech and of one manner, often closely related
in blood. We must remember that it was no desertion for a French lord to
serve the King of England, and that even brothers would be found (as were
the two Harcourts) honourably attached, according to the ideas of the
time, to opposing forces.

Beneath this social aspect of the wars there was, of course, the growing
national sentiment of the French and of the English. Most of the men who
fought against Edward at Crécy, especially of the obscure men, thought of
Paris as the only possible seat of authority, and of the Valois as their
only possible king. All the Archers at Crécy, and many of the squires
there--and a good half even of the forces at Poitiers--were
English-speaking, and had no experience of life save that confined to this
island, up to the moment when they set out for the Great Raids upon the
Continent.

As the Hundred Years' War proceeded, as it approached its second phase in
which Henry V. was actually successful in obtaining the Crown of France,
or rather the reversion of it, the national feeling was growing rapidly
upon either side, and by the time of Joan of Arc's campaign and of the
subsequent loss of Normandy by the Plantagenets, everyone outside the
small governing class of either country had come to think of the business
as a national one upon either side. But with Crécy it was not so, and we
must approach the military problems of Crécy with the political provision
in mind that the whole affair of that battle and of its immediate
successors was a feudal occupation--one had almost said pastime--engaged
within the circle of that widespread French-speaking nobility, common to
and intermarried between Gaul and Britain, which, for three hundred years,
ruled society from the Grampians to the Mediterranean.



[Illustration]


II

THE CAMPAIGN OF CRÉCY


The Campaign of Crécy took place within a district of France contained by
an east and west base 200 miles in length and an eastern border north and
south 160 miles in length, and sketched in the map opposite.

The rectangular parallelogram so formed is nearly equally divided between
land and sea, the south-eastern half being a portion of Northern France,
and the north-western half the English Channel. The land half is thus
roughly triangular, having Paris at its extreme south-eastern corner,
Calais at its extreme north-eastern, the neighbourhood of Avranches with
St Malo Bay at its south-western corner. It includes part of the provinces
of Normandy, the Ile de France, Picardy and Artois, and part, or all, of
the modern departments of the Manche, Orne, Calvados, Eure, Seine-et-Oise,
Seine, Seine-Inférieure, Oise, Somme, and Pas-de-Calais.

It will be seen that this territory is nearly evenly divided by the River
Seine, and the campaign of Crécy is also divided by that river in the
sense that the English advance took place wholly to the west of it, and
the English retreat wholly to the east of it.

The campaign, as a whole, resolves itself (up to and including the Battle
of Crécy, which is the subject of this book, and excluding the
continuation of the march after Crécy, and the capture of Calais) into an
advance from the Channel coast to Paris, and a retreat from Paris to the
Channel again, the two portions being divided by the crossing of the Seine
at Poissy. The advance leaves the coast at the summit of that projection
of Normandy called the Cotentin, and proceeds a little south of east
towards Paris, the walls of which are reached by its outermost
skirmishers, while the main army crosses the Seine at Poissy. The retreat
is effected from Poissy northward to the victorious field of Crécy, and
later from Crécy, on the same line, to the siege and capture of Calais.

The time occupied from the day of landing to the day of the Battle of
Crécy inclusive, is but forty-six days, of which not quite two-thirds are
taken up by advance, and rather more than a third by the retreat. The
English troops landed on Wednesday, July 12th, 1346. They crossed the
Seine at Poissy upon August 14th. They fought at Crécy upon Saturday,
August 26th.

The total distance traversed by the main body in these two limbs of the
campaign is instructive as showing the leisure of the first part, its
advance, and the precipitancy of the second part, its retreat.

The distance by road as the army marched from St Vaast, where it landed,
across the river at Poissy, and so to Crécy, was a total of 345 miles. Of
this the first part, or advance, was 215, the second part, or retreat,
130. The first part occupied, counting the day of landing and the day of
crossing at Poissy, not less than 34 days, while the latter portion or
retreat of 130 miles, including the day of battle itself, took up not more
than 12 days, or, excluding the battle, only 11. The average rate of the
advance was not more than 6-1/4 miles a day, the average rate of the
retreat very nearly double.

It must not be imagined, of course, that the advance took place in prompt
and regular fashion. It was, as we shall see, irresolute for many days,
and irregular throughout, while the retreat was a hurried one upon all but
one day of which the troops were pressed to their uttermost. But the
contrast is sufficient to show the difference between the frames of mind
in which Edward III. took up the somewhat hazy plan of an "invasion,"
which was really no more than a raid, and that in which he attempted to
extricate himself from the consequences of his original vagueness of
intent. In the first, he was as slow as he was uncertain; in the second,
he was as precipitate as he was determined.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the last days of June, 1346, Edward III. had gathered a force, small
indeed for the purpose which he seems to have had in mind, but large under
the conditions of transport which he could command. It was probably just
under 20,000 actual fighting men. At this point, however, as it is of
material interest to the rest of the story, we must pause to consider what
these units meant. When we say a little less (or it may have been a little
more) than 20,000 fighting men, we mean that the "men-at-arms" (that is,
fully equipped, mounted men, for the most part gentlemen), together with
not 4000 Welsh and Border Infantry, and approximately 10,000 Archers,
bring us near to that total.

But an army of the fourteenth century was accompanied by a number of
servants, at least equal to its mounted armed gentry: men who saw to the
equipment and service of the knights. No man at arms was fit to pass
through a campaign without at least one aide, if only for armouring; and
for all the doubtfulness of the records, we know that the Yeoman Archers
were also served by men who carried a portion of their equipment, and who
saw to their supply in action. It is impossible to make any computation at
all accurate of the extra rations this organisation involved, nor of what
proportion of these uncounted units could be used in the fighting. We are
perhaps safe in saying that the total number who landed were not double
the fighting men actually counted, and that Edward's whole force certainly
was much more than 20,000 but almost as certainly not 40,000 men. We must
imagine, all told, perhaps 5000 horses to have been assembled with the
force for transport over sea: others would be seized for transport on the
march. It is remarkable that Edward carefully organised certain small
auxiliary bodies, smiths, artificers, etc., and took with him five
cannon.[1]

It was not until Tuesday, the 11th of July, that the very large fleet
which the King had pressed for the service was able to sail from the
Solent and Spithead. It crossed in the night with a northerly breeze, and
appeared upon the following morning off St Vaast.

St Vaast lies in a little recess of the north-eastern coast of the
Cotentin, protected from all winds blowing from the outer Channel, and
only open to such seas as can be raised in the estuary of the Seine by a
south-easterly breeze. It was therefore, seeing the direction of the wind
under which they had sailed, upon a calm shore that this considerable
expedition disembarked. We may presume, under such circumstances, that
though Edward had announced his decision of sailing for _southern_ France,
the point of disembarkation had been carefully settled, and that a course
had been laid for it.

A small force composed of local levies had been raised to resist the
landing. It was able to effect nothing, and was easily dispersed by a body
of the invaders under the Earl of Salisbury, to whom that duty had been
assigned.[2]

For nearly a week the army rested where it had landed, sending out
detachments to pillage. Barfleur was sacked, Cherbourg was attacked, and
the countryside was ravaged.

It was upon Tuesday, July the 18th, that the main body set out upon its
march to the south and east.

No considerable body could meet them for weeks, and all the French Feudal
Force was engaged near Paris or to south of it, and would take weeks to
concentrate northward. Edward was free to raid.

The attempt to construct an accurate time-table of the march which Edward
III. took through Normandy during his advance up the Seine as far as
Poissy, and thence northward in retreat towards Picardy and the sea, has
only recently been attempted.

Froissart, that vivid and picturesque writer who, both from his volume and
his style, was long taken as the sole general authority for this war, is
hopeless for the purpose of constructing a map or of setting down accurate
military details. He had but the vaguest idea of how the march of an army
should be organised, and he was profoundly indifferent to geography. He
added to or subtracted from numbers with childlike simplicity, and in the
honourable motive of pleasing his readers or patrons.

When, quite in the last few years, an attempt at accuracy in the plotting
out of this march was first made, it was based upon not Froissart's but
contemporary records, and of these by far the most important are Baker's
_Chronicle_ and the Accounts of the Kitchen, which happen to have been
saved.

Baker's _Chronicle_ was finally edited by Professor Maunde Thompson in
1889. The work is a standard work and generally regarded as the best
example of its kind. In making his notes upon that document, Professor
Maunde Thompson compared the halting-places given by Baker and other
authorities with those of the Accounts of the Kitchen, and established for
the first time something like an exact record. But many apparent
discrepancies still remained and several puzzling anomalies. I have
attempted in what follows to reconstruct the whole accurately, and I think
I have done so up to and including the passage of the Somme from Boismont,
a point not hitherto established.

First, I would point out that of all the few bases of evidence from which
we can work, that of the Clerk of the Kitchen's accounts is by far the
most valuable.

It should be a canon in all historical work that the unconscious witness
is the most trustworthy.

I mean by "unconscious" evidence the evidence afforded by one who is not
interested in the type of action which one is attempting to establish.
Suppose, for instance, you wanted to know on exactly what day a Prime
Minister of England left London for Paris upon some important mission. His
biographer who sets out to write an interesting political life and to
insist upon certain motives in him, will say it is the 20th of June,
because Lady So-and-So mentions it in her diary, and because he finds a
letter written by the Prime Minister in Paris on the 21st. Perhaps it is
more important to the picturesqueness of the detail that the journey
should be a hurried one, and without knowing it the biographer is biased
in that direction. There may be twenty documents from the pens of people
concerned with affairs of State which would lead us to _infer_ that he
left London on the 20th, and perhaps only five that would lead us to infer
that he left on an earlier day, and, weighing the position and
responsibility of the witnesses, the biographer will decide for the
twenty.

But if we come across a postcard written from Calais by the Prime
Minister's valet to a fellow servant at home asking for the Prime
Minister's overcoat to be sent on, and if he mentions the weather which we
find to correspond to the date, the 19th, and if further we have the
postmark of the 19th on the postcard, then we can be absolutely certain
that the majority of the fuller accounts were wrong, and that the Prime
Minister crossed not on the 20th but on the 19th, for we have a converging
set of independent witnesses none of whom have any reason to make the
journey seem later than it was, all concerned with trivial duties, and
each unconscious of the effect upon history of their evidence. It would be
extraordinary if the servant had forged a date, and if we suppose him to
have made a mistake, we are corrected by the equally trivial points of the
postmark and the French stamp and the mention of the weather.

So it is with this manuscript record of the King's Kitchen expenses and of
the several halting-places at which they were incurred. Wherever there is
conflict, it must override all other evidence.

The Clerk of the Kitchen, to whom we owe this very valuable testimony, was
one William of Retford. His accounts were kept in a beautifully neat, but
not very legible, fourteenth-century hand, upon long sheets of parchment,
and are now luckily preserved for our inspection at the Record Office.

With every day's halt the place where victuals were bought for the King,
that is, where the King's household lay, has its name marked upon these
accounts; but unfortunately the abbreviations used in the MS., coupled
with the difficulty of distinguishing the short strokes [_e.g._ _m_ from
_ni_, _n_ from _u_, etc.] upon parchment which time has faded, and on the
top of that the indifference of the scribe to the foreign names
themselves, do not render the task particularly easy. The MS. has not, I
believe, ever been published. I have spent a good deal of time over it,
and I will give my conclusions as best I can.

The main army stayed at St Vaast, as I have said, for six days, that is,
until Tuesday, July 18th, 1346. This was presumably done to recruit the
horses and the men. Foraging parties went out in the interval, but the
bulk of the force did not move.

On that Tuesday it struck inland for Valognes, a march of 10-1/2 miles. No
proper coast-road existed even as late as the eighteenth century, let
alone in the Middle Ages, and an army making for Paris or for the crossing
of the Seine could not choose but to go thus slightly out of its way.

From Valognes there is a two days' march to Carentan, which town was the
lowest crossing-place of the River Douves. We may naturally expect the
halt between the two to have been about midway, and this would give us a
town called Ste Mère l'Eglise, but the Clerk of the Kitchen puts down St
Come du Mont. We conclude, therefore, that the King's staff did not follow
the great road which had existed from Roman times, but went by bypaths to
the east of it where St Come du Mont lies. It was a long day's march of
over fourteen miles, but the next day's march, that of Thursday the 20th,
to Carentan was a short one of not more than eight or nine (allowing in
both cases for the windings of the side-road). On Friday the 21st the King
lay at Pont Hébert. This is another example of something very like a long
march followed by a short one upon the morrow. St Lô was the halting-place
of the Saturday, and Pont Hébert is but four miles from St Lô. Of a total,
therefore, of nearly seventeen miles, over thirteen are covered upon one
day, and but four upon the next.

At this point it is worth noticing the character of all the advance with
which we are dealing. Edward had been blamed for sluggishness. He was not
so much sluggish as apparently without plan. He did not know quite what
he was going to do next. His general intention seems to have been to make
sooner or later for his allies in Flanders, and meanwhile to take rich
towns and loot them, and to bring pressure upon the King of France by
ravaging distant and populous territories which the French army could not
rapidly reach. He therefore often makes a good and steady marching in this
advance, but he also lingers uselessly at towns, and intercalates very
short marches between the long ones. Thus he deliberately struck inland to
St Lô on his way to Caen, because St Lô was a fine fat booty, instead of
making by the short road which runs from Carentan through Bayeux. The
whole character of the advance clearly betrays the point I have already
made, that this early part of the Hundred Years' War was essentially a
series of raids.

At this stage it is well to point out to the reader two difficulties which
have confused historians. The first is the fact that the Clerk of the
Kitchen often takes a shot at a French name which he has either heard
inaccurately or which he attempts to spell phonetically, so that we have
to interpret him not infrequently to make sense of his record.

The second is the fact that the chronicler will give some particular spot
quite consonant with the marching powers of troops for one day, but
different from that given by the Clerk of the Kitchen.

This apparent discrepancy is due to the fact that an army marches if it
can upon parallel roads involving various halting-places for various
sections of it on the same night. An army upon a raid such as this also
throws out foraging parties and detachments, which leave its main body for
the purposes of observation or of plunder.

Again, we must always regard the King's household (and therefore the
Kitchen Accounts) as moving with what may be called "the staff." Often,
therefore, it will go much faster than the rest of the army, while at
other times it will lie behind or to one side of it. Thus, at the very end
of this campaign you have a transference of the King's quarters, twenty
miles to the north in one day, which would be a terribly long march for
the army as a whole, and which, as a fact, we can discover on other
evidence the army as a whole did not take.

With so much said, we can proceed to build up an exact account of the
advance and the retreat.

Upon Sunday the 23rd of August Edward advanced from St Lô to a place
which the Clerk of the Kitchen calls "Sevances." The spelling is
inaccurate. The place intended is _Sept Vents_, twelve miles to the south
and east of St Lô. But other portions of the army halted elsewhere in the
neighbourhood, as we know from Baker. The next halt, that of the 24th, is
at Torteval, only five miles away, but a portion of the army got south of
Fontenay le Pesnel, which the King did not reach till the 25th, and which
the Clerk calls "Funtenay Paynel." Three days are thus taken between St Lô
and Caen, and the whole army arrives before the latter large town, the
capital of West Normandy, upon Wednesday, July 26th.

The town of Caen was not properly defended. It had no regular walls, and
was a very rich prey indeed. The Constable of France and the Chamberlain
were in the town, and the castle was held by a handful (300) of Genoese
mercenaries. There was an armed force of militia and of knights in the
streets of the town, of what exact size we do not know. The Prince of
Wales with the advance guard occupied the outskirts of the city which lie
beyond the branches of the Orne (the northern branch now runs mainly in
sewers under the streets from the Hôtel de Ville to the Church of St
Peter). There was sharp fighting at the bridge, at one moment of which the
King ordered a retreat, but the Earl of Warwick disobeyed the order. The
King followed him, and the bridge was taken. There was considerable
slaughter in the streets of the city; the Constable and the Chamberlain
were taken prisoners, and about one hundred of the wounded knights. The
English loss, which was not heavy, fell mainly upon the Archers and
Spearmen, and the total, including wounded, was but five hundred, and was
mainly due to the resistance of the inhabitants of the houses. The town
was given over to pillage, and Edward thought of burning it, but was
restrained. It is characteristic of the march that a delay of four days
from the morning of the 5th was occupied in the loot of Caen, from which
town (in communication with the sea by its river) Edward sent back his
plunder on board the Fleet which he dismissed.

The army marched out of Caen on Monday, the 31st of July, and undertook
its three days' march to Lisieux, the next rich town upon this random
advance, now deprived of support from the sea. Edward probably intended to
force some passage of the Seine, preferably, it may be surmised, at
Rouen, or a little higher up, with the vague object of making for the
north-east and Calais. We are not certain of this. It is more than
possible that the capture of Calais later on in the campaign gave rise to
the story that some such plan was intended. Anyhow, we get two halts and
three marches between Caen and Lisieux, a distance of only twenty-five
miles, which could easily have been accomplished in two days had there
been a really definite plan in the commander's head. We may be pretty
certain that there was not.

The halts of the King himself on the 31st of July and the 1st of August
were made at two places which read in the MS. as "Treward," and an
abbreviated name which stands for "Leopurtuis." The first of these is
Troarn at the crossing of the Dives river. Other forces halted on that
night at Agences, four miles to the south. The second is Léaupartie, a
mile or so from Rumenise, where one other column halted, while a second
column camped about five miles to the south. Lisieux was entered upon the
2nd of August after a march of ten miles on the part of the King, and of
eleven and twelve on the part of the other two bodies.

At Lisieux two Cardinals who were despatched to offer terms met King
Edward and proposed this arrangement to complete the war: that he should
have the Duchy of Aquitaine upon the same tenure as his ancestors had held
it. He refused those terms, and, after wasting a day at Lisieux, continued
his march eastward.

Leaving Lisieux on the morning of the 4th, he pitched his tent that
evening at Duramelle, a march of nine miles, with at least one column a
mile ahead at Le Teil. On Saturday the 5th he got something better out of
his troops, or at any rate out of the vanguard, and made something like
seventeen miles to Neubourg.

I confess here to a very considerable doubt. The entry in the Accounts of
the Kitchen is hopelessly misspelt, but the "Lineubourg" does not
correspond to any other possible place, and Le Neubourg would be a very
convenient halting-place for the King himself, well provisioned and
lodged. We cannot believe, of course, that the army covered the full
distance, but there is no reason why the King and his household should not
have pushed on ahead with mounted troops. What makes it more probable is
that the King spent the whole day of Sunday the 6th at Le Neubourg,
presumably for the bulk of the army to come up and make two days' march of
the twenty odd miles which the most distant contingents had to cover.

It was on the next day, Monday the 7th, that he reached the Seine, and
approached that river, as we may presume, with the object of crossing it.
It was a ten-mile march, and the whole force could be on the banks before
evening at Elboeuf.[3] But the bridges were broken and it was
impossible. It was from this point of Elboeuf that the raid turned to
follow the valley of the Seine up towards Paris, always seeking some
crossing-place, and always finding the bridges broken. The nearer he got
to Paris the more dangerous became Edward's position, and the larger grew
the forces of the French King in the neighbourhood of the capital which
threatened him.

Tuesday the 8th was spent in ravaging the country. Pont de L'Arche was
burnt in revenge for the destruction of its bridge; a detachment went
round by Louviers, which was looted, but the King himself went forward by
the river bank and lodged that night at Vaudreuil, ten miles on from
Elboeuf (which the Clerk of the Kitchen calls "Pount-Vadreel").[4] The
bulk of the force halted at Léry, a mile or two behind.

Upon Wednesday, August 9th, Edward lay at Angreville[5] (the "Langville"
of the accounts), just south of Gaillon, and on Thursday the 10th, having
burnt Vernon, where _again_ he found the bridge cut, at Jeufose, rather
more than eleven miles march up the river. ("Frevose," as I read it in the
MS.) His next hope for a bridge was at Mantes, and he was getting
perilously near the heart of the country and the gathering French forces.
That bridge was nine or ten miles along the road. He found it cut like all
the others.

He was already across the borders of Normandy, and anxiety must have been
growing upon him. He seized Mantes after some resistance. It was useless
to his purpose, and he hurried on another six miles to Epone ("Appone" in
the Accounts), making that day a really long march in his natural haste
and compelling his escort to the same--sixteen miles. But he both
fatigued his main army in that attempt, and it also lost some time in
storming a fortified house on "the White Rock,"[6] because the next day he
evidently had to wait for stragglers to come up, advancing but a couple of
miles to Aubergenville,[7] where we find him upon Saturday the 12th. Upon
the 13th, the Sunday, he got his opportunity. A march of only eight
miles[8] brought the host to Poissy, and there, though the bridge was cut,
the stone piles upon which its trestles had stood were uninjured. Edward
at once began to take advantage of this and to put his artificers to work.
All that Sunday and all the Monday the task proceeded, and during this
delay parties were despatched to ravage. They burnt St Germain and St
Cloud. An advance party entered the Bois de Boulogne. But there could, of
course, be no thought of an attack on Paris with so small a force and
without base or provision.

By Tuesday the 15th of August these ravaging parties were recalled, and
the whole host was streaming across the repaired bridge at Poissy.

This day, Tuesday the 15th, is strategically the turning point of the
campaign. In an attempt to note in history no more than the great raid of
Edward up to the very walls of the Capital, and his rapid and successful
retreat, the crossing of Poissy would form the central term of our story.
As it happened, however, the great chance which occurred to Edward in that
retreat upon the field of Crécy, and his magnificent use of it, has
eclipsed the earlier story, and for many the interest of the campaign as a
whole, and the importance of this rapid seizure and repair of Poissy, is
missed.

While his army was crossing the river, Edward received the challenge of
the King of France. It was native indeed to the time: a sort of
tournament-challenge, offering the English monarch battle upon any one of
five days, in that great plain between Paris and St Germains which the
last siege of the French capital has rendered famous in military history.
The French feudal levies for which Philip had been waiting were now fast
gathering, especially those for which he had had to wait longest, the main
forces which had been away down south in Guienne. Edward most wisely
refused the challenge, for it would have been against great odds, and to
accept, though consonant to the spirit of the time, would have been a
ludicrously unmilitary proceeding. In place of such acceptation he sent
back false news that he would meet Philip far to the south. He then
proceeded to cross the river and make the best haste he could back
northwards to the sea. The French King found out the trick; a day and a
half late he started in pursuit with his large and increasing host. That
host was gathered at St Denis when on the Wednesday night, the 16th,
Edward had got his men to Grisy, well north of Pontoise, and something
like seventeen miles by cross roads from his hastily repaired bridge
across the Seine. What followed was a fine feat of marching.

On the next day, the 17th, he had got his forces more than another
seventeen miles north and had camped them by Auneuil. In two more days, by
the evening of Saturday the 19th, they were yet twenty-five miles further
north as the crow flies (and more like thirty by the roads), at Sommereux.
Edward halted at Troussures (of which the clerk makes "Trusserux") to see
it file by, and on the morrow, Sunday, August the 20th, he was at Camps
in the upland above Moliens Vidame, another push of fifteen miles for mass
of the force, and of more than twenty for himself and his staff.

At this point came the crux of his danger. All during that tremendous feat
of marching (and what it meant anyone who has covered close on fifty miles
in three days under military conditions will know--there are few such) the
great host of Philip was pounding at his heels.

Now, if the reader will glance at the map at the beginning of this
section, he will see that just as Edward had been under a necessity to
cross the Seine in the first part of his raid, he was now under a still
greater necessity of crossing the Somme. A force much larger than his own
was pressing him against that river into a sort of corner, and his only
chance of safety lay in reaching the Straits of Dover through the county
of Ponthieu, which lay beyond the stream. Every effort had been made to
press the march. The force appears to have been divided for this purpose
and to have marched in parallel columns, and the single case of marauding
(the burning of the Abbey of St Lucien outside Beauvais) had been punished
with the death of twenty men.

To turn and meet his pursuers (who were evidently in contact with him
through their scouts) would have meant, so long as he was on this side of
the Somme, no chance of retreat in case of defeat.

Every mile he went to the north the Somme valley, already a broad expanse
of marsh upon his flank, grew broader and more difficult. The decision,
therefore, which Edward took at this critical moment, at once perilous and
masterly, showed that rapid grasp of a situation which, for all his lack
of a general plan during this campaign, this great soldier could boast. In
the first place, he himself rides forward no less than twenty full miles
to the village of Acheux. He has behind him the whole army strung out in
separate bodies parallel to the Somme. Himself, from the head of that long
line of twenty miles, commands all that should be done along it. He next
orders separate bodies to approach the valley and seek a crossing, first,
if possible, up river, then, as they fail, lower and lower down, and each
to be ready as it is foiled at each bridge to fall back north in
concentration, and to group in gathering numbers further and further down
the stream, and near to his place at the head of the line, Acheux.

The whole thing is a fine piece of sudden decision, and is at once a
combination of the rapidity of the retreat and of the attempt to force the
river, in this the fourth week of August 1346, which so nearly brought
disaster to the English force.

Three days, the 21st, 22nd, and 23rd, were taken up in this manoeuvre.
The English flung themselves successively against the bridges: Picquigny,
Long Pré, Pont Rémy. The hardest and first push was at Picquigny at the
beginning or southernmost of the effort. The body detached for that effort
was beaten back.

It was the same with the next blow lower down at Long Pré: the same lower
down still at Pont Rémy. At no bridge were the English successful.
Everywhere the valley was impassable to them, and as they attempted one
place after another down the stream with its broadening marshland and now
tidal water, to find a traverse seemed impossible.

At last, then, upon Wednesday the 23rd of August the whole host was
gathered, foiled, round its King at Acheux. He marched on a few miles to
BOISMONT, going on his way through Mons, and there, as it chanced, picking
up a prisoner who proved invaluable: for that prisoner betrayed the ford.

As the English army lay at Boismont that night of the 23rd, the broad
estuary of the Somme stretched to the north of them with no more bridges
across it, cut or uncut, and apparently no fate but a choice between a
desperate action against superior numbers (nor any retreat open) and
surrender.

Edward's only chance lay in the discovery across that mile of land
(flooded at high tide, and at low tide a morass) of some kind of ford.
Such a ford existed. With difficulty, but in the nick of time, it was
discovered and used; the French force defending it upon the further side
was overthrown, and the retreat and its dependent victory of Crécy were
made possible.

Edward had had good faith that "God and Our Lady, and St George would find
him a passage," and a passage he found.

The crossing of that ford and the advance to Crécy field must form the
matter of our next section, "The Preliminaries of the Action."

       *       *       *       *       *

     The reader will note that in the latter part of the above I have
     wholly abandoned the more usual account of the last three days of the
     retreat from Poissy to the Somme, and that the reconstruction I have
     attempted includes several matters hitherto not suggested in any
     recent history, and is in contradiction with the view which has
     hitherto been most generally accepted.

     The evidence upon which I rely for this description of the retreat on
     Acheux and subsequently on Boismont will I hope be found set out in
     detail in the number of the _English Historical Review_ for October
     1912. Meanwhile, I owe it to my readers, who may use this book for
     purposes of school or university work, to state briefly the way in
     which the matter has hitherto been set forth, and my reason for
     adopting this new version.

     Most Froissart MSS., which have misled history in this regard, say
     that King Edward was at _Oisemont_ upon the evening of the 23rd.
     Lingard, the father of all modern English historical writing, and a
     man whom every historian begins by reading (though very few go on by
     acknowledging him), expanded this mere reference into a whole phrase,
     and wrote that Edward "had the good fortune to capture the town of
     Oisemont, and so find a night's lodging." A neglect of military
     conditions, or of the map, or of both, has perpetuated the error.
     Edward was never at Oisemont. The argument against it, and in favour
     of _Boismont_, is dependent upon a number of converging proofs, which
     I will very briefly recapitulate.

     (1) The MSS. of Froissart are none of them original.

     (2) They vary among themselves with regard to this particular word,
     most of them giving "Oisemont," but one giving "Nysemont."

     (3) Even where all the MSS. agree with regard to a place, and where
     Froissart certainly mentioned it, he is wildly inaccurate, evidently
     going by hearsay, and often by a doubtful memory: thus he has no
     idea on which side of the Seine the town of Gisors stands, and he
     calls the village of Fontaine a "strong town," etc.

     (4) Even were he an accurate, he is not a contemporary authority. He
     had to depend entirely upon older accounts which we can prove that he
     misread, or did not read at all, but only heard spoken of, and very
     often botched horribly.

     (5) In this particular campaign he is particularly haphazard. Thus,
     upon the all-important point of the order in which the various
     crossings of the Somme were attempted, he gets them at sixes and
     sevens, describing the first last and the last first. He was a man
     always attending to picturesqueness of incident, and one who thought
     exactitude very negligible.

     Those are the five points which weaken any positive evidence which
     Froissart may give. But it is the evidence independent of Froissart,
     and of his accuracy or inaccuracy, which is so overwhelming.

     (1) Oisemont lies actually ten miles _back_ from Abbeville upon the
     line of the retreat. To occupy Oisemont was to incur a deliberate
     running into that danger which it was all Edward's effort to avoid.

     (2) We know, as a matter of fact, that Philip, the King of France,
     was before the night of the 23rd abreast of Abbeville; a retreat upon
     Oisemont would therefore have been physically impossible to Edward.

     (3) Oisemont would have involved keeping in touch with bodies ten,
     twelve, fifteen, and twenty miles distant, even if Oisemont had been
     occupied for two days, whereas the only mention we have of that
     occupation represents it as taking place on the 23rd.

     These three points render it, as to two of them morally impossible,
     as to one of them physically, that Edward could have been at Oisemont
     upon that night. But they are negative: we have positive points which
     clinch the whole matter. These are:--

     (1) Edward marched with his _whole_ army to the ford or it could not
     all have crossed, therefore it was concentrated before he marched.
     The march was a very short one. Even Froissart says that "he started
     at the break of day" and reached the ford "a little after sunrise."
     It must also have been short because we know as a matter of positive
     history that the soldiers who took that morning march waited some
     time for the tide to ebb, _then_ fought a sharp and successful action
     upon the northern bank of the river, and again on the same day
     stormed certainly one and possibly two defended places: also that
     their total march before the night, and beyond the river, was quite
     ten miles, including the actions just mentioned.

     (2) We also know that there was an assault on St Valery, which was
     actually _twenty_ miles from Oisemont by the nearest roads!

     (3) We know that the traitor was captured at Mons, which, if Edward
     had been at Oisemont, would have meant that someone had not only
     caught him at that great distance from Oisemont, but had brought him
     back (a total ride of twenty-four miles) without previous knowledge
     that he was capable of the valuable information he only gave later
     and after offers.

     (4) There is no contemporary mention of Oisemont, but we do
     positively know from contemporary evidence that the King's household
     was, and had been for three days, at Acheux.

     Now all this combined is quite conclusive. Oisemont is impossible.
     Boismont satisfies every part of the evidence. An hour's riding from
     it permits the attack on St Valery. Mons, where the traitor comes
     from, is only two miles off; the march from Boismont to the Ford is
     just such an advance as would take the dawn and sunrise of a
     day--whereas the advance from Oisemont, impossible for all those
     other reasons, would involve fourteen to fifteen miles of marching,
     and is utterly incompatible with the idea of two or possibly three
     heavy fights, and the long march succeeding it.

     One last piece of evidence would be conclusive even if we had not all
     the rest. There is contemporary record of the Mayor of Abbeville
     watching from the heights of Caubert Hill the English army streaming
     northward to concentrate round the advanced position of the King.
     From that height such an advance could be discerned crossing the
     plateau which leads to Acheux, to Mons, and to Boismont. You could no
     more see a concentration on Oisemont from it than you could see a
     concentration on Greenwich from Camden Hill.



[Illustration: Sketch showing Estuary of the Somme at BLANCHETAQUE in
1346]


III

THE PRELIMINARIES OF THE BATTLE


The manoeuvres of the French and English armies preliminary to the
Battle of Crécy are so instructive upon many points, involved movements so
hazardous and so complex, gave rise to so sharp a series of engagements,
and form in general so large a part of our subject, that they merit a far
larger study than do the approaches to most battles.

They illustrate the comparative lack of thought-out plan which
characterised medieval warfare; they afford a contrast between the compact
and fairly well organised command of Edward III., and the chaotic host of
the King of France. They show the effect upon the military profession of a
time without maps and without any properly managed system of intelligence;
and, above all, they show the overwhelming part which chance plays in all
armed conflict between forces of the same civilisation and approximately
the same aptitudes.

The situation upon Wednesday the 23rd of August (at which point we
concluded the survey of Edward III.'s great raid through Normandy, and of
his retreat down the line of the Somme) is already known to the reader,
and will be the clearer if he will look at the map upon page 28.

Edward had made a very fine march indeed, not only averaging something
like twelve miles a day, or more, but arranging for expeditions to leave
the main host during the latter part of this rapid retreat, and attempt to
force, at various points, the passages of the River Somme. We have seen
that he was compelled, if possible, to force a passage because he would
otherwise find himself shut up between the Somme and the sea, with a much
superior force cutting him off to the south. In case of defeat he would
have no line of retreat, and even in case of success, unless that success
were overwhelming, he would find himself strategically stalemated, still
caught in a trap, and still doomed to await the next onslaught of the
enemy. We have further seen that with every mile that he proceeded towards
the sea his ability to cross the Somme decreased. The river runs through
a marshy valley which, even to-day, is a mass of ponds and water meadows,
and which then was a belt of marsh. It is bounded on either side by fairly
steep banks, rising to heights of 60, 70, and 100 feet, and inland to 150,
between which the flat swamped land grows broader and broader as one
approaches the sea. At Picquigny this level belt of swamp through which
the Somme twines is quite 500 yards across. At Long Pré it is nearer 800,
below Abbeville it is 1000, and at the point whence Edward overlooked it
when he was halted at bay on the evening of that 23rd of August, it is
well over 2000 yards in width and nearer 2500.

Boismont, a village climbing the southern bank of the estuary, was the
spot on which the King had gathered the army upon the evening of that
Wednesday, and, not a day's march behind him, the most advanced mounted
men of his pursuers, with the King of France among them, were camping. The
peril was extreme, and an issue from that peril as extremely doubtful.

It was hopeless for the army to attempt to retrace its steps to the upper
river. To have done so would have been to march with the flank of its
march exposed to an immediate advance of French forces, and almost
certainly to be caught in column; and Edward had already suffered such
repulses before Long Pré, Pont Rémy, and Picquigny as left him no hope for
success should he attempt these bridges again. His only chance was to
find, if it were possible, some practicable ford across the broad estuary
itself that lay before him.

The moon was within a few hours of the full that night, the highest of the
spring-tides was making--in the open sea they were at their full height of
25 feet, an hour before midnight,--and though where he would strike the
estuary he might hope for a tide more tardy, Edward had before him as he
watched, his only avenue of escape, a great flood that appeared to deny
him all access to the further shore.

Every effort was made to discover from local knowledge whether any passage
existed. The highest rewards were offered, in vain, for in all that
countryside a feeling which if not national was at least strongly opposed
to the invader, forbade treason, and the near presence of the French
King's great force was an active reminder of the punishment that would
attend it. Late in this period of suspense a guide was found.

A man of the name of Gobin Agache, who had been taken prisoner by the
army, was that guide. His was that "invaluable" capture which I mentioned
in the last section. He was a peasant of those parts, and a native of
Mons-en-Vimieux, through which the army had marched from Acheux to
Boismont. He yielded to temptation when all others had refused. He was
promised a hundred pieces of gold (say £500 of our money), his own
liberty, and that of twenty of his companions. For that price he sold
himself, and promised to discover to the King and to his army the only
practicable ford across the estuary.

Just at the end of the night the host set out and marched during the first
hours of the moonlit Wednesday morning along the old road which still
leads over the hills that separate Boismont from Saigneville and marked
the southern bank of the valley. The marshalling was long; the full
ordering of the force, now that it was all gathered together and marching
along one narrow way, inexpeditious; and the two miles that separated the
head of its column from the neighbouring village were not traversed by its
last units, nor was the whole body drawn up at the foot of the hills
against the water until the sun of that late August day was beginning to
rise, and to show more clearly the great sheet of flood-water and the
steep distant bank beyond it.

The place to which their guide had led them was the entry to the ford of
Blanchetaque, a name famous in the military history of this country.
Hidden beneath the waters which, though now ebbing strongly, were still
far too deep for any attempt at a crossing, ran the causeway. By it, upon
the faith of the traitor, they could trust to gaining the opposite shore.
As the racing ebb lowered more and more, the landward approaches of that
causeway appeared in a lengthening white belt pointing right across
towards the further bank, and assured them that they had not been
betrayed. It was built of firm marl in the midst of that grassy slime
which marks the edges of the Somme valley, and they had but to wait for
low water to be certain that they could make the passage. Beyond, upon the
northern shore which showed in a high, black band (for it was steep)
against the broadening day, they could distinguish a force that had been
gathered to oppose them.

It was mid-morning before the ebb was at its lowest,[9] and they could
begin to march "twelve abreast, and with the water no more than
knee-high," across the dwindled stream now at its lowermost of slack
water, and running near the further bank with a breadth not a fifth of
what it had been at the flood. But before proceeding further and
describing the assault shore, I would lay before my readers the process by
which I have established the exact locality of this famous ford. It has
been a matter of considerable historical debate. It is and will always
remain a matter of high historical interest, and this must be my excuse
for digressing upon the evidence which, I think it will be admitted,
finally establishes the exact trajectory of Blanchetaque.

The site of Blanchetaque is one which nature and art have combined to
render obscure: nature, because a ford when its purpose disappears and it
is no longer kept up, that is, an artificial ford, tends to disappear more
rapidly than any other monument; art, because the old estuary of the Somme
has of recent years been further and further reclaimed. It was, when I
first began studying this district, already banked across below Boismont,
and, if I am not mistaken, the great railway bridge right across the very
mouth of the river has, in the last few months, been made the boundary of
the reclaimed land.

Now, Blanchetaque was an artificial ford. We know this because there is no
marl formation near by, and could be none forming a narrow rib across the
deep alluvial mud of the estuary; the marl, then, can only have been
brought from some little distance. It is not only an artificial hardening
which we have to deal with, but one in the midst of a tidal estuary where
a violent current swept the work for centuries. Finally, the cause for
keeping the ford in some sort of repair early disappeared in modern times
before the process of reclaiming the land of the estuary began. Numerous
modern bridges, coupled with the great development of modern roads,
permitted the crossing of the Somme at and below Abbeville: notably the
Bridge of Cambron. The railway, the growth of the tonnage of steamers, and
other causes, led to the decline of the little riverside town of
Port--formerly the secure head of marine navigation upon the river and
largely the cause that Blanchetaque was kept in repair.

Again, the reclamation of the land has been carried out with a French
thoroughness only too successful in destroying the contours of the old
river bed. In the sketch map on p. 60 I have indicated to the best of my
ability the channel of the river at low tide as it appears to have been
before reclamation began, but even this can barely be traced upon the
levelled, heightened, and now fruitful pastures.

It is all this which has made the exact emplacement of Blanchetaque so
difficult to ascertain, and has led to the controversies upon its site.

Now, if we will proceed to gather all forms of evidence, we shall find
that they converge upon one particular line of trajectory which in the end
we can regard as completely established.

We have in the first place (and most valuable of all, of course)
tradition. Local traditions luckily carefully gathered as late as
1840,[10] but the indications of the peasants pointing out the traditional
site of the then ruined way were, unfortunately, not marked on a map. What
_was_ done was to give an indication unfortunately not too precise, and to
leave it on record that the northern end of the ford was "from 1200 to
1500 metres below Port." This gives us a margin of possible error, not of
300 yards as might be supposed, but of more than double that distance, for
Port itself is 500 yards in length from east to west. We can be certain,
however, that so far as tradition goes we need not look more than a mile
below Port for the ford, nor less than say half a mile from its last
houses.

Fortunately, we have other convergent indications which can guide us with
greater precision.

We must remember that, apart from the bringing of merchandise over to the
neighbourhood of Port, the ford, which may, and most probably did, exist
before Port became of any importance, led all the central traffic of the
Vimieux country (which is the district on the left bank of the Somme)
towards the Straits of Dover and their principal port at Boulogne.

Now, the way from the right bank of the Somme to Boulogne is interrupted
by several streams, much the most marshy and broad of which is the Authie.
The Romans bridged the Authie at _Ad Pontes_ in the course of their great
Trunk Road to Britain, and any way which led from the lowest ford over the
Somme to Boulogne would have to join that great Trunk Road before or at
the bridge if it were to take advantage, as commerce would have to do, of
that sole passage of the very difficult and marshy Authie valley which can
nowhere be crossed save upon a causeway. I have in a former page remarked
upon the importance of Ad Pontes (the modern Ponches), and pointed out
that it gives the whole county its name of Ponthieu. We must expect,
therefore, any direct commercial way northward from the ford to make
directly for Ponches. To strike the great Trunk Road higher up would be to
go out of one's way; to strike it lower down would be to strike the Authie
Valley at an impassable point.

When an ancient way has disappeared, certain indications of its track,
especially as that track may be presumed to be direct, survive, and among
these are wayside tombs, parish boundaries, and mills or other places
which, for the conveyance of heavy merchandise, are placed near such a
road if possible. All these three kinds of indications are available in
this particular case. The medieval mill which was so important a monopoly
of the medieval community was not built in the most natural place for it,
on the summit of the hill just above Port, but some thousand yards and
more away down the river bank, and over against it is a group of tombs.
Moreover, between the two runs the long north-western boundary of the
parish or commune of Port which is prolonged in the boundary of the parish
of Sailly.[11] We have here, then, a convergence of proof which confirms
the vaguer traditional site, for the end of this line upon the river,
passing between the tombs and the old mill, strikes the bank within the
limits of distance from Port which were set down in the local notes
printed in 1840.

But there is more. The forming of successive embankments one below the
other for the gradual reclamation of land in the Somme estuary was not an
easy matter. They had to be strong to withstand a strong tide, and there
was no good bottom to be found in the deep mud of the valley floor. It is
a significant evidence of this difficulty that the embankments stand so
far apart, and that the last has had to take advantage of the
long-established work of the railway viaduct. It is therefore a legitimate
conjecture that the hard bottom afforded by the old Blanchetaque would be
made use of, and as a fact we find the principal embankment between Port
and the sea coinciding exactly with the line established by the tombs, the
parish boundaries, and the site of the mill.

There is even more than this. If we follow the present embankment across
the estuary towards the southern bank, we find ourselves checked before
reaching that bank by the now canalised and artificial straight ditch of
the Somme. There is no bridge, but on the further side leading across the
remaining 700 yards to the southern bank, a village road exactly continues
the direction, and this road, older than the reclamation of the valley, is
the last converging point clinching the argument.

It cannot be doubted that the road leading from Saigneville northward
across the flat to the canal, and continued beyond the canal by the
embankment, is the line of the old Blanchetaque.[12]

Though the French army had been pursuing Edward during his march upon the
left bank of the Somme, the possibility of his getting across the estuary
had not been neglected, and a force had been detached to watch the right
bank at the point where the only passage across the stream, Blanchetaque,
touched that right bank.

Here one of Philip's nobles, Godemard de Fay, was waiting with a
considerable force to oppose the passage. The exact size of this force is
not easy to determine, for it is variously stated, even by contemporary
authorities, but we are fairly safe if we reckon it at more than 2000 and
less than 4000 men, some hundreds of whom were mounted knights. In other
words, it counted in "capital units" from one-sixth to one-eighth of
Edward's army, and, counting all fighting men against all fighting men,
perhaps much the same proportion. There was sharp fighting, but it was
defeated, principally through the action of the Archers. In Godemard's
command was a very considerable body of Genoese cross-bowmen. As we shall
see when we come to the Battle of Crécy itself, this arm was gravely
inferior in rapidity of fire, and possibly in range, to the English
long-bow. The latter weapon could deliver three to the cross-bow's one,
and to this, coupled with the discipline of the English column, the
success must be ascribed. Grave as was the balance of numbers against the
French side, equal armament and equal discipline should have enabled it to
prevail. The holding of a _tête de pont_ with a smaller number properly
deployed should always be possible against a larger column compelled to
debouch from a narrow line, especially a line of such difficulty as a ford
across a broad stream.

The action was a picturesque one, and the sight presented to a spectator
watching it from the heights behind Godemard's command must have been a
picture vivid and well framed. One hundred mounted and armoured knights,
carefully chosen, led the way across the ford. They were met actually in
the water itself by mounted men advancing on to the causeway from
Godemard's side, and the twin banners of Edward's two marshals and the
cries of "God and St George!" with which the English vanguard met the
enemy rose for a few moments from a confused mêlée of men and horses
struggling in the stream. But the issue was decided by the comparative
strength of missile weapons, and not by the sword. The Genoese
cross-bowmen behind the French knights, and upon either side of their
rear, shot into the English mounted ranks with some success, when the
Archers of Edward, who were just behind the knights, and seem to have
deployed somewhat over the marshy land on either side of the ford,
returned their fire with that superiority of the long-bow which helped to
decide this campaign. It was the regular fire of the Archers, the weight
and the rapidity of it, which finally threw the supporting infantry of the
French command into confusion, and permitted the mounted head of the
English column to force its way over the landward end of the ford and
through the now isolated body of French knights. Once the bank was gained,
the English head of the column in its turn held the _tête de pont_, and
the passage of the whole force was only a question of time.

But time was a factor of vast importance at this juncture: how important
what immediately followed will show. A force of anything between
twenty-four and thirty-nine thousand men, combatant and non-combatant,
with its wagons and sumpter horses, the considerable booty of its raid,
its tents, its reserve of armour and of weapons, we cannot reckon, even
upon a front of twelve deep, at less than a couple of miles in length,
even under the best and strictest conditions of marshalling. Indeed, that
estimate is far too low and mechanical. It is more likely that by the time
the head of the column was pouring from the causeway on to the right bank
of the estuary, and there deploying, a good third of the armed men were
still waiting upon the further shore to file over the narrow passage.

At any rate, before the great bulk of the train could have got upon the
ford, the first horse of the King of France's scouts and vanguard appeared
upon the sky-line of the heights above Saigneville, and immediately a
considerable force of the enemy were upon the English wagons with their
insufficient rearguard. The King of France himself, following upon
Edward's track mile by mile, had reached Mons, had learnt that Edward had
doubled back from Boismont, and had detached a body to cut across country
to the ford on the chance of preventing Edward from crossing. He had not
been quick enough to achieve this, but the French appeared in time, as I
have said, to catch the wheeled vehicles behind the English army before
they had got into line upon the causeway. Edward, with that good military
head, which always seized immediate things upon a field, had stayed
somewhat to the rear of the main body to watch for such an accident. He
was not able to save the bulk of his train, but he saved his army. Much of
the booty and of the provision fell to the French.

This mishap, which shows how close a chance permitted the safety of
Edward's fighting force, had no little effect upon the succeeding two
days, for it left the English army in part without food. I say "in part,"
because for some of them the defect was remedied, as we shall see, by the
capture of Crotoy.

So the English army passed with the loss of some of its train, but with
very little loss of men. Pursuit was impossible; the tide now rising
forbade even the thought of it, and somewhere about noon the entire host
was marshalled upon the northern bank of the river, and was safe. The
whole story forms one of the most striking details in the history of
medieval warfare.

What followed the discomfiture of Godemard's command and Edward's passage
with his forces intact, is not easy to gather in the authorities
themselves, though it is easy enough to reconstruct with the aid of the
Kitchen Accounts, and by the help of the analogy of Edward's action
throughout the campaign. The King's tent, his domesticity, and what we
may by an anachronism call his staff, proceeded to the edge of the forest
of Crécy, which lies upon the inland heights north-eastward of the ford, a
distance of five miles. But it did not proceed there directly. In company
with the whole army, it first turned north-westward down the bank of the
estuary to the capture of the castle and town of Noyelles, rather more
than two miles away. This castle it took, and it is characteristic of
these wars that the mistress of it was English in sympathy, and, what is
more, had married her daughter to the nephew of one of Edward's principal
generals. From Noyelles on the same day, Thursday, Edward and the staff
turned back north-eastward towards the forest. There was a skirmish at
Sailly Bray with Godemard's command, which, though defeated, was not yet
broken, and which had hung upon the flanks of the English army. But the
belated struggle was of little importance, and Edward camped that night
upon the edge of the forest in the neighbourhood of Forêt L'Abbye to the
west of the little railway line and station which mark those fields
to-day.

Meanwhile, during the remaining hours of that Thursday, the customary
raiding and pillaging parties which had been characteristic of all this
great raid were being sent out. The chief one under Hugh the Dispenser
took Crotoy and thus provisioned his own force and perhaps some of the
neighbouring detachments, but the bulk of Edward's army "went famished
that day," and, for that matter, were insufficiently provided during the
ensuing Friday as well.

The host camped upon that Thursday night somewhat widely spread around its
King, with foraging parties still distant and appointed to return upon the
morrow.

Upon that morrow, the Friday, the advance north-eastward was continued. It
was organised in a fashion whose exactitude and forethought are worthy of
note, considering the haphazard conditions of most medieval fighting, and
of Edward's own previous conduct of the earlier part of this campaign.

These were the conditions before him: he must get as best he might to the
Straits of Dover, that is, up northward and north-eastward, and he may
already have had a design upon Calais.[13] The force which was pursuing
him had been checked by the tide of the Somme. It was too large to use
Blanchetaque with any rapidity. He knew that it must double back to
Abbeville in order to cross the river before it could turn northward again
and come up with him. From where it lay, or rather where its commander and
staff had lain, between Mons and Saigneville, that morning and noon, back
to Abbeville was a matter of seven or eight miles; a distance nearly as
great separated him from Abbeville upon his side. He had gained a full day
even if the French army had been collected, highly disciplined, and in
column. Instead of that it was scattered over twenty miles of country.
Many of its contingents were still following up, and it was under very
various and loose commands. Even should a large body of French appear upon
the next day, Friday, Edward had the forest at hand with which to cover
his troops long before contact could be established. But good scouting
informed Edward that there was no chance of such contact, at least before
Saturday. The whole of the next day, Friday, would be at his disposal to
bring his troops where he would, and he proposed to get them on the far
side of the forest, that is, in the neighbourhood of Crécy town, during
the interval.

Whether he had already decided on that Thursday to make a stand we cannot
tell, but it is not probable, because he had as yet no knowledge of the
positions beyond the forest, and of the chance the ground would afford him
of meeting an attack. One thing he already knew, which was that his
retreat was secure. The pace of the French pursuit might compel him to a
decision on Saturday at earliest, but, short of complete disaster, he had
a road open behind him across the Authie by the passage of Ponches and
along the great Roman way which led from Picardy to the Straits of Dover.

What he did was this. He sent the bulk of the army round by the main road
whose terminals are Abbeville and Hesdin, and which skirts the forest. His
own household he accompanied through the wood, presumably with the object
of keeping in touch with the foraging parties who would during that Friday
be coming up along the southern edge of the woods to follow the main force
along the high road. A further advantage of so moving through the wood
himself was that he could thus lie upon the flank of his force and let it
march round him until it got in front of him in the open country by Crécy.
Then he could join it, coming up in its rear, that is, upon the side from
which attack was expected, gather his information, study the positions,
learn the approach of the French advance, and in general organise the
coming action, if an action should prove necessary. Edward camped,
therefore, in the forest upon that Friday night, and upon the further side
of it, just above Crécy town; while the whole of his main body was
marching up to the right or east of him by the high road that skirts the
woods. That main force, joined by the foraging parties which had gone
further westward on the day before, easily covered the few miles, and
camped on the evening of the Friday upon the ridge which runs in a level
line eastward and northward from just above the town of Crécy to the
village of Wadicourt, for somewhat over a mile. Leaving his tents and
domestics upon the edge of the wood, he spent the last hours of that day
establishing his forces along the ridge for the night, for it was there
that he had now determined to await the French army and to bring it to
action.

The advantage of that position which upon emerging from the forest Edward
had immediately seized, will be dealt with in the ensuing section;
meanwhile we must return to inquire what was happening to the French
pursuit.

We must not consider the French army as one united body. Had it been that,
it would not have been defeated, and, what is more, the particular place
of Crécy in military history, and its lesson of the contrast between the
older feudal and the newer regular levies, would never have been taken;
for Crécy, as we shall see, was largely a victory of things then new over
things then old. No records give us precisely the positions, number, or
routes of the King of France and his allies, but we know the following
points, from which we can construct a general picture.

First: The commands were various and disunited. That personal system which
had arisen five hundred years before, and more, when the old Roman
tradition of the Frankish monarchy gradually transformed itself into a
series of summonses to lords who should bring their vassals, was still the
method by which a French host was tardily and irregularly summoned. For
general and lengthy expeditions it was sufficient. For the prosecution of
the innumerable local conflicts of the Middle Ages it was actually
necessary. Upon occasion at long distances from home, and after long
companionship in the field, if there were also present a very leading
character among the feudal superiors, and especially if that character
were clothed with titular rank, it could achieve something like unity of
command. But Philip's army, the last contingents of which were still in
act of joining him, enjoyed no such advantages. At least five separate
great bodies, four of which were largely subdivided, were loosely
aggregated over miles of country, gathering as they went chance
reinforcements, and losing by chance defections.

Secondly: A certain proportion of regular paid men, including the foreign
mercenaries, accompanied the King of France. These were in part with the
King himself, in part detached to watch the passages of the river.

Thirdly: The King, with a considerable personal force, and with some of
his mercenaries as well, was up in the neighbourhood of Saigneville upon
the noon and early afternoon of the Thursday. He retraced his steps
towards Abbeville, and recrossed the river there himself either upon the
Thursday evening, or more probably upon the Friday.

Fourthly: Round about Abbeville the bulk of the incongruous force was
gathered when the King reached it, and very considerable bodies lay in the
suburbs to the north of the town.

Finally, we know that on the Saturday morning the King heard Mass and
took Communion at the Church of St Stephen (now demolished).

From all this we can construct a fairly accurate view of the French
advance, especially when we consider where the French forces lay when they
reached the field. From Abbeville to the field of Crécy is, as the crow
flies, ten miles. A great main road (along the further part of which the
English had marched on the Friday) led to the neighbourhood of the field
and past it: the main road which goes from Abbeville to Hesdin. By this
road, breaking up probably rather late upon the Saturday morning, the
largest of the loosely gathered French contingents marched. Far to the
right of them over the countryside would be advancing the other feudal
levies under the King of Bohemia and John of Luxembourg, the exiled Count
of Flanders, the ex-King of Majorca, and other friends, connections, and
vassals whom Philip had summoned with their arrays. It is to be presumed
that certain bodies on the extreme right went up by the Roman road which
misses Abbeville coming from the south, and makes for Ponches, bounding
the battlefield of Crécy on its extreme eastern side.

Following this chaotic advance of the dispersed host, gathered in a
jumble, the wholly untrained peasant levies which had been swept up from
the villages on the advance proceeded in disorder. And it was thus without
regular formation, save among the Genoese mercenaries (some 15,000 in
number at the outset of the campaign, though we do not know of what
strength on the field itself), that the first lines of mounted men caught
sight from the heights of Noyelles[14] and Domvast of the English line on
the ridge of Crécy three miles away.

It was early in the afternoon before that sight was seen. The wind was
from the sea, and gathering clouds promising a storm were coming up before
it, and hiding the sun.

Before these advance lines of the French army, and between it and Edward's
command, the ground fell gradually away in low, very gentle slopes of open
field towards the shallow depression above which a somewhat steeper and
shorter bank defended the line, a mile and a half long, upon which Edward
had stretched his men.

There was an attempt at some sort of deployment, and the first of three
main commands or "battles" were more or less formed under Alençon, the
French King's brother. Immediately before it were deployed the trained
mercenaries, including the Italian cross-bowmen under their own leaders,
Dorio and Grimaldi. Behind was a confused mass of arriving horse and foot,
the King himself to the rear of it, and much of it German and Flemish
separate commands. We do not know their composition at all. Still further
to the rear, and stretched out for miles to the south, straggling up from
Abbeville, came, that late afternoon, the rest of the ill-ordered host at
random. Before the action was begun, the whole sky was darkened by the
approaching storm, and violent pelting rain fell upon either host. The
clouds passed, the sky cleared again, but it was nearly five o'clock
before the first attack was ordered.

In order to explain what followed we must next grasp the nature of the
terrain, and the value of the defensive position upon which Edward had
determined to stand.



[Illustration]


IV

THE TERRAIN OF CRÉCY


The action decided upon the field of Crécy developed wholly within the
central space shown in the frontispiece of this volume.

The general frame within which the battle took place must be regarded as a
parallelogram corresponding to the exterior limits of that map, not quite
four miles in length from east to west, and some 2-1/2 miles in breadth
from north to south, having the town of Crécy a little to the north of the
medial line, and a good deal on the left or western side of the area. But
the emplacement of the troops and the actual fighting, including the
partial pursuit by the victors, is wholly contained within a smaller area,
which lies aslant, with its major axis pointing north-west, its minor axis
pointing north-east, and surrounding the dip called "the Val aux Clercs."

The aspect of this countryside is that of so many in the north-east of
France. The passage of six and a half centuries has not greatly modified
it. The limits of the Royal Forest of Crécy are what they have been
perhaps from Roman, certainly from early medieval, times. The
characteristic hedgeless, rolling, ploughed land, which is the normal
landscape of all French provinces and of many others, has been disturbed
by no growth of modern industrialism, and its contours remain unmodified
by any considerable excavations of the soil. The villages attaching to the
battlefield, Estrées, Wadicourt, Fontaine, are in extent, and even in
appearance, much what they were when the armies of the fourteenth century
occupied them, and the little market-town of Crécy has not appreciably
extended its limits.

Even minor features such as the small groups of woodland and the spinnies
seem, judged by our remaining descriptions of the battle, to be much the
same to-day as they were then.

The terrain of Crécy offers, therefore, an excellent opportunity for the
reconstruction of the medieval scene, and I will attempt to bring it
before the eyes of my readers.

Ponthieu is a district of low, open, and slightly undulating fertile
lands, whose highest ridges touch such contours as 300 feet above the sea,
and the depressions in which, very broad and easy, do not commonly fall
more than a 100 feet or so below the higher rolls of land. In the
particular case of the field of Crécy we shall have to deal with figures
even less marked. The crests from which the opposing armies viewed each
other before the action average full 200 feet above the sea; the broad,
shallow depression between its confronting ridges descends to little more
than sixty feet below them.

All this wide expanse of fertile land, affording from one lift of its
undulations and another great even views for miles and miles, is cut by
streams which run parallel to each other in trenches five to seven miles
apart, and make their way by curiously straight courses north-westward to
the neighbouring sea. These are the Conche, the Authie (the crossing of
whose marshes by the great Roman road formed those _pontes_ which, as we
have seen, give the district its name of Ponthieu), and the Maye.

This last little river alone concerns us. We deal in the matter of the
Battle of Crécy only with the first rising waters of the Maye. Its source
springs just below the village which derives from that river-head its name
of Fontaine, and the Church of Crécy stands not two miles down the young
stream. These two miles of its course, and a slight depression tributary
to this its upper basin, mould the battlefield.

For this shallow depression, called the "Val aux Clercs," among the least
of the many long waves and troughs of land upon which Ponthieu is
modelled, was the centre of the engagement, and, though too short and
shallow to develop the smaller stream, such water as it collects is
tributary to the Maye. This depression runs up from the level exactly
north-eastward, gradually rising until it fades, not quite two miles above
the river, into the upper levels of the plateau.

On either side of this Val aux Clercs lift the soft and inconspicuous
slopes that bound it. The one that bounds it on the north and west, and
from which a man faces the south-east and the direction of Amiens, was the
eminence occupied by the army of Edward III. At its southern end, where it
overlooks the narrow rivulet of the Maye, it descends abruptly to the
meadow level of the stream. The fall at this terminal of the bank is one
of 100 feet. Its slope varies from one in ten to one in twelve, and on
that slope and on the meadow level below it the little town of Crécy
stands. There is the mouth of the Val aux Clercs, and the further one
walks along the road which marks the position of the English line, and the
nearer one approaches Wadicourt, the shallower and less conspicuous and
flatter does the Val aux Clercs appear upon one's right, as its depression
rises towards the general level of the plateau. At last, in the
neighbourhood of Wadicourt itself (the first houses of which stand 2000
yards from the last houses of Crécy) the depression has almost
disappeared.

The bank or fall of land from this crest of the English position down to
the lowest point of the trough, steeper towards its southern, or Crécy,
easier towards its northern, or Wadicourt, end is, upon the average, a
slope of one in thirty; just steep enough to produce its effect upon a
charging crowd (especially over soil drenched by rain), and falling just
sufficiently to give their maximum value to the arrow-shafts of the
long-bow, which was the chief arm of Edward's command.

The opposing slope, that which lies to the south and east of the vale, and
from which the traveller faces the sea-breeze blowing from a shore not
fifteen miles away, is much easier and more gentle even than its
counterpart. The ridge of it stands above the lowest point of the Val aux
Clercs no higher than the corresponding and opposite ridge which the
English King occupied with his army, but the fall covers double the
distance. It is not 400 yards, but more like a mile, and the average of
the decline is one in fifty at the most.

Moreover, this opposing ridge is neither as cleanly marked as the
Crécy-Wadicourt line nor parallel to it. It is impossible to fix upon it,
with any definition, a true crest. The slope undulates very gradually into
the general level of the plateau, and is so formed that the Val aux Clercs
is funnel-shaped, much wider at the mouth on the Maye than towards its
upper end.

The depression, therefore, which was the theatre of the action, is in the
main V-shaped, and its mouth is a full mile in breadth, while its last
faint upper portion is not half that width.

Such, in detail, is the field of Crécy.

I have attempted in the cut opposite p. 91 to express graphically its main
features as they would appear upon a model carved in wood and plotted to
show the actual relief of the soil.

I will conclude by pointing out to the English reader a curious parallel.
The field of Crécy has many analogies to the field of Waterloo. In both
cases two opposing ridges roughly determine the general plan. In both a
depression, double and complex in the modern, single in the medieval,
instance, lies between the two lines. That of Crécy, as was suitable for a
day in which no missiles of long range were available, is somewhat more
marked and affords somewhat more of an obstacle to the offensive than that
of Waterloo. In both the French formed the attacking force and in both the
defensive position was chosen with singular mastery. Indeed, an eye for a
defensive position marks Edward's plan most strongly, and is, quite apart
from the successful result of his action, his best title to repute in
military history.

       *       *       *       *       *

     At the close of this section the plainest duty of an historian, as
     well as the satisfaction of common humour, compels me to allude to a
     characteristic production of the University of Oxford. There has
     proceeded from this university a school-book, perhaps the most
     universally used in the public schools of this country, known as
     _Bright's History of England_. I was myself brought up on it. It is
     taken, I suppose (like much other Oxford matter), as something
     hall-marked and official. This text-book has upon page 226 of its
     first volume a full-page map of the Battle of Crécy. It is fair to
     say that such a production could not have proceeded, I do not say
     from any university upon the Continent of Europe, but from the
     humblest schoolmaster in a French, Swiss, or German village. The
     features marked upon it are wholly and unreservedly imaginary. There
     is not even the pretence of a remote similarity between this
     grotesque thing and the terrain of the famous battle: it is a pure
     invention. It is almost impossible to express in words the difference
     between this product of fancy, and even the most inaccurate map
     sketched from memory, or the merest jottings set down by someone who
     had no more to guide him than some vague recollection of an account
     of the battle. There is nothing in it bearing the remotest
     resemblance to any hill, river, road, wood, village, or point of the
     compass concerned with the field of Crécy, and to this astonishing
     abortion is modestly added in the left-hand bottom corner, "From
     Sprüner." I have not by me as I write Sprüner's collection of
     historical maps which were given us at the University, but if that
     eminent authority was the model for such a masterpiece, it is a
     sufficient commentary upon the rest of his work. I _have_ before me
     as I write the flabbergasting plan in _Bright's History_ which I have
     treasured ever since my boyhood, and I trust that this note may be
     read by many who still believe that the function of our universities
     is to train the governing class of the nation, not so much in
     learning as in "character."

     Contrast the excellent and accurate little map in the first-rate
     manual which Mr Barnard published twelve years ago from the
     Clarendon Press. The whole of this book is to be most highly
     recommended. I believe that this map, the only doubtful features of
     which are the angular formation of the English Archers and the
     concentration of the French rear upon the Roman road, is from the
     pencil of Mr Oman.



V

THE ACTION


King Edward, upon that Saturday morning before he had yet caught sight of
the French, of whose advance his scouts informed him, rode on a little
horse slowly up and down the ranks encouraging his army, as it sat and lay
at rest, with shield and helm and bow upon the grass before each man,
along the crest of the slight hill.

In his hand the King bore a white wand and no weapon, and this visitation
of his lasted until nearly ten o'clock. His last orders were that all his
men should eat and drink heartily, and he himself conveyed that order to
his own division, which lay behind the main line. He had organised the
defence upon a very simple pattern.

That battalion which was called the First Battalion consisted of 1200
men-at-arms, that is, fully armoured knights upon horseback, with 4000
Archers and 4000 Welshmen. They occupied that turn or shoulder of the
slope which runs round from the town of Crécy itself into the beginning
of the Val aux Clercs, and were under the nominal command of the lad the
Prince of Wales. But at his side the real orderers of that force were
Warwick and Oxford. Such was the English right.

Next, in the centre, and back from the first battalion, was the line of
English Archers. It was very carefully organised, with the object of a
purely defensive action. Small pits were dug before each man's station,
and this infantry was arranged in "harrow" formation, much as trees are
planted in an orchard in _quincunx_, so that any five of them formed a
figure somewhat like the five in a pack of cards. It is evident that this
formation, if the men were sufficiently dispersed, as they were, gave the
freest play to their missiles, all of which could be shot through the
intervals; and when we remember the rate of fire, three to one of the
cross-bow, we shall understand how formidable was this infantry, and how
well able it was to break any cavalry charge prepared by nothing more than
the shots of the Genoese. All the tradition and sentiment of medieval
warfare gave to the mounted knight the glory of battle, but, as I shall
have occasion to remark in the sequel, the great feature of Crécy was the
presence of an ordered, highly trained infantry, expected to await, and
capable of awaiting, a rush of horse until that cavalry should receive at,
say, fifty to eighty yards the whole weight of a furious and sustained
discharge of missiles. Beyond the Archers, some 3000 in number at this
point, were 1200 mounted knights, who, together with the Archers at the
centre, were under the command of Northampton.

There may have been a certain number of Archers to the left again of these
knights, but, at any rate, Northampton's command covered the rest of the
ridge and reposed upon Wadicourt. Here, lest it should be turned, the left
flank of the English line was protected by a park of wagons drawn up close
together, vehicles taken from such of the train as had been saved from the
French attack upon the rearguard at the ford two days before.

The remainder of the wagons, provisions, and impedimenta were drawn up in
the rear near the wood, and in front of them and between them and the
defensive line upon the ridge was a strong reserve of over 10,000 men
under Edward himself. Taking no account of non-combatants, we must reckon
Archers, armoured men and spear-men together at perhaps 25,000 men, and
certainly not more than 30,000; but we must remember, as I said upon a
former page, that every Archer was served by aides, that a man-at-arms
needed a squire, and that drivers and domestics of various kinds, and many
recruits from Normandy, swelled the host.

The large force against which this defensive was drawn up has been
variously estimated. Its dispersion over the countryside, the lack of any
cohesive command, the absence of all precise figures, the considerable
bodies of wholly untrained country folk who were straggling up behind the
army, make an estimate of the actual forces engaged on the French side
extremely difficult. We do not know how many Germans, Luxemburgians, and
others had been brought up with the feudal levy. The rough guess of
contemporaries at the whole numbers present and arriving during this
confused marshalling of Philip's host, calls it 100,000. A recent and very
careful English authority has estimated the enemy actually in line at
60,000. If we say that Edward met forces more than double his own, but not
three times his own, we are as near the truth as we can hope to get. But
the right way to estimate the disproportion between the offensive and the
defensive upon this famous day is to contrast the fully armoured mounted
men of either side, and, further, to contrast

1. The trained infantry, armed with missile weapons.

2. The infantry, trained or untrained, armed only with spear, dagger, or
sword.

Upon such an analysis we get some such result as follows:--

Some 4000 fully armoured mounted men in Edward's command, of whom only
3000 or less were out of the reserve and in the line. Some 7000 Archers
actually in the defensive line, with a much smaller number (unknown) in
the reserve. Add 4000 Spearmen, for the most part Welsh. Against these on
the offensive you may set, at the very least, quite four times their
number of fully mounted armoured men and probably six times their number,
or even more. As against the English Archers, we must count for the
missile arm upon the French side somewhat less. The only contemporary
authority, Villani, who gives us any exact figures, names 6000 as their
number.

When we come to the few trained non-missile infantry of the English
forces--some 4000 in the line, not counting the reserve,--and contrast
them with the rabble of untrained and scattered French countrymen, most
of whom were still coming up in the rear and did not take part in the
action (save to suffer slaughter in the darkness after it was over), we
can take any multiple we choose. They may have been five, six or eight
times as numerous as the Welshmen with whom they did not come into contact
at all.

It will be seen from the above that the real point of the battle, and that
which decided it, was the power of the trained missile infantry of Edward
(1) to await a charge of horse in no matter what numerical superiority it
might arrive, confident that they could always check it before it reached
their line or broke it; and inspired by that confidence, because (2) the
only missile infantry that could be brought against them to prepare such a
cavalry charge was armed with a weapon which delivered only one shot to
their three. That was the deciding element of the Battle of Crécy: the
power of the long-bow to stop horse upon any front equivalent to the front
of the Archers, and the confidence of the bowman in that power.

       *       *       *       *       *

The action opened regularly enough with the advance of the French missile
infantry, the Genoese mercenaries, at the hour, as I have said, of about
five o'clock. They proceeded down the slight slope into the Val aux
Clercs, followed at a foot's pace by a strong body of the first battalion
of the French mounted knights under Alençon.

Advancing thus deployed, a body of 6000 men had difficulty in keeping its
line, a thing essential to the simultaneous effect of short-range weapons.
Twice they were halted to correct their alignment, and though perhaps at
the second halt they were at the lowest point of the valley and just in
extreme range of the English arrows from the height above, those arrows
did not yet come. The English had been ordered to reserve their fire. They
began to climb the opposing slope, shouting as was their custom, and after
a third halt had been called, and a third strict alignment made so near to
the English front as to be certainly in range for their cross-bows, the
order to shoot was given. With the first flight of the Genoese bolts, the
English Archers took each man his step forward and began pouring in that
terrible fire, sustained, accurate, and rapid, to which they were so
admirably trained, and of which hitherto, save in the fight at the ford,
no example had been given in continental warfare.

Under that murderous and unceasing rain of missiles the Italian
mercenaries, whose weapon compelled them to a complicated process of
winding and ratcheting and laying, very ill-suited to such a strain, fell
into disorder. A sufficient proportion of them broke, and their confusion
at once angered and churned up the great body of mounted French knights,
which awaited impatiently immediately behind their line. They were ridden
down in the eagerness of these armoured horsemen to retrieve this first
check by a charge, and Alençon's men spurred hard (badly hampered by that
obstacle of their own men fallen into confusion before them) upon the
English right and the Prince of Wales's battalion. Some of them got home,
especially those who found themselves opposite the most advanced section
of the Prince of Wales's command, where it stood thrust forward in a
semicircle upon the shoulder and last slopes of the hill. The boy himself
was unhorsed, and for a moment the pressure was severe.[15] But the effect
of the arrow fire upon all the rest of the charging line told heavily. It
never got home. Indeed, it must have been apparent to Edward at that
moment that for all the fixed tradition of chivalry and that overwhelming
atmosphere of military religion which in every age, according to its
traditions, confuses the soldier, had he kept all his men at arms in
reserve and put Archers only in the front line, they would have sufficed
to win his battle.

There stands upon the Crécy end of the ridge a great mound to this day. It
is the foundation of an old stone windmill which stood there for
centuries, and which has been shamefully pulled down within living memory.
From that mill it was that Edward watched the whole action proceeding upon
the slope beneath him. He saw the head of the French charge get home but
its extended line wavering, checked, and broken up on the Val aux Clercs
as a continuous rain of arrows poured in. He saw all the front ranks of
horses broken: the animals lashing out or fallen stampeding rearward,
mounted or riderless: the heavily armoured knights fallen helpless and
trampled, the whole thing a vast confusion.

It was near six o'clock. The westering sun was within an hour of its
setting, and shone right up the vale, coming aslant upon the burnished
armour of the charge. Had this kind of warfare already established a
tradition, and had men learned by experience what unshaken infantry could
do against horse, it would already have been apparent that the action was
decided. But there was no such experience and no such knowledge. Over the
long slopes of open field which fronted the English ridge, line after line
of knights were coming forward in successive waves, as though mere weight
of horses and men could win home in spite of the increasing welter of
flying, dead, and maddened mounts, and of fallen men and iron that now
lined all the front with a belt of obstacle more formidable than earth or
wall. And of those, such few as could struggle through to within range
might hope to escape the deadly and now converging fire which struck horse
after horse as the foot of the ridge was reached. By gaps in the deadly
confusion of the stampede and the corpses, round to their right further
and further up the valley (upon their left the marshes of the Maye forbade
a turning movement), the French charges followed and spread. A dozen or
more were counted, and each as it came met the missile defence and was
broken, with no counter missile offensive to tame that fire.

The sun was setting, but one effort was made which should have been made
far earlier in the short crisis. It was an effort of the French right to
turn the English left by Wadicourt.

Due, we may imagine, to no regular order, an occasion seized upon by some
one commander who saw his chance, a charge of horse was led right up to
that end of the English line, the barricade of wagons prevented its
getting home, and, though the struggle was violent, the obstacle was never
pierced or overcome. Well after sunset, and as the light was fading, the
King of France himself led a great body to the centre, and seems to have
come into range of the arrows, but he, no more than any of his lieges,
could force horse against steady infantry and an unremitting fire. The
darkness came, the late moon rose, and still were desultory and sporadic
charges continued, haphazard and blindly. They had not even a hazard of
success. These last efforts of the failing battle were repelled with ease,
but even up to midnight the final pulses of the fight throbbed, with
lesser and lesser pulsations; until after these seven hours of it--most of
it by darkness, and all the while the line of Archers standing unbroken,
and all the while supplied with their unexhausted ammunition, and finding
strength to draw and to discharge--the thing was over.

Throughout that night great bodies of disordered peasantry, half-armed,
the militia of the Communes, fled or wandered aimlessly southward over the
bare, rolling land. The mounted knights had ridden away from a field where
all was utterly lost, and the English line broke up to move forward by the
light of lanterns over the face of the countryside, to despatch or to
capture the wounded, to loot, to search for the faces and the ensigns of
the greater dead. But in that darkness the magnitude of the result was not
seen. The English army seems to have guessed the issue mainly by the dying
down of the noise, and the ceasing of the cries of men rallying to their
lords' banners.

This was the end of the Battle of Crécy, in the night of Saturday the 26th
of August, 1346.

Early upon the Sunday morning, Edward's forces stood to arms again, not
knowing whether even yet a new attack might not be made. Mist covered all
the landscape, through which fog, dimly, bodies of men seemed to be
advancing upon them from the south. They were reinforcements of Philip's
come up in ignorance of what had passed the day before, or at any rate
not appreciating how decisive the day had been. Five hundred knights
riding out easily dispersed them. Further bodies straggling up in similar
fashion were dealt with in detail, and all that morning the English
soldiers going at large over the fields found and put to the sword lost
fragments of militia, came, as they tracked the flight, upon dead and
wounded lords, and cut off bewildered remnants, making they knew not
whither over the land.

The total French losses will never be known. The legend of disaster calls
them now ten, now twenty thousand. Of the mounted and armoured men of rank
the heralds made a precise account, and returned a list to King Edward of
1542 fallen and dead upon the front of the battle and in the first fields
of the retreat. To these due sepulchre was given. The mass of the fallen
were buried in common trenches, marks of which may be seen to this day;
and it is said that fires were lit to rid the ground of the dead.

The English loss was wholly insignificant. Its exact amount, like that of
its enemy, we cannot tell, because a list of but two knights, one squire,
and forty of the rest, not counting a few Welsh, is all that we are
given. But, even if this total (which hardly corresponds to the fierce
mêlée at the beginning of the action on the right) be below the true
number, we may be certain that that number was very small indeed. The line
was never pierced; the English fight was wholly defensive, and a defensive
maintained at range against troops which disposed, after the first rout of
the Genoese, of no missiles upon their side.

Upon the Monday morning, the 28th of August, the host set forth upon its
northern march, quite free now from any danger of pursuit. By the first
days of September it had sat down before Calais. All winter and all the
succeeding summer the blockade continued, and upon the 4th of August 1347,
nearly a year after Crécy, the town was taken and the lasting fruit of
that engagement was garnered. Calais remained an English bastion upon the
Continent for more than two hundred years.



Footnotes:

[1] We have this upon the evidence of a contemporary, Villani. It has, of
course, been denied by our modern academic authorities, but without
evidence.

[2] The theatrical character which attaches to warfare through the
fourteenth century appears at this very outset of the campaign. Edward
knighted the Black Prince and sundry other commanders on a hill
overlooking the fleet and the harbour just before the main body
disembarked. The Black Prince had already been knighted, and the ceremony
was mere parade.

[3] He did _not_ go to Rouen, or near it, as the map in Mr Fortescue's
work (vol. i. p. 37) presumes. Rouen was, he found, too strongly held.
There is no time for the big loop of twenty miles which Mr Fortescue
introduces, and no evidence for it.

[4] This is not N. D. de Vaudreuil, as Professor Thompson suggests, but St
Cyr just beyond where the bridge is.

[5] This point has also proved puzzling. Thus Professor Thompson calls it
"difficult to find." What the clerk heard and set down was the peasants'
term "L'Angreville."

[6] This, as Professor Thompson rightly says, is not on the modern maps.
It stood just above _Nezel_ near the modern Chateau between that village
and Falaise or "The Cliff."

[7] So I read the meaningless rigmarole of the Clerk of the Kitchen. But I
may be wrong. Professor Thompson inclines to Ecquevilly, a mile or two
further on.

[8] Or _six_, if we read Ecquevilly. The main army halted at Flins.

[9] The low tide after the full moon occurred on that 24th of August at
about half past-six o'clock in the open sea and nearer eight o'clock in
the estuary, or even later; for we must allow quite seven hours' ebb to
five hours' flow in that funnel in its old unreclaimed state.

[10] _Antiq. de Pic._, vol. iii. pp. 131, etc.

[11] The parish boundaries are not absolutely straight, as, after the
fashion of modern French communal boundaries, they follow the corners of
the oblong strips of peasant cultivation, but the aggregate of straight
lines, all in one continuous direction, marks a quite unmistakable
trajectory.

[12] The traveller going by rail to-day from Paris to Calais or Boulogne,
may note at the second station after Abbeville a wood upon the heights to
his right, and upon his left the reclaimed valley of the Somme. The next
station he passes is that of Port, with the church of the village upon his
right as he leaves it, and the embankment which he sees crossing the
valley floor upon his left, a mile further on, marks the passage by which
Edward III. and his army forced the then broad estuary of the river.

[13] See p. 45.

[14] Not to be confounded with the other Noyelles upon the Somme, ten
miles away.

[15] It was at this moment that news was brought to King Edward of his
son's peril, and that he replied "Let the child win his spurs"--sending
the messenger back empty, but having care immediately afterwards to
despatch reinforcement.





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