Bertrand du Guesclin

Probably one of the most well known French knights, Bertrand du Guesclin also known as the Eagle 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.

His Fabian strategy of wearing down the English while avoiding major battles allowed the French to recapture most of what they had lost earlier in the war.

Bertrand Du Guesclin was the eldest of 10 children, was born in the (no longer existing) castle of la Motte-Broons, near Dinan, in 1320.

At a time when physical beauty was very important for a knight, he was extremely ugly. he resembled a pugilist. His scars he won at the cost of his fighting, were not as serious as those he inflicted upon his opponents. While very young, he was already much admired by his companions for his courage and good sense. During his youth, Bertrand practised combat with the young country "villiens" (peasntry). He won by his strength, his dexterity and his wilyness, as well as his uncouth manners. His family, ashamed of him, kept him apart. In 1337, a tournament in Rennes gathered together all the nobless of the country. Du Guescllin, who was 17 years old, went there on a plough horse, in the costume of a peasant. He was not equipped(1) well enough to take part in the jousting. He was so upset that one of his cousins from Rennes offered him his armour and his steed. Du Guesclin beat several opponents. Finally, a thrust of a lance lifted his visor. His father recognised him. Radiant and proud, he cried out : "Handsome son, I will never treat you badly again."

Du Guesclin wins respect for the French nobility during the Hundred Years War at the tip of his sword. He entered the service of French crown under Charles V, he won the battle of Cocherel in 1364 against the Charles II of Navarre. The victory forced Charles II into a new peace with the French king, and secured Burgundy for King Charles V for his brother Philip.

In 1364, at the Battle of Auray, du Guesclin and Charles of Blois were heavily defeated by John IV, Duke of Brittany and the English forces under Sir John Chandos. Charles of Blois was killed in the action, ending the Blois pretensions in Brittany. Du Guesclin was captured. His ransom was paid by Charles V for 100,000 francs.

In 1366 (some French references say 1365) he is placed in command of the free companies, most likely to curtail their pillaging after the War of Secession in Brittany, and is sent to Spain to aid Henry of Trasmadera against King Pedro the Cruel. Once again he is captured and once again he is redeemed by King Charles, to whom he is considered inexpendable. Henry of Trasmadera defeated Pedro at the Battle of Montiel, and Bertrand du Guesclin returns to the service of the French King Charles V.

In October 1370, after returning to France he is made Constable by Charles V. War with the English having been renewed the year before. Du Guesclin reconquered Poitou and Saintonge and pursued the English into Brittany from 1370 to 1374. However since he is a Breton he pursues the submission of the Duchy of Brittany halfheartedly.

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 in the south of France. 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.

On her journey Jehanne "la Pucelle" visited his grave, to pray, and possibly find inspiration.

Notable events in the life of du Guesclin

1356 : The capture of Rennes
1359 : The delivery of Dinan
1363 : The capture of several breton towns. From St-Pol-de-Léon, Du Guesclin arms his boats against the English.
1364 : The capture of Mantes and of Meulan
------- : (16th of May) Victory of Cocherel
------- : (29th of September) Defeat of Auray. Du Guesclin is made prisoner.
1366 : "The Great Compagnies" commanded by Du Guesclin penetrate Spain by the pass of Perche of Perthus. A succession of victories over Peter the Cruel and the English lead them to Seville.
1367 : (3rd of April) Defeat Najera : Du Guesclin, made prisoner, is brought in captivity by the English to Bordeaux.
1369 : (17th of January) Du Guesclin, liberated under ransom, returns to Spain.
------- : (March) Siege of the Château of Montiel. Pedro the Cruel is killed. Du Guesclin returns to France.
1370 : The capture of Moissac. Liberation of Périgord.
------- : Liberation of Le Mans. Victory of Pontvallain. The Maine and the Anjou are freed.
------- : Capture of Bresuire.
------- : Defeat of Pont de Juigné. Du Guesclin is made prisoner.
1371 : The capture of Briouze.
1372 : The victory of Mortain. The Normandy hedged farmland is freed.
1372-1373 : Capture of several towns in Poitu-Saintonge-Angoumois.
1373 : Brittany is conquered, with the exception of Brest and Derval.
1374 : The capture of St-Sauveur-le-Vicomte.
1378 : Normandy is brought to heel, with the exception of Cherbourg.
1380 : (27th of June) The capture of Chaliers.
------- : (13th-14th of July) The capture of Châteauneuf-de-Randon.
------- : Defeat of Pont de Juigné. Du Guesclin is made prisoner.
------- : The death of Du Guesclin.

Final word. In rereading "Joan of Arc, her Story" by Regine Pernoud I came across a sentnece which read that The maid probably visited the grave of du Gesclin when she was at St Denys, during April 1429.

(1) Primogeniture ensured that the younger sons of even great houses set out into the world to make a living with their horse, armor, wits, and skill in arms. One of the ways that many knights could build their fortunes was to hire out as mercenaries. The plunder gained in warfare included horses, armor, baggage, and ransom of wealthy captives. In times of peace, tournaments were depended on to raise a knight's income. In jousting, the loser paid the price of his horse and armor to the winning knight as a ransom.


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