Road to Crecy 1346 – Battle of Abbeville

Jan 12th, 2009 | By | Category: AD 1346 Crecy

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

by Garry Harbottle-Johnson

The Battle of Abbeville 23rd August 1346

Illustration of Battle of Crecy August 1346 from Chronicles of Jean FroissartThe Betrayal by, and Battle with, Abbeville

Towards the end of the long march from Barfleur, which led to the English victory at Crecy on 26th August 1346, Edward III’s army arrived at Airaines near the River Somme.

Airaines was a fortified town with two fortresses, but with a garrison of only 180 men. At the approach of the English, this small holding force withdrew to Point-Remy, on the Somme to the north, and the town was opened to the King without a struggle.

Having just marched the 140 kilometres from Poissy in six days, with his army of 13,000 soldiers plus retainers, baggage, loot and prisoners, Edward made camp in the town with the intention to rest for two or three days.

At this stage of the campaign, the King was faced with a dilemma, he did not know which bridges over the Somme were intact, nor whether those that were, were open to him. His main hope lay in the fact that he was approaching his mother’s fiefdom.

While the army rested, slaughtered cattle, and made bread, he sent Geoffrey d’Harcourt (a displaced French knight now loyal to the English crown), and the Earl of Warwick to reconnoitre. The two took with them 1,000 men-at-arms and 2,000 mounted longbowmen.

They discovered that the bridges at Picquingny, Longpre, and Fontaine, had been burnt, and that those at Long and Pont-Remy were too strongly held to take.  It appeared that there was no crossing open to them and worse still that Philippe of France was only a day’s march away, at Amiens, with an army reported to be 50,000 strong.

Summoning a council of war, Edward realised that he had only two options available, to take the bridges of Abbeville, or risk finding a ford reputed to be between that town and the sea.  One other possibility was to take the town, fort, and port, of Saint Valery sur Somme – from where William the Conqueror had sailed 280 years before.  (See map at left).

The army left Airaines the next day, after only one day’s rest. Whilst travelling they started fires and made diversionary raids to confuse the following French army.  As the bulk of his force lumbered forward, Edward took 200 knights to assess Abbeville for himself – the town’s bridges being the last before the coast.

En route, the royal party burnt the Priory of Mareuil, and climbed Caubert Hill, from where they could observe the intended crossing at a height of about 200 feet, in addition to viewing the surrounding plains and the Somme flood plains.

Coat of arms of the City of Abbeville in FranceThe town he looked down upon was well known to the king, having lived there 20 years previously as a teenager. Abbeville as capital of Ponthieu was his mother’s former fief, but realistically, having been a freetown for over 150 years was fiercely independent. In fact, the previous year, the townspeople had risen up against Edward’s men and locked them in the castle in protest against ruinous taxes being forced upon them.

At the time of observing the town with its bridges defended by thick ramparts, Edward knew that he would not cross without a fight, when local troops spotting his retinue on Caubert Hill advanced upon him. He and his knights retreated.

However, the English King would not be denied access that easily, returning to his army, he instructed Warwick and d’Harcourt to march up to the town walls with their 3,000 knights and demand passage.

Note – Although the records show the number to be 3,000 knights, it is more probable that they were in fact the 1,000 mounted men-at-arms and 2,000 mounted and armoured longbow, as described in previous and subsequent actions in this campaign.

Painting of the medieval City of Abbeville showing surrounding wallsThe people of Abbeville, led by the town mayor, Colart de Ver, left their fortifications, supported by horsemen and 2,000 foot from neighbouring freetowns.

They advanced to meet the English who had deployed along the slope of the flood plain to the south of the town.

The main question to be resolved before wargaming the ensuing battle is whether the longbow fought from horseback or on foot. Especially, if it was from horseback, could the weapon retain its devastating accuracy and rate of volley fire?

It would appear that they did in fact fight from horseback, for despite the odds being shorter than other famous longbow battles, the English were driven from the field and suffered 500 casualties into the bargain – more than the whole army suffered at Crecy (or at Agincourt over 100 years later, where many of the foot were almost naked).

1346 Battle of Abbeville deploymentsWargaming the Battle of Abbeville

The French forces, which sallied out of the town, are somewhat vaguely recorded. It is therefore realistic to suppose that if the neighbouring free-towns would lend 2,000 foot, a town of the size of Abbeville should be able to muster a minimum of a similar number, bearing in mind that the other towns would have held some of their own troops back, for their own defence.

It is also realistic to assume that fewer than 300 horse would be available from the collective forces – the majority of the feudal horse being with Philippe in the main army, and those available being of very poor quality with under 100 being as much as half armoured.

The content of the English forces are well documented and we can break them down quite accurately.  The total combatants on the day would therefore have been in the region of 7,500 men.  To wargame this at the popular ratio of 20 men per figure, therefore requires 375 figures – ideal for two players per side, which fits with the forces involved.

ENGLISH

  • Earl of Warwick
    • + 10 men at arms mounted as knights ‘A’.
    • + 4 units of 10 heavy cavalry ‘C’ class.
  • Geoffrey d’Harcourt
    • + 10 units of 10 mounted longbow ‘C’ class.
    • Armour ranging from protected to medium.

The ranges of mounted longbow, fired from the saddle, should be reduced by 10% and final casualties also reduced by 10%

FRENCH

  • de Ver
    • + 4 units x 20 Abbeville feudal militia. ‘D’ class light/medium infantry.
    • +1 unit x 20 Abbeville men-at-arms. ‘C’ class heavy infantry.
  • Allied general
    • 2 forces of 4 units militia + 1 unit men-at-arms, (as per de Ver) from other towns.
    • + 5 x knights A class.
    • + 10 x medium cavalry + lance.

Deployment

The English would have deployed as per their standard tactic of longbow in a long frontage with impact troops filling the gaps chequerboard fashion (see 2nd map above).  This deployment although standard for the English foot, would most likely also have been adopted by the mounted flank guards, allowing them the flexibility of sweeping around the wings.  After all, these units were not knights governed by the chivalrous rule of death or glory frontal charges.

The French it would seem, simply poured out of Abbeville, and charged forward ‘en masse’, hoping to carry the day by weight of numbers, but constricted somewhat by the roads being on elevated embankments.

In theory, the English longbow should have won this battle.  The two columns of French advancing along the raised roads would have prevented excellent “turkey shoots” in a similar manner to that displayed a few days later at Crecy, again at Agincourt, and once more at Waterloo when the French advanced in columns against the English lines.

That the English were trounced at Abbeville and chased from the field, therefore indicates they used the longbow from horseback and lost all advantage from the weapon.  It could also be that the town had artillery in use, that was not recorded in chronicles.  The combined effects, of poor weapon deployment on horses being made skittery by artillery, could explain their losing this battle.

Modern Abbeville map - the medieval city limits can be clearly seen
Modern Abbeville map – the medieval city limits can be clearly seen

Earlier articles in this series

Later articles in this series

  • 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)

[wordbay]15mm, (longbow, footmen, crossbow, halbard, knights, hobilars, mounted, bridge)[/wordbay]

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave Comment