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War with France page 3


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This event was the disputed succession to the dukedom of Brittany. John III., duke of that province, died in April, 1341. He had no children, but desiring that his niece Jane, the daughter of his younger but deceased brother Guy, Count of Penthievre, should succeed him, he had married her to Charles of Blois, nephew of the King of France. Before doing this, he had assembled the states of Brittany, which had fully assented; all his vassals, and amongst them John de Montfort, the son of his also deceased brother Arthur. But, though John de Montfort had not dared to oppose the will of his uncle during his lifetime, no sooner was he dead than he asserted his own higher claim to the duchy. He was, in fact, the true heir male. "While Charles of Blois was at the court of France, soliciting the investiture of the duchy, John de Montfort rode at once to Nantes, took possession of the late duke's house and treasures, prevailed on the chief barons and bishops to recognise his right, and made himself master of Brest, Rennes, Hennebon, and other towns and fortresses.

De Montfort, convinced that Philip would take part with his own kinsman, Charles of Blois, hastened to England, where he did homage to Edward, as the rightful king of France, for the duchy of Brittany, and proposed an alliance for the mutual maintenance of their claims in France. Edward instantly perceived the immense advantages which this new connection would give to his designs on that kingdom. All his enthusiasm for its conquest revived; and this feeling was fanned into flame by Robert of Artois. Edward closed with the offer, and De Montfort returned to Brittany to put it into a state of complete defence. He was speedily summoned to Paris to appear before the Parliament called by the king to decide this great cause. De Montfort boldly went; but, finding himself charged with the offence of doing homage to Edward of England as his superior, he took just alarm, and made his escape from the city.

The Parliament, as might have been expected, adjudged the duchy to Charles of Blois, declaring that John de Montfort had forfeited whatever claim he might have by his treasonable homage to the King of England. Philip ordered his eldest son to march into Brittany at the head of an army to assist Charles of Blois to expel John de Montfort. Under him, but the actual commander of the forces, was a celebrated warrior, Louis de la Cerda, commonly called Don Louis of Spain; and by his able conduct Nantes was speedily recovered, and De Montfort taken prisoner, sent to Paris, and confined in the Louvre, where he long remained. By this event the claims of De Montfort, and the new hopes of Edward, appeared extinguished together. Charles of Blois considered the war at an end, took possession of Nantes and other towns, and appeared to have before him a very easy business to establish himself in the duchy. But all parties were surprised by a new incident, which very soon gave a more determined character to the contest. Jane, the wife of De Montfort, sister to the Earl of Flanders, was in Eennes when her husband was made prisoner at Nantes. She instantly displayed the spirit of a great woman, and, instead of weakly yielding to grief or fear, she immediately assembled the people of Rennes, presented her infant son to them, recommending him to their protection as the last remaining hope of their country, and declared her resolve to defend the duchy to the last against the usurper. She reminded them of the alliance of England, and promised them certain success. The audience, struck with wonder at her courage, and moved to tears by her appeal, vowed to stand by her to the death, and the same spirit animated all the other towns of Brittany. The brave lady, whom Froissart declares ''had the courage of a man and the heart of a lion," went from place to place rousing the people, encouraging the garrisons, and seeing that they were well provisioned and placed in a condition of the greatest strength. Finding that she could not hold Rennes against Charles of Blois and the French army, she shut herself up in Hennebon, and awaited succour from England. She dispatched to Edward fresh information of her situation, and with it her son, to be there in a place of safety, and, as it were, a pledge to the King of England of her fixed determination to defend her cause to the utmost.

Charles of Blois speedily sat down before Hennebon with a great army of French, Bretons, Spaniards, and Genoese, and trusted to take the countess prisoner, and so put a real finish to the war. But the countess, inspiriting everybody by her words and example, made a stout defence. She herself put on armour, and rode through the streets on a noble charger, exhorting the citizens to show themselves valiant. She was at every post of danger, at the gates or on the walls, where the enemy's arrows fell thickest. The very women, fired by her bravery, cut short their gowns, that they might be the more active, and, tearing up the pavement of the streets, carried the stones to the walls, or prepared pots of quicklime and other missiles to discharge on the besiegers. "Women of all ranks were seen engaged in these labours without distinction, and the countess continually headed sorties on the enemy. One day, during a long and desperate assault, watching its progress from the walls, she perceived that Charles of Blois had directed such a force against the city, that a part of his camp was quite deserted. She instantly dismounted, called together a body of 300 brave knights and esquires, and, issuing from a gate opposite to that where the French were so intently engaged, she led them, under the cover of some woods and hills, to the unguarded camp, upon which, they fell, setting fire to the tents, baggage, and magazines, and doing immense mischief. "When the besiegers saw their own quarters in flames, they cried "Treason! treason!" and rushed to the defence. The brave countess, seeing that her retreat was cut off, instantly adopted her plan, bidding her followers to disband and make their way as they could to Brest. The countess herself galloped off, but was hotly pursued by Don Louis of Spain, as vindictive as he was brave, who came so near her as to kill several of her followers. The countess, however, made good her rendezvous with her followers, and speedily was on her way back, at the head, not of 300, but of 500 men. Taking refuge in the castle of Aulray, and watching their opportunity, they left the castle at midnight, reached the neighbourhood of Hennebon at sunrise, and, darting past the astonished besiegers, made good their entrance into the city on the sixth day after they had left it. This gallant and successful action on the part of the countess greatly amazed Charles of Blois and his army, and encouraged her own people, who received her with trumpets sounding and every demonstration of triumph.

Still the French pressed on, and the English succours, daily and hourly looked for, did not arrive. The besiegers had already made several breaches in the walls; provisions were growing scarce; the garrison was overwhelmed with fatigue and watching; and, still worse, the Bishop of Leon, a friend of Charles of Blois, was in the city, under the double character of an ecclesiastic and an ambassador, and was using all his endeavours to induce the countess to yield the city. His words had the worst effect on the inhabitants. He was continually going about describing the horrors attending a city given up to pillage, and recommending a capitulation. It was surprising that the countess, so quick to perceive her interests in other respects, should have tolerated his mischievous presence there. At length, however, he prevailed on her followers to propose a surrender. The brave countess implored them to wait, assuring them that the English succours must arrive; but the bishop now pressed his advantage: he called the Breton lords together again the next day, and, keeping up his communications with the besiegers without, they drew nearer, with Charles of Blois at their head, in readiness to take possession. The countess, in the greatest anxiety, kept a constant look-out from a tower commanding a view of the sea, and at the very moment when the traitorous Bishop of Leon was about to make over the city she descried a large squadron steering towards Hennebon. She immediately shouted - "Behold the Red Cross! the English succours! No capitulation!" The people of the town all rushed to the ramparts to see the joyful sight, It was indeed the English fleet, which had been detained at sea forty days by contrary winds, but now was coming on with full sail.

All thoughts of surrender, of course, were abandoned; the disappointed bishop was dismissed to his equally disappointed master; and the English forces, consisting of 6,000 archers, and a body of heavy-armed cavalry, under Sir Walter Manny, a Flemish knight, one of the greatest captains of the age, in Edward's service, landing, drove the besiegers back, and entered the town amid the joyful acclamations of the inhabitants. The delighted countess received her deliverers with every courtesy. She admitted the knights and captains into her own castle, decorated with her finest tapestry, and dined herself at table with them. The next day, after dinner, Sir Walter Manny proposed to make a sally, and break down the battering rams of the French. The challenge was enthusiastically answered by all the knights and warriors present. They united and rushed forth with 300 archers, charged the French furiously, took and broke to pieces the engines of the siege, drove back the besiegers, and, following up their advantage, fell on the camp and set fire to it, killing many of the enemy. The countess was so overjoyed at this signal triumph, that, on the return of Sir Walter to the city, she hastened to receive him, and, says Froissart, kissed him and his companions twice or thrice, "like a valiant lady."

The siege was raised, and the French removed the war to Lower Brittany. Don Louis of Spain went along the coast attended by a strong force of Spaniards and Genoese, and indulged his disposition for cruelty by burning Guerante, and sacking the whole country as far as Quimperle. Sir Walter, informed of this, pursued Don Louis with all speed, taking ship with 3,000 archers and a sufficient proportion of men-at-arms. He came up with him at Quimperle, seized his fleet and all his booty in the harbour, fell upon Don Louis's force, killed his brother Don Alphonso, severely wounded Don Louis himself, who hurriedly escaped in a skiff, and totally destroyed or dispersed his followers.

Brilliant as these actions were, the forces sent to support the countess were far too inadequate to this object. Don Louis, smarting under this defeat, had again joined Charles of Blois, who had in the interim taken the important towns of Vannes and Karhuis, and together they returned to invest Hennebon, against which they reared sixteen engines of the largest size, with which they dreadfully battered and shook the walls. The undaunted countess, however, defended the ramparts with woolsacks, and jeered the assailants by asking them why they did not bring up their army from Quimperle. Don Louis, against whom this was aimed, burned for revenge, and endeavoured to obtain it in a most dastardly and un-knightly manner. Amongst the prisoners of Charles of Blois were two gallant Englishmen, Sir John Butler and Sir Matthew Trelawney. These brave men, out of spite to the English, who had so signally defeated him, Don Louis demanded to be delivered up to him, that he might put them to death in the sight of the whole army and city. Charles, who revolted at so dishonourable a proposal, refused; but on Don Louis declaring that he would renounce the cause of Charles for ever, they were given up. Don Louis had them bound ready, and declared that after dinner he would strike off their heads under the city walls. No persuasions of his knights could divert him from his savage purpose. But Sir Walter Manny hearing of it, made a sally, in which Sir Aimery of Clisson, a Breton knight, attacking the French in front, and Sir Walter, issuing from a private postern, and falling on the camp, found the two condemned knights, and rescued them. The French were soon after compelled to raise the siege, and concluded a truce with the countess till the following May, 1343.

This interval the Countess of Montfort employed in a voyage to England, soliciting fresh forces, which were dispatched in forty-six vessels, under Robert of Artois. The countess sailed with them; and off Guernsey they encountered a French fleet of thirty-two ships, much larger and better than the English ones, commanded by the redoubtable Don Louis of Spain, and manned by 1,000 men-at-arms and 3,000 Genoese crossbowmen. The engagement was very fierce, the countess in full armour taking the deck, and fighting sword in hand. The battle was interrupted by night, accompanied by a terrible tempest. The English fleet, however, escaped safely into Hennebon. Soon after landing they took Vannes by surprise, and then they divided their forces; Sir Walter Manny and the countess defending Hennebon, and the Earls of Salisbury and Pembroke attacked Rennes, leaving Robert of Artois in Vannes. Here he was suddenly surrounded by 12,000 French troops under Olivier de Clisson and De Beaumanoir, who took the city by storm. Robert of Artois narrowly escaped, but so severely wounded that he took shipping for England, where he soon died. So perished a man who more than any other had caused this bloody war. Edward III. was so affected by his loss, for he was greatly attached to him, that he vowed to avenge his death; and accordingly ho crossed the sea to Morbihan, near Vannes, with an army of 12,000 men, in October of that year.

Edward marched to Rennes and Nantes, destroying the country as he went, and laying siege to Vannes, Rennes, and Nantes all at once. By dividing his forces he failed in all his attempts, for Charles of Blois had obtained an army from the King of France of 40,000 men under the Duke of Normandy, his eldest son. Edward, on the approach of this formidable force, entrenched himself before Vannes, and the Duke of Normandy sat down at a short distance from him, and entrenched himself likewise in his camp. Here the two forces lay for some weeks, neither venturing to strike the first blow; and the Pope now stepped in by his legates, and persuaded them to sign a truce for three years and eight months. Edward having secured honourable terms for himself and allies, returned home.

But the truce was by no means observed by either side. The different parties were become so exasperated against each other that they went on fighting ad though there were no truce at all. Philip of France was bound by one of its conditions to liberate John de Montfort; but he still kept him in prison, notwithstanding the remonstrances of the Pope, and persevered in his attacks on Brittany, which the countess defended with her accustomed spirit. Several knights of distinction were in treaty to pass over to the side of De Montfort, and Philip making the discovery, lured them to a grand tournament, and had their heads struck off in the centre of the Halles, or market-place, at Pons. Amongst these were the brave knight Olivier de Clisson, already mentioned. John de Montaubon, and many others there and in Normandy, were as ruthlessly dealt with. This perfidious and sanguinary conduct produced a feeling of horror everywhere, and such of the Breton knights as had fought for Charles of Blois went over to the Countess de Montfort. Foremost amongst the malcontents thus created was Jane de Belville, the widow of the murdered Olivier de Clisson, who became a determined enemy, and who, carrying her son to the Countess of Montfort to be brought up with hers, became indefatigable in her pursuit of vengeance on the French. It was a remarkable circumstance that these wars produced three women, all named Jane, the wives of Charles of Blois, of De Montfort, and of De Clisson, who displayed the most extraordinary spirit, each rivalling the other in their heroic actions.

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