Bertrand du Guesclin

Bertrand du Guesclin
Statue of Bertrand du Guesclin in Dinan

Bertrand du Guesclin (c. 1320 – 13 July 1380), known as the Eagle of Brittany or the Black Dog of Brocéliande, was a Breton knight and French military commander during the Hundred Years' War. He was Constable of France from 1370 to his death. Well known for his Fabian strategy, he took part in six pitched battles and won the four in which he held command.

Bertrand du Guesclin 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.

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 while serving Arnoul d'Audrehem, after countering a raid by Hugh Calveley on the Castle of Montmuran. In 1356-1357, Du Guesclin successfully defended Rennes against an English siege by Henry of Grosmont, using the guerrilla tactics. During the siege, he killed the English knight William Bamborough who had challenged him to a duel.

The brave resistance of du Guesclin helped restore French assurance after Poitiers, and du Guesclin came to the attention of the Dauphin Charles.

Bertrand du Guesclin's effigy at the Saint-Denis Basilica, near Paris

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 an Anglo-Navarrese army under the command of Jean de Grailly, Captal de Buch 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.

On September 29, 1364, at the Battle of Auray, 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, ending the Blois pretensions in Brittany. Despite an heroic resistance, Du Guesclin was captured and ransomed by Charles V for 100,000 francs.[1]

In 1366, Bertrand convinced the leaders of the "free companies", who had been pillaging France after the Treaty of Brétigny, to join him in an expedition to Spain to aid Henry of Trastámara against Pedro the Cruel. In 1366, du Guesclin captured many fortresses (Magallon, Briviesca and finally the capital Burgos). But Henry's army was defeated in 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. However, the English army suffered badly in the battle as four English soldiers out of five died during the Castilian Campaign. The Black Prince, affected by dysentery, soon withdrew his support from Pedro. Du Guesclin and Henry of Trastámara renewed the attack, defeating him at the decisive Battle of Montiel (1369). Henry stabbed the captive Pedro to death in du Guesclin's tent, gaining the throne of Castile. Bertrand was made Duke of Molina, and the Franco-Castllian alliance was sealed.

Death of Bertrand du Guesclin, by Jean Fouquet

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.[2] He was formally invested with the rank of Constable by the King on 2 October 1370. He immediately defeated an English army led by Robert Knolles at the Battle of Pontvallain and then reconquered Poitou and Saintonge forcing the Black Prince to leave France.

In 1372, the Franco-Castillan fleet destroyed the English fleet at the Battle of La Rochelle where more than 400 English knights and 8000 soldiers were captured. Master of the Channel, du Guesclin organized destructive raids on the English coasts in retaliation for the English chevauchées.

Du Guesclin pursued the English into Brittany from 1370 to 1374, and defeated again the English army at the Battle of Chizé in 1373.

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.

An able tactician and a loyal and disciplined warrior, Du Guesclin had reconquered much of France from the English when he died of illness at Chateauneuf-de-Randon while on a military expedition in Languedoc in 1380. 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.

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.


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ Jonathan Sumption, Divided Houses: The Hundred Years War III (Faber, 2009), p. 75.


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