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Bertrand Du Guesclin

      Bertrand du Guesclin, Constable of France, the most famous French warrior of his age, was born of an ancient but undistinguished family, at the castle of La Motte-Broon, near Rennes, about 1314. The date is doubtful, the authorities varying between 1311 and 1324. The name is spelt in various ways in contemporary records, e.g., Claquin, Klesquin, Guescquin, Glayaquin, etc. The familiar form is found on his monument at St. Denis, and in some legal documents of the time. In his boyhood Bertrand was a dull learner, spending his time in open-air sports and exercises, and could never read or write. He was remarkable for ugliness, and was an object of aversion to his parents. He first made himself a name as a soldier at the tournament held at Rennes in 1338 to celebrate the marriage of Charles of Blois with Jeanne de Penthievere, at which he unseated the most famous competitors.

      But this playing at fighting was not enough for his ambition; and in the war which followed between Charles of Blois and John de Montfort, for the possession of the Duchy of Brittany, he served his apprenticeship as a soldier. As he was not a great baron with a body of vassals at his command, he put himself at the head of a band of adventurers, and fought on the side of Charles and of France. He distinguished himself by a brilliant action at the siege of Vannes in 1342; and after that he disappears from history for some years. In 1351, having shortly before been made a knight, he was sent into England with the lords of Brittany to treat for the ransom of Charles of Blois, who had been defeated and captured by the English in 1347. When Rennes was besieged by the Duke of Lancaster, in 1356, Du Guesclin forced his way with a handful of men into the town, and successfully defended it till June, 1357, when the siege was raised in pursuance of the truce of Bordeaux. For this service he was rewarded with the lordship of Roche d'Airien.

Bertrand du Guesclin

      At the expiration of the truce he distinguished himself by the defence of Dinan, and here he engaged in single combat with Sir Thomas Canterbury. Shortly afterward he married; and about the same time he passed into the service of France, and greatly distinguished himself at the siege of Melun (1359). In April, 1364, in conjunction with Boucicault, he recovered Mantes and Meulan from the King of Navarre; and in May he defeated the Navarrese under Captal de Buch at Cocherel, and took their leader prisoner. The king now created him Marshal of Normandy and Count of Longueville. At the battle of Auray, in September of the same year, Charles of Blois was defeated and killed, and Du Guesclin taken prisoner, by Sir John Chandos.

      The grand companies beginning, after the close of the war, to play the part of brigands in France, it was necessary to get rid of them. Du Guesclin was ransomed for 100,000 crowns, and was charged to lead them out of France. He marched with them into Spain, visiting Avignon on the way, and extorting from the Pope a large sum of money and his absolution. Du Guesclin now supported Henry of Trastamare against Peter the Cruel, set the former upon the throne of Castile (1366), and was made Constable of Castile and Count of Trastamare. In the following year he was defeated and captured by the Black Prince, ally of Peter the Cruel, at Najara, but was soon released for a heavy ransom. Once more he fought for Henry, reinstated him on the throne (1369), and was created Duke of Molinas.

      In May, 1370, at the command of Charles V., who named him Constable of France, he returned to France. War had just been declared against England, and Du Guesclin was called to take part in it. For nearly ten years he was engaged in fighting against the English in the south and the west of France, recovering from them the provinces of Poitou, Guienne, and Auvergne, and thus powerfully contributing to the establishment of a united France. In 1373, when the Duke of Brittany sought English aid against a threatened invasion by Charles V., Du Guesclin was sent at the head of a powerful army to seize the duchy, which he did; and two years later he frustrated, by a defensive policy, the attempt of the duke with an English army to recover it. Finding, in 1379, that the king entertained suspicions of his fidelity to him, he resolved to give up his constable's sword and retire to Spain. His resolution was at first proof against remonstrance; but ultimately he received back the sword, and continued in the service of France.

      In 1380 he was sent into Languedoc to suppress disturbances and brigandage provoked by the harsh government of the Duke of Anjou. His first act was to lay siege to the fortress of Chateauneuf-Randou, held by the English, strongly garrisoned and well provisioned. A day was fixed conditionally for capitulation. Meanwhile the great warrior was smitten with a mortal illness, and died, July 13, 1380. The commander led out the garrison and deposited the keys of the castle on the coffin of the hero. Du Guesclin lost his first wife in 1371, and married a second in 1373. His remains were interred, by order of the king, in the church of St Denis.

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