Breton War of Succession

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The Breton War of Succession was a conflict between the Houses of Blois and Montfort for control of the Duchy of Brittany. It was fought between 1341 and 1364.

Contents

Background

In the middle of the 14th century, Brittany was ruled by the House of Dreux. The dukes had a historical connection to England and were also Earls of Richmond in Yorkshire. Duke Arthur II of Dreux married twice, first to Mary of Limoges (1260-1291), then to Yolande of Dreux, countess of Montfort (1263-1322) 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 Penthievre (d. 1331). From Yolande, Arthur had another 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 turned to make sure that John of Montfort would never inherit the duchy. Since John III was childless, his heir of choice became Joanna of Dreux, 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 sister-son of king Philip VI of France. But in 1340, John III changed his in mind and reconciled himself with his half-brother and a will was made that appointed John of Montfort the heir of Brittany. 30 April, 1341 John III died. His last word on the succession, uttered on his deathbed, was ‘’For God’s sake leave me alone and do not trouble my spirit with such things.’’

The War

Most of the nobility supported Charles of Blois, so if John of Montfort was to have any chance, he was dependant upon swift action before organized resistance could be made. John quickly took possession of the ducal capital Nantes and then sized 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, 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 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 the 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 hindered France from subduing rebellious vassals. In November, after a short siege, 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 undefendable, she set up headquarters at Hennebont in western Brittany. 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 left to pursue his claim on his own. Charles soon proved himself as an able soldier, Rennes and Vannes were taken and many of 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 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 in practise to be administrated from London, with a large permanent English garrison at Brest.


Chronology

  • April 30 1341 – John III dies without heirs. Joanna and Charles of Blois became dukes of Brittany. John of Montfort refuses to accept and calls for the help of king Edward III of England.
  • 1343 – John of Montfort is taken prisoner, but is released shortly afterwards. Charles tries to take advantage and attacks Hennebont, but the city is defended with success by Joanna of Flanders, wife of Montfort. An English army relieves the siege and forces the Blois to a truce, broken shortly afterwards.
  • 1344 - Charles takes Quimper with the help of a French army, courtesy of king Philip VI of France, and slaughters 2000 civilians
  • 1345 – John of Montfort fails to recover Quimper and dies. His ambitions over Brittany are inherited by is son John V. His mother Joanna of Flanders becomes the political and military commander of the Montfort faction.
  • 1365 – John V is recognized as Duke of Brittany and Joanna of Dreux gives up any claim to the duchy in the Treaty of Guérande. Surprisingly the new duke declares himself as a vassal, not to the English king that helped him, but to king Charles V of France.

See also

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