Road to Crecy 1346 – The First Somme – Intro

Dec 22nd, 2008 | By | Category: AD 1346 Crecy

The First Somme Campaign – August 1346
(The Road to Crecy)

by Garry Harbottle-Johnson


The original article on which this series is based, first began as an idea revolving around the Battle of Blanquetaque Ford during Edward III’s 1346 campaign in France.  During the writing of that battle it soon became apparent that the other minor battles and major skirmishes along the River Somme, leading up to the Battle of Crecy, were in themselves a forerunner to another such campaign almost six centuries later, in which the ability to inflict long-range casualties was just as important. In point of fact, Edward’s tactics for the longbow can be compared to early 20th century tactics for machine-guns.

Once written up as a lengthy feature article, it was published in Miniature Wargames No. 105 in February 1992.  My original maps and battlefield deployment sketches, used in that printed article, are included in this series, together with additional material gathered later.  Over time, the article-category containing this series will grow to a more complete narrative of the entire AD 1346 Crecy campaign, alongside other categories for other major and minor campaigns of the Hundred Years War.

The 1346 Crecy Campaign can be easily divided into four distinct sub-campaigns –

  • The English landings in Normandy to the sacking of Caen
  • From Caen to crossing the River Seine
  • The march from the River Seine to crossing the River Somme
  • The march from the Somme to the final battle at Crecy, and the battle itself

Later in 2009, I hope to return to the 1346 campaign and write the other three sub-campaigns, therefore giving you a complete history from landing in France to returning to England.  This series overviews the first three parts of the above list, and examines in detail the second half of the third part – the battles, strategies, and tactics along the south bank of the River Somme.  It does not deal in detail with the pell-mell rush from the Seine to the Somme that the English were forced to make.

The three battles on the Somme, examined in this series, all show the effect that the English adoption of the longbow had on the outcome, and lay aside certain myths as to how medieval forces (pre gun-powder) actually used two of the most formidable weapons of the period – the pike and footman’s longbow, rules writers please take notes.

Historical Background

The primary build up to the battle of Crecy began over 100 years before the battle, in the early 13th century, when Philippe Auguste threw King John of England out of Normandy. Some would say that it dates back to the times of William the Conqueror and subsequent disputes over the crowns of France and England.

French territories and borders up to AD 1350 - click image to enlargeOne hundred and forty years after John’s ejection, it finally boiled over when Edward III, the sole direct successor (through his mother) to the throne of France decided to claim his birthright. The French King Charles IV had died in 1328, and having only had daughters, the crown had passed to his cousin Philippe de Valois, because of the French “Salic Law” which forbade succession through the distaff side.

Due to these circumstances, England was forced to pay homage for her holdings in France – Guienne and Ponthieu, to a usurper King of France. Constant niggling and negotiation took place between Edward and the new Philippe VI, from the latter’s coronation until 1346. The English King travelled to France on several occasions, but in 1337 war broke out when Edward sent the Bishop of Lincoln to the Louvre, bearing a letter addressed to, ‘Philippe de Valois who calls himself King of France’.

The first major battle, on 24th June 1340, was at Sluys near Bruges. There, the English infantry massacred the French and their Genoese mercenaries after winning a battle on the decks of ships tied side by side. Three months later a treaty was signed.

However in 1346, when the English were falling out of favour with their Flemish allies, Philippe decided now was the time to capture Guienne and he despatched his son Jean, Duke of Normandy, at the head of a feudal army reported to be over 50,000 strong.  This vast force laid siege to Aguillon, held by the English under Derby, during the month of March.

The siege dragged on until July whilst Edward prepared an expeditionary force to relieve Derby.  His was not to be a feudal army of questionable reliability – it was to be a professional, disciplined and experienced force where each man knew his duties and responsibilities.  Edward was thus setting the standard for all such English (and British) overseas excursions from that date.

Having learned from experiences against the Scots, the bulk of the army was made up of archers and pikemen.  Thus it was that Edward’s army comprised of 16,000 men-at-arms, knights, squires, weapon bearers and attendants.

Although contemporary chroniclers disagree on actual proportions, an average for Crecy (the most documented battle in the campaign) would seem to be 8,000 archers, 3,000 men-at-arms and knights, and 1,300 Welsh pike.

This would appear to show a loss of some 3,500 men in the march between landing in Normandy, and the start of the final battle of the campaign.

Later articles in this series

  • Road to Crecy 1346 – Campaign March to the Somme (onsite 29 Dec 2008)
  • Road to Crecy 1346 – The Somme Campaign – Overview (onsite 5 Jan 2009)
  • Road to Crecy 1346 – Battle of Abbeville – Longbows from horseback (onsite 12 Jan 2009)
  • Road to Crecy 1346 – Battle of Oisemont – Boys doing Men’s work (onsite 19 Jan 2009)
  • Road to Crecy 1346 – Battle of Blanquetaque Ford – Knights are not Marines (onsite 26 Jan 2009)
  • Road to Crecy 1346 – Bibliography, Conclusions, and Hindsight (onsite 2 Feb 2009)

This introduction is the first of a seven-part series.  The rest of the series will appear here on on each Monday over the following six weeks – be sure to add to your diary the need to return and read the rest of the series.


[wordbay]25mm,  (knights, “men at arms”, hobilars, squires, “baggage wagon”, medieval, longbow, “Edward III”, “Miniature Wargames”)[/wordbay]

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