I took a visit to the northern French towns of Crecy and Agincourt, site of infamous Medieval Battles between the French and the English with tour guide Gary Ashley. I knew virtually nothing about this time in history but Gary has a reputation for being one of the best guides in northern France so I knew that I’d be getting The Hundred Years War summary of my life!
I met him at his home in the Seven Valleys, Pas de Calais and we set off for a day of discovery.
Gary is a historian and an absolute mine of information and on the 25 minute drive to Crecy he rattled off facts and figures, anecdotes and opinions as we went through little villages – it was fascinating – and we hadn’t even got started on The Hundred Years War!
At Auchy Le Hesdin he pointed out an abandoned chateau with an old mill factory in the grounds – it used to be a tank depot in WWI, he told us, the tanks went from there to the British troops in the Somme. Blingel, Captain Matthew Latham, “the real Sharpe”, was buried here. Hesdin town, “Rommel skirted this little town, it was one of the “black areas”, German troops everywhere, they thought the invasion would be in this area… there was a cavalry garrison on the French kings here centuries ago – D’Artagnon learned to ride in Hesdin…”
All the way to our destination these little snippets flowed – what Gary doesn’t know about history in these parts probably isn’t worth knowing – he has worked with journalists, authors, historians and researchers galore and supplies information and artefacts to museums around the world.
Hundred Years War Summary
The term “Hundred Years War” is a bit of misnomer since it covers a period of 116 years from 1337-1453. The name was coined in France in the mid-19th Century to describe the wars between France and England at that time. During the entire period there were times of fighting, truces and peace – at one time lasting 9 years (1360-1369).
There were many battles and raiding parties but the two major and most well-known battles of the Hundred Years War were the Battle of Crecy in 1346 and the Battle of Agincourt in 1415
Battle of Crecy
Edward III of England invaded France at Normandy on 12 July 1346. Less of an attempt to control the throne of France and more of a chevauchée – the term used for a medieval raiding party. It was a ferocious and destructive raid and the town of Caen fell to the English just 14 days later. Seemingly invigorated with his success, Edward marched on Paris where the enraged French fought back and Edward turned to the north to try to find a way home.
What happened next was a major and legendary battle at Crecy in Pas de Calais on 26 August, 1346, remembered largely because it saw the introduction of new weapons and tactics that enabled English victory despite having a much smaller army.
Battle of Agincourt
More than 80 years after Crecy, another English King decided the time was right to invade France and in August 1415, Henry V invaded France and captured the town of Harfleur in Normandy. His men were exhausted by battle, the year was moving towards winter and it was time to go home. He marched his army of 6000 men to Calais which was under English rule at the time. However, just a few miles from Calais Henry V found that the French King Philip VI and his troops were blocking his way and there was no alternative but to fight, despite the fact that the French troops numbered as much as 18,000 men.
Henry V’s military genius prevailed and after a bloody battle which he controlled from the outset, the English dead numbered 300 whilst the French had lost several thousand and most of their nobles. The Battle of Agincourt would be remembered in history as a decisive English victory for the tried and tested tactics. Eventually though, it would be this that led to the defeat of the English because they never changed their tactics and the French commanders learned how to combat them, Gary says “the English never bought anything new to the party – we didn’t move on” and the French finally prevailed.