John de Montfort and the Struggle for Brittany

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John V de Montfort, Duke of Brittany

After writing about Yolande de Dreux a few weeks back, I became intrigued with the story of her grandson, John de Montfort.

John was the only son of John, count of Montfort, and Joan of Flanders. He was probably born in November or December of 1399. His great-grandmother was Beatrice of England, a daughter of Henry III, who was the mother of his grandfather, Arthur, duke of Brittany. John is first mention in 1341 when his childless uncle, John III, duke of Brittany, provided him with 20,000 livres from his patrimony. However, when the duke died on 30 April 1341, the duchy was thrown into turmoil. Civil war erupted when John’s father and uncle-by-marriage, Charles de Blois, both laid claim to the duchy.

John de Montfort the elder was the son of Arthur, duke of Brittany, by his 2nd wife, Yolande. Charles de Blois was married to Jeanne de Penthièvre, daughter of Arthur’s 2nd son by his 1st wife; Guy of Brittany. The bitter conflict was to be absorbed into the much greater struggle, between France and England, that became known as the Hundred Years’ War. Edward III of England supported young John’s father, while Philip VI of France backed Charles de Blois.

In November 1341 John’s father was captured and it was up to his mother to assume the de Montfort cause. Edward III sent troops to secure various strongholds, but by late 1342, after an unproductive campaign, he had minimised his military involvement, leaving a lieutenant in charge as he headed back to England, accompanied by John, who was about 3 years old at the time, his mother and his sister, Joan.

As his mother fell into a mental illness that eventually saw her imprisoned in Tickhill Castle, Yorkshire, John was raised in the household of the queen, Philippa of Hainault. Their fortunes revived briefly when John’s father arrived in England 1345, paying homage to Edward III at Easter, having broken his parole and escaped the duchy. He led a small force back to Brittany, but died suddenly in September of the same year, leaving 6-year-old John in the guardianship of Edward III.

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Mary of England, John’s first wife

Sir Thomas Dagworth captured Charles de Blois at Le Roche Derrien in June 1347, giving the English the opportunity to discuss the succession issue. It looked for a time, that Edward would sacrifice; in 1353 a treaty was actually drafted that was heavily in de Blois’ favour, depriving John of most of his rights. Luckily, for John, it was never implemented and de Blois was eventually released, in return for a huge ransom, in 1356.

Edward resolved now to back young John’s claims. Around 17-years-old, John experienced his first military campaign when he fought alongside Henry, duke of Lancaster, in the siege of Rennes, from October 1356 to July 1357, and later taking part in the Rheims campaign of 1359-60. In March, 1361, John married Edward III’s daughter, Mary, at Woodstock. The marriage would end in tragedy as Mary, still only 17, died of plague in September of the same year. Discussions throughout the early 1360s offered no lasting political solution and, now having attained his majority, John returned to Brittany in the summer of 1362.

Further discussions hosted by the Black Prince, including plans to partition the duchy, failed. However, when Charles de Blois was eventually defeated killed in battle at Auray on 29th September 1364 Jeanne de Penthièvre was forced to come to terms with John de Montfort and the Treaty of Guérande was signed on 12th April 1365. John was recognised as John IV duke of Brittany  by Charles V of France, to whom he performed homage for his duchy in December 1366.

Initially, as duke of Brittany, John’s ties to England continued to be strong, his financial debts and other obligations ensuring this. In 1366 he married Joan Holland, step-daughter of Edward, the Black Prince. However, when a lull in the fighting ended in 1369 and France and England were at loggerheads once again, John was caught in a dilemma. As his overlord Charles V was expecting John to fight for France, while Edward III was his old ally and mentor and obviously felt deserving of his loyalty. His prevarications meant his Breton subjects grew restive and when John sided with Edward III, after receiving the earldom of Richmond in 1372 as a sweetener, they openly rebelled.

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Joan of Navarre, John’s 3rd wife

By April 1373 John had lost everything; he fled to England as his duchy was overrun by French troops. And yet, worse was to follow. After participating in John of Gaunt’s chevauchée from Calais to Bordeaux, John was tried for treason in the Paris parlement in December 1378. In total, John spent 6 years in exile, living on his English estates and attending court and parliament; he was the 1st foreign prince to be made a Knight of the Garter, in 1374.

John was invited to Brittany in 1379 by his Breton subjects, who were beginning to become suspicious of Charles V’s intentions; realising that his attempts to bring Brittany into the French royal demesne would threaten her traditional privileges and independence. The Breton constable of France, Bertrand de Guesclin, deliberately failed to oppose the duke’s landing. After Charles V died in September 1380 a peace was negotiated with the aid of the count of Flanders and Louis, duke of Anjou, which was ratified in the 2nd Treaty of Guérande in April 1381.

A consequence of the treaty was that John de Montfort now opposed his former allies in England and Navarre. With Edward III dying in 1377, his young grandson was now King Richard II. The English still occupied Brest, and John was had difficulties in collecting revenues from his English estates. John’s wife, Duchess Joan, had been staying in England during the troubles but, after much wrangling, was finally returned to her husband in 1382, only to die in November 1384. Her death removed an important connection to the English court and Richard II, her half-brother.

The 1380s saw John consolidating his position in Brittany, making alliances with other French princes, such as the dukes of Berry and Burgundy and the king of Navarre. He developed the duchy’s institutions, encouraged trade, devised new taxes and exploited minting rights. On a cultural level,  John expanded his court and encouraged the arts by extensive patronage. He also encouraged loyalty to his family and dynasty, which was helped greatly by his marriage to Joan of Navarre in 1386 and the birth of his long-awaited heir in 1389.

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John V, duke of Brittany

As Anglo-French diplomatic relations thawed in the 1390s, John was able to make a marriage alliance with John of Gaunt, whereby one of his daughters would marry a son of Gaunt’s heir, the earl of Derby. John de Montfort attended the wedding of Richard II and Isabella of France in 1396 and Brest was returned to him in 1397.

Joan and John had an affectionate relationship, producing 8 children, 7 of whom survived to adulthood. John and a 2nd son, Arthur, each became duke of Brittany; Arthur was also constable of France and succeeded his nephew, John’s son Peter, as duke. He died in 1458 and was succeeded by his nephew, Francis, son of his younger brother, Richard, count of Étampes, who had died in 1439. A 4th son, Gilles, died in 1412. Joan and John also had 3 daughters: Marie, countess of Alençon; Blanche, countess of Armagnac and Marguerite, vicomtess de Rohan.

John de Montfort paid one last visit to England in 1398, when he took formal possession of Richmond, attended a Garter ceremony at Windsor and spent some time on progress with Richard II before returning home. He died at Nantes on 1st November 1399, where he was buried. In 1402 his widow, now the wife of Henry IV of England, erected an English-made alabaster tomb over his grave; it was destroyed during the French Revolution. Joan acted as regent for her 10-year-old son, John, until her marriage to Henry; when she entrusted the regency and custody of her Breton children, to the Duke of Burgundy.

Brittany remained an independent duchy within France for another 100 years.

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©2016 Sharon Bennett Connolly.

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Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia.

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Sources: Ian Mortimer The Perfect King; Marc Morris Edward I: A Great and Terrible King by Marc Morris;  Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; The Mammoth Book of British kings & Queens by Mike Ashley; Britain’s Royal Families by Alison Weir; The Oxford Companion to British History edited by John Cannon; The History Today Companion to British History Edited by Juliet Gardiner and Neil Wenborn; The Story of Scotland by Nigel Tranter; Scotland, History of a Nation by David Ross; oxforddnb.com; britannica.com; W.M. Ormrod The Reign of Edward III.

Yolande and the Hope for the Scottish Succession

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Yolande de Dreux

Yolande de Dreux was Scotland’s Queen Consort for only  4 months and 14 days. In that short time, she carried the hope of a nation – and its king – to secure the Scottish succession.

Yolande was born into a cadet branch of the French royal family, probably sometime in the mid-1260s. Her father was Robert IV, Count of Dreux, who died in 1282 and her mother was Beatrice de Montfort, who died  in 1311. Beatrice was the daughter of Count Jean I de Montfort l’Amoury and his wife Jeanne de Chateaudun, Beatrice was therefore a great-granddaughter of Simon de Montfort, earl of Leicester, and heiress to the impressive de Montfort estates. One of 6 children, Yolande had 2 brothers and 3 sisters. Little is known of Yolande’s childhood but we can imagine that as a junior member of the Capetian dynasty, she grew up amidst some privilege and splendour.

Whilst Yolande was growing into adulthood Scotland was experiencing a “golden age”, a period of relative peace and prosperity. Her king, Alexander III was married to Margaret, daughter of Henry III of England and the couple had 3 children survive childhood. Their daughter, Margaret, born at Windsor on 28th February, 1261,  was married to Erik II, king of Norway, in August 1281. Their eldest son, Alexander, was born on 21st January 1264, at Jedburgh. On 15th November 1282 Alexander married Margaret, the daughter of Guy de Dampierre, Count of Flanders. A younger son, David was born on 20th March 1273.

Queen Margaret died in 1275 and within 8 years all 3 of her children were dead; 8-year-old David died at Stirling Castle at the end of June 1281, Margaret died in childbirth on 9th April 1283 and Alexander died at Lindores Abbey in January 1284, sometime around his 20th birthday. Alexander’s heir was now his infant granddaughter by Margaret and Erik, little Margaret, the Maid of Norway, born shortly before her mother’s death.

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Jedburgh Abbey

With his entire dynasty resting on the life of his toddler granddaughter, Alexander started the search for a new wife. In February 1285 he sent a Scottish embassy to France for this sole purpose. Their successful search saw Yolande arrive in Scotland that same summer, accompanied by her brother John. Alexander and Yolande were married at Jedburgh Abbey, Roxburghshire, on 14th October 1285, the feast of St Calixtus, in front of a large congregation made up of Scottish and French nobles. Yolande was probably no more than 22 years of age, while Alexander was in his 44th year.

The marriage was one of the shortest in British royal history – and the shortest of any English or Scottish king, lasting less than 5 months. Tragedy struck in March of 1286.

Alexander had spent the day attending a council meeting in Edinburgh. When the meeting broke up he set off on horseback to join his wife at Kinghorn Castle in Fife. It was said he wanted to be there to celebrate her birthday and he may also have recently discovered that she was pregnant with the much-desired heir. For whatever the reason, he was eager to get to her and took only a small escort of 3 men and 2 local guides. It seems that, with bad weather closing in and daylight fading, several people counselled against continuing the journey, including the ferryman at the River Forth and the bailie at Inverkeithing, who argued that Alexander should stay the night and continue his journey in the morning as a heavy storm was brewing.

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Alexander III

Only 8 miles from his destination, Alexander would hear none of it and insisted on continuing his journey. He somehow lost his escort in the dark and worsening weather, but continued alone. It was the next morning when his body was found on the foreshore of Pettycur, just a mile from his destination. The most likely explanation was that his horse had stumbled, throwing the king whose neck was broken in the fall, although at least one historical fiction writer has suggested foul play while others have suggested the king was drunk.

There followed months of uncertainty in Scotland. She had lost one of her most successful kings and the succession was in turmoil. Little Margaret, the Maid of Norway, had been recognised by the council as Alexander’s heir, but his queen was pregnant; and if she gave birth to a boy he would be king from his first breath. A regency council was established to rule until the queen gave birth.

In the event, Yolande either suffered a miscarriage, or the child was stillborn. Some sources, the Lanercost Chronicle in particular, have questioned whether Yolande was pregnant at all, suggesting that she was intending to pass off another woman’s baby as her own. The plan thwarted, the chronicle recorded that ‘women’s cunning always turns toward a wretched outcome‘.¹ However, there are major discrepancies in the chronicle’s apparently malicious account and tradition has the baby buried at Cambuskenneth.

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Arthur of Brittany

The throne passed to little Margaret and arrangements began to have her brought to England, with marriage negotiations being opened with Edward I for the little queen to marry his son and heir; the future Edward II. Yolande continued to reside in Scotland for some time, possibly at Stirling Castle, and was confirmed in her dower properties, which included an annual income of £200 from Berwick; she also had estates in the sheriffdom of Stirling and a horse stud at Jedworth.

Margaret’s death at sea in 1290, while on her journey to her new kingdom, threw Scotland into years of turmoil, with 13 nobles advancing their competing claims to the crown and Edward I of England claiming the right to choose Alexander III’s successor, and recognition as Scotland’s overlord. The English king’s imperialist ambitions had thrown Scotland into crisis by 1296.

Luckily for Yolande, she was already far away from Scotland and the brewing wars. In May 1294 Yolande had married for a second time; Arthur of Brittany was a similar age to Yolande and was the son and heir of Jean II, duke of Brittany and earl of Richmond. Yolande was the second wife of Arthur, who already had 3 sons, Jean, Guy and Peter, by his first wife, Marie, Vicomtesse de Limoges.

It is possible that Arthur chose Yolande as a bride due to the impressive de Montfort territories that she stood to inherit from her mother, although there were legal wranglings between Yolande and her younger sister, Jeanne, who also claimed the lands.

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Arms of the counts of Dreux

Yolande and Arthur had 6 children together. Their eldest daughter, Joan was born a year after their marriage and married Robert, Lord of Cassel; she died in 1363. Beatrice was born c.1295 and married Guy, Lord of Laval; she lived until 1384. Their only son, John, was probably born 1295/6 and married Joan of Flanders. Of the 3 youngest daughters: Alice was born in the late 1290s married Bouchard VI, Count of Vendôme and died in 1377; Blanche was born in 1300 and died young;Mary was born in 1302 and became a nun, she died in 1377.

Arthur succeeded his father as Duke of Brittany in 1305 and ruled until his death in 1312. He was succeeded by John III, his eldest son by his first marriage. However, John’s death in 1341 sparked the War of the Breton Succession when Yolande’s son, John de Montfort, claimed the duchy in place of Joan of Penthièvre, daughter of Guy (Arthur’s 2nd son by his 1st wife), who was married to Charles of Blois, nephew of King Philip VI of France. Joan and Charles were therefore backed by the French crown, and Edward III of England supported the claims of John de Montfort; the war eventually became part of the greater conflict, the Hundred Years War. When John fell ill and died in 1345, the war continued in the name of his 6-year-old son and Yolande’s grandson, another John (John IV, duke of Brittany) and finally ended in John’s favour with the treaty of Guérande in April 1365.

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John IV Duke of Brittany

After being widowed for a second time Yolande did not remarry.

During her time in Brittany Yolande continued to administer to her Scottish estates; in October 1323 safe-conduct to Scotland was granted to a French knight  ‘for the dower of the Duchess of Brittany while she was Queen of Scotland‘.² It seems uncertain when Yolande died. Sources vary between 1324 and 1330, although she was still alive on 1st February 1324 when she made provision for the support of her daughter, Marie, who had become a nun.

These arrangements for her daughter are the last mention of Yolande in the historical record, the date of her death as uncertain as that of her birth.

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©2016 Sharon Bennett Connolly.

Footnotes: ¹ Chronique de Lanercost, 118,  quoted by Jessica Nelson in Oxforddnb.com. ²CSP Scot.. 3. no. 829 quoted by Jessica Nelson in Oxforddnb.com.

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Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia, except Jedburgh Abbey, which is ©2016 Sharon Bennett Connolly.

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Sources: Marc Morris Edward I: A Great and Terrible King by Marc Morris;  Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; The Mammoth Book of British kings & Queens by Mike Ashley; Britain’s Royal Families by Alison Weir; The Oxford Companion to British History edited by John Cannon; The History Today Companion to British History Edited by Juliet Gardiner and Neil Wenborn; The Story of Scotland by Nigel Tranter; Scotland, History of a Nation by David Ross; oxforddnb.com; undiscoveredscotland.co.uk; freelancehistorywriter.com.