Oliver Clisson had been one of Charles V’s senior ministers. Upon the accession of Charles VI he and other ministers, later terms the Marmousets by Froissart, saw their roles diminished as the young kings uncles had assumed control of many facets of French government. This decline in influence on the national stage did not stop the men from being highly influential though. They were wealthy men in their own right, and hugely important political figures. Clisson was one of these men. He had been heavily involved in French plans to invade England in the past, and had a personal interest in affairs in Brittany.
Oliver Clisson in the John of Blois v John of Montfort conflict
Brittany had been allied to England. John de Montfort, however, had betrayed the English in 1381 and relations had soured. By the mid 1380s, a power struggle in the Duchy was taking place. Clisson found himself at the centre of it. John of Blois was making a claim for the Duchy. He was a prisoner of the English, being held at Gloucester Castle. Clisson supported John’s claim, over that of John de Montfort. In 1385 he visited John of Blois and acquired the right to act as his Lieutenant in Brittany.
Negotiations for John of Blois’ freedom
The result was to see Brittany thrust into military conflict for control. One which both sides hoped the English would aid them in. England, for its part, looked upon the matter from a simple financial point of view. John of Blois would fetch a high ransom payment, it would offset the costs of Richard IIs campaigning in Ireland. Negotiations for his ransom, payable to Robert de Vere with Council approval, began.
Alliances and Political Changes in 1387
This led to frantic efforts by John de Montfort to improve his relations with England. He also began negotiations with the Duke of Berry, which in May 1387 led to the pair agreeing an alliance against the Montfort forces who were under the control of Clisson as his Lieutenant. As those negotiations took place, the political landscape in England changed. Suddenly, the decision makers saw no gain in helping Robert de Vere, and in consequence, John of Blois was to remain a prisoner.
The timing was disastrous for Clisson. Soon he was faced with a combined force of John de Monfort and the Duke of Berry. He nowhere to turn for help, though not involved in the turmoil in Brittany, it was known that the other major player in French politics, the Duke of Burgundy, was supportive of the Montfort cause.
Oliver Clisson signs away his rights as Lieutenant
On 25th June 1387 Oliver Clisson was arrested at Vannes by men loyal to John de Montfort. His future, possibly his life according to Froissart’s Chronicles, was in peril. The exact nature of discussions held between John de Montfort and his prisoner are not known. However, just two days later, on 27th June 1387, Clisson signed a document that effectively handed Brittany to his foe. In his role as Constable, Oliver Clisson pardoned John de Montfort for all of his acts of violence and rebellion. Furthermore, he withdrew his support for John of Blois and cancelled plans for his daughter to marry into the House of Blois. He also handed possession of all of his castles in Brittany to John de Montfort. Lastly, Oliver Clisson agreed in writing to pay John de Montfort the sum of 100,000 gold francs.
‘Free’ submission to John of Montfort
The capitulation was total. Clisson had signed away everything that the Blois cause had held in Brittany. Orders were given by Oliver, as Lieutenant of Brittany and Constable of France, for all nobles to submit to John de Montfort. And, he had paid a huge sum to ‘freely’ bring about peace in the region.
Without documentary evidence of how the talks between the two men proceeded it is guesswork as to why Clisson made such concessions. The scale of capitulation, and speed at which he complied: the gold was delivered just four days later, suggest that Froissart’s source may have been accurate in some ways. Clisson was buying his own life.
Oliver V de Clisson was a son of Oliver IV de Clisson and Jeanne de Clisson. His father had been executed by the French. His mother become known as the Lioness of Brittany for the way in which she conducted revenge attacks on the French by Land and then by Sea.
Oliver V de Clisson was a significant player in the Wars of Breton Succession.
Oliver V de Clisson Image Credits
Oliver V de Clisson Featured Image:
Side view of the tomb of Olivier V de Clisson, his recumbent effigy dressed as a knight in full armour, lying with his hands clasped and his feet resting on a lion; the effigy of his wife lying by his side in a similar position, her feet resting on a dog; G. © The Trustees of the British Museum. Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license.