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Old but still has value
on 4 June 2015
This is an old Men-at-Arms title, first published in 1981, and now largely superseded with regards to the battles of Crécy and Poitiers by the two Campaign series titles devoted to these two major victories.
Compared to more modern titles, it does have a few problems. First, there is no bibliography, meaning that this title cannot be used as a basis for anyone wanting to delve deeper into the subjects that it covers.
Second, while the sources give huge, incredible, and varying numbers, especially for the French, these may have been somewhat exaggerated. There clearly was not 60000 foot on the French side at Crécy, although there may have been a third or perhaps half that number of poorly equipped and trained levy infantry. The French possibly did line up some 12000 men-at-arms and knights plus half that number of mercenary Genoese crossbowmen. Only these two forces seem to have had real and significant military value but both were terribly misused. Estimates for the English army tend to vary between 9000 and 14000, with between two-thirds and three-quarters being made up of archers. A similar point can be made for the battle of Poitiers where the French may even not have outnumbered the English that they had been pursuing for days as much as they had at Crécy.
There are also some “glitches”. I do not remember, for instance, the blind King of Bohemia John of Luxemburg was in overall command of one of the “batailles” at Crécy. Also, the Flemings were NOT “scattered by a charge of heavily armed horsemen” at Courtrai in 1302, quite the opposite in fact. It was the French chivalry that was slaughtered. Finally, Edward Prince of Wales did not have “the splendid strategic idea of bringing the greater part of Western France under English control when he initiated the “chevauchée” – which was in fact a large scale plundering expedition - that would lead to the battle of Poitiers.
Having mentioned this, the title does contain some good if somewhat short descriptions of the respective armies and their components. It also presents clearly and succinctly the main factors explaining how and why the English comprehensively won against the odds in both cases, although even they did not really believe in their chances of winning before the battle. For instance, Edward Prince of Wales at one point before the battle of Poitiers even offered to surrender all of his expeditions plunder if the French would let him and his forces retreat back to Bordeaux without attacking them.
Finally, there is what remains for me the main value of this book and this is the combination of sections and plates showing the evolution of arms and armour. Particularly good are the pieces and associated plates showing the transition between great helm and bassinet. Still worth a strong three stars, despite the glitches and the lack of bibliography.