SIR BERTRAND DU GUESCLIN
V.,named the Wise, you have already known as
the Dauphin who fled from the
field of Poitiers, and who begged on his knees that the
magistrate Marcel would
spare his life. But Charles the Dauphin and Charles the
Wise were two very different
The king was tall and thin, and looked so sad that his
subjects had no great love
for him. His health was so poor that they seldom saw
him. As for the nobles, they
loved their sports and their tournaments, and paid
little attention to their
But before long the nation awoke to the fact that a
strong, wise hand was ruling
France. The hand belonged to Charles
who spent most
of his time in a quiet room
in one of his palaces.
Unlike the kings who came before him, Charles was not
able to lead his armies to
battle. It was therefore necessary that he should have
a good general.
And Charles was fortunate, for in Bertrand du Guesclin,
a knight of Brittany, he
found one of the bravest and strongest leaders of men.
"Bertrand du Guesclin," says a chronicler of the time,
"was the ugliest child in the
district in which he lived. As he grew up he became
always ready to strike on being struck."
Guesclin became one of the Free Lances of whom I have
told you, and led Free Lances
like himself to battle. But though the hero of Brittany
was a rough and cruel
 soldier, to the poor, to women and children, he was
ever kind and gentle.
Until he was thirty Guesclin was little known, either
for his strength or his
goodness, save amongst the knights of Brittany. But
Charles the Wise had heard of
Sir Bertrand, and when in 1364 he became king, he sent
one of his marshals to the
knight, to engage him to fight on behalf of the King of
Their first exploit, for the marshal and Guesclin
fought side by side, was to take a
town belonging to Charles the Bad, King of Navarre.
Their next was to dash into
another town with their wild Free Lances, shouting
"Death, death to all Navarrese!"This town they also took, "whereat
Charles V. was very
joyous when he heard the
news, and the King of Navarre was very wroth."
As was but natural, Charles of Navarre was eager to
avenge these wrongs. He
assembled a large army of Free Lances, and put them
under a famous officer called
the Captal de Buch.
Guesclin also collected a strong force from Bnttany,
and from the bands of Free
Lances that were eager to serve under so great a
captain as Sir Bertrand.
As the two armies drew near to one another, Guesclin
disclosed his plan to his
"The Captal," he said, "is, as you know, a gallant
knight. Until he is taken he will
do us great hurt. Therefore let thirty of our boldest
pay heed to nothing, but make
straight toward the Captal, take him captive, and lead
him away from the field,
without waiting for the end of the battle."
Guesclin's comrades agreed that the plan was a good
one. "The picked thirty, well
mounted on the flower of steeds, and with no thought
but for their enterprise, came
all compact together to where was the Captal, who was
fighting right valiantly with
his axe, and was dealing blows so mighty that none
durst come nigh him; but the
thirty broke through the press by dint of their horses,
 up to him,
halted hard by him, took him and shut him in amongst
them by force. Then they bore
him away, whilst his men, who were like to go mad,
shouted, " A rescue for the
Captal! a rescue! " But nought could avail them or help
them, and the Captal was
carried off and placed in safety."
After a desperate struggle the Captal's banner was then
captured, torn to pieces,
and trampled underfoot. Guesclin and his men had won
Charles V. was so pleased with his general that he made
him Marshal of Normandy, on
condition that he should clear the land of the bands of
Free Lances that still
wandered all over the country. But this condition
Guesclin, being himself a Free
Lance, took little trouble to fulfil.
In his next battle the knight was taken prisoner by the
English. But Charles v.
could not do without his general, and willingly paid a
heavy ransom that Sir
Bertrand might be free.
Then in 1367 Guesclin was sent into Spain to fight
against Pedro the Cruel, who
oppressed his subjects and had even slain his own wife.
At first he was successful in this war, but when Pedro
was joined by the English
under the Black Prince, Guesclin was defeated and again
Before long, however, the knight was set free, and this
is the story of how it
One day, being in a merry mood, the Black Prince began
to talk to Sir Bertrand.
"My lords counsel me not to set you free," said the
prince to his prisoner, "not so
long as there is war between France and England."
"Sir," answered Guesclin, "then am I the most honoured
knight in the world, for they
say in the kingdom of France and elsewhere that you are
more afraid of me than any
"Think you, then, that it is for your prowess that we
keep you?" said the prince,
his gay mood changing to a
 haughty one. "Nay, by
St. George, fix your own
ransom and you shall be free."
Guesclin named so large a sum that the prince was
"Sir," said Sir Bertrand, seeing his astonishment, "the
king, in whose keeping is
France, will lend me what I lack; and there is not a
spinning-wench in France who
would not spin to gain for me what is necessary to put
me out of your clutches."
The brave prisoner was then set free to collect his
ransom, giving his word of
honour to return to captivity if he could not find the
But he succeeded in getting the sum that was necessary,
and, so the story goes, was
riding cheerily on his way back to the Black Prince,
when he met ten sad and
weary-looking knights, who had been trying in vain to
find money for their ransoms.
Then Sir Bertrand, with ungrudging heart and open
hands, gave to these sad knights
all the money which he had painfully gathered together
for his own freedom, and
himself went back into captivity. It was for deeds such
as this that Sir Bertrand du
Guesclin was beloved by all who knew him. The good
knight's captivity lasted but a
short time longer, for the King of France himself paid
his knight's ransom.
Meanwhile the Black Prince, whose constant wars had
made him ill and irritable, had
levied such heavy taxes on his subjects in Aquitaine,
that they appealed to Charles V. to help them.
The king was pleased to quarrel with the Black Prince,
for he had been watching for
a chance to make war upon England, and here was the
opportunity he had wished. He
summoned the prince to Paris to defend himself against
the complaints of his
subjects in Aquitaine, and bade him come as quickly as
When the Black Prince heard Charles's message he
 answered after a moment's
silence, "We will go willingly at our own time, since
the King of France doth bid
us, but it shall be with our helmet upon our head and
sixty thousand men at our
Perhaps the king had expected some such answer from so
gallant a knight as the Black
Prince, and since it meant war with England, Charles
was content. He at once sent
for Guesclin and made him Constable of France,
Constable being the title of the
Commander-in-chief of the French army.
Guesclin was dismayed at so great an honour, and begged
the king to bestow this
office and title upon one of higher rank. "For," said
the sturdy knight, "how can I
lay commands on those who may be relatives of the king
"Sir Bertrand, Sir Bertrand," answered the king, "do
not excuse yourself after this
fashion. I have no brother, nor cousin, nor nephew, nor
count, nor baron in my
kingdom, who would not obey you; and if any should do
otherwise, he would anger me
so that he would hear of it. Take therefore the office
with a good heart, I beseech
you." So Guesclin became Constable of France.
It was in April 1369 that war once more broke out
between France and England. But
the hold of the English on France had grown slighter
during the years that Charles
the Wise had been ruling, and it was now the more
easily shaken off.
In the war that followed the French were everywhere
victorious. The Black Prince was
too ill to lead his men so well as he had been used to
do. Indeed, sometimes he was
so weak that he had to be carried on a litter to the
Meanwhile the constable marched across France, taking
towns that had long been held
by the English, driving out English garrisons, and
everywhere making terms
favourable to the French king.
Following the advice of Charles the Wise, Guesclin took
 care not to risk a
battle with the enemy. So the Black Prince, seeing that
the French were safe in
strongly fortified towns, led his army to Bordeaux, and
set sail for England.
By this war the English had lost all their large
possessions in France, being left
with only Bordeaux and a few towns in Normandy.
King Edward was now an old man, yet wishing to win back
what he had lost, he raised
an army and sailed from Southampton. But it was autumn,
the gales were fierce, and
for nine weeks the king struggled in vain to reach the
French coast. At length, in
despair, he gave orders to make again for the English
"Never was there King of France," he said, "who wore so
little armour, yet never was
there one who has given me so much to do."
In 1375 a truce was again made between France and
England. The following year the
Black Prince, who had long suffered from fever, passed
away; while in 1377, the year
that the truce with France ended, Edward III., who had
been sorely grieved at the
loss of his son, also died.
Charles V. now determined to join Brittany to the crown
of France, but the Bretons,
led by their lord, John de Montfort, rose in rebellion.
The king ordered Guesclin to
go to punish them. But the constable, you remember, was
himself a Breton, and he
ventured to advise the king to make peace with Sir John
This led to a quarrel between Charles and his faithful
servant. Guesclin, angry with
the king, sent the sword which he wore as constable
back to his master, which was as
if he had said, "I will no longer be commander of your
But the king, who cared for no other, cared for
Guesclin, and refused to let his
constable go. Instead of being sent to Brittany,
Guesclin was ordered, in July 1380,
to go to
 the south of France to besiege a
fortress still held by the English.
After the siege had lasted some time, the governor of
the little town promised to
give up the keys of the fortress to the constable if
help did not reach him before a
certain day. Before the day came Guesclin took ill. His
captains gathered around his
bed as he lay dying; and the constable, who had seen
rough deeds done in his day,
said to them, "Captains, never forget, in whatsoever
country you are making war,
that churchmen, women, children, and the poor people,
are not your enemies." Then he
It is said that when the governor of the town heard
that the constable was dead, he
begged still to be allowed to put the keys of the town
into the hands of the
So, marching out of the fortress at the head of his
men. the governor was led to the
tent where Sir Bertrand lay. Then, sobbing the while,
he laid the keys in the still
hands of the great soldier.
There was great sorrow at the death of Guesclin. "Let
all know," says the
chronicler, "that there was there nor knight, nor
squire, French or English, who
showed not, great mourning."
As for the king, he ordered that the constable should
be buried in a tomb near to
one which had been built for himself.
Nine years later, the son of Charles v. ordered a
second funeral service to be held
at the tomb of Sir Bertrand du Guesclin, the hero of
Brittany, the king himself,
with his lords and barons, being at the ceremony.
A poet who was also there wrote some verses on the
hero. Here are a few of the lines
which you may like to read:
"The tears of princes fell,
What time the Bishop said,
'Sir Bertrand loved ye well,
Weep, warriors, for the dead.
"The knell of sorrow tolls,
For deeds that were so bright,
God save all Christian souls,
And his—the gallant knight.' "
Two months after the death of Sir Bertrand, in
Septembers 1880, Charles v. fell ill
and died. It was said that he had been poisoned by his
enemy, Charles the Bad, King
of Navarre. Soon after this the King of Navarre himself
was burned to death by an
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