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Du Guesclin, Bertrand

DU GUESCLIN, BERTRAND (c.1320-1380), constable of France, the most famous French warrior of his age, was born of an ancient but undistinguished family at the castle of La Motte-Broons (Dinan). The date of his birth is doubtful, the authorities varying between 1311 and 1324. The name is spelt in various ways in contemporary records, e.g. Claquin, Klesquin, Guescquin, Glayaquin, etc. The familiar form is found on his monument at St Denis, and in some legal documents of the time. In his boyhood Bertrand was a dull learner, spending his time in open-air sports and exercises, and could never read or write. He was remarkable for ugliness, and was an object of aversion to his parents. He first made himself a name as a soldier at the tournament held at Rennes in 1338 to celebrate the marriage of Charles of Blois with Jeanne de Penthièvre, at which he unseated the most famous competitors. In the war which followed between Charles of Blois and John de Montfort, for the possession of the duchy of Brittany, he served his apprenticeship as a soldier (1341). As he was not a great baron with a body of vassals at his command, he put himself at the head of a band of adventurers, and fought on the side of Charles and of France. He distinguished himself by a brilliant action at the siege of Vannes in 1342; and after that he disappears from history for some years.

In 1354, having shortly before been made a knight, he was sent into England with the lords of Brittany to treat for the ransom of Charles of Blois, who had been defeated and captured by the English in 1347. When Rennes and Dinan were attacked by the duke of Lancaster in 1356, Du Guesclin fought continuously against the English, and at this time he engaged in a celebrated duel with Sir Thomas Canterbury. He finally forced his way with provisions and reinforcements into Rennes, which he successfully defended till June 1357, when the siege was raised in pursuance of the truce of Bordeaux. For this service he was rewarded with the lordship of Pontorson. Shortly afterwards he passed into the service of France, and greatly distinguished himself at the siege of Melun (1359), being, however, taken prisoner a little later by Sir Robert Knollys. In 1360, 1361 and 1362 he was continually in the field, being again made prisoner in 1360. In 1364 he married, but was soon again in the field, this time against the king of Navarre. In May 1364 he won an important victory over the Navarrese at Cocherel, and took the famous Captal de Buch prisoner. He had previously been made lord of La Roche-Tesson (1361) and chamberlain (1364); he was now made count of Longueville and lieutenant of Normandy. Shortly afterwards, in aiding Charles of Blois, Du Guesclin was taken prisoner by Sir John Chandos at the battle of Auray, in which Charles was killed. The close of the general war, however, had released great numbers of mercenaries (the great companies) from control, and, as they began to play the part of brigands in France, it was necessary to get rid of them. Du Guesclin was ransomed for 100,000 crowns, and was charged to lead them out of France. He marched with them into Spain, supported Henry of Trastamara against Pedro the Cruel, set the former upon the throne of Castile (1366), and was made constable of Castile and count of Trastamara. In the following year he was defeated and captured by the Black Prince, ally of Pedro, at Navarette, but was soon released for a heavy ransom. Once more he fought for Henry, won the battle of Montiel (1369), reinstated him on the throne, and was created duke of Molinas.

In May 1370, at the command of Charles V., who named him constable of France, he returned to France. War had just been declared against England, and Du Guesclin was called to take part in it. For nearly ten years he was engaged in fighting against the English in the south and the west of France, recovering from them the provinces of Poitou, Guienne and Auvergne, and thus powerfully contributing to the establishment of a united France. In 1373, when the duke of Brittany sought English aid against a threatened invasion by Charles V., Du Guesclin was sent at the head of a powerful army to seize the duchy, which he did; and two years later he frustrated the attempt of the duke with an English army to recover it. Finding in 1379 that the king entertained suspicions of his fidelity to him, he resolved to give up his constable's sword and retire to Spain. His resolution was at first proof against remonstrance; but ultimately he received back the sword, and continued in the service of France. In 1380 he was sent into Languedoc to suppress disturbances and brigandage, provoked by the harsh government of the duke of Anjou. His first act was to lay siege to the fortress of Châteauneuf-Randon, but on the eve of its surrender the constable died on the 13th of July 1380. His remains were interred, by order of the king, in the church of St Denis. Du Guesclin lost his first wife in 1371, and married a second in 1373, but he left no legitimate children.

See biography by D.F. Jamison (Charleston, 1863), which was translated into French (1866) by order of Marshal Count Randon, minister of war; also S. Luce, Histoire de B. du Guesclin (Paris, 1876).

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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