The Annexation of Brittany
In 1378 it became clear that Charles of Navarre was plotting with Jean V against Charles V. French forces under the command of the Duke of Burgundy and Bertrand quickly took control of the towns and castles of the two plotters.The exception was the town of Cherbourg, which was unsuccessfully besieged by Bertrand. The Castilian navy thwarted an English attempt to raise the siege but during an ambush Olivier du Guesclin and one of Bertrand’s cousins were taken prisoner[i]. Bertrand then quarrelled with Jean le Mercier[ii], the king’s treasurer.
Despite his army having seen off an English attempt to retake St Malo, Charles V now decided on the wholesale annexation of Brittany. As far back as the 11th August 1373 the records show debate as to whether;
‘The King should summon……..the lord Jehan, or not, in case he should want to confiscate the duchy of Brittany.’[iii]On 18th December 1378 the Paris Parlement dispossessed Jean V of his duchy. It was not until April the following year that Charles moved to implement the Parlement’s verdict; he summonsed the Bretons under his command; Bertrand, de Clisson, the Viscount of Rohan and the Lord of Laval[iv], to inform them that he was sending Royal Commissioners in to take control of Brittany. Charles made them swear on the true cross and the bible that they would support this enterprise.
Rebellion in BrittanyWithin days a Breton league had established itself as a provisional government[v] and Laval and Rohan joined it. The league decided to call Jean V back to Brittany and Laval and Beaumanoir travelled to London to discuss the matter with Jean V. Support for Jean V came from an unlikely source; the widow of his erstwhile opponent, Charles of Blois; Jeanne de Pénthievre[vi] supported the league against Charles.
On 3rd August the delegation returned from England accompanied by Jean V and an English squadron. Jean V was welcomed on the beach at Saint-Servan by a large crowd of Bretons of all ranks. Bertrand was based at Saint-Malo, but he failed to move against his fellow Bretons. Although he did have a conversation with the commander of the English squadron, Hugh Calveley, by means of yelling at each other across the intervening waters.
Bertrand kept Louis d’Anjou updated with regular bulletins, including details of Jean V’s actions. Jean V had written to all Breton nobles asking for their support;
|Olivier de Clisson|
Within weeks of his return Jean V was already seeking a compromise with Louis d’Anjou. Jean V had not got the money or manpower to see off a determined French invasion. On the other hand who knew better than Bertrand that Brittany was ideal terrain for guerrilla warfare? No-one on the French side wanted another war in Brittany, bar de Clisson whose personal feud with Jean V threatened to tip the balance on a number of occasions.Jean V had eschewed English help in holding his duchy, which removed one of the main strategic reasons for French intervention. In his report to Louis d’Anjou Bertrand expressed his doubts about Jean V’s ability to hold out without English support. Bertrand’s troops were based at Avranches, with him were the dukes of Anjou and Bourbon, while de Clisson threatened Nantes and Derval from the southern end of the Breton marshes.
Diplomatic channels were opened, but before the discussions could amount to anything Louis d’Anjou got called away to deal with a tax revolt[ix] in the Languedoc where he was Lieutenant Governor. It was now that several of Bertrand’s enemies[x] decried him to Charles V, claiming that Bertrand was working on behalf of Jean V. A coolness in the relationship between Charles V and his Constable followed this slander. But Bertrand was supported by Louis d’Anjou and Bertrand wrote thanking him for this support;
‘To the honour and praise of myself, so that the King was well pleased…and so that I am now in his good grace and shall be even more so.’[xi]On 1st March 1380 Jean V concluded a new alliance with Richard II. The threatened war erupted with a chevauchée launched by Thomas of Woodstock[xii]. The fighting in Brittany was not concluded until after the death of both Charles V and Bertrand.
In 1376 one of Bertrand’s men, a Sylvestre Budes, left him to form his own company. Sylvestre was executed in 1380; either in Paris as a suspected traitor or in Maçon as a traitor to the Antipope Clement VII. Budes’ men committed atrocities in Italy in support of the Pope in Avignon. Froissart informs us that Bertrand lamented the death of this old friend.
Insurgency in LanguedocTo avoid straining the Constable’s loyalties, or perhaps because of the slurs against him from the king’s counsellors, Bertrand was not required to command the French forces in Brittany; many of Bertrand’s friends and relatives had rallied to Jean V’s call. Instead Bertrand was ordered down to the Auvergne to make war on the Free Companies investing the area.
The leaders of these groups were battle hardened men including Bertucat d’Albray, Pierre de Galard and Pérrot de Béarn[xiii]. There were also Bretons active in the area; Bernard de Garlan[xiv] and Geoffroi Tête-Noire were well placed to threaten the rear of the French forces poised to attack Brittany.Louis d’Anjou had been over-extended and his appointment as governor of Brittany had distracted him from his duties in Languedoc. The tax revolt in Montpellier was one of the repercussions of this distraction. At Easter 1380;
‘Messengers came from the Commons of Languedoc to Paris to see the King, and they explained to him the state in which the country was…..and begged of him that he send them a captain of his, to keep and defend the country against the enemies and the Companies that were in it.’[xv]The Commons also undertook to subsidise the campaign and Charles gave them Bertrand, charged with the retaking of the lands taken by the Companies.
Death of a Hero
|Meung sur Loire|
Bertrand was supported in his mission by the dukes of Bourbon and Berry. There was also support from such towns as Le Puy[xvi] and Saint-Flour, suffering from the mismanagement of the companies. By 28th May Bertrand and his troops were at Meung-sur-Loire en route to the Auvergne. By early June Bertrand was the guest of the Duc de Bourbon at Moulins.By the 10th June Bertrand and his troops had reached Clermont where he joined forces with the Duc de Berry. From there Bertrand sent to the Consuls of Saint-Flour, advising them to prepare for a siege of the castle at Chaliers. He also planned to besiege Chateauneuf du Randon, held by de Galard, before attacking the main Companies stronghold at Carlat, held by Bertucat d’Albret[xvii].
From May the town of Aurillac was paying tribute to d’Albret’s men; on 21st May Saint-Flour had purchased a three months truce from the English holding Chaliers. The townspeople of Saint-Flour were ordered to return their peace treaty to the English. This was done and on the 20th June the French army invested Chaliers. There were 500 men from Saint-Flour fighting with du Guesclin’s men. They also provisioned the army and provided two trebuchets.
|Death of Bertrand|
The walls were bombarded for seven days and were then breached. The defenders immediately surrendered. The royal army immediately moved on, leaving behind the Duc de Berry and the men of Saint-Flour. They may have set up camp before the well fortified and provisioned Chateauneuf de Radon as early as 28th June. According to the Chanson de Bertrand;
‘Bertrand made an assault before two weeks had passed
But he conquered naught, and his people had a hard time of it.’[xviii]
The defenders were aware that there was no likelihood of relief and de Galard agreed to surrender if he did not receive help before Friday 13th July. Hostages were sent to the besiegers and the fighting was suspended. But on that day Bertrand fell died; feeling ill several days before, he had already threatened the garrison with reprisals if they failed to surrender and they took note. Chateuneuf de Radon duly surrendered.
|Bertrand du Guesclin|
As befits a hero of France Bertrand was laid to rest in royal mausoleum in the chapel of St Denis, buried with honours;
‘As though he had been the King’s son.’[xix]Bertrand’s replacement as Constable was his companion in arms and rival Olivier de Clisson. The post had been offered to Enguerrand VII de Coucy, but he declined the honour. Bertrand’s royal master died two months later on 13th September, to be succeeded by his son Charles VI.
The Chanson of Bertrand ends;
‘And so ends the story of Bertrand, may God be his friend!
God the Father give us peace and Paradise,
And may He chastise all our enemies.’[xx]
BibliographyEdward III – Bryan Bevan, The Rubicon Press 1992
The Hundred Years War – Alfred Burne, Folio Society 2005Chronicles – Froissart, Penguin Books Ltd 1968
Edward III – WM Ormrod, Tempus Publishing Ltd 2005The Monks of War – Desmond Seward, Folio Society 2000
A Distant Mirror – Barbara Tuchman, Pan MacMillan Publishers Ltd 1989The Flower of Chivalry – Richard Vernier, The Boydell Press 2003
[i] Olivier was imprisoned in London until his ransom was paid
[ii] Later, having amassed an enormous fortune, the hugely unpopular le Mercier was accused of speculation and fell from power in 1392
[iii] The Flower of Chivalry - Vernier
[iv] His foremost Breton supporters to date
[v] In opposition to Louis d’Anjou who had been made the king’s lieutenant in Brittany
[vi] Whose children were also dispossessed
[vii] Who had a personal quarrel with Jean V
[viii] The Flower of Chivalry - Vernier
[ix] A number of royal officials were hacked to death in Montpellier by a mob
[xi] The Flower of Chivalry - Vernier
[xii] Earl of Buckingham and one of the new king’s uncles, later to be Duke of Gloucester
[xv] The Flower of Chivalry - Vernier
[xvii] A cousin of de Galard, d’Albret came from Gascony and in the fifteenth century a family member would inherit the throne of Navarre
[xviii] The Flower of Chivalry - Vernier
[xix] A Distant Mirror - Tuchman
[xx] The Flower of Chivalry - Vernier