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The Story of France by  Mary Macgregor

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THE BATTLE OF CRECY

[145] IN July 1346, the truce being over. King Edward sailed for Normandy, taking with him a large army and his eldest son, the Prince of Wales.

Having landed, Edward marched through the country, taking town after town. St.Cloud, the town named, you remember, after a hapless little prince, was burned, and the English troops advanced almost to the gates of Paris.

Philip at once prepared to join his army at St. Denis. The old blind King of Bohemia had come with his son Charles and his knights to help the French king, and was awaiting him there, as was also a band of archers from Italy, who had been paid to fight for the French army.

The citizens of Paris were alarmed by the approach of Edward's troops, and begged the king not to leave them.

"My good people," answered Philip, "have ye no fear; the English shall come no nigher to you; I am away to St. Denis to my men-at-arms, for I mean to ride against these English and fight them in such fashion as I may."

So Philip joined his troops and set out in pursuit of the English, who had now turned northwards and were marching toward the river Somme. The French were about a day's journey behind, but they hoped to overtake them at the river, for they knew that Philip had ordered all the bridges to be either broken down or fortified.

When Edward heard from his captains that it was impossible for the army to cross the river, he was, says Froissart the chronicler, "not more joyous or less pensive, [146] and began to fall into a great melancholy." For well he knew that the enemy was not far behind.

But Philip was triumphant. He believed that the English were already in his power. He would starve them there between the river and the sea, or force them to fight against his army, which was larger and stronger than theirs.

Just when the English were most despondent, however, a ford was discovered. For King Edward had himself sent for some French prisoners, promising them freedom and gold if they would tell him a spot where the army might safely cross the river.

And one prisoner proved a traitor, for he led the English to the point where the Somme enters the sea. Here at low tide it was easy to cross, so the English bestirred themselves, and as the tide was ebbing they plunged into the water.

Guarding the opposite bank, by Philip's orders, was a knight, Sir Godemars de Foy, with about twelve thousand men. They also leaped into the river, and meeting the English in the middle of the stream they did their utmost to bar the passage. Many, both French and English, were drowned or slain.

But the English archers, from the farther side, never ceased to speed their arrows among the enemy, until at length the French began to yield, and, in spite of all Sir Godemars could do, to turn and run. They were pursued by the English, who overtook and scattered them, and thus Edward and his army were soon safe on the other side of the river.

By this time the tide had again begun to rise, and Philip, coming up, found it impossible to follow the enemy, though his men killed some of the rearguard who had lingered behind.

Edward now marched on until he reached a small village called Crécy. Here, on rising ground, on August 26, 1846, the army took up its position.

[147] The English were in three divisions. In the van or forefront was the king's young son, the Prince of Wales, who was only seventeen years of age. As the armour he wore was always black, he was called the Black Prince. On the field of Crécy the young prince was to win his spurs.

King Edward, having divided his army, mounted upon a pony, and with a white staff in his hand he rode from rank to rank, bidding his men fight bravely for the honour of their country.

Froissart tells us that some of the soldiers were sad because the French army was so much larger than their own. But the presence of the king so cheered them that those who "had before been disheartened felt reheartened on seeing and hearing him."

When the king had reviewed the whole army he gave orders that the men should be given food. So, sitting down on the ground, the soldiers ate their morning meal, and rested until the French should arrive.

Meanwhile, Philip's army was on its way, its ranks all in disorder. The king commanded four knights to ride forward to find out what the enemy was doing.

They soon returned to tell how the English, rested and refreshed, awaited them on the summit of a little hill. Looking at the straggling ranks of their own men, they then advised Philip to halt and let the soldiers rest and have food. "For the English," they said, "are cool and fresh, and our men are tired and in disorder."

So Philip commanded his marshals to call a halt. They at once rode along the ranks, crying, "Halt banners, by command of the king, in the name of God and St. Denis!"

At the cry the soldiers in front halted, but those behind still pressed forward, wishing to be the first to see the enemy.

When the soldiers in front saw that if they stood still they would lose their position, they too began to march on, heedless of the order of their king.

Before they were aware they were close to the English; [148] and, taken by surprise, the van of the army halted, while those behind still pressed forward, until the French army was little more than a pushing, struggling mob of men.

King Edward, with some men-at-arms, had withdrawn to a windmill which stood on the hillock, whence he could see the unbroken ranks of his own men and the confusion in the ranks of the French.

"They are ours," cried the men-at-arms, before ever the battle had begun.

Philip, seeing the English whom he hated, no longer wished to delay the battle, and he cried aloud to the hired archers, "Archers, begin the battle, in the name of God and St. Denis!"

But the archers were tired, and had expected to rest before they fought. Their bows, too, were slack, and they were in no mood to obey the king's orders.

While they hesitated a sudden storm broke upon the army. Thunder roared, lightning flashed, while rain fell in torrents, wetting the strings of the foreign archers. But the English kept their crossbows dry beneath their coats. It was only a passing storm, and soon the sun shone out, blinding the eyes of the French army.

Then at length the hired Italian archers unwillingly advanced, shouting and singing, thinking thus to frighten the English. But they paid no heed to the foreign soldiers' cries.

The Italians drew their bows. In a moment the sturdy archers of England had taken one step forward, and sent their arrows among the enemy. So sharp and fleet they sped that "it looked like a fall of snow."

Never had the Italians felt such stinging arrows. They were everywhere, around them, above them, beneath them. It was impossible to escape from these terrible darts.

At length, in despair, they flung down their bows and turned to flee.

Philip saw them throw their bows away, and in terrible [149] anger he bade the French soldiers kill the cowards. As the soldiers obeyed, the English arrows still sped swift unerring, until Italian archers and French soldiers fell together in a confused mass.

Meanwhile, on another part of the field, the Black Prince was being hard pressed by the French. Though he was fearless and fought gallantly, the English knights were anxious lest the prince should be slain. So they sent a messenger to the king to beg him send more men to the aid of his son.

Edward, watching from the windmill as the battle raged ever more fiercely, asked:

"Is my son dead or unhorsed, or so wounded that he cannot help himself?"

"Not so, my lord, please God," answered the messenger, "but he is fighting against great odds, and is like to have need of your help."

"Then return to those who sent you," said the king, "and tell them not to send for me, whatever chance befall them, so long as my son is alive; and tell them that I bid them let the lad win his spurs; for I wish, if God so deem, that the day should be his."

When the old blind King of Bohemia heard that the battle was going against the French, he asked his knights, "Where is my son Charles?"

But they would not break the old king's heart by telling him that his son had fled from the battlefield. Instead they lied, saying that Charles was doubtless fighting in another part of the field.

Then the blind king begged his knights to lead him to the front of the field, that he too might strike a blow for victory.

So the knights gathered up their horses' reins, and tied themselves together that they might not be separated. Then placing the king before them they rushed into the fray "like madmen bent upon sudden death." But before [150] death came the blind King of Bohemia had "struck a good blow, yea three and four, and so did all those who were with him."


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"THEY RUSHED INTO THE FRAY LIKE MADMEN BENT UPON SUDDEN DEATH."

When the battle of Crécy was over, the blind King was found dead, while his knights and their horses still tied together lay slain beside him.

Philip fought bravely, but his heart was heavy, for he knew the day was lost. It was nightfall when he rode away from the battlefield, attended by only four barons. When they reached the Castle of Broye they halted. It was dark and late and the castle gates were shut, the bridge drawn up.

"Who knocks?" cried the castellan from the tower, as the fugitives roused him by their thundering knocks.

"Open, castellan!" said Philip. "It is the unhappy King of France."

Then the keeper of the castle hastened down, lowered the drawbridge, and opened the gates to the king and his barons. After refreshing themselves with wine they set out again at midnight, and before dawn entered Amiens, where the king stayed until what was left of the French army reached him there.


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