Background

Brittany is that region of Roman Gaul, originally named Armorica, that became re-named as the ‘Land of the Britons’ as a result of British immigration during the fifth and sixth centuries. It later became a duchy ruled by a series of dukes who, despite recognising the overall authority of the Frankish kings, jealously guarded their autonomy.

In the year 1341 John III, the duke of Brittany died. Unfortunately he died without leaving an obvious heir and two rival claimaints for the vacancy arose. The first was duke John's half brother, John de Montfort, and the second, one Charles de Blois, whose claim was based on his marriage to Joan de Penthièvre, the niece of the deceased duke.

The French king Philip VI backed the claim of Charles de Blois, so naturally John de Montfort had to look elsewhere and found Edward III of England ready and willing to provide the necessary support. The result was the War of the Breton Succession, a conflict which continued through several battles, sieges, truces and general ravagings of the countryside for the next quarter of century or so. And all the time being fought against the background of the struggle for the French succession, between the rival claims of Edward III of England and Philip VI and his son and successor John II, known as the First War of the French Succession, part of the so-called Hundred Years War.

The original John de Montfort himself died in 1345, but his son also named John de Montfort continued to pursue the claim with the assistance of his English allies. In the year 1363, this second John landed in Britanny with the support of an English army under the command of John Chandos and laid siege to the town of Auray, which was held by supporters of Charles de Blois. Charles de Blois was eager to break the siege and organised a relief force largely composed of French troops under the command of Olivier de Clisson and Bertrand du Guesclin. In the early autumn of 1364 this relief force made its way to Auray.

The Battle itself

On the 29th September 1364 the Franco-Breton force of Charles de Blois moved forward to challenge the besieging force of John De Montfort which was based in the marshy area known as Kerzo to the north of Auray. John de Montfort had an army of some two thousand men-at-arms and around a thousand longbowmen.

Charles de Blois had around four thousand men at his disposal, and therefore had the advantage of numerical superiority but was naturally wary of the firepower of the English archers, given the prior experience of Crecy and the like. However, Du Guesclin had devised a tactic intended to neutralise the devastating effect of the longbow; the men-at-arms were ordered to dismount and advance behind the protection of a wall of pavises (that is, a large heavy oblong shield protecting the whole body). This worked in so far as the French forces were able to reach Anglo-Breton battle line, but once they made contact with the opposition it was a different story, as the natural progress of the battle opened up the French lines so that they now presented themselves as targets once more.

It was another catastrophe for the French as they fell before the English arrows, thousands were killed including Charles de Blois himself. du Guesclin fought on obstinately to the end. It is said that he was only finally persuaded to surrender by the personal intervention of the English commander John Chandos who persuaded him to lay down his arms with the words Come Bertrand, give up your sword, for this day is ours, but you will surely find another.

The Aftermath of the Battle

Bertrand du Guesclin was taken into custody by the English commander and his ransom set at 40,000 florins, which was duly paid by Charles V of France. It was probably worth every penny, as du Guesclin went on to become one of the key figures in the subsequent successful French campaigns to recover France from the English.

Olivier de Clisson managed to escape, but lost an eye as a result of injuries sustained in battle.

The most important result of the battle was the death of Charles de Blois; this very obviously left the way clear for John de Montfort in the matter of gaining Brittany. John rather astutely deserted his English allies and agreed to pay homage to Charles V for the duchy of Brittany. By the Treaty of Guérande signed the following year, John now John III, recognised French sovereignty over Brittany, and agreed to make provision for the Charles de Blois' widow Joan de Penthièvre.

Thus the War of the Breton Succession was brought to an end which was a matter of relief for most Bretons as the war had been fairly destructive in its impact throughout the whole of the duchy.

Despite being very dead, Charles de Blois continued to cause trouble. He was buried at Guingamp, and having been a very devout christian throughout his life, (given to wearing a hairshirt and the like), the local monks began circulating tales of miracles occurring at his tomb. This rather annoyed the new duke who clearly disliked the attention being afforded to his ex-rival. John III initially persuaded Pope Urban V to order the monks to shut up, but later Charles was formally declared a saint.


SOURCES

Battle of Auray
http://www.100yearswar.co.uk/auray1364.htm
http://www.brittany-bretagne.com/pg/auraybattle.htmwww.100yearswar.co.uk/auray1364.htm

Timeline for the Hundred Years War
http://www.maisonstclaire.org/timeline/timeline.html

Four battles of the Hundred years War
By Frédéric Bey (translated by Charles Vasey) at
http://perso.club-internet.fr/fredbey/epeeshistory_US.html

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