Edward III. of Windsor—The Story of the Battle of Crecy
SIX years after the battle of Sluys another great battle was fought between the French and English at a place called Crecy. Edward had been marching through France for some time, when he heard that King Philip was close behind him with an army of one hundred and twenty thousand men. He himself had only twenty thousand men, but he resolved to camp where he was, on a rising ground near the little French village of Crecy, and there conquer or be conquered.
On Saturday, 26th August 1346 A.D., Edward rose very early. He divided his army into three parts. One part he gave in command of his young son Edward, the Black Prince. Prince Edward took his name from the black armour which he always wore, and at this time he was only seventeen years old.
Having divided his army, King Edward, carrying a white wand in his hand and mounted upon a pony, rode slowly through the ranks, talking to the soldiers and encouraging them. He looked so cheerful and spoke so bravely, that the soldiers cheered him as he passed among them, and if any of them had felt afraid, they took heart again.
Then Edward gave orders that the men should have breakfast sitting on the ground where they were, each man in his place. So the men took off their helmets and, laying their weapons down, ate and drank as they sat upon the ground.
The King himself went to a windmill near by, and there waited and watched for the French to arrive.
When at last the French came in sight, it was about three o'clock in the afternoon. Then each man of the English rose, put on his helmet, took his weapon in his hand, and stood waiting.
King Philip meanwhile told four knights to ride quickly forward and bring back news of the English army. The English saw these knights, and saw, too, that they had come to spy, but they took no notice of them, and let them return to King Philip.
"My lords, what news?" said he, as they rode back to him.
The knights looked at each other in silence, each waiting for the other to speak first.
"Come, my lords, what news?" said the King again.
Then the bravest of the knights said, "I speak, my lord King, as you desire, and I hope that my companions will tell you if they think that I say wrong. The English are encamped in a strong place. They are well-fed and rested, and are waiting for you. Our soldiers are hungry and weary with the long march. My advice is that you halt here, let the soldiers rest to-night, and to-morrow they will be fresh and able to conquer the English."
"I thank you, my lord," replied Philip, "it is good advice and shall be followed." Then turning to his generals, "Go," he said, "command a halt."
Two generals rode off, one to the front, the other to the rear, calling out as they went, "Halt banners, in the name of God and St. Denis."
The soldiers in front halted as they were commanded, but those behind would not do so. "We shall not halt until we are as far forward as the others," they said, and they marched on. When they overtook the soldiers in front, these, feeling themselves being pushed forward from behind, moved on too, and neither the King nor the generals could stop them.
They marched on until they came close to the English. When the soldiers in front saw that they were near the English they fell back, hut those behind still pressed forward so that the confusion was great. The roads behind the French army were filled with peasants and country people armed with sticks and stones. These peasants made a great noise, and shouting "kill, kill," were eager to be at the English. They mixed with the army, and made the confusion worse still.
In a few minutes all order was lost, and King Philip, seeing that there was no help for it, decided to begin the battle at once. Beside, as soon as he saw the English, his anger against them rose so that he longed to be fighting them.
"Forward, archers, and begin the battle, in the name of God and St. Denis," he cried.
The archers advanced, shouting fiercely, in order to frighten the English.
But the English stood still. Not a man moved so much as a finger.
Again the French archers shouted.
Still the English never moved.
With a third fierce yell the French archers shot.
Then the English archers made one step forward, raised their bows, and shot arrow after arrow till it seemed as if it snowed.
When the French archers felt these terrible arrows pierce their arms, breast, head, and legs, even through the armour which they wore, they threw down their bows and fled.
These archers were not Frenchmen, but Italians, whom Philip had hired to help him in his war with the English, and when he saw them throw down their bows and run away he was dreadfully angry. "Kill these cowards," he shouted, "they do but stop the way and are of no use." So the French horsemen dashed upon the flying archers, who, having thrown down their bows, had no other weapon, and killed as many as they could, while the English poured arrows upon archers and horsemen alike.
It was a terrible battle, and to make it seem still worse, there was an eclipse of the sun and a thunderstorm while it was going on. The sky became black, thunder roared, lightning flashed, and rain fell in torrents. Great flocks of crows flew over the field caw-cawing, in such a fearful manner, that even the bravest felt afraid, and thought something dreadful was going to happen.
At this battle, too, cannon were used for the first time. Gunpowder had been invented only a short time before, and people did not yet know what a terrible thing it would become in battle. The English had four cannon. They were made of wood bound round with iron, and although perhaps they did not kill many people, they at least frightened the French, who already had so much else to make them afraid.
Meanwhile the Black Prince was fighting gallantly with his part of the army. But the French about him were so fierce that his knights began to fear for his safety. So a messenger was sent to the King, who was watching the battle from the windmill.
"Sire," said the messenger, "we entreat you to send help to the Prince, your son."
"Is my son dead?" asked the King.
"No, sire, thank God."
"Is he wounded?"
"No, sire, but he is in danger. The French are fierce about him and he is in need of help."
"Then, sir," replied the King, "if my son is neither dead nor wounded, go back to those who sent you. Tell them not to send again to me this day. Tell them that if they do I shall neither come nor send help so long as my son is living. Tell them that I command them to let the boy win his spurs, for I wish the glory of the day to be his. God will guard him."
The knight returned and told the others what the King had said, and they were sorry that they had sent any such message, and resolved to fight to the last.
Edward said that he wanted the Prince to win his spurs. By that he meant that he hoped he would do such brave deeds that he might be made a knight. When any one was made a knight he received a pair of golden spurs. So when a man did a great deed worthy of a knight he was said to have "won his spurs."
The King of Bohemia was with the French army, and his son Charles was fighting for Philip. The King himself could not fight because he was blind. When he heard that the day was going against the French, he asked where his son was.
"We know not," replied the knights who were round him. "Doubtless he is in the thickest of the fight."
Really he had fled from the field, but these gallant knights would not grieve their brave old king by telling him so.
"I, too, would strike a blow," said the blind king, "Lead me into the battle." The knights fastened their horses together with the King of Bohemia in the middle, so that they might not lose him in the crowd of soldiers, and dashed into the fight. When the day was over they were all found dead together, the King still in the middle of them, and their horses still bound to each other.
In those days a knight always had a crest and motto, called a device, painted upon his shield. The crest of the King of Bohemia was three feathers and his motto was Ich dien, which is German and means "I serve." The arms of a fallen foe belonged to the conqueror. So when after the battle the Black Prince was made a knight, he took the motto and the crest of the King of Bohemia for his own. It has been borne ever since by the eldest son of the King of England. And that is why the Prince of Wales has a German motto.
When night fell and the terrible noise and clamour of fighting ceased, the French were beaten, and their king had fled from the field. The King of England came down from the windmill where he had remained watching the fight. He had not struck a blow, nor put on his helmet all day; not because he was a coward, but because he wanted the Black Prince to have all the praise of the victory. There, on the battle-field, he took his son in his arms and kissed him. "Dear son," he said, "God give you strength to go on as you have begun. Bravely and nobly have you fought, and you are worthy to be a king. The honour of the day is yours."
The prince bowed before his father. "I do not deserve any praise," he said, "I have only done my duty." But he had shown himself so brave that his father made him a knight. He was one of the first knights of the Order of the Garter, a new Order which Edward III. founded, and the King can bestow upon any one. You shall hear why it was called by this name.
King Edward III. loved the stories of Arthur and his knights of the Round Table. He made a new Round Table and tried to bring back those knightly days, and to make his knights and gentlemen courteous and gentle. One day, at a ball, Edward picked up a lady's garter. Some one laughed rudely, but Edward turned to him and said, "Honi soit qui mal y pense," which is French and means "Evil be to him who evil thinks." "Soon," he added, "you shall see this garter set so high that you will think it an honour to wear it." And so when he founded a new order of knighthood he made it the Order of the Garter, and to this day great men are proud to wear it. It was founded on St. George's day and the ornament which the knights of the Garter wear is called the George.