The Combat of the Thirty (26 March 1351 : Emgann an Tregont) was an episode in the Breton War of Succession fought to determine who would rule the Duchy of Brittany. It was an arranged fight between picked combatants from both sides of the conflict, fought at a site midway between the Breton castles of Josselin and Ploërmel among 30 champions, knights, and squires on each side. The challenge was issued by Jean de Beaumanoir, a captain of Charles of Blois supported by King Philip VI of France, to Robert Bemborough, a captain of Jean de Montfort supported by Edward III of England.) (French: Combat des Trente, Breton
After a hard-fought battle, the Franco-Breton Blois faction emerged victorious. The combat was later celebrated by medieval chroniclers and balladeers as a noble display of the ideals of chivalry. In the words of Jean Froissart, the warriors "held themselves as valiantly on both sides as if they had been all Rolands and Olivers".
The Breton War of Succession was a struggle between the House of Montfort and House of Blois for control of the Duchy of Brittany. It came to be absorbed into the larger Hundred Years War between France and England, with England supporting the Montforts and France supporting the Blois family. At the time of the tournament, the war had become stalemated, with each faction controlling strongholds at different locations within Brittany, but occasionally making sorties into one another's territory.
Robert Bemborough, a knight leading the Montfortist faction which controlled Ploërmel, was challenged to single combat by Jean de Beaumanoir, the captain of nearby Josselin, controlled by the Blois faction. According to the chronicler Froissart, this purely personal duel between the two leaders became a larger struggle when Bemborough suggested a tournament between twenty or thirty knights on each side, a proposal that was enthusiastically accepted by de Beaumanoir.
The motivation for the tournament is unclear. The earliest written sources present it as a purely chivalric exercise, undertaken to honour the ladies for whom the knights were fighting: referring to Joan, Duchess of Brittany (House of Blois) and Joanna of Flanders (House of Montfort). These women were leading the two factions at the time, as Joan's husband was in captivity and Joanna's was dead (her son was a young child at the time). This is the account given by the contemporary chroniclers Jean le Bel and Jean Froissart, both of whom present the conflict as purely a matter of honour with no personal animosity involved.Le Bel states that he had his information from one of the combatants. Froissart appears to simply copy le Bel's version.
However, popular ballads portrayed the cause differently. The earliest of these, written by an unknown local supporter of the Blois faction, depicts Bemborough and his knights as ruthless despoilers of the local population, who appealed to Beaumanoir for help. Beaumanoir is depicted as a hero coming to the aid of the defenceless people.The poet also portrays Beaumanoir as a model of Christian piety, who puts his faith in God, in contrast to Bemborough who relies on the Prophesies of Merlin. This version was standardised in Pierre Le Baud's History of the Bretons, written a century later, in which Bemborough's alleged cruelty is explained by his desire to avenge the death of Thomas Dagworth.
Whatever the cause, the fight was arranged in the form of an emprise —an arranged pas d'armes— which took place at an area known as the chêne de Mi-Voie (the Halfway Oak) between Ploërmel and Josselin, between picked combatants. It was organised in the manner of a tournament, with refreshments on hand and a large gathering of spectators. Bemborough is supposed to have said,
And let us right there try ourselves and do so much that people will speak of it in future times in halls, in palaces, in public places and elsewhere throughout the world.
The words are recorded by Froissart:"the saying may not be authentic", Johan Huizinga remarks, "but it teaches us what Froissart thought".
Beaumanoir commanded thirty Bretons, Bemborough a mixed force of twenty Englishmen (including Robert Knolles and Hugh Calveley), six German mercenaries and four Breton partisans of Montfort. It is unclear whether Bemborough himself was English or German. His name is spelled in many variant forms, and is given as "Brandebourch" by Froissart, and also appears as "Bembro". His first name is sometimes given as Robert, sometimes as Richard. Both Le Bel and Froissart say he was a German knight, but historians have doubted this.All the Blois-faction knights can be identified, though Jean de Beaumanoir's given name is "Robert" in some versions. The names and identities of the Montfortists are much more confused and uncertain.
The battle, fought with swords, daggers, spears, and axes, mounted or on foot, was of the most desperate character, in its details very reminiscent of the last fight of the Burgundians in the Nibelungenlied , especially in the celebrated advice of Geoffroy du Bois to his wounded leader, who was asking for water: "Drink thy blood, Beaumanoir; thy thirst will pass" (Bois ton sang, Beaumanoir, la soif te passera).
According to Froissart, the battle was fought with great gallantry on both sides. After several hours of fighting there were four dead on the French side and two on the English side. Both sides were exhausted and agreed to a break for refreshments and bandaging of injuries. After the battle resumed, the English leader Bemborough was wounded and then killed, apparently by du Bois. At this point the English faction formed a tight defensive body, which the French repeatedly attacked. A German soldier called Croquart is said to have displayed the greatest prowess in rallying the Anglo-Breton defence.
In the end, the victory was decided by Guillaume de Montauban, a squire who mounted his horse and rode into the English line, breaking it. He overthrew seven of the English champions, the rest being forced to surrender. All the combatants on either side were either dead or seriously wounded, with nine on the English side slain. The prisoners were well treated and released on payment of a small ransom.
While the combat did not have any effect on the outcome of the Breton war of succession, it was considered by contemporaries to be an example of the finest chivalry. It was sung by trouvères, retold in the chronicles of Froissart and largely admired, and honoured in verse and the visual arts. A commemorative stone was placed at the site of the combat situated between Josselin and Ploermel and king Charles V of France commissioned a tapestry depicting it.The renown attached to those who participated was such that twenty years later, Jean Froissart noticed a scarred survivor, Yves Charruel, at the table of Charles V, where he was honoured above all others due to having been one of the Thirty.
According to historian Steven Muhlberger, this chivalric version concentrates on "how the deed was done and not on who won. The willingness of all concerned to agree to rules and to actually observe them, to fight their best and not to run when injured or in danger of capture are the focus – and both sides are shown as equally worthy in that respect."
Later, the combat came to be seen in very different terms, influenced by the most famous of the contemporary popular ballads on the topic. In this version the English knights are villains, and the Blois faction are loyal and worthy local warriors. The balladeer lists each fighter on both sides (though garbles several English names). He situates the Franco-Breton Blois faction as all local gentry and aristocracy performing their proper social duty to protect the people, thus justifying, Muhlberger writes, "the privileges that nobles held as brave defenders of the weak". The Montfortists are a melange of foreign mercenaries and brigands who "torment the poor people".After Brittany was absorbed into France, this version was incorporated into French nationalist accounts of the Hundred Years War, which was portrayed as a heroic struggle against foreign invaders who sought to violate France. Since the French faction had lost the War of Succession itself, the Combat was promoted as a symbolic and moral victory. A large monumental obelisk was commissioned by Napoleon in 1811 to be placed at the site of the battle, but it was not built during his reign. It was eventually erected in 1819 by the restored Bourbon king Louis XVIII, after the fall of Napoleon, with an inscription stating "God give the King long life, the Bourbons eternity!" The inscription goes on to assert that the "thirty Bretons whose names are given as follows, fought to defend the poor, labourers and craftsmen and they vanquished foreigners attracted on the soil of the Country by fateful dissents. Breton posterity, imitate your ancestors!"
Though the combat had much less significance for the English, the fact that it was won because one combatant mounted a horse to break the Anglo-Breton line was later portrayed as evidence that the Franco-Bretons cheated. Edward Smedley's History of France (1836) states that the manoeuvre "wears some appearance of treachery".This version was fictionalised by Arthur Conan Doyle in his historical novel Sir Nigel , in which Bemborough (called Richard of Bambro' in the novel) accepts the rules of the challenge in a chivalric spirit, but the Franco-Bretons win only because Montauban, portrayed as Beaumanoir's squire, mounts his horse, when the conflict was supposed to be on foot, and rides upon the English, trampling them.
A free English translation in verse of the ballad was written by Harrison Ainsworth, who gives the name of the English leader as "Sir Robert Pembroke". He is fancifully portrayed as the overall English leader after the death of Thomas Dagworth. Ainsworth argued that "Bembro" was originally "Pembroke" on the grounds that the Breton language version of the name was "Pennbrock". "Penn brock" means "badger head" in Breton, which had become a derogatory nickname for Bemborough in Breton ballads.
These are the names of the knights, as listed in Ainsworth's translation of the poem, although there are actually 31 listed for the English side.
Squires & Men-at-Arms
† indicates that the combatant was killed. The English side lost nine killed in total and the remainder captured. The Franco-Breton side lost at least three and probably more. A number of them were captured during the fighting, but were released at the final outcome of the conflict.
The War of the Breton Succession was a conflict between the Counts of Blois and the Montforts of Brittany for control of the Duchy of Brittany, then a fief of the Kingdom of France. It was fought between 1341 and 12 April 1365.
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 of Blois-Châtillon "the Saint", was the legalist Duke of Brittany from 1341 to his death via his marriage to Joan of Penthiève, holding the title against the claims of John of Montfort. He was later canonized as a Saint of the Roman Catholic Church for his devotion to religion. This canonization was later annulled, although he remains beatified.
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.
Josselin is a commune in the Morbihan department in Brittany in north-western France.
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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.
The Edwardian War was the first phase of the Hundred Years' War between France and England. It was named after King Edward III of England, who claimed the French throne in defiance of King Philip VI of France. The dynastic conflict was caused by disputes over the French feudal sovereignty over Aquitaine and the English claims over the French royal title. The Kingdom of England and its allies dominated this phase of the war.
Geoffroi de Charny, also known as Geoffry de Charny, was a French knight and author of at least three works on chivalry. He was born around 1300. His father, Jean de Charny was the Lord of Lirey in Burgundy and his mother was Margaret de Joinville. His grandfather on his mother's side, Jean de Joinville, was a close friend of King Louis IX and author of his biography. Geoffroi was a knight in the service of King Jean II of France and a founding member of the Order of the Star, an order of chivalry founded on 6 November 1351 by Jean II of France similar to the Order of the Garter (1347) by Edward III of England. He was also the carrier of the Oriflamme, the standard of the crown of France, an immensely privileged, not to mention dangerous, honour, as it made the holder a key target of enemy forces on the battlefield. Geoffroi de Charny was one of Europe's most admired knights during his lifetime, with a widespread reputation for his skill at arms and his honour. It was said that in his time he was known as a "true and perfect Knight".
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.
The Battle of Mauron was fought in 1352 between an Anglo-Breton force and France. The Anglo-Bretons were victorious. The battle took place in the context of the Hundred Years War. With the Franco-Breton claimant, Charles de Blois, a prisoner, and the Anglo-Breton claimant a minor, the English were attempting to rule Brittany in the name of their protégé.
Jean, or Jehan de Beaumanoir, marshal of Brittany for Charles of Blois, and captain of Josselin, is remembered for his share in the famous Combat of the Thirty during the War of Breton Succession (1341–1364) between the partisans of competing claimants for the Dukedom.
Sir Nigel is a historical novel set during the early phase of the Hundred Years' War, spanning the years 1350 to 1356, by British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle first published in serial form during 1905–06. It is the background story to Doyle's earlier novel The White Company (1891), and describes the early life of that book's hero Nigel Loring, a knight in the service of King Edward III in the first phase of the Hundred Years' War. The character is loosely based on the historical knight Neil Loring.
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.
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.
Josselin Castle is a medieval castle at Josselin, in the Morbihan department of Brittany, France, first built in 1008 by Guéthénoc, viscount of Porhoët. The town and castle were named after Guéthénoc's son, Goscelinus, and rebuilt at various times since. The current castle was built by Olivier de Clisson after 1370. He had acquired the land as part of the dowry on his marriage to Margaret of Rohan. It has been designated as a monument historique since 1928.
Sir Robert Bemborough (d.1351) was a medieval knight who led the Montfortist faction during the Combat of the Thirty. This was an arranged battle between thirty knights from both sides during the Breton War of Succession, a struggle for control of the duchy between the House of Montfort and the House of Blois. Bemborough was killed in the battle.
Jeanne de Clisson (1300–1359), also known as Jeanne de Belleville and the Lioness of Brittany, was a Breton former noblewoman who became a privateer to avenge her husband after he was executed for treason by the French king. She plied the English Channel and targeted French ships, often slaughtering the crew, leaving few alive.
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.