Wednesday, 9 July 2014

100 Years War - Bertrand du Guesclin V

Wheel of Fortune
French Successes

John of Lancaster, ruling Aquitaine in his brother’s absence, married Constance of Castile[i] on 21st September 1371; he then claimed the kingdom of Castile based on this marriage. This ultimately unsuccessful claim merely incentivised Henry II to stay true to his alliance with France.
Charles of Navarre, a cunning political operator, saw that the wheel of fortune[ii] had reversed direction and that it would be advantageous to come to terms with his brother-in-law. On 25th March Bertrand escorted the hostages to Evreux and then escorted Charles on the return journey to Vernon, as Charles paid homage for his estates in Normandy and signed a treaty.

‘The king of Navarre put his territories in Normandy under the government of his brother-in-law the king of France, and left his two sons, Charles and Peter, with the king their uncle. He then affectionately took his leave, and returned to Navarre.’[iii]
Bertrand was involved in enforcing the treaty and removing the captains of Navarrese strongholds such as Conches and Breteuil. He and de Clisson commenced the lengthy siege of Bécherel[iv].

Throughout 1372 the region between the Loire and the Garonne was almost completely returned to the control of the French crown due to the efforts of the Constable along with the royal dukes and de Clisson. The gates of Poitiers were unexpectedly opened to Bertrand and the Duc de Berry on 7th August; possibly prompted by the fall of Sainte-Sévère[v] after a violent assault on the 29th July when the garrison were spared.
Donjon at Moncontour
Bertrand was not always so lenient. At Moncontour the garrison displayed the du Guesclin arms upside down on the walls of the battlements[vi]. When the castle was stormed the offending shield was removed and the commander of the garrison took its place.
English Reverses

On 23rd June 1372 the Castilian navy, commanded by Admiral Boccanegra, defeated an English convoy off la Rochelle; the convoy was bringing men and horses to supplement the English military in Aquitaine and £20,000[vii] in pay for the army. The Castilian control of the sea endangered the English lines of communication and supply. And worse was to come as Charles was developing a naval base and shipbuilding yards at Rouen.
At the end of August Edward III, the sick Black Prince and John of Gaunt set sail with a fleet of commandeered merchant ships to rout out the Castilian navy. This mission of revenge was foiled by the weather; winds in the wrong direction held the fleet in port for nine weeks. This fiasco cost Edward enormous sums and helped foster discontent in England at the seemingly never ending war.
Battle of La Rochelle
The Captal de Buch and Thomas Percy[viii] were taken by a Franco-Castilian landing party commanded by Owen of Wales[ix].
‘Evan of Wales, Sir James de Montmoy, and their men, returned to their boats, carrying with them the Captal de Buch, and their other prisoners, to the huge fleet, which was lying before La Rochelle.’[x]
Bertrand swapped some of his far flung Spanish fiefs in exchange for the Earl of Pembroke[xi], former commander of the convoy. The ransom, set at 130,000 gold doubles[xii], was paid into escrow with the burghers of Bruges.

‘The earl journeyed, under the passport of the constable, through the kingdom of France: but a fever, or some other sickness, overtook him on the road, so that he was obliged to travel in a litter unto the city of Arras, where his disorder increased so much as to occasion his death. The constable, by this event, lost his ransom.’[xiii]
Pembroke died before the ransom could be paid and the money was returned to Edward III. Bertrand unsuccessfully sued the burghers for his lost ransom[xiv].

Charles V refused to ransom the Captal de Buch despite Edward III offering to exchange him for French prisoners with ransoms worth 100,000 francs[xv]. Charles agreed to release the Captal if he became French; he refused to do so. Approached by his nobles Charles then agreed to release the Captal if he abjured further fighting; again this offer was refused.
‘The Captal replied, that he would never make this oath, though he were to die in prison. He remained therefore strictly guarded for five years in confinement, to his great discomfort; for he bore it so impatiently that at last he died.’[xvi]
Imprisoned in the Temple in Paris the Captal became depressed, refusing food and drink. He drifted into a coma, finally dying on 7th September 1376.

Further French Success
Tour de Prince de Galles, Thouars
Meanwhile the town of Saint-Maixent surrendered on 1st September and a week later la Rochelle came to terms with Charles V, giving him control of the best port on the French Atlantic seaboard.
The French now besieged Thouars; a company of knights loyal to Edward III had barricaded themselves in the town. Sir Thomas Felton, the Seneschal of Aquitaine. failed to relieve the town. On 18th September the Viscountess de Thouars met with French envoys and agreed that the garrison would surrender if not relieved by 30th November. The garrison duly surrendered on 1st December[xvii]. Mid December saw Bertrand and the royal dukes entered Paris with their prisoners.
On 15th March 1372 Bertrand stood as godfather for Charles V’s second son, Louis de Touraine[xviii] with the Count d’Étampes. Bertrand added a new rite to the ceremony; he placed the child’s hand on his sword and said;
‘”My lord I give you this sword and put it in your hand, and pray God that he grant you valour such that you be as good and worthy knight as any King of France ever was who carried sword”.’[xix]
Donjon de Niort
On 21st March 1373 Bertrand took the castle at Chizé defeating the English in battle. John Devereux, a close companion of the Black Prince and former Seneschal of la Rochelle, was taken prisoner during the fighting. The donjon[xx] at Niort was captured on 27th March.
Unrest in Brittany
The English were entrenched in several strategic castles in Brittany; including Derval and Bécherel. To pay for the upkeep of the castles the English demanded ‘ransom’[xxi] from the local areas. The ducal treasury was in debt to the English crown and the heir to the dukedom[xxii] was Jean de Bretagne, the son of Charles of Blois; a prisoner in England, hostage for his father’s unpaid ransom.

French support for the canonisation of Charles of Blois[xxiii] was guaranteed to irritate Jean V[xxiv], while the refuge given to Robert Knolles and the remnants of his army cannot have calmed French fears. A secret treaty between Jean V and Edward III was signed in July 1372; the English offering Jean castles that he would have to wrest from French control, while agreeing that he would not owe the English homage for his dukedom once it belonged to the English crown.
A force of four hundred men-at-arms and four hundred archers, under the command of Sir William Neville, landed in early October near Brest
‘The duke had placed his confidence in some of the knights of Brittany, who had betrayed his secret, so that the king of France ordered his constable to invade Brittany.’[xxv]
Bertrand was accompanied by the Dukes of Bourbon and Burgundy. Charles ordered Jean V to send the English packing and when nothing was done Charles informed Jean’s vassals of his correspondence with Jean V; thus undermining their support for their liege lord.

Fighting in the Cotentin
Knolles and his army were cutting a savage swathe through northern France in an attempt to damage the French war effort. English companies were rampaging through the Cotentin peninsula. The King of Navarre was currently in talks with both Edward III and Charles V and possibly intriguing with the Duke of Brittany; both men in a pivotal position to enable Edward to mount another invasion.

The English were finally defeated in a battle on the lower Loire; the commoner Knolles quarrelled with the nobility in his army over precedence and booty and the final destination of the expedition. The four co-captains decided to go their own way and du Guesclin’s men fell on and destroyed isolated columns of soldiers.
Battle of Pontvallain
Du Guesclin caught up with the company led by Sir Thomas Grandison on 4th December and defeated him at the Battle of Pontvallain.
‘Directly at a place called Pont-valin, they were met by the French, who immediately charged them, and surrounded them, as they were full four hundred lances and the English about two hundred. The battle was sharp and long, and well fought on both sides………the French gained the victory over the English, who were all slain or made prisoners; for not an Englishman fled.’[xxvi]
Du Guesclin presented Grandison and eighty other valuable prisoners to Charles V on 1st January 1371.

Edward III – Bryan Bevan, The Rubicon Press 1992
The Hundred Years War – Alfred Burne, Folio Society 2005

Chronicles – Froissart, Penguin Books Ltd 1968
Edward III – WM Ormrod, Tempus Publishing Ltd 2005

The Monks of War – Desmond Seward, Folio Society 2000
A Distant Mirror – Barbara Tuchman, Pan MacMillan Publishers Ltd 1989

The Flower of Chivalry – Richard Vernier, The Boydell Press 2003

[i] Daughter of Pedro I of Castile,
[ii] Or Rota fortunae, a motif much used in medieval times
[iv] Not concluded until 1374
[v] In the Charente department and within the apanage of the Duc de Berry
[vi] A deadly chivalric insult
[vii] Sufficient to keep 3,000 men under arms for one year and in 2011 worth £11,400,000.00 using the retail price index or £128,000,000.00 using average earnings
[viii] Made Earl of Worcester in 1397 by Richard II
[ix] Leader of a Free Company fighting for the French
[xi] A son-in-law of Edward III
[xii] In 2011 worth £73,900,000.00 using the retail price index or £831,000,000.00 using average earnings
[xiv] Giving up the suit to Charles V for 50,000 francs, in 2011 worth £28,400,000.00 using the retail price index or £319,000,000.00 using average earnings
[xv] In 2011 worth £56,900,000.00 using the retail price index or £639,000,000.00 using average earnings
[xvii] The defenders of Thouars acknowledged the sovereign rights of the King of France leading to the restoration to France of the Duchy of Guyenne
[xviii] The future Duke of Orléans father of Charles d’Orléans
[xix] The Flower of Chivalry - Vernier
[xx] A castle keep
[xxi] A cross between taxation and protection racket; Bécherel alone required payments from 160 parishes in north east Brittany for its upkeep
[xxii] In default of an heir of the blood for Jean V, as agreed in the Treaty of Guérande 1365. Jean’s son and heir was not born until 1389
[xxiii] Confirmed in 1904 by Pius X
[xxiv] If Charles of Blois was canonised that would by implication make Jean V the killer of a saint

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