The failure of his foreign hopes threw Edward on the resources of England itself, and it was with an army of thirty thousand men that he landed at La Hogue, and commenced a march which was to change the whole face of the war. The French forces were engaged in holding in check an English army which had landed in Guienne; and panic seized the French King as Edward now marched through Normandy, and finding the bridges on the lower Seine broken, pushed straight on Paris, rebuilt the bridge of Poissy and threatened the capital. At this crisis, however, France found an unexpected help in a body of German knights. The Pope having deposed the Emperor Lewis of Bavaria, had crowned as his successor a son of King John of Bohemia, the well-known Charles IV. of the Golden Bull. But against this Papal assumption of a right to bestow the German Crown, Germany rose as one man, and Charles, driven to seek help from Philip, now found himself in France with his father and a troop of five hundred knights. Hurrying to Paris this German force formed the nucleus of an army which assembled at St. Denys; and which was soon reinforced by 15,000 Genoese cross-bowmen who had been hired from among the soldiers of the Lord of Monaco on the sunny Riviera, and arrived at this hour of need.
The French troops too were called from Guienne to the rescue. With this host rapidly gathering in his front Edward abandoned his march on Paris, and threw himself across the Seine to join a Flemish force gathered at Gravelines, and open a campaign in the north. But the rivers in his path were carefully guarded, and it was only by surprising the ford of Blanche-Taque on the Somme, that Edward escaped the necessity of surrendering to the vast host which was now hastening in pursuit. His communications, however, were no sooner secured than he halted at the village of Crécy, in Ponthieu, and resolved to give battle. Half of his army, now greatly reduced in strength by his rapid marches, consisted of the light-armed footmeri of Ireland and Wales; the bulk of the remainder was composed of English bowmen. The King ordered his men-at-arms to dismount, and drew up his forces on a low rise sloping gently to the south-east, with a windmill on its summit from which he could overlook the whole field of battle.
Immediately beneath him lay his reserve, while at the base of the slope was placed the main body of the army in two divisions, that to the right commanded by the young Prince of Wales, Edward the Black Prince as he was called, that to the left by the Earl of Northampton. A small ditch protected the English front, and behind it the bowmen were drawn up "in the form of a harrow," with small bombards between them "which, with fire, threw little iron balls to frighten the horses" - the first instance of the use of artillery in field warfare., The halt of the English army took Philip by surprise, and he attempted for a time to check the advance of his army, but the disorderly host rolled on to the English front. The sight of his enemies, indeed, stirred the King's own blood to fury, "for he hated them" and at vespers the fight began. The Genoese crossbowmen were ordered to begin the attack, but the men were weary with the march; a sudden storm wetted and rendered useless their bowstrings; and the loud shouts with which they leapt forward to the encounter were met with dogged silence in the English ranks. Their first arrow-flight, however, brought a terrible reply.
So rapid was the English shot, "that it seemed as if it snowed." "Kill me these scoundrels," shouted Philip, as the Genoese fell back; and his men-at-arms plunged butchering into their broken ranks, while the Counts of Alencon and Flanders, at the head of the French knighthood, fell hotly on the Prince's line. For the instant his small force seemed lost, but Edward refused to send him aid. "Is he dead or unhorsed, or so wounded that he cannot help himself?"he asked the envoy. "No, Sir," was the reply, "but he is in a hard passage of arms, and sorely needs your help." " Return to those that sent you, Sir Thomas," said the King, " and bid them not send to me again so long as my son lives! Let the boy win his spurs; for if God so order it, I will that the day may be his, and that the honour may be with him and them to whom I have given it in charge." Edward could see, in fact, from his higher ground, that all went well. The English bowmen and men-at-arms held their ground stoutly, while the Welshmen stabbed the French horses in the mêlée, and brought knight after knight to the ground.
Soon the French host was wavering in a fatal confusion. " You are my vassals, my friends," cried the blind King John of Bohemia, who had joined Philip's army, to the German nobles around him: "I pray and beseech you to lead me so far into the fight that I may strike one good blow with this sword of mine!" Linking their bridles together, the little company plunged into the thick of the combat to fall as their fellows were falling. The battle went steadily against the French: at last Philip himself hurried from the field, and the defeat became a rout: 1,200 knights and 30,000 footmen - a number equal to the whole English force - lay dead upon the ground.
" God has punished us for our sins," cries the chronicler of St. Denys, in a passion of bewildered grief, as he tells the rout of the great host which he had seen mustering beneath his abbey walls. But the fall of France was hardly so sudden or so incomprehensible as the ruin at a single blow of a system of warfare, and of the political and social fabric which rested on it. Feudalism depended on the superiority of the mounted noble to the unmounted churl; its fighting power lay in its knighthood. But the English yeomen and small freeholders who bore the bow in the national fyrd had raised their weapon into a terrible engine of war; in the English archers Edward carried a new class of soldiers to the fields of France. The churl had struck down the noble; the yeoman proved more than a match in sheer hard fighting for the knight. From the day of Crécy feudalism tottered slowly but surely to its grave. To England the day was the beginning of a career of military glory, which, fatal as it was destined to prove to the higher sentiments and interests of the nation, gave it for the moment an energy such as it had never known before. Victory followed victory.