Today on August 26, 1346, thousands of French knights were massacred by English longbowmen at the Battle of Crecy.
The Battle of Crecy was England's first major victory after landing the army in northern France. King Edward III's invasion was the start of what is now known as the Hundred Years’ War. The war marked a long and bitter struggle for control of the French crown. Competing claims arose from England’s House of Plantagenet and France’s House of Valois. This epic conflict truly epitomized the medieval warfare and the height of chivalry in Western Europe. The initial period of the Hundred Years’ War is called the Edwardian Phase, which lasted from 1337 to 1360. The Battle of Crecy would be the first of three stunning English victories along with the Battles of Poitiers in 1356 and Agincourt in 1415.
On July 12, King Edward landed in Normandy with 14,000 soldiers, consisting mostly of longbowmen. The English army marched northward plundering and burning villages along the countryside. Upon hearing the news, King Philip VI of France immediately assembled an army to stop the invasion. The French army consisted of roughly 12,000 men-at-arms, 8,000 mounted knights, and thousands of Genoese crossbowmen. Edward halted his forces at the town of Crecy and prepared for battle. The English were heavily outnumbered and were up against what was thought to be far superior soldiers. However, the English managed to take the tactical advantage of better positioning on the terrain.
The Genoese crossbowmen led the initial assault but were quickly overwhelmed by the faster reloading of the longbowmen. Next, the French knights attempted charging at the English infantry lines but were hampered by the muddy ground. The longbowmen, nicknamed the machine gun of the middle ages, mercilessly cut down the hamstrung cavalry. By nightfall, the French were in full retreat with King Philip narrowly escaping death. Nearly a third of the French army lay slain on the field. Philip’s brother, Charles of Alencon, and his principal allies, King John of Bohemia and Louis of Nevers, were killed. The Battle of Crecy marked the decline of mounted knights. The English subsequently besieged the port city of Calais which eventually surrendered in the following year.