Tales from Froissart

edited by Steve Muhlberger, Nipissing University

The duke of Brittany arrests the Constable of France

During the war in Spain, surprising news comes of developments in France.
Book III, ch. 54 (Johnes, v. 2 pp. 257-61).  Sir William de Lignac and sir Walter de Passac...
had two or three times a week intelligence from France of what was going on, and likewise from the duke of Bourbon... Among the news they had from France, the most surprising was the account of the duke of Brittany's arrest and confinement of the constable in the castle of Ermine, until he ransomed himself, by paying down one hundred thousand francs and the surrender of three castles and a town, by which the intended invasion of England was prevented.  They were greatly astonished, and could not imagine what the duke of Brittany meant by it: they however supposed that he must have been instigated thereto by the council of England.

ch. 55.  The court of France, more particularly the king's uncles, and the principal lords, were
much distressed by the defiance that was sent by the duke of Gueldres; for it was outrageous and rude, and not in the common style of such challenges, as I shall explain when I
mention the particulars. They were likewise much vexed at the late conduct of the duke
of Brittany, which had broken up the expedition to England by the imprisonment of its
leader. This had been greatly prejudicial to the king, nor could they discover any cause he
had to assign for such conduct. The king did not pay such attention to these matters, which,
considering his youth, was not to be wondered at, as if he had been of more advanced years;
for some of the old lords, who remembered former times, said, "that by a similar act the
kingdom had been much agitated, when the king of Navarre assassinated sir Charles
d'Espaign, who at the time was constable of France, for which king John could never afterwards bear the king of Navarre, and had deprived him, as far as he was able, of all his possessions in Normandy."

"Do you suppose," said others, " that if king Charles, the father of our king, were now alive, who loved so much the constable, he would not have made the duke pay severely for this insult? By my faith would he, and instantly have declared war against him, and, cost what it would, have driven him out of his duchy."

Thus was the matter discussed through France, where all agreed that he had acted very ill. The king
and his uncles, to pacify the people, who were much dissatisfied, and to inquire into the
grounds of this business, resolved to send a prelate, and three able and prudent barons, to
bear the duke's reasons, and to summon him to Paris, or wherever else the king might
please, to make proper excuses for his conduct. Sir Milon de Dormans, bishop of Beauvais,
was nominated as principal: he was a most able man, of great eloquence, and was to be
accompanied by sir John de Vienne, sir John de Bueil, and the lord de la Riviere, who had
received full instructions what they were to say; but to be the more particularly informed
of what had passed, the bishop of Beauvais went to Montlehery, the residence of the
constable, to learn from him the most minute details. This town and castle, with its dependencies, had been given to him and to' his heirs by king Charles. The bishop, during this visit, was seized with an illness that forced him to keep his bed, and after fifteen days' struggle against the fever, it carried him off, so very severe was the attack. The bishop of Langres was nominated in the place of the bishop of Beauvais, who set out, with the before-mentioned barons, for Brittany.

ch. 56.  I may, perhaps, be asked, how I became acquainted with the events in this history, to
speak so circumstantially about them. I reply to those who shall do so, that I have, with
great attention and diligence, sought in divers kingdoms and countries for the facts which
have been, or may hereafter he, mentioned in it: for God has given me grace and opportunities to see, and make acquaintance with the greater part of the principal lords of France and England. It should be known, that in the year 1390, I had laboured at this history thirty-seven years, and at that time I was fifty-seven years old: a man may, therefore, learn much in such a period, when he is in his vigour, and well received by all parties. During my youth, I was five years attached to the king and queen of England, and kindly entertained in the household of king John of France and king Charles his son. I was, in consequence, enabled to hear much during those times; and, for certain, the greatest pleasure
I have ever had, was to make every possible inquiry, in regard to what was passing in the
world, and then to write down all that I had learnt.

I will now say from whence I heard of the arrest of the constable, and the consequences
that followed. I was riding about the time this passed, !)r perhaps a year after, from Angers
to Tours, and had slept at Beaufort en Vallee. On the morrow I overtook a knight from
Brittany, called sir William d' Ancenis, who was going to visit madame de Maille in Touraine,
who was his cousin, as she had lately become a widow. I made acquaintance with the
knight, for he was courteous and obliging in speech, and inquired the news from him; more
particularly about the imprisonment of the constable, the truth of which I was eager to
know. He gave me the information I wanted; for he said he had been at the parliament at
Vannes, with his cousin the lord d' Ancenis, a powerful baron in Brittany. In the same manner
as sir Espaign du Lyon told me all that passed in Foix, Béarn, and Gascony, and as don Juan
Fernando Portelet the events in Castille and Portugal, did the gallant knight converse with
me, and would have continued it longer, had I rode farther in his company.

We had advanced four long leagues between Montlihargne and Preuilly, riding at a gentle pace,
when he told me many things on the road respecting Brittany, which I treasured up in my
memory. As we were thus riding, we entered a meadow near to Preuilly, when he dis-
mounted, and said,-"Ah, may God keep the soul of the good constable of France; for
he had, on this spot, a most honourable combat, and greatly profitable to the country; but
he was not then constable, and served under the banner of sir John de Bueil, on his return
from the expedition into Spain."

"Pray have the goodness to relate it to me."

"I will," said he; "but let us remount our horses." We did so, and, continuing our journey, he thus began:

"In the time I am speaking of, this country was quite filled with English, and thieves
from Gascony, Brittany, Germany: adventurers from all nations had fixed their quarters
on both sides of the Loire, for the war between England and France was renewed. A
party of them had fortified themselves in the castle of Beaufort en Vallee; which you have
seen, and supported themselves by plundering the country all round it. But to come to
the immediate object of my story: some English and Gascons had possessed themselves of
Preuilly, and strengthened it so much, that none attempted to dislodge them: they had also
some other smaller forts near; and when they made any excursions, they could assemble
between eight hundred and a thousand combatants.

"The constable, sir Bertrand du Guesclin, sir John de Bueil, the lord de Mailly, and .
other knights, determined to deliver the country from these people, and collected about five
hundred spears. They learnt that the English intended marching towards Saumer; that
all the captains of the different forts were to unite their forces; and that the place of meet-
ing was Preuilly, which you see before us. Our men, having crossed the river, placed
themselves in ambuscade, in the wood below us, on the right hand. The enemy left Preuilly
at sun-rise, to the amount of nine hundred fighting men: and when our party in ambush
saw them advancing, they knew a combat to be inevitable. They held a council on what
should be their cry, and were desirous it should be ' Sir Bertrand!' but he would not
consent, and declared he would not display either banner or pennon, but be under that of sir
John de Bueil.

Our enemies entered the mead, where we just now dismounted, and they had scarcely done so before our men sallied out of their ambush to meet them. On seeing us, being of good courage, they drew themselves up in handsome order. We did the same, and both parties advanced to the combat, which instantly commenced with such thrusting of lances, that many were thrown down on each side. It lasted a considerable time without either giving way; but, to say the truth, we were all picked men, and with the enemy were numbers badly armed and plunderers. They gave us, however, full employment; but sir Morice Trisequedy, sir Geoffry Ricon, sir Geoffry Kerimel, and Morfonace, joining air Bertrand du Guesclin, full gallop, reinforced us with sixty good spears, whom they brought
with them, and, attacking the English on horseback, threw them into a confusion they never
could recover. The leaders of these pillagers, perceiving the event was likely to turn out
unfavourable to them, mounted their horses, but not all; for seven lay dead on the field,
with three hundred of their men. The pursuit lasted as far as St. Maur, where sir Robert
Cheney, Robert Hervey, Richard Giles, and James Clerk, got into a boat, and saved themselves by crossing the Loire. They made for four castles the English had on that side the river, wherein they did not lung remain, but hastened for Auvergne and Limousin, as they fancied the constable was still at their heels.

"By this defeat, my good master, was all this country delivered from pillagers, and
never since that time have any English or others established themselves here. I therefore
say, that constable Bertrand was a gallant man, and of great honour and advantage to
France, for he regained large tracts of territory from her enemies." "By my faith, sir, you
say truly: he was indeed a very valiant man, and so is sir Oliver du Guesclin."

On my naming him du Guesclin, the knight laughed; and I said, "Sir, what do you laugh at?"

"Because you call him du Guesclin, which is not his proper name, nor ever was, although
he is generally so called, even by us who come from Brittany. Sir Bertrand was during
his lifetime desirous to alter this, but could not; for this word is more naturally pronounced
than the one he wished to substitute for it."

"Pray, sir," said I, "have the kindness to tell me if there be any great difference between them."

"No, God help me: the only difference is Glay-aquin instead of Glesquin, or Guesclin. I will tell you whence this surname is derived, according to what I have heard the old people in Brittany say, and it is certainly true, for you may find it written in the old chronicles of Brittany."

This speech gave me great pleasure, and I replied,-" Sir, I shall think myself much obliged by your so
doing; and what you say shall not be forgotten, for sir Bertrand du Guesclin was so renowned
a knight, that his reputation ought to be augmented by every possible means."

"That is true," said the knight, and thus began:

"In the reign of Charlemagne, that great conqueror, who added so much to Christendom
anti France; for he was emperor of Rome as well as king of France and Germany; and
whose body lies now at Aix-la-Chapelle;--this king Charles, as is seen in the ancient
chronicles (for you know that all the knowledge we possess in this world we owe to writing,
and upon no other foundation can we depend for truth but on what is contained in approved
books,) was several times in Spain, where he once remained for nine years without returning
to France, but conquering all before him. At this time there was a pagan king, called
Aquin, who reigned over Bugia and Barbary, that lie opposite to Spain. The kingdom of
Spain was very considerable, if you follow its coasts from St. Jean du Pied des Ports, for it
then contained all Arragon, Navarre, Biscay, Oporto, Coimbra, Lisbon, Seville, Cordova,
Toledo, and Leon, and these formerly were conquered by this great king. During his long
residence in Spain, Aquin, king of Bugia and Barbary, assembled an army and embarked
for Brittany, where he landed at the port of Vannes. He brought his wife and children
with him, and, having established himself and his army in the country, proceeded to make
further conquests. King Charles was duly informed of, what was passing in Brittany; but
he would not let it interfere with his present undertaking, saying,-' Let him establish
himself in Brittany: it will not be difficult for us to free the country from him and his
people; but we will first complete the conquest of this country, and submit it to the
Christian faith.'

This king, Aquin, built a handsome tower on the sea-shore near to Vannes, called the Glay, wherein he took pleasure to reside. When Charlemagne had accomplished his expedition to Spain by the delivery of Galicia and other provinces from the Saracens, whose kings he had slain, and, by driving out the infidels, had brought the whole kingdom under the Christian faith; he sailed for Brittany, and gave battle to king Aquin and his adherents, with such success that the greater part of the infidels were killed, and king Aquin forced to fly, in a vessel that lay ready prepared for him at the foot of the tower of Glay. He was so hard pressed by the French, he could only embark himself, his wife, and
some of his family, and in the hurry forgot a young child, of about a year old, that was
asleep in the tower. The king having escaped, this child was brought to Charlemagne, who
was much pleased with him, and had him baptised. Roland and Oliver were his godfathers
at the font, and the emperor gave him handsome presents and the lands his father had won
in Brittany. This child, when grown up, was a valiant knight, and call  Oliver du
Glay-aquin, because he had been round in the tower of Glay, and was the son of king Aquin.

"Such was the foundation of the family of sir Bertrand du Guesclin, which, as you
ought to be called du Glay-aquin. Sir Bertrand was used to say, that when he should haft
expelled don Pedro from Spain and crowned don Henry de Transtamare, he would go to
Bugia, as he should have only the sea to cross, and demand his inheritance: and would
undoubtedly have executed it; for don Henry would gladly have supplied him with men
and ships; but the prince of Wales, by bringing back and replacing don Pedro on the throne
of Castille, put an end to it. Sir Bertrand was made prisoner by sir John Chandos, at the
famous battle of Najarra; and ransomed for one hundred thousand francs. He had been
before ransomed by the same knight, and for the like sum, at the battle of Auray. The
renewal of the war between England and France put an effectual stop to this African
expedition, and gave him so much employment that he could not attend to anything else.
He was, nevertheless, the direct issue from king Aquin, who reigned over Bugia and
Barbary. Thus have I traced to you the descent of sir Bertrand du Guesclin."

"That is true," replied I, "and I am very thankful to you for it, which I will not forget," As I said
this, we arrived at Preuilly.

ch. 57.  If I could have been as long with sir William d' Ancenis as I was with sir Espaign du
Lyon, when we travelled together from Pamiers to Orthès in Béarn, or with sir Juan
Fernando Portelet, he would have told me many interesting things: but it could not be;
for, soon after dinner, we came to two roads; one leading to Tours, whither I was bound,
and the other to Mailly, which he was to follow. Here then we took leave of each other,
and separated; but on our road from Preuilly, before our separation, he told me many things
about the bishop of Langres, who had succeeded the bishop of Beauvais in the embassy to
 the duke of Brittany with sir John de Beuil, and the answer they received from the duke.
Upon the authority of what the knight said, I have written as follows:

 The ambassadors, having taken leave of the king and council, continued their journey
until they came to Nantes, where they inquired the residence of the duke. They were told,
that he chiefly resided at or near Vannes in preference to any other place. They left
Nantes, and did not stop until they arrived at Vannes, as it is only twenty leagues distant,
and dismounted in the town, for the duke lived in the castle called La Motte. When they
had equipped themselves in a manner becoming their rank, they waited on him, who received
them outwardly with much affection. The bishop of Langres, being a prelate, was the
spokesman, and harangued in a handsome manner, in the presence of his two companions,
sir John de Vienne and sir John de Beuil, saying,-" Lord duke, we are sent hither by the
king our sovereign, and by my lords his uncles, the dukes of Berry and Burgundy, to say
they are wondrously surprised you should have prevented the invasion of England from
 taking place, when on the point of sailing, and have ransomed the constable of France for
such an immense sum, besides seizing three of his castles in Brittany and the town of Jugon,
which, should they turn against the country, may seriously injure it. We are therefore
charged to order you, on the part of our sovereign lord the king, and of our lords his uncles,
to restore to sir Oliver de Clisson, constable of France, those parts of his inheritance you
now withhold from him, and give him peaceable possession thereof, according to justice, in
the same condition they were in before they were surrendered up to you through constraint,
and not according to any just claim you had upon them, and also the sum of money you
have received, wholly and fully, wherever he shall be pleased to have it paid. The king
and his council likewise summon you to appear at Paris, or wherever else they may direct,
to excuse yourself for what you have done. The king is so good-tempered and forbearing,
that, from ties of blood, he will readily listen to your excuses. Should they not be quite
satisfactory, our lords, the dukes of Berry and Burgundy, will so fashion them to the utmost
of their abilities, and by entreaties or otherwise manage the matter so that you shall remain
friend and cousin to the kIng, as it is reasonable you should be."

The bishop, turning to sir John de Vienne, said,-" Do you agree in my sentiments?"

" Yes, sir," he replied. Sir John de Beuil made a similar answer: when this passed, there
were but these four in the apartment. The duke, having heard the bishop, was very
thoughtful, and not without reason, for the words were so clear they required no expounding,

At length he said,-" Sir, I have well heard what you had to say: it was proper I should
do so, as you come from my sovereign lord the king of France, and my lords his uncles. I
am therefore bounden to pay you, as coming from them, every honour and respect, and am
willing to do so. What you have said, however, demands consideration; and I shall take
the advice of my council, that I may give you such an answer as may please you, for I
would not act otherwise."

"You say well," replied the ambassadors, " and we are satisfied."

They then took leave, and returned to their hotel. Towards evening, they received an
invitation from the duke to dine with him on the morrow, which they accepted. The next
day they went to the castle, where they found the duke and his knights, who received them
magnificently. Shortly after their arrival, basins and ewers were brought, for them to wash
before they sat down to table. The bishop of Langres, in respect to his prelacy, was seated
above all the company: next to him was the duke, then sir John de Vienne and sir John de
Beuil, The dinner was very splendid, sumptuous, and well served: when it was over, they
retired into the presence-chamber, where they conversed on different subjects, and amused
themselves in hearing the minstrels.

The lords from France thought they should have then received their answer, but were
disappointed, Wine and spices were brought, which having partaken of, they retired to
their hotels, and remained the whole evening comfortably at home. On the ensuing
morning, it was signified to them that the duke wished to see them at the castle, whither
they went; and, being introduced to the apartment where the duke was, he received them
kindly, and thus spoke:

"My fair sirs, I know you are anxious for an answer to what you have been charged to tell me from my sovereign and other lords, that you may report it to them: I therefore declare, that I have done nothing to sir Oliver de Clisson that I repent of, except that he has escaped too cheaply and with his life: this I spared solely on account of his office, and not in any manner out of personal regard; for he has behaved so very ill to me, in several instances, that I hate him mortally; and, begging my sovereign's and their graces' pardon, I have not prevented the expedition to England taking place by the arrest or the constable. Of this I am able and willing to exculpate myself; for the day I had him
arrested, I was thinking no harm against it: it is proper to take advantage of an enemy
wherever it may be found. If he had been slain, I believe the kingdom of France would
not have boon the worse governed for having lost the supposed benefit of his counsel. With
regard to the castle he surrendered to me, and of which I am in possession, I shall keep
them until the king by force dispossesses me of them. As to the money, I reply, that from
the hatred of sir Oliver de Clisson, I have incurred debts in this and other countries, and
have from this sum repaid those to whom I was indebted."

Such was the answer the duke of Brittany gave to the ambassadors from the king of France. Many debates ensued, to induce the duke to send a more moderate answer; but his replies were always to the same effect as what he had before spoken. When they found they could not obtain anything
more, they desired to take their leave, which being granted, they prepared for their departure,
and journeyed until they arrived at Paris; thence they went to the castle of Beaute, near
Vincennes, where the king and queen resided. The dukes of Berry and Burgundy soon
followed them, as they were impatient to hear the duke of Brittany's answer, which as you
have heard I will not repeat. But. as those sent into Brittany had not succeeded in anyone
point, the king and council were greatly displeased with the duke, and said he was the
proudest and most presumptuous man alive, and that matters should not remain as they
were; for the consequences would be too prejudicial and disgraceful to the crown of France.
It was fully the intention of the king and his council to make war on the duke of Brittany.
The duke expected nothing less; for he knew he had angered the king of France, as well
as those of his council: but his hatred against the constable was so deep, it deprived him ill
the use of his reason; and he sorely repented that, when in his power, he had not put him
to death. Things remained in this state a considerable time. The duke resided at Vannes,
but seldom went abroad for fear of ambuscades: he paid great court to the principal cities
and towns in the duchy, and made secret treaties with the English: he also garrisoned his
strong places the same as in times of war. His opinion continually varied, as to what had
passed: sometimes he said, he wished he had not arrested the constable; at others, to excuse
himself, he declared that Clisson had so grievously insulted him, he had good reason fur what
he had done. This conduct had caused him to be feared in the country: for the lord hath
small authority who is not feared by his subjects; for whenever he pleases he may be at
peace with them.

We will now leave the duke of Brittany, and return to the affairs of England, which, at
this moment, were in a troubled and dangerous state.
 
 
 

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