Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 17.djvu/64

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Edward III
Edward III

before Philip could raise an army to intercept him. Had he intended to besiege Calais, he would not have dismissed his ships. He left Caen on the 31st, and on 2 Aug. arrived at Lisieux, where he was met by two cardinals with offers of peace, which he rejected. He then marched towards Rouen, but finding the bridge broken down, and the French in some force there, he turned up the left bank of the Seine, ravaging the country as he went. Everywhere he found the bridges broken, and as by this time a French force had gathered and followed his march on the opposite side of the river, he had no time to repair them. On the 13th he arrived at Poissy, and by detaching a body of troops to threaten Paris, which was only about twelve miles distant, he gained time to repair the bridge there, and on the 16th crossed the river, he now struck northwards; and marched through the Beauvoisin, while Philip, who had now collected an army much larger than his, pursued him closely, intending to crush the little English force in a corner between the Somme and the sea. He halted at Airanes, and sent two marshals with a large body of troops to endeavour to find or force a passage across the Somme. When they returned unsuccessful he was much troubled; for both he and all his army saw that they were in pressing danger. Early on the 23rd he left Airanes in haste, and the French, who arrived there shortly afterwards, found the meat that the English were about to eat on the spits. His object now was to gain Abbeville. On arriving before it he reconnoitred the town in person from the hills of Caubert, and finding that he could not take it fell back on Oisemont, which he carried easily by assault. Here a man offered to guide his army to a ford called Blanquetaque, above the village of Port, where he could cross at low water. He gave the order to march at midnight, and on arriving at the passage found it guarded by Godemar du Fay. After a sharp struggle the passage was forced (Avesbury; Froissart; by Cont. of Will of Nangis, ii. 200, Godemar is unjustly accused of making only a slight resistance), and he and his army crossed into Ponthieu. Edward was now able to choose his own ground for fighting; for Philip, who had been just too late to prevent his crossing the river, was not able to follow him immediately, and turned aside to Abbeville. Edward took the castle of Noyelles, held a council of war, and the next day, the 25th, marched along the road between Havre and Flanders to Crécy. On Saturday the 26th Philip advanced from Abbeville to give him battle. Edward had chosen and strengthened his position with great skill. His army occupied some high ground on the right bank of the Maye: the right wing was covered by the river and the village of Crécy, where it was defended by a series of curtains, the left extended towards Wadicourt and here, where it might have been open to a flank attack, it was barricaded by piles of wagons; the English front commanded a slight ravine called the Vallée-aux-Clercs; the baggage and horses, for all fought on foot, were placed in the rear on the left in a wood, ana were imparked with thickets and felled trees. His position thus resembled an entrenched camp. In case of defeat he commanded the ancient causeway now called the Chemin de l'Armée, by which he could have crossed the Authie at Ponche (Seymour de Constant; Louandre; Archæologia, vol. xxxviii.) Early in the morning he and his son received the sacrament. Then he drew up his army in three divisions, placing the right wing or van under the command of the prince; the third division, which he commanded in person, forming a reserve. He rode through the lines on a palfrey, encouraging the men, and at 10 a.m. all sat down in their ranks to eat and drink. The archers were thrown forwards in the form of a harrow, and some small cannon were posted between them (Froissart, iii. 416; Amiens MS.; Gio. Villani, xii. c. 65, 66; Istorie Pistolesi, p. 516. This assertion has been much questioned, chiefly because it does not appear in the earliest text of Froissart, and because it is held to be unlikely that Edward would have taken cannon with him in his hasty march. The presence of the Genoese in the French army, however, invests the two contemporary Italian narratives with special authority, and it should be remembered that the cannon then used were extremely small. It is certain that Edward took cannon with him from England; Brackenbury; Archæologia, vol. xxxii.) Edward watched the battle from a mill. It began after the heavy shower which came on at 3 p.m. had cleared away, and lasted until nightfall. It was decided by bad generalship and want of discipline on the French side, and on the English side by the skill of the bowmen and the steady valour of the two front divisions [see under Edward, Prince of Wales] . Edward appears to have led forward his division when the French king took part in the fight; the two first lines of the French army had by that time been utterly broken, and the remainder was soon routed. He remained on the field the next day, and large numbers of the French, some of whom were fugitives, while others were advancing to join the king's army not knowing that it had already been routed, were massacred