Battle of Champtoceaux

Last updated
Battle of Champtoceaux
Part of the War of the Breton Succession
Date14–16 October 1341
Location
Result Franco-Breton victory
Belligerents
Armoiries Bretagne - Arms of Brittany.svg House of Blois
Blason France moderne.svg France
Armoiries Bretagne - Arms of Brittany.svg House of Montfort
Commanders and leaders
Charles of Blois John of Montfort
Strength
7,000+ Unknown, small
Casualties and losses
Unknown Unknown, heavy

The Battle of Champtoceaux, often called the Battle of l'Humeau, was the opening action of the 23-year-long War of the Breton Succession, a dynastic conflict in Brittany which became inevitably embroiled in the Hundred Years War between England and France. This battle should have decided the war at a stroke, as John of Montfort, the leader of one faction, was made prisoner. However his wife, Joanna of Flanders, and young son John escaped imprisonment. Their escape and continued support from his ally, England, allowed continued resistance to flourish and eventually turn the tide.

Contents

Dynastic Conflict

The War of the Breton Succession was highly political and revolved around conflicting claims. The dynastic conflict over the Duchy of Brittany followed the death of John III, Duke of Brittany on April 30, 1341. His inheritance was claimed by two members of the Breton House of Dreux, his half brother John of Montfort and his niece Joan. Joan's husband, Charles of Blois, was the nephew of King Philip VI of France. The French king was bound to support his nephew's claim by the politic of family dynastics in medieval Europe. He was not, however, prepared to endure an expanded war on the distant Breton peninsula. Brittany at this time was a foreign land where travel was fraught with difficulties and the language alien. Philip VI encouraged John and Charles to come to terms on the succession. At this stage, Edward III, King of England stepped into the conflict offering troops and financial support to John of Montfort in exchange for homage from John for the ownership of Brittany. If successful, John would thereby confirm Edward's claim to be the rightful ruler of France. Ironically, in supporting John, whose claim to the ducal throne rested on Salic law, Edward was jeopardising his own claim to the throne of France which deliberately ignored the same laws. The idea of English troops rampaging through Brittany and from there into Normandy and other parts of Northern France terrified Philip, and he was resolved to win the war before Edward's troops could arrive. John was not idle either, having taken flight from Paris days before his arrest for treason (for conspiring with Edward III); he arrived in Nantes to raise an army from his supporters.

Charles' advance

By the end of September 1341, Charles of Blois had 5,000 French soldiers, 2,000 Genoese mercenaries, and an unknown but large number of Breton soldiers in his army. He encamped his army at Angers in the Loire Valley. [lower-alpha 1] [lower-alpha 2]

By the time Charles of Blois was ready to move at the start of October 1341, Montfort had captured and garrisoned most of the castles and towns in Eastern Brittany. Montfort's castle strongholds included the towns of Rennes, Dinan, and the fortified castle (chateau fort) [lower-alpha 3] which guarded the Loire Valley at Champtoceaux. [lower-alpha 4] [lower-alpha 5] Charles made this stronghold the first objective of the French army as they marched towards their eventual target, Nantes. [lower-alpha 6] Charles of Blois arrived near the castle on 10 October with part of his army and laid siege to it before the remainder of the force arrived. This army was moving more slowly but its presence was already causing a number of John's supporters alarm. Mindful of the speed with which supporters disappeared in medieval dynastic struggles, John was forced to act, scraping together a band of followers and riding to the relief of Champtoceaux.

Battle of Champtoceaux

The attempted relief of Champtoceaux was a disaster for John of Montfort. His forces were strung out in a dozen garrisons and thus he could only scrape together a handful of men from Nantes to join his forces for this particular effort. This force was not big enough to challenge Charles' vanguard and was dwarfed by the large French army behind him. John could not expect English reinforcements in Brittany before the New Year. John halted at a small farmstead named l'Humeau, three miles from Champtoceaux, expecting it to be garrisoned by a small body of his supporters who could inform him of Charles' positions. To their mutual shock, he found Charles himself and almost overwhelmed his bodyguard. Charles barricaded himself in the farmhouse's tower and defeated all efforts by John's men to break in. For two days the two rivals engaged each other in the surreal circumstances; repeated efforts to gain access by John were driven off by Charles' defensive position. Meanwhile, the French army crawled ever closer. Supporters of John came to aid him and a series of bloody and confused skirmishes occurred around the head of the French column; these skirmishes failed to blunt the steady progress of Blois' army towards Nantes.

Siege of Nantes

Eventually John conceded defeat at Champtoceaux and rode as fast as he could for Nantes, pursued by French cavalry which had finally caught up with the action at l'Humeau. He had lost many of his supporters and mercenaries around Champtoceaux, which fell on 26 October after the fact of John's flight became known. When John arrived at Nantes, he received a hostile reception from the townsmen who reacted to the defeat at Champtoceaux and the losses there; they agreed to support him further only if he promised them that he would surrender should no relief arrive for the city within a month. A series of sallies by the Montfortists followed in the coming days; the French army responded and began its assaults on outlying forts held by John's forces. Captured defenders were executed by the French within sight of the city walls and discontent grew within the city to such a degree that John was having difficulty finding men to accompany his attacks on the French lines. Finally at the end of October a sally ended in disaster when John's mercenaries deserted at the height of battle and left the contingent of townsmen to be annihilated by a superior French force; some of the captured Montfortists were beheaded and their heads were thrown into the town with a catapult. John was forced to surrender by the irate city council on 2 November, and he was imprisoned in the Louvre in Paris.

Aftermath

In quick succession, John's allies and holdings in Brittany disappeared either through desertion or direct assault by the French army. During the winter, Charles captured all of Eastern Brittany, and then in the spring most of Western Brittany. This left only the port of Brest in the hands of John's wife, Joanna of Flanders, and a few English adventurers led by Walter Manny. It was at the Battle of Brest in July 1342 that the promised English reinforcements finally arrived, and the tide of war turned yet again and not for the last time.

John of Montfort was released in 1343 as a result of the truce of Malestroit, but confined to his lands east of Brittany. He eventually escaped French custody in March 1345, fled to England, then returned to Brittany, made an unsuccessful attempt to regain Quimper, and died in September 1345. His infant son, raised in England, was still free and would continue the war once he reached adulthood. John's son eventually defeated Charles at the Battle of Auray in 1364, ending the war.

Notes

  1. Overall command of the force was given to John, Duke of Normandy, advised by the veteran Duke of Burgundy, although Blois wielded the real authority within the army.
  2. Blois' army contained almost all the significant French generals of the day who, ironically, had been spared from the Hundred Years' War by a truce until summer 1342.
  3. The Chateau was originally built by Fulk Nerra, the Duke of Anjou in 988.
  4. Champtoceaux is a commune located 25 km to the east of Nantes on the left bank of the Loire River
  5. Champtoceaux was ceded to John de Montfort by the King of France as part of the settlement of the War of the Breton Succession; The Duke of Brittany eventually returned it to Anjou.
  6. Nantes was the regional capital and centre of power.

Related Research Articles

Duchy of Brittany Medieval duchy in northwestern France

The Duchy of Brittany was a medieval feudal state that existed between approximately 939 and 1547. Its territory covered the northwestern peninsula of Europe, bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the west, and the English Channel to the north. It was also less definitively bordered by the Loire River to the south, and Normandy, and other French provinces, to the east. The Duchy was established after the expulsion of Viking armies from the region around 939. The Duchy, in the 10th and 11th centuries, was politically unstable, with the dukes holding only limited power outside their own personal lands. The Duchy had mixed relationships with the neighbouring Duchy of Normandy, sometimes allying itself with Normandy, and at other times, such as the Breton-Norman War, entering into open conflict.

Battle of Auray

The Battle of Auray took place on 29 September 1364 at the French town of Auray. This battle was the decisive confrontation of the Breton War of Succession, a part of the Hundred Years' War.

John III, Duke of Brittany

John III the Good was Duke of Brittany, from 1312 to his death and 5th Earl of Richmond from 1334 to his death. He was the son of Duke Arthur II of Brittany and Mary of Limoges, his first wife. John was strongly opposed to his father's second marriage to Yolande of Dreux, Queen of Scotland and attempted to contest its legality.

Joan, Duchess of Brittany Duchess regnant of Brittany during the War of the Breton Succession

Joan of Penthièvre or Joan the Lame reigned as Duchess of Brittany together with her husband, Charles of Blois, between 1341 and 1364. Her ducal claims were contested by the House of Montfort, which prevailed only after an extensive civil war, the War of the Breton Succession. After the war, Joan remained titular Duchess of Brittany to her death. She was Countess of Penthièvre in her own right throughout her life.

War of the Breton Succession War of succession within Brittany from 1341 to 1365; part of the Hundred Years War

The War of the Breton Succession was a conflict between the Counts of Blois and the Montforts of Brittany for control of the Sovereign Duchy of Brittany, then a fief of the Kingdom of France. It was fought between 1341 and 12 April 1365. It is also known as the War of the Two Jeannes due to the involvement of two queens of that name.

John of Montfort Duke of Brittany

John of Montfort, sometimes known as John IV of Brittany, and 6th Earl of Richmond from 1341 to his death. He was the son of Arthur II, Duke of Brittany and his second wife, Yolande de Dreux. He contested the inheritance of the Duchy of Brittany by his niece, Joan of Penthièvre, which led to the War of the Breton Succession, which in turn evolved into being part of the Hundred Years' War between England and France. John's patron in his quest was King Edward III of England. He died in 1345, 19 years before the end of the war, and the victory of his son John IV over Joan of Penthièvre and her husband, Charles of Blois.

Charles, Duke of Brittany 14th-century French nobleman and Catholic saint

Charles of Blois-Châtillon, nicknamed "the Saint", was the legalist Duke of Brittany from 1341 until his death, via his marriage to Joan, Duchess of Brittany and Countess of Penthièvre, holding the title against the claims of John of Montfort. The cause of his possible canonization was the subject of a good deal of political maneuvering on the part of his cousin, Charles V of France, who endorsed it, and his rival, Montfort, who opposed it. The cause fell dormant after Pope Gregory XI left Avignon in 1376, but was revived in 1894. Charles of Blois was beatified in 1904.

John IV, Duke of Brittany Duke of Brittany

John IV the Conqueror KG, was Duke of Brittany and Count of Montfort from 1345 until his death and 7th Earl of Richmond from 1372 until his death.

John V, Duke of Brittany Duke of Brittany

John V, sometimes numbered as VI, bynamed John the Wise, was Duke of Brittany and Count of Montfort from 1399 to his death. His rule coincided with the height of the Hundred Years' War between England and France. John's reversals in that conflict, as well as in other internal struggles in France, served to strengthen his duchy and to maintain its independence.

Earl of Richmond

The now-extinct title of Earl of Richmond was created many times in the Peerage of England. The earldom of Richmond was initially held by various Breton nobles associated with the Ducal crown of Brittany; sometimes the holder was the Breton Duke himself, including one member of the cadet branch of the French Capetian dynasty. The historical ties between the Ducal crown of Brittany and this English Earldom were maintained ceremonially by the Breton dukes even after England ceased to recognize the Breton Dukes as Earls of England and those dukes rendered homage to the King of France, rather than the English crown. It was then held either by members of the English royal families of Plantagenet and Tudor, or English nobles closely associated with the English crown. It was eventually merged into the English crown during the reign of Henry VII and has been recreated as a Dukedom.

Joanna of Flanders Duchess consort of Brittany

Joanna of Flanders was Duchess of Brittany by her marriage to John of Montfort. Much of her life was taken up in defence of the rights of her husband and, later, son to the dukedom, which was challenged by the House of Blois during the War of the Breton Succession. Known for her fiery personality, Joanna led the Montfortist cause after her husband had been captured, and began the fight-back, showing considerable skill as a military leader.

Olivier de Clisson 14th and 15th-century Breton general

Olivier Le Vieux de Clisson, dit Olivier V de Clisson, nicknamed "The Butcher", was a Breton soldier, the son of Olivier IV de Clisson. His father had been put to death by the French in 1343 on the suspicion of having willingly given up the city of Vannes to the English.

The Battle of Saint-Pol-de-Léon was a minor action during the Breton War of Succession and thus part of the larger Hundred Years War. The battle was fought in June 1346 and marked a minor turning point in the fortunes of the Montfortists and their English allies in Brittany following several setbacks including the imprisonment and subsequent death of their leader, John of Montfort.

Montfort of Brittany

The House of Montfort was a Breton-French noble family, which reigned in the Duchy of Brittany from 1365 to 1514. It was a cadet branch of the House of Dreux; it was thus ultimately part of the Capetian dynasty. It should not be confused with the older House of Montfort which ruled as Counts of Montfort-l'Amaury.

House of Dreux

The House of Dreux was a cadet branch of the Capetian dynasty. It was founded by Robert I, Count of Dreux, a son of Louis VI of France, who was given the County of Dreux as his appanage.

The battle of Brest, sometimes called the battle of the River Penfeld, was an action in 1342 between an English squadron of converted merchant ships and that of a mercenary galley force from Genoa fighting for the Franco-Breton faction of Charles of Blois during the Breton War of Succession, a side conflict of the Hundred Years War.

La Chapelle-Launay Commune in Pays de la Loire, France

La Chapelle-Launay is a commune in the Loire-Atlantique department in Brittany, western France.

French–Breton War

The French–Breton War lasted from 1487 to 1491. The cause of this war was the approaching death of the Breton Duke Francis II of Brittany, who had no clear successor. If not resolved, this meant a resumption of issues from a previous War of the Breton Succession (1341–1364), which had rival claimants allying with England or France, resulting in an ambiguous peace treaty that failed to prevent future succession disputes.

Sieges of Vannes (1342)

The sieges of Vannes of 1342 were a series of four sieges of the town of Vannes that occurred throughout 1342. Two rival claimants to the Duchy of Brittany, John of Montfort and Charles of Blois, competed for Vannes throughout this civil war from 1341 to 1365. The successive sieges ruined Vannes and its surrounding countryside. Vannes was eventually sold off in a truce between England and France, signed in January 1343 in Malestroit. Saved by an appeal of Pope Clement VI, Vannes remained in the hands of its own rulers, but ultimately resided under English control from September 1343 till the end of the war in 1365.

Harvey VII of Léon was a Breton lord, son of Harvey VI, Lord of Léon and his wife Joanna of Montmorency. He succeeded his father as Lord of Léon in 1337. He was also Lord of Noyon-sur-Andelle. The Lords of Léon were a junior branch of the Viscounts of Léon which was founded by Harvey I, second son of Guihomar IV, Viscount of Léon. Harvey VII won fame during the War of the Breton Succession.

References

    Coordinates: 47°18′57.5″N1°17′34.4″W / 47.315972°N 1.292889°W / 47.315972; -1.292889