Edward I had been the first to experiment with the longbow in warfare and Edward III later pitted archers against Scottish nationalist knights at Halidon Hill, Berwickshire (1333). In 1298 Edward I used Welsh archers at the battle of Falkirk but here they were used to fire directly into the bristling haggis or 'schiltrons'. However, the archers at Crecy fired their arrows in an arching trajectory into the air. The descent of the arrows was given added velocity from the acceleration due to gravitational force, enabling them to more easily pierce armour. Any archer firing from an elevated position had a distinct advantage in this respect. The longbow was as tall as the man who used it, anything up to six feet high. Arrows fitted with a bodkin (metal tip) could pierce chain mail at 100 paces if they contacted their target perpendicular to the body. The arrow flights were made from grey goose feathers. The bowstrings were the most difficult part to maintain, they had to be kept dry, spare ones were often secreted in hats for this purpose. However, the longbow was not considered to be a noble weapon, for it was the English yeomanry who brought down much of the French nobility here at Crecy. The cross bow had a shorter range than the longbow and had a less rapid firing rate. The French at Crecy used about 6,000 Genoese crossbow men in their frontal attack and literally ran them down as their own knights charged in.
At the tender age of sixteen, Edward III's son, the "Black Prince" as the French dubbed him, [from the colour of his armour, although some later say his black character] was in command on the wing at Crecy. The manor of Crecy is known to have been a possession of Edward II in 1307, a place of refuge for the exiled Gascon upstart, Gaveston. Edward perhaps knowing the topography chose the battle site on the brow of a low hill where he set his archers and men-at-arms where he surveyed the battle from a windmill2.
The Black Princes' helm and shield, England quartered
The archers had been enlisted in England
by royal officials and were paid for from the king's exchequer. This money
had only become available because parliament had agreed to support King Edward's
claims to his estates in France. With a victory, it was expected that the
costs would be diffrayed by booty and secured estates. In all there were
between 12,000 and 20,000 men under Edward (different sources vary - the
first casualty in war is truth), the French cavalry was at least that number
and all told Phillip VI's army consisted of 30,000-40,000 men. But Edward
had his secret weapon, the longbow, carried by some 3,000 to 11,000 archers
who had been trained in the manner of a rapid rate of shooting. Three thousand
archers loosed 10-20 arrows each per minute, more arrows were
brought forward or archers moved back to collect another supply. In the
words of one commentator "arrows fell like snow". This mass volley of arrows
was a new method of fighting and was first tried at Crecy.
On one side of the hill lay a marsh and on the other side a forest. The battle line was 2000 yards long. The men-at-arms and spearmen were in three groups with the archers at either end arranged in a open "V' shape towards the enemy. Each archer had two sheaves of arrows each holding 24 arrows. These arrows were sheaved in their belts, not as often depicted, in quivers. The French were drawn up with the Genoese crossbow men and then behind them French knights on horseback.
The Effects of Crecy
In the fifty years after Crecy, knights dismounted to fight, they abandoned their horses and engaged in slogging matches on foot. For 200 years the longbow and infantry were placed to the fore in any battle replacing the position of the cavalry.
Pictures of the battle of Crecy emphasise the stab in the back, the underhand blow. The French interpreted the new method of combat as anti-chivalric.
The horse did not return to the battlefield until the 1400's when armour for these animals was developed and refined.