Bertrand du Guesclin

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Bertrand du Guesclin
Du Guesclin Dinan.jpg
Statue of Bertrand du Guesclin in Dinan
Bornc. 1320
Died13 July 1380 (aged c. 60)
Allegiance Blason Blois-Chatillon.svg House of Blois
Arms of the Kings of France (France Ancien).svg Kingdom of France
Rank Constable of France

Hundred Years' War
War of the Breton Succession
Castilian Civil War
Battle of Montmuran (1354)
Battle of Cocherel (1364)
Battle of Auray (1364)  (POW)
Battle of Nájera (1367)  (POW)
Battle of Montiel (1369)
Battle of Pontvallain (1370)
Battle of Chiset (1373)
Bertrand du Guesclin's effigy at the Saint-Denis Basilica, near Paris Bertrand du Guesclin P1210353.jpg
Bertrand du Guesclin's effigy at the Saint-Denis Basilica, near Paris

Bertrand du Guesclin (c. 1320 – 13 July 1380), nicknamed "The Eagle of Brittany" or "The Black Dog of Brocéliande", was a Breton knight and an important military commander on the French side during the Hundred Years' War. From 1370 to his death, he was Constable of France for King Charles V. Well known for his Fabian strategy, he took part in six pitched battles and won the four in which he held command.


Brocéliande is a legendary enchanted forest that had a reputation in the medieval European imagination as a place of magic and mystery. Brocéliande is featured in several medieval texts, mostly related to the Arthurian legend and the characters of Merlin, Morgan le Fay, Lady of the Lake, and some of the Knights of the Round Table. It first appeared in literature in the Roman de Rou chronicle by Wace in 1160 and today is most commonly identified as Paimpont forest in Brittany, France.

Kingdom of France kingdom in Western Europe from 843 to 1791

The Kingdom of France was a medieval and early modern monarchy in Western Europe. It was among the most powerful states in Europe and a great power since the Late Middle Ages and the Hundred Years' War. It was also an early colonial power, with possessions around the world.

Hundred Years War Series of conflicts and wars between England and France during the 14th and 15th-century

The Hundred Years' War was a series of conflicts waged from 1337 to 1453 by the House of Plantagenet, rulers of the Kingdom of England, against the French House of Valois, over the right to rule the Kingdom of France. Each side drew many allies into the war. It was one of the most notable conflicts of the Middle Ages, in which five generations of kings from two rival dynasties fought for the throne of the largest kingdom in Western Europe. The war marked both the height of chivalry and its subsequent decline, and the development of strong national identities in both countries.



Bertrand du Guesclin was born at Motte-Broons near Dinan, in Brittany, first-born son of Robert du Guesclin and Jeanne de Malmaines. His date of birth is unknown but is thought to have been sometime in 1320. His family was of minor Breton nobility, the seigneurs of Broons. [1]

Broons Commune in Brittany, France

Broons is a commune in the Côtes-d'Armor department in Brittany in northwestern France.

Dinan Subprefecture and commune in Brittany, France

Dinan is a walled Breton town and a commune in the Côtes-d'Armor department in northwestern France. On 1 January 2018, the former commune of Léhon was merged into Dinan.

Brittany Historical province in France

Brittany is a cultural region in the west of France, covering the western part of what was known as Armorica during the period of Roman occupation. It became an independent kingdom and then a duchy before being united with the Kingdom of France in 1532 as a province governed as if it were a separate nation under the crown.

Bertrand's family may have claimed descent from Aquin, the legendary Muslim king of Bougie in Africa, a conceit derived from the Roman d'Aquin , a thirteenth-century French chanson de geste from Brittany. [2]

<i>Chanson de geste</i> Medieval narrative in poetic form

The chanson de geste is a medieval narrative, a type of epic poem that appears at the dawn of French literature. The earliest known poems of this genre date from the late eleventh and early twelfth centuries, before the emergence of the lyric poetry of the trouvères (troubadours) and the earliest verse romances. They reached their highest point of acceptance in the period 1150–1250.

Service in Brittany

Guesclin at the Battle of Cocherel Duguesclin Cocherel.jpg
Guesclin at the Battle of Cocherel

He initially served Charles of Blois in the Breton War of Succession (1341–1364). Charles was supported by the French crown, while his rival, Jean de Montfort, was allied with England. Du Guesclin was knighted in 1354 while serving Arnoul d'Audrehem, after countering a raid by Hugh Calveley on the Castle of Montmuran. In 1356–57, Du Guesclin successfully defended Rennes against an English siege by Henry of Grosmont, using guerrilla tactics. During the siege, he killed the English knight William Bamborough who had challenged him to a duel.

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.

Arnoul d'Audrehem was a Marshal of France, who fought in the Hundred Years' War.

Hugh Calveley English politician

Sir Hugh Calveley was an English knight and commander, who took part in the Hundred Years' War, gaining fame during the War of the Breton Succession and the Castilian Civil War. He held various military posts in Brittany and Normandy. He should not be confused with his nephew, also Sir Hugh Calveley, who died in June 1393 and was Member of Parliament for Rutland.

The resistance of du Guesclin helped restore French morale after Poitiers, and du Guesclin came to the attention of the Dauphin Charles. When he became King in 1364, Charles sent Du Guesclin to deal with Charles II of Navarre, who hoped to claim the Duchy of Burgundy, which Charles hoped to give to his brother, Philip. On 16 May, he met an Anglo-Navarrese army under the command of Jean de Grailly, Captal de Buch at Cocherel and proved his ability in pitched battle by routing the enemy. The victory forced Charles II into a new peace with the French king, and secured Burgundy for Philip.

Dauphin of France Title given to the heir apparent to the throne of France

Dauphin of France, originally Dauphin of Viennois, was the title given to the heir apparent to the throne of France from 1350 to 1791 and 1824 to 1830. The word dauphin is French for dolphin. At first the heirs were granted the County of Viennois (Dauphiné) to rule, but eventually only the title was granted.

Charles V of France King of France

Charles V, called the Wise, was King of France from 1364 to his death. His reign marked a high point for France during the Hundred Years' War, with his armies recovering much of the territory held by the English, and successfully reversed the military losses of his predecessors.

Charles II of Navarre King of Navarre 1349–1387 and Count of Évreux 1343–1387

Charles II, called Charles the Bad, was King of Navarre 1349–1387 and Count of Évreux 1343–1387.

On 29 September 1364, at the Battle of Auray, the army of Charles of Blois was heavily defeated by John IV, Duke of Brittany and the English forces under Sir John Chandos. De Blois was killed in action, ending the pretensions of the Penthievre faction in Brittany. After chivalric resistance, Du Guesclin broke his weapons to signify his surrender. He was captured and ransomed by Charles V for 100,000 francs. [3]

Battle of Auray 1364 battle of the War of the Breton Succession

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 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 Chandos English knight

Sir John Chandos, Viscount of Saint-Sauveur in the Cotentin, Constable of Aquitaine, Seneschal of Poitou, was a medieval English knight who hailed from Radbourne Hall, Derbyshire. Chandos was a close friend of Edward the Black Prince and a founding member and 19th Knight of the Order of the Garter in 1348. Chandos was a gentleman by birth, but unlike most commanders of the day he held no inherited title of nobility.

Service in Spain

In 1366, Bertrand persuaded the leaders of the "free companies", who had been pillaging France after the Treaty of Brétigny, to join him in an expedition to Spain to aid Count Henry of Trastámara against Pedro I of Castile. In 1366, du Guesclin, with Guillaume Boitel, his faithful companion, leader of his vanguard, captured many fortresses (Magallón, Briviesca and finally the capital Burgos). After Henry's coronation at Burgos, he proclaimed Bertrand his successor as Count of Trastámara and had him crowned as King of Granada, although that kingdom was yet to be reconquered from the Nasrids. Bertrand's elevation must have taken place at Burgos between 16 March and 5 April 1366. [4]

But Henry's army was defeated in 1367 by Pedro's forces, now commanded by Edward, the Black Prince, at Nájera. Du Guesclin was again captured, and again ransomed by Charles V, who considered him invaluable. [5] However, the English army suffered badly in the battle as four English soldiers out of five died during the Castilian Campaign. The Black Prince, affected by dysentery, soon withdrew his support from Pedro. Du Guesclin and Henry of Trastámara renewed the attack, defeating him at the decisive Battle of Montiel (1369).

After the battle, Pedro fled to the castle at Montiel, from whence he made contact with du Guesclin, whose army were camped outside. Pedro bribed du Guesclin to obtain escape. Du Guesclin agreed, but also told it to Henry who promised him more money and land if he would only lead Pedro to Henry's tent. Once there, after crossed accusations of bastardy, the two half-brothers started a fight to death, using daggers because of the narrow space. At a moment when they fought on the floor, Pedro got the upper side and was about to finish Henry. But then Du Guesclin, who had stayed inactive for he was compromised to both, made his final choice. He grabbed Pedro's ankle and turned him belly-up, thus allowing Henry to stab Pedro to death and gain the throne of Castile. [6] While turning Pedro down, du Guesclin is claimed to have said "Ni quito ni pongo rey, pero ayudo a mi señor" (I neither put nor remove a King, but I help my Master), which has since that moment become a common phrase in Spanish, to be used by anyone of lesser rank who does what he is ordered or expected to do, avoiding any concern about the justice or injustice of such action, and declining any responsibility.

Bertrand was made Duke of Molina, and the Franco-Castilian alliance was sealed.

Constable of France

Du Guesclin's coat of arms. Blason du Guesclin.svg
Du Guesclin's coat of arms.

War with England was renewed in 1369, and Du Guesclin was recalled from Castile in 1370 by Charles V, who had decided to make him Constable of France, the country's chief military leader. By tradition this post was always given to a great nobleman, not to someone like the comparatively low-born Du Guesclin, but Charles needed someone who was an outstanding professional soldier. In practice du Guesclin had continual difficulties in getting aristocratic leaders to serve under him, and the core of his armies were always his personal retinue. [7] He was formally invested with the rank of Constable by the King on 2 October 1370. He immediately defeated the remnant of an English army, which had been led by Robert Knolles until his retreat at Guesclin's coming, at the Battle of Pontvallain, and then reconquered Poitou and Saintonge, forcing the Black Prince to leave France.

In 1372, the Franco-Castillan fleet destroyed the English fleet at the Battle of La Rochelle where more than 400 English knights and 8000 soldiers were captured. Master of the Channel, du Guesclin organized destructive raids on the English coasts in retaliation for the English chevauchées.

Du Guesclin pursued the English into Brittany from 1370 to 1374, and defeated again the English army at the Battle of Chizé in 1373.

He disapproved of the confiscation of Brittany by Charles V in 1378, and his campaign to make the duchy submit to the king was halfhearted.

Death and burial

Death of Bertrand du Guesclin, by Jean Fouquet Mort de Bertrand Du Guesclin.jpg
Death of Bertrand du Guesclin, by Jean Fouquet

An able tactician and a loyal and disciplined warrior, Du Guesclin had reconquered much of France from the English when he died of illness at Chateauneuf-de-Randon while on a military expedition in Languedoc in 1380. He was buried at Saint-Denis in the tomb of the Kings of France. His heart is kept at the basilica of Saint-Sauveur at Dinan.

Later reputation

Because of du Guesclin's allegiance to France, 20th century Breton nationalists considered him to be a 'traitor' to Brittany. During World War II, the pro-Nazi Breton Social-National Workers' Movement destroyed a statue of him in Rennes. In 1977 the Breton Liberation Front destroyed a statue of him in Broons. [8]


  1. Vernier, Richard (2003). The Flower of Chivalry: Bertrand du Guesclin and the Hundred Years War. Woodbridge: Boydell Press. p. 18. ISBN   978-1-84383-006-1.
  2. Jones, M., ed. (2004). Letters, Orders and Musters of Bertrand Du Guesclin (1357–1380). Woodbridge: Boydell Press. ISBN   978-1-84383-088-7. p. xviii, n. 19, citing Marius Canard (1929), "L'origine sarrazine de Bertrand du Guesclin", Revue Africaine (Algiers), pp. 1–26.
  3. Guesclin "100000 francs - My library - Google Books. Retrieved 2011-12-16.
  4. Michael Jones, ed. (2004), Letters, Orders and Musters of Bertrand Du Guesclin (1357–1380) (Woodbridge: Boydell Press), p. 56, doc. 150.
  5. The ransom of Bertrand du Guesclin
  6. Vernier 2003, pp. 138–146.
  7. Sumption, J. (2009-03-19). Divided Houses: The Hundred Years War III. Faber. ISBN   978-0-571-13897-5. p. 75
  8. "Histoire de Du Guesclin" (in French). Retrieved 2019-01-13.

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