Today Saint Sardos is a village is located in the French department of Lot et Garonne but in the fourteenth century it lay within the county of Agenais which was a border area disputed between Aquitaine held by the kings of England and French territory proper held by the kings of France.1

Although the French had formally conceded the Agenais to Edward I by the treaty of Amiens in 1279, this did not mean that the question was regarded as settled by anyone. After the death of Edward I, his son and succesor Edward II was technically required to attend the French court in order to offer the homage due for Aquitaine, a prospect that did not appeal to him and a duty which he constantly put off until another day. This led to a rumbling argument between the two monarchies, where the dispute over the Agenais became a convenient pretext to rachet up the tension.

In 1323 Raymond Bernard the lord of Montpezat, who was a vassal of the king of England built a bastide or fortified town at Saint Sardos claiming that he was quite entitled to do so. However the local Abbey of Sarlat in the Dordogne, which favoured the French king Charles IV claimed that Saint Sardos was theirs and took their complaint before the parlement at Paris which decided against Raymond and awarded Saint Sardos to the French. Charles IV promptly sent an army to occupy Saint Sardos.2

On the 16th October 1323 Raymond Bernard, acting with at least the acquiescence of Ralph Basset, seneschal or steward of Gascony, attacked the bastide at Saint Sardos, massacred the French garrison therein and hanged the French royal official that he found there for good measure. Naturally the French were annoyed at this turn of events and complained to Edward IIregarding the behaviour of his vassals, with the expectation that he would order his acknowledged vassal to withdraw from Saint Sardos in compliance with the decision of the parlement.

However Edward or to be more specific, Hugh Despenser the Younger who was actually running the country at the time, took little notice of the French complaints. Frustrated at the lack of any tangible response from the English king, Charles IV decided in June 1324 to declare the entire duchy of Aquitaine forfeit to the crown. Faced with this threat in July Edward appointed his younger half-brother Edmund of Woodstock, Earl of Kent as lieutenant of Aquitaine and sent him to Paris in an attempt to resolve the matter. Negotiations however got nowhere as the French had already resolved on action with Charles IV and organised an army under the command of his uncle Charles of Valois.

Early in August 1324, Charles of Valois marched into the Agenais, and finding little in the way of organised resistance was able on the 15th August to persuade the capital Agen to surrender without much of a fight. Edmund, who's forces were insufficient to challenge the French in battle (at least in Edmund's opinion) retreated back to the fortress of La Reole.

For weeks Edmund resisted the French siege whilst he awaited a relief force from England. Unfortunately for Edmund the relief force was organised by the militarily incompetent Hugh Despenser who was both reluctant to commit resources to the relief effort due to the threat of invasion from Roger Mortimer and failed to properly organise the logistics for the small force that he did send. Specifically he failed to provide either sufficient funds to pay the soldiers or sufficient food to feed them with the result that the men rioted and never reached La Reole.

Despite the impressive fortications of La Reole with its triple wall perched ontop of a rock looking down on the Garonne valley, Charles of Valois had brought with him a number of skilled engineers from Lorraine who established a breach in the defences. When Charles announced his intention to carry Le Reole by assault unless the town was surrendered within four days, Edmund complied and making the best of a bad job, negotiated a six month truce until Easter 1325 and was thus permitted to withdraw to Bordeaux.

With English Aquitaine now reduced to a strip of the coast there remained the clear threat that once the truce expired Charles of Valois would return in 1325 to implement his nephew's confiscation order. This made it all the more important that England reached some kind of understanding with the French king and resolve the outstanding issue over the homage due for Aquitaine. Thus Edward, somewhat reluctantly despatched his wife Isabella (who was Charles IV's sister) to negotiate a peace, thereby initiating the chain of events that would ultimately lead to his own downfall.

Just a small war, one of the small sparks that later lit the fire of the Hundred Years War.


NOTES

1 Aquitaine, otherwise known as Gascony or Guyenne was the territory in south-western France that had passed under the control of the kings of England through the marriage of Eleanor of Aquitaine to Henry II. A situation that was not ideal as far as the kings of France were concerned, nor indeed from the English perspective as it involved the kings of England in paying homage to the kings of France in respect of Aquitaine.
2 The sources consulted appear to differ on the exact sequence of events in partucular as to whether it was the French or Raymond Bernard that first built the bastide. Not that it matters that much.


SOURCES

  • T. F. Tout The History Of England From The Accession Of Henry III To The Death Of Edward III (1216-1317) (Longmans Green and Co. 1905)
  • Ian Mortimer The Greatest Traitor (Plimlico 2004)
  • Tourist office of Agen: The Hundred Years War at
    http://www.ot-agen.org/_eng/visite/cent-ans.htm
  • Casteland le site des chateaux médiévaux Francais at
    www.casteland.com/pfr/chateau/ aquitaine/lotgar/rois_ducs/rois_ducs_hist2.htm
  • Le Castelnau de Sauveterre La Lémance en Haut Agenais at
    perso.club-internet.fr/morenaud/histoire.htm

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