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|War of the Breton Succession|
|Part of the Hundred Years' War|
Battle of Auray
|Commanders and leaders|
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.
The war formed an integral part of the early Hundred Years' War due to the proxy involvement of the French and English governments in the conflict; the French supported the Blois (female heir) whilst the English backed the Montforts (male heir). The rival kings supported the Sovereign Duke of the principle opposite to their own claims to the French throne—the Plantagenet having claimed it by female succession, and the Valois by male succession. Montfort was ultimately successful following the Battle of Auray in 1364.
The Breton Dukes had both a historical and ancestral connection to Briton and were also Earls of Richmond in Yorkshire. Duke Arthur II of Dreux married twice, first to Mary of Limoges (1275–1291), then to Yolande of Dreux (1263–1322), countess of Montfort and widow of king Alexander III of Scotland. From his first marriage, he had three sons, including his heir John III and Guy, count of Penthièvre (d. 1331). From Yolande, Arthur had another son, also named John, who became Count of Montfort. (See Dukes of Brittany family tree.)
John III strongly disliked the children of his father's second marriage. He spent the first years of his reign attempting to have this marriage annulled and his half-siblings bastardized. When this failed, he tried to ensure that John of Montfort would never inherit the Sovereign Duchy. Since John III was childless, his heir of choice became Joan of Penthièvre, la Boiteuse, daughter of his younger brother Guy. In 1337 she married Charles of Blois, the second son of a powerful French noble house and son of the sister of King Philip VI of France. But in 1340, John III reconciled himself with his half-brother, and made a will that appointed John of Montfort the heir of Brittany. On 30 April 1341, John III died. His last words on the succession, uttered on his deathbed, were, "For God's sake leave me alone and do not trouble my spirit with such things".
Most of the nobility supported Charles of Blois, so if John of Montfort was to have any chance, it was dependent upon swift action before organized resistance could be made. John quickly took possession of the ducal capital Nantes and then seized the Ducal treasury at Limoges. By the middle of August, John of Montfort was in possession of most of the Duchy, including the three principal cities of Nantes, Rennes and Vannes.
Up to this point, the succession crisis had been a purely internal affair. But to complicate things further, the Hundred Years' War between England and France had broken out four years earlier, in 1337. In 1341, there was a truce between the two countries, but there was little doubt that hostilities would be renewed when the truce ended in June 1342. Thus, when rumours reached Philip VI of France that John of Montfort had received English agents, the French Crown naturally took a more direct interest in their small neighbors situation. Charles of Blois became the official French candidate. Whatever had been his original intentions, John of Montfort was now forced to support Edward III of England as King of France.
Edward III was bound by the truce not to take any offensive action in France. Nothing in it, however, hindered France from subduing rebellious vassals. In November, after a short siege and defeat at the Battle of Champtoceaux, John of Montfort was forced to surrender at Nantes by the citizens. He was offered safe conduct to negotiate a settlement with Charles of Blois, but when this led nowhere he was thrown in prison.
It now fell upon John's wife, Joanna of Flanders, to lead the Montfortist cause. Deeming her possessions in the east indefensible, she set up headquarters at Hennebont in western Brittany but was driven into Brest and besieged, the siege being broken by the arrival of an English army under the Earl of Northampton at the naval battle of Brest. In Paris it was feared that Edward III would land at Calais once the truce ran out. The major part of the French army was therefore withdrawn, and Charles of Blois was left to pursue his claim on his own. Charles soon proved himself to be an able soldier: Rennes and Vannes were taken and many of the Montfortist captains defected.
In late November, Edward III arrived with his army at Brest. He almost at once marched against Vannes. The siege dragged on and a French army was assembled to meet him, but on 19 January 1343, before any major engagements could be fought, the two kings agreed upon a new truce. Vannes was taken into papal custody. With John of Montfort in prison, his son an infant, and his wife recently gone mad, the places under Montfortist control were in practice administered from London, with a large permanent English garrison at Brest.
The truce was to last until 29 September 1346 with the hopes that in the meantime the disputes between the two kingdoms could be permanently settled, but in Brittany it made little difference. The truce bound the two kings and their followers, but Charles of Blois claimed to be fighting his own separate war and was therefore not bound by any truce. The brutal small-scale fighting continued at the same pace.
In Paris, John of Montfort was released from prison on 1 September 1343 in return for a huge bond and a promise to stay on his estates in the east. The English coastal garrisons held firm, but the Montfortist party continued to crumble. They had some successes, such as the expulsion of the papal custodians from Vannes, but with no unifying leadership, mostly they were reduced to pleading for men and money from London.
To hamper communication between Brest and Vannes, Charles of Blois laid siege to Quimper in early March 1344. The city fell by assault on 1 May and, as usual at that time, this meant the slaughter of civilians in huge numbers, estimated between 1,400 and 2,000. The English prisoners were held for ransom, but the Breton and Norman captives were dispatched to Paris where they were executed for treason. During the summer and autumn, the Montfortist party fell apart. Even those who had been John of Montfort's staunchest allies now considered it futile to continue the struggle. It, therefore, mattered little that in March 1345 John finally managed to escape to England. With no adherents of note of his own, he was now little more than a figurehead for English ambitions in Brittany.
Edward III decided to repudiate the truce in summer 1345, a year before it was due to run out. As part of his larger strategy, a force was dispatched to Brittany under the joint leadership of the Earl of Northampton and John of Montfort. Within a week of their landing in June, the English had their first victory when Sir Thomas Dagworth, one of Northampton's lieutenants, raided central Brittany and defeated Charles of Blois at Cadoret near Josselin.
The follow-up was less impressive. Further operations were delayed until July when Montfort attempted the recapture of Quimper. However, news had reached the French government that Edward's main campaign had been canceled and they were able to send reinforcements from Normandy. With his strengthened army, Charles of Blois broke the siege. Routed, Montfort fled back to Hennebont where he fell ill and died on 16 September. The heir to the Montfortist cause was his five-year-old son, John.
During the winter, Northampton fought a long and hard campaign with the apparent objective of seizing a harbour on the north side of the peninsula. Edward III had probably planned to land here with his main force during summer 1346. However, the English achieved very little for their efforts. Northern Brittany was Joan of Penthièvre's home region and resistance there was stiff.
In the end, Edward decided upon Normandy as the landing spot for his 1346 campaign. Northampton was recalled and Thomas Dagworth was appointed as deputy lieutenant. It was during a tour through the English strongholds on 9 June that Dagworth and his escort were trapped by Charles of Blois and his army near Saint-Pol-de-Léon. They dug in on a hilltop and fought off all attacks until nightfall when Charles was forced to retreat leaving many of his wounded behind.
At this point events outside Brittany started to have an effect on the war. The French suffered a major defeat at the Battle of Crécy in 1346, and at Calais in 1347. Without French support, Charles of Blois gradually began to lose ground to the English captains. The memory of the massacre at Quimper increased his unpopularity, and Breton traders had an economic interest in strengthening links with England due to Brittany's strategic position between the Atlantic and English Channel. At the Battle of La Roche-Derrien in 1347, Charles was taken prisoner as he tried to recapture the town, which had just been taken by the English. He was jailed for five years in the Tower of London. The English now controlled Brest, Quimper, and Vannes.
Under pressure from Pope Innocent VI, the English, French, and Bretons negotiated a peace, while both factions maintained an uneasy balance of power within the Sovereign Duchy. It was during this period that the Combat of the Thirty took place, a famous episode in medieval chivalry. Conflicts between the French and English strongholds of Josselin and Ploërmel were resolved in a duel between thirty Montfortist knights led by Robert Bemborough, and thirty supporters of Charles de Blois led by Jean de Beaumanoir. The combat took place midway between the two towns on 26 March 1351. By nightfall the Anglo-Breton Montfortists had lost nine dead against six of the pro-French knights; the surviving Montfortists were forced to surrender. Though renowned at the time, and later highly romanticised, the combat had no effect on the outcome of the war.
Edward III signed the Treaty of Westminster on 1 March 1353, accepting Charles of Blois as Duke of Brittany if the latter undertook to pay a ransom of 300,000 crowns, and that Brittany signed a treaty of alliance "in perpetuity" with England, this alliance was to be sealed by the marriage of the Montfortist claimant John of Montfort (son of the earlier John of Montfort) with Edward's daughter Mary. The marriage required the approval of the King of France and a papal dispensation. Charles de la Cerda, the Constable of France negotiated the deal, but Charles II of Navarre, who needed to continue the war between England and France to maintain his own power, decided to intervene by assassinating the Constable. He then switched his support to France in exchange for territory. The treaty was negated, but Charles of Blois had been freed, and returned to Brittany as Duke.
The situation remained in stalemate for some time, with Charles of Blois as de facto Duke, but with significant territory still controlled by the Montfortists. Outside events again began to have an effect on the conflict. A plague struck France and the King himself was captured by the English at the Battle of Poitiers in 1356. The French state was virtually paralysed. In 1362, when the younger John de Montfort reached 22 years of age, King Edward permitted him to return to Brittany. His return was conditioned by a covenant, the covenant not to marry without permission, given in pledge of several fortresses. On arrival, John attempted to reach agreement with Charles of Blois to make peace and share Brittany, but Charles's wife Joan urged him to resist and crush John.
The war resumed in 1363 when Charles de Blois, assisted by Bertrand du Guesclin, had some successes, but when Bertrand left to take control of strongholds in Navarre and Normandy, Charles's advance halted at the unsuccessful siege of Bécherel. Another opportunity to negotiate an agreement arose, but again Joan blocked negotiations. John de Montfort moved to besiege Auray with renowned English warlord John Chandos. Charles of Blois and Bertrand du Guesclin came to the rescue of the besieged city, but they were decisively defeated at the Battle of Auray on 29 September 1364. This battle marked the end of this long conflict: Charles of Blois was killed and Joan of Penthièvre, finding herself a widow, saw her cause collapse. Du Guesclin was captured and ransomed by Charles V for 100,000 francs.
Peace was concluded on 12 April 1365 by the First Treaty of Guérande which established John of Montfort as Duke of Brittany. He did not reject completely the claims of the Penthièvre family, and established the following law of succession in Brittany:
King Charles V of France did not oppose the elevation of John, fearing that he might declare homage to Edward of England, his protector and former father-in-law (Mary having died in 1361). In addition, France was clearly depleted in the context of the Hundred Years' War. He therefore recognized the Duke, received his oath, and by this action won the friendship of the Breton nobility.
The provisions of the treaty were later repudiated by the Montfortists when a later Duke,John V, Duke of Brittany was kidnapped by the Penthièvres in 1420, in violation of the treaty. The Montfortists declared that the treaty had been broken, and as such were no longer required to accept its succession provisions. This became significant when Francis II, Duke of Brittany failed to produce a male heir, allowing the duchy to pass to his daughter Anne of Brittany in 1488.
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 on the west, the English Channel to the north. It was 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.
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.
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.
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. The cause of his possible canonization was the subject of a good deal 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 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, 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.
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 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 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.
In the 11th and 12th centuries the Countship of Penthièvre in Brittany belonged to a branch of the sovereign House of Brittany. It initially belonged to the House of Rennes. Alan III, Duke of Brittany, gave it to his brother Eudes in 1035, and his descendants formed a cadet branch of the ducal house.
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.
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 Caroline War was the second phase of the Hundred Years' War between France and England, following the Edwardian War. It was so-named after Charles V of France, who resumed the war nine years after the Treaty of Brétigny. The Kingdom of France dominated this phase of the war.
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.
The first treaty of Guérande, signed April 12, 1365 ended the Breton War of Succession.
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.
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.
John I, was Count of Penthièvre and Viscount of Limoges from 1364 to 1404, and the Penthièvre claimant to the Duchy of Brittany.