On August 26, 1346, during the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453), the army of England’s King Edward III (1312-77) annihilated a French force under King Philip VI (1293-1350) at the Battle of Crecy in Normandy. The battle, which saw an early use of the deadly longbow by the English, is regarded as one of the most decisive in history.

Battle of Crecy: Background

In mid-July 1346, Edward landed an invasion force of about 14,000 men on the coast of Normandy. From there, the English army marched northward, plundering the French countryside. Learning of the Englishmen’s arrival, King Philip rallied an army of 12,000 men, made up of approximately 8,000 mounted knights and 4,000 hired Genoese crossbowmen. At Crecy, Edward halted his army and prepared for the French assault.

Did you know? Edward III was crowned at age 14 in 1327 and reigned until his death in 1377, making him one of Great Britain’s longest-ruling monarchs. Among those surpassing Edward is Queen Elizabeth II, who ascended to the throne in 1952 and has reigned for more than 60 years.

Battle of Crecy: August 26, 1346

On August 26, Philip’s army attacked. The Genoese crossbowmen led the assault, but they were soon overwhelmed by Edward’s 10,000 longbowmen, who could reload faster and fire much further. The crossbowmen then retreated and the French mounted knights attempted to penetrate the English infantry lines. In charge after charge, the horses and riders were cut down in the merciless shower of arrows. At nightfall, the French finally withdrew. Nearly a third of their army lay slain on the field, including Philip’s brother, Charles II of Alencon (1297-1346); his allies King John of Bohemia (1296-1346) and Louis of Nevers (1304-46); and some 1,500 other knights and esquires. Philip was wounded but survived. English losses were considerably lower.

The battle marked the decline of the mounted knight in European warfare and the rise of England as a world power. From Crecy, Edward marched on to Calais, which surrendered to him in 1347.