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War with France page 5

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Meantime Edward, having made this admirable passage, resolved to march no further. He had hoped to receive re-enforcements promised him by the repentant Flemings, but they did not appear, and he considered it hazardous to attempt to cross the open plains of Picardy in the presence of so preponderating a force, especially of French cavalry. He resolved to make a stand. He selected a strong position in the forest of Cressy, or Crecy, and near a village of that name. "Here," said he, "I am on the rightful heritage of my lady-mother, upon the lands of Ponthieu, given to her as her marriage dower. I now challenge them as my own, and may God defend the right!" He took his station on a gentle ascent, having in his rear a wood, where he placed all his baggage, and defended it with an entrenchment. He also threw up entrenchments on his flanks to secure them, and divided his army into three divisions. The first he put under the command of Edward, the Prince of Wales, now in his sixteenth year, to fight his first battle. Under him were the Earls of Warwick and Oxford, Sir Godfrey Harcourt, the Lord Holland, and Sir John Chandos; but the king confided the especial care of the prince to Sir John and to the Earl of Warwick, who were to assist him by their counsel and defend him in difficulty. The second line was commanded by the Lords Willoughby, De Roos, Bassett, and others. The king himself took the charge of the third, to hold it in readiness to support either of the other two, or secure their retreat, as circumstances might decide. The amount of the English army has been variously stated at from 10,000 to 30,000; but the most authentic accounts state it to be about one-fourth of the French, who were estimated at 120,000. The King of England, having made his arrangements, ordered the troops to take up their ground on the spot where they were to fight, and to await the next morning with confidence of victory. The soldiers set about vigorously polishing their arms, and repairing and burnishing their armour. They were well fed, and refreshed by abundant wine and provisions which had been seized in the port of Crotoy. The king gave a supper to his barons in his tent, where he made good cheer. When it was concluded he entered into the tent set apart as an oratory, and, falling on his knees, prayed God to bring him "out of the morrow with honour."

The night was warm; and the soldiers, having well supped, slept on the grass in their arms. With the early dawn the king and prince were up and amongst their forces.

Edward, mounted on a white palfrey, and attended on each hand by a marshal, rode through the ranks, spoke to the different officers, and exhorted the men to remember that they had to-day to fight against superior numbers, and must therefore do their best for the honour of their country. He reminded them of the decided advantage which they had hitherto shown over the enemy; and he had such an air of confidence and cheerfulness that every one augured nothing but victory. Thus they sat, each in his place, with his helm and bow before him, and so awaited the foe. When they had thus continued till three in the afternoon, and no enemy was yet come up, the king ordered that every man should eat and take a little wine, which they did in great satisfaction.

Meantime the King of France, having passed the night at Abbeville, set out, re-enforced by 1.000 lancers under Amadius, Earl of Savoy. He deemed that he had nothing lo do but to overtake the English army in order to annihilate it. For weeks it appeared to have been flying before him, and by hastily crossing the Seine and the Somme it had borne every appearance of wishing, at all costs, to avoid a conflict. He therefore pushed on hastily and in great confusion. By the time that his advanced guard came in sight of the English lines his forces were tired and his rear-guard far behind. A veteran Bohemian officer, being sent forward to reconnoitre the English army, rode back to Philip, and strongly recommended him to put off the battle till the next day. He assured him that the English were fresh and strongly posted, and would undoubtedly make a desperate defence. The French, depressed and exhausted by the haste of their march from Abbeville, must fight at vast disadvantage.

The king commanded a halt; but the ill-disciplined troops still pressed on, the van brandishing their swords, and crying, in their over-confidence, "Attack, take, slay!" and those behind, hurrying forward, declaring they would not stop till they were as forward as the foremost. So they rushed on pell-mell. Froissart says no one, except he had been present, could form any idea of the confusion of the scene. Philip had divided his army into three divisions; the first commanded by the King of Bohemia, supported by his son, Charles of Luxembourg, Emperor-elect of Germany, and Charles, Count of Alencon, the brother of King Philip, a brave but haughty arid rash youth. In this division were 15,000 Genoese crossbow-men, headed by Anthony Doria and Carolo Grimaldi. These bowmen were looked upon as the great strength of the army - an overmatch for the English archers, whom they were quickly to drive from the field. They were backed by 20,000 infantry. The second division was led by Philip himself, consisting of 6,000 men-at-arms and 40,000 foot. The broad banner of France was displayed before the king, and at his side rode the titular King of Majorca. The rear division followed, conducted by the Earl of Savoy, with 5,000 lances and 20,000 foot. The last was most formidable in numbers; but all superiority was lost in the disorder of the march. The kings and dukes and great lords were hurried along without power to exert any command, and Philip himself, in striving to enforce a halt, was borne onward as by a torrent. Finding himself face to face with the enemy, he cried, "Bring up the Genoese; begin the battle, in the name of God' and St. Denis!"

But these Italians, who were brave and "famous men, very reasonably complained of thus being hurried into battle, worn-out as they were with carrying their heavy crossbows in the hasty march of six leagues, and said they had more need of rest than to fight that day. On hearing this the Count Alencon cried out, "See! that is the help we get by employing these fellows, who thus fail us at the pinch." The sensitive Italians heard these words with deep anger, and moved on to battle. At this moment the heavens seemed to announce that a great and terrible conflict was about to take place. A thunderstorm, making it almost as dark as night, burst over the opposing hosts, and before it went a great flight of crows and ravens, sweeping over the armies. When the sun broke out again it flashed in the faces of the Genoese, and the strings of their crossbows had become relaxed with the wet. On the other hand, the sun was on the backs of the English, and they had kept their longbows dry in their cases. They were drawn up by the king in ranks crossed in the manner of a kerse, or harrow, so that the discharges of the different ranks might support each other, like the discharges of combined squares of musketry in these times. No sooner, therefore, did the Genoese crossbowmen, after giving three leaps and three loud shouts to intimidate the English, let fly a shower of arrows, than the English archers stepped each of them one pace forward, and shot their arrows so thick that, as the chronicler describes it, it seemed to snow. The Genoese, confounded by the perpetual hail of the English arrows, which pierced their armour, fell back on the men-at-arms, and the confusion then became fearful. The Genoese cut their bowstrings or threw away their bows, and endeavoured to make their escape amongst the horses of the cavalry. The King of France, seeing this, cried out, "Slay me these cowards, for they stop our way, without doing any good!" The men-at-arms advanced at full gallop right over the wretched Genoese, cutting them down right and left, and numbers were trodden under foot; while the cavalry itself was thrown into disorder by thus riding over their own bowmen to come at the enemy.

All this time the English archers kept pouring in their deadly shafts, dropping the knights and soldiers of Alencon's fine cavalry rapidly from their saddles; while the Cornish men and Welsh, armed with large knives, stole amongst the ranks and dispatched those knights as they lay.

Edward had given strict orders to take no prisoners, because the enemy was so much more numerous, that it would encumber his fighting men, and keep them from the battle in looking after their captives.

In spite of the confusion, the Count of Alencon and the Earl of Flanders broke at length through it, and, charging past the line of English archers, took the cavalry of the Prince of Wales in flank. Both sides now fought desperately; but the English men-at-arms handled the French cavalry so roughly, that the greater part of them were slain. Notwithstanding, three other squadrons of French and Germans, rushing forward impetuously, broke through the archers, and pushed their way into the very place where the young prince was performing prodigies of valour. The second division, under the Earls of Arundel and Northampton, advanced to support the prince, and the contest became furious. Alencon displayed the most fiery courage, and, amid a crowd of French, Germans, Savoyards, and Bohemians, pressed upon the prince with a vigour which threatened to carry all before it. The French king, eager to support Alencon, charged nobly on the archers, but could not penetrate their line, or the event might have been doubtful. The Earl of Warwick, alarmed by the dangerous position of the prince, dispatched Sir Thomas Norwich to Edward, entreating him to send aid to his son.

Edward, who was watching the progress of the battle from a windmill on the hill-top, demanded of the messenger whether the prince were dead, wounded, or felled to the ground. "Not so, thank God," answered the messenger; "but he needs assistance." "Nay, then," said the king, "he has no aid from me. Tell him from me that I know he will bear him like a man, and show himself worthy of the knighthood I have so lately conferred on him. In this battle he must win his own spurs."

This being reported to the prince, gave new courage and strength to both him and his attendants. The force thrown in by Arundel and Northampton bore down the enemy, and slew the gallant Count Alencon and dispersed his battalions; the "Welsh, with their long knives, destroying all left alive on the ground.

The King of France, still struggling to come up to the rescue of his brother, only arrived to find him killed and his forces scattered. The flying cavalry communicated their panic to the king's own followers; but the king himself scorned to fly, and fought most bravely. His horse was killed under him; he mounted another, and still fought on till only about sixty of his bravest attendants remained around him. Repeatedly wounded, he would probably have lost his life; but John of Hainault, having in vain urged him to quit the field, forcibly seized the bridle of his horse and led him away. The whole French army was in flight, the English pursuing and putting to the sword without mercy all whom they could reach.

The King of France rode away till he came to the castle of Broye, where, summoning the warder to open the gates, that officer demanded who was there, for it was a dark night. "It is the fortune of France," said the king, probably in bitter recollection of the flatteries which had styled him "the Fortunate." On entering, the king had only five of his barons with him. They refreshed themselves with wine, and then continued their flight, by the assistance of guides, to Amiens.

Such was the memorable battle of Crecy, one of the greatest and most surprising victories which ever was gained by any king. It was fought on Saturday, the 26th of August, 1346. On that fatal field lay slain two kings, eleven great princes, eighty bannerets, 1,200 knights, and 30,000 men. It began after three o'clock in the afternoon, and continued till the darkness ended the conflict.

Amongst the great men killed, besides the Count Alencon, the king's brother, were the Dukes of Lorraine and Bourbon, the Counts of Blois, Vaudemont, Aumale, and Philip's old ally the Earl of Flanders. Of the two slain Kings of Majorca and Bohemia, the death of John of Bohemia was very remarkable. He was old, and nearly blind. When all seemed lost, inquiring after his son, and hearing that he was wounded and compelled to fly, and that the Black Prince showed himself irresistible, he said, "Sirs, ye are my knights and good liegemen; will ye conduct me so far into the battle that I may strike one good stroke with my sword?"

His faithful knights regarding these as the words of sad despair, four of them agreed to sacrifice their lives with him, and tying his bridle rein on each side to their own, they thus charged into the thickest of the fight, and were found the next day lying dead together, the reins of their horses still unsevered.

The rejoicing on the part of the English may be imagined. The soldiers lit up great fires and torches to disperse the darkness, and by that light King Edward descended from his eminence, and, taking his valiant son in his arms before the whole army, he kissed him, and, according to Froissart, said, "Sweet son, God gave you good perseverance. You are my true son, for valiantly have you acquitted yourself to-day, and shown yourself worthy of a crown." The prince bowed lowly, and declared that the victory was owing to the king.

The next day it proved foggy, and the king sending out a detachment of 500 lancers and 2,000 archers to scour the fields and discover whether any bodies of French were yet keeping their ground, they met with two numerous detachments hastening to the assistance of the King of France, one of them headed by the Bishop of Rouen and Grand Prior of France. They were coming from Beauvais and Rouen, and made a vigorous resistance; but were all cut to pieces, in accordance with the barbarous policy of Edward on that occasion. Some historians have asserted that the English raised a number of French standards, which they took, on an eminence; which thus attracting stragglers of the French army, they were butchered as they arrived. These are blots on the glory of that great victory which it is painful to record.

The king sent out the Lords Cobham and Suffolk, with attendant heralds, to recognise the arms, and secretaries to write down the names of the fallen, and they returned an account of the numbers we have given; but of the English only three knights, one esquire, and a few of inferior rank.

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