Bertrand du Guesclin

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Bertrand du Guesclin


Bertrand du Guesclin (1320-1380), known as the Eagle of Brittany and the Black Dog of Brittany was a Breton knight and French military commander during the Hundred Years' War. He was Constable of France from 1370 to his death and in 1373 he invaded Jersey

Norman Rybot's drawing of the attack on Mont Orgueil. He wrote: 'I have made an attempt to depict, in the medieval manner, Bertrand du Guesclin's assault on Mont Orgueil Castle. My castle, of course, bears no resemblance to the real castle, though it shows a keep enclosed within an outer line of defence. The relative proportions of figures and buildings are intentionally exaggerated, though the main tactical incidents in the attack are preserved. Thus, the sappers are shown undermining the outer walls while the archers, with a covering discharge of arrows, try to protect them from interference by the castle garrison who struggle to drop huge fragments of rock upon them from the battlements above. One daring fellow, bearing du Guesclin's pennon, is attempting to scale the walls, a detail which recalls the abortive assault which preceded the employment of the sappers. On the left of the picture, du Guesclin, with his vizor raised, is to be seen directing the operations. His banner-bearer stands beside him. On the right of the picture are Louis, Duc de Bourbon, and Louis de Sancerre, who, with their respective banner-bearers, stand amid the men who had accompanied them earlier, in the attack on Grosnez Castle. The curious head-gear worn by the commanders was typical of the time and known in Germany as the ‘’Hundsgrugel’’ or dogfaced bascinet.

Attack on Jersey

In 1373 du Guesclin, accompanied by the Duke of Bourbon, led a large invasion force to Jersey. The Black Dog of Brittany – or, more accurately, La Dogue Noir de Brocéliande, the great Breton forest – overran the Island, capturing Grosnez Castle in the process. His forces also burned property and killed Islanders indiscriminately.

With no water supply and limited defences, Grosnez was no real obstacle. Le Château de Gorey, later known as Mont Orgueil Castle was well fortified. Du Guesclin's troops tunneled under the outer walls but the inner walls were built on rock and they could make no further progress. Warden of the Isles Sir William Asthorpe and Bailiff Richard de St Martin knew that they could not withstand a long seige and negotiated with du Guesclin, saying that the castle would surrender in two months if reinforcements did not arrive. Hostages were given, as was common in such agreements in medieval warfare.

Sir William’s wife, Margaret Dynham, came originally from the Dinan area where du Guesclin was born and may have interceded on behalf of the Island.

Fortunately an English fleet arrived in time to lift the siege, but for two more years the island was constantly attacked by the French until an arrangement was arrived at that they would pay a ransom for du Guesclin to cease hostilities.

Further biography

Bertrand du Guesclin, who invaded Jersey in 1373, was born at the Chateau de la Motte de Broen in Broons, near Dinan, in Brittany. His family was of minor Breton nobility, the seigneurs of Broons.

War of Succession

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, after countering a raid by Hugh Calveley on the Castle of Montmuran. In 1356-1357 he defended Rennes against an English siege by Henry of Grosmont, using the guerrilla tactics that were to become his trademark. Though the siege was ended by payment of 100,000 crowns, the brave resistance helped restore French pride after the Battle of Poitiers, and du Guesclin came to the attention of the Dauphin, later Charles V of France.

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 Navarrese forces under the command of Jean de Grailly, 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.

Battle of Auray

On 29 September 1364, at the Battle of Auray, du Guesclin and Charles of Blois were heavily defeated by John V, Duke of Brittany and the English forces under Sir John Chandos. Charles was killed in action, du Guesclin was captured and ransomed by Charles V for 100,000 francs.

Statue of Du Guesclin in Rennes, destroyed during World War Two

In 1366 the King placed him at the head of the 'free companies', the marauding soldiers who pillaged France after the Treaty of Brétigny, and sent him to Spain to aid Henry II of Castile against Pedro of Castile. Though successful in the campaign of 1366, Henry's army was defeated 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. In 1369, Henry of Trastamara won the battle of Montiel, gaining him the throne of Castile.

War with England

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. He was formally invested with the rank of Constable by the King on 2 October 1370. He reconquered Poitou and Saintonge and pursued the English into Brittany from 1370 to 1374. 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.

Du Guesclin attacks Mont Orgueil 1373 Rybot 1939.jpg
An able tactician and a loyal and disciplined warrior, Du Guesclin had reconquered much of France from the English when he died of dysentery at Chateauneuf-de-Randon while on a military expedition in Languedoc. 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.

The family of du Guesclin remained in France until the French Revolution of 1789 when a number of them were guillotined and the remainder fled for their lives.

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.

Today there is a statue of him in Dinan.

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