Road to Crecy 1346 – Campaign March to the Somme

Dec 29th, 2008 | By | Category: AD 1346 Crecy

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

by Garry Harbottle-Johnson

Campaign-march to the Somme

Illustration of Battle of Crecy August 1346 from Chronicles of Jean FroissartThe Campaign before the Somme

Originally, Edward set sail for Bordeaux, but weather conditions and the advice of a banished Norman knight (Geoffrey d’Harcourt) led to a re-routing into Normandy, and a landing at St. Vaast-la-Hague on 12th July 1346.

This mid-crossing change of landing place gave Edward the element of total surprise.  This was just as well, for though he did not yet know it, Philippe had a spy in the English camp – a fact not discovered until Crecy had been fought and won.

The Normans of the 14th century no longer believed in war and this showed in their total unpreparedness and crumbling defence works. Despite Edward taking six days to ready his army for the march, he was never attacked and thus he was able to maintain his planned marching order:

  • Vanguard – led by Edward. Prince of Wales (Age 15)
  • Main (middle) Body – led by Edward King of England
  • Rear Guard – led by the Earl of Northampton
  • Flank Guards – led by Geoffrey d’Harcourt & Warwick

The invasion fleet followed the army along the coastline.  Booty and prisoners for ransom being transferred to it at regular intervals.  Before long, the raiding army gained a reputation for terror, pillage, rape, murder, and arson, which then preceded their route.  It was this reputation that led to the immediate and uncontested surrender of Barfleur and then Cherbourg.  In both towns only the castles held out, despite which, the amount of booty gathered was vast.

Valogne, Saint-Mer-Eglise, Montbourg, Carentan, Saint Lo, and all the villages between were looted and burnt. Only Carentan gave a show of defiance, but succumbed without battle upon seeing the way that the English deployed.

Philippe, surprised that the English had landed in Normandy, instead of Flanders or Guienne, became concerned when the advance moved towards Caen, the largest town and castle between Edward and Paris. The French King ordered the return of his son, Jean de Normandie, to Paris, lifting the siege of Aguillon when his army followed him to screen the capital.  Thus, by default, Edward achieved one of his principal aims (see series intro concerning this).

Whilst Jean’s army was returning, as an interim measure, Philippe ordered the Counts of Eu, Chines, and Tancarville, to assist Caen, and to hold the English on the River Orne.

On the 25th July, the invaders made camp two leagues from the town and their fleet dropped anchor at nearby Ouistreham. The following day, the Normans played into Edward’s hands by leaving their stronghold to meet him on the field of battle.

The English archers soon routed the defenders, and the Welsh and knights pursued them from the field, over the bridges and through the gate of the town.  A bloodbath ensued, with the English losing 500 men but killing everyone and everything in sight.  Only the pleading of d’Harcourt stopped Edward from razing the town.  On the following day, the town and castle officially surrendered.

Not knowing that the siege of Aiguillon had been lifted, Edward decided not to march on the now open route to Paris, but to press on towards Calais far to the north.  Lisieux, Louviers, Pont-de-l’Arche, and Elbeuf, all fell before the army arrived, preferring to surrender to the scouts than suffer the fate of Caen.

Only when the army arrived at the intended crossing point of the Seine, at Rouen, was there any resistance.  The city refused to either fight or give passage, forcing Edward to withdraw inland along the river and towards the capital.

Everywhere the King went, the bridges had been destroyed to prevent the army crossing and escaping northward.  At Vernon, Rolleboise, Mantes la lolie, and at Poissy.  At the latter, despite the destruction of the bridge, there remained sufficient of the structure for the King’s carpenters to rebuild it, although this did take five days. Throughout this period, groups of English roamed the area – even to the outskirts of Paris, whose walls were crumbling and in ruins.

During this time, Philippe also sent a herald to Edward offering battle. The resting sovereign making a vague reply that he would move to Montfort-l’Aumary.

In fact, when the now refreshed English army crossed the Seine on 15th August, they had to push through 3,000 French foot before continuing towards Flanders.

AD1346 Edward III's march from Normandy to Crecy and CalaisOn the long march north, occasional resistance was offered, such as at St. Just, near Beauvais, where 4,000 French foot tried to halt the advance.  Although brave fighters, they lost and 200 were taken prisoner.  And so it went on, town after town being taken and destroyed, skirmish after skirmish being won.

Only when Edward reached the River Somme did any serious resistance appear against him, and from unexpected opponents.

Earlier articles in this series

Later articles in this series

  • 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)

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