Jeanne de Penthièvre, Duchess of Brittany

Jeanne de Penthièvre (1319-1384) was a granddaughter of Arthur II, Duke of Brittany and his first wife, Marie Countess of Limoges. Through this heritage, she had disputed suo jure claim to the Duchy of Brittany upon the death of her uncle, John III of Brittany and undisputed Countess of Penthièvre in her own right as this had passed from her father, Guy of Brittany.

Succession to the Duchy of Brittany

The death of Jeanne’s uncle led to a conflict over the inheritance of the Duchy of Brittany. The dispute stemmed from disagreements over the issue of whether or not a woman could inherit their parents claim to a Duchy, or whether a male with similar heritage, held a better claim simply by virtue of being a man. In this case, the male claim was made by John of Montfort. John was a half brother of Duke John III, being the son of Duke Arthur II and his second wife, Yolande of Dreux, Queen of Scots.

John III had married three times. His first marriage was a childhood union, with his wife dying in 1309, without issue. He had remarried in 1310, to Isabella of Castille, who died in 1328. This marriage was also without issue. John III’s final marriage was also without issue, his third bride was Joan of Savoy, who outlived the Duke.

As Duke John III of Brittany had died without issue, the matter of inheritance reverted back to his father, with claims being made against lineage from him. From Arthur II’s first marriage, to Marie Countess of Limoges, there were two boys. Duke John III, who had just passed without issue, and his brother, Guy of Brittany. Guy had predeceased his brother but had left an heir in his daughter, Jeanne de Penthièvre. If Jeanne were allowed to inherit her father’s rights as the brother of Duke John III, then she would become Duchess of Brittany, with her husband Charles of Blois becoming Duke by right of her claim. This method of inheritance is similar to the way in which Edward III of England justified his claim to the throne of France.

Should the claim of John of Montfort be held to be more valid, in that inheritance should be to the male with the closest lineage, then he would inherit. This method was similar to the Salic laws utilised in Paris. Whilst Brittany was a Duchy of France, and the Dukes paid homage to the King of France, the region was fiercly independent and was under no compulsion to use the same methods as those employed in Paris.

Jeanne de Penthièvre and the War of Breton Succession

The issue became contenscious. Both sides had made moves to ensure they held power. However, the King of France, Philip VI. gave Charles of Blois the right to pay homage as Duke of Brittany on 7th September 1341, some six months after the death of John III. This meant that the French Crown was accepting Jeanne de Penthièvre’s claim over that of John of Montfort.

Froissart wrote of the manner in which Jeanne’s inheritance was passed to her husband, Charles of Blois, for him to secure and defend:

Let all know that, since I was left young and orphaned after the death of my dearest lord and father milord Guy de Bretagne, my good and loyal friends, considering and foreseeing the developments and proceedings which could come to pass in times thereafter (and which now are readily apparent), had me married and given in marriage to my dearest lord Charles, duke of Brittany, to defend and keep me and my goods, to my profit: the duchy of Brittany, the succession of which I awaited. Against which succession a number of my adversaries, enemies, and ill-wishers have challenged me, and on this [matter] resist against my right and challenge me in it—and they would have done it and deprived [me], if not for the very great power of my said lord and husband, milord Charles, and of his very great and high lords and friends.

The decision sparked a war, with John of Montfort and his supporters taking advantage of the hold they had already gained in some parts of the Duchy to make inroads into securing the submission of much of the Breton nobility. He also gained the support of the King of England, Edward III. Charles of Blois, aided by John duke of Normandy, then went on a counter offensive to try and wrestle control of the Duchy. The backing of the French saw successes, not least of which was the capture of John of Montfort, who was imprisoned for three years in the Louvre.

Following John of Montfort’s release, he again engaged in warfare against forces loyal to Jeanne and Charles. In 1345, it may have seemed that the conflict over the succession was settled. John of Montfort fell ill whilst campaigning, and died, leaving his wife and a young son. The son, however, was soon proclaimed to be Duke John IV and his mother, Joanna of Flanders, resumed warfare in her sons name. With Jeanne de Penthièvre having the backing of the French army, and Joanna of Flanders that of the English, the war was to continue until the 1360s.

During this period, Charles of Blois was captured and imprisoned in England until a large ransom of 500000 ecus was paid. Jeanne played a significant role in maintaining the discipline and organisation of forces fighting for her cause at this time.

The wife of milord Charles de Blois, who was holding herself at Nantes and who called herself duchess of Brittany, took up the bit in her teeth and showed the courage of a man and of a lion, and she kept together all her companions, the knights and squires who were of her faction, and she made the viscount of Rohan and milord Robert de Beaumanoir captains and overseers of her troops. And when the knights and squires came to her in her service, she showed them two fair sons which she had by milord Charles de Blois her husband, Jean and Guy, and said: ‘Here are my children and heirs. If their father has done you well, I and the children will do you even better’. And the said lady rode from town to town and from fortress to fortress, those which held for her, revitalizing and encouraging those whom milord Charles de Blois her husband had put and established there. And the lady waged as good and as strong a war against the countess of Montfort and her people, as before milord Charles de Blois and his people had done.

Froissart’s Chronicles

Froissart recounts Jeanne de Penthièvre’s words to her husband, Charles of Blois, as he set off for the Battle of Auray:

At his departure and leave-taking, milady the wife of lord Charles de Blois said to her husband, with milord Bertrand du Guesclin and several barons of Brittany present, ‘Milord, you are going to defend and preserve my inheritance and yours, for what is mine is yours. In this lord Jean de Montfort impedes us, and has long impeded us, wrongly and without cause: God knows, and these barons of Brittany, that I am the rightful heiress. So I pray you dearly that you commit to no arrangement, accord, or treaty by which the whole of the duchy does not remain ours’. And her husband promised her this. And so he left, with all the barons and lords who were there, and took their leave of the lady whom they held as duchess.

Froissart’s Chronicles [B, 6:151–52; cf. Amiens, 3:333–34]

In the 1360s there were failed attempts to negotiate a settlement. It resulted in another drive to force the Monfortist army from Brittany. The army led by Jeanne de Penthièvre’s husband suffered a major defeat in the Battle of Auray in 1365. Charles of Blois was killed. It left Jeanne as a claimant without a general. The two sides soon opened talks for a negotiated settlement.

Jeanne de Penthièvre’s reaction to the death of Charles of Blois

Jeanne de Penthièvre found herself forced into agreeing terms with John IV. The First Treaty of Guérande stated that in her lifetime she would retain ancestral lands in Penthièvre and Avaugour, be exempt from paying homage to the Montfortist Duke’s, receive a pension from the Duchy, and, should the Montfort line cease to produce heirs, her line would inherit. It was a compromise born out of the military situation that Jeanne found herself in.

The settlement seemed to have finalised arrangements for the Duchy of Brittany. However, it was not the end of Jeanne de Penthièvre’s political involvement in Duchy affairs. John IV who had taken the Duchy through the Treaty arrangements was heavily criticised by Breton nobles. He permitted a large number of English forces to remain in Brittany. This led to John being forced to travel to England. Whilst there, the King of France made moves to bring Brittany under the control of the French crown. Jeanne was appalledby this. It broke the arrangements made for all parties, and potentially prevented any future inheritance of the Dukedom by her heirs in the event of the Montfort line failing to produce an heir.

Charles V tries to seize Brittany

The King of France’s actions briefly united the rival houses of Penthièvre and Montfort. As Bertrand du Guesclin was sent by the King of France to secure the Duchy, Jeanne and the Breton nobility sought to counter the breach of their semi-independence. They called for Duke John IV to return from England, and asked for English aid in repelling the French assaults. It reignited warfare in Brittany, which included an English army led by Thomas duke of Gloucester landing at Calais and marching through France towards Nantes.

That affair was brought to a conclusion with John IV and the King of France reaching an agreement. It brought an end to warfare in 1379. The death of King Charles V secured that peace. Jeanne, for her part, helped to cement it on 2 May 1381 by signing the Second Treaty of Guérande. This Treaty confirmed the arrangements put in place in the earlier treaty. Brittany was then at peace for the remainder of Jeanne’s life.

Image Credits

Featured Image: Portrait of Joan of Penthievre, duchess of Brittany, in the 16th century Receuil d’Arras, a collection of portraits copied by Jacques de Boucq. Wikimedia Commons.

Dan Moorhouse

Dan Moorhouse graduated in History and Politics and has since undertaken postgraduate studies in Medieval History and Education. Dan is a member of the Royal Historical Society and has previously been a member of the Historical Association’s Secondary Education Committee. Dan’s early publishing was in the Secondary School History Education field. This included co-authoring the Becta Award shortlisted Dynamic Learning: Medicine Through Time series for Hodder Murray and contributing to the Bafta Award winning Smallpox Through Time documentary series by A former teacher, Dan now concentrates on research and writing, predominantly in Medieval English history. Books by Dan Moorhouse On this day in the Wars of the Roses On this day in the Hundred Years War

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