Why Did France and Britain Fight In The War

Why Did France and Britain Fight In The War – In 1491, Anne of Brittany married the king of France. It is the epilogue of more than a century of conflicts between a centralizing monarchy and a real state.

Last Tuesday at Langeais were made the wedding of the king and the queen, our sovereign lady, and that night, at Langeais, they slept together and the queen let her virgin there. Yesterday, at dinnertime, the King arrived at Plessix, and in the evening the Queen, and they made good and big dear. We have been kind enough to warn you, so that you may have general processions, bonfires, and all joyous things done, thanking God. ”

It is in these laconic terms that the citizens sent by the city of Rennes to Langeais to attend the marriage of the Duchess Anne of Brittany and King Charles VIII of France report to their compatriots the events of December 6, 1491. The joy of The order hides the bitterness of the Bretons in front of the cavalier treatment that their new master reserved for them. This account corroborates what is known of the coldness of the ceremonies of Langeais: hasty marriage, lack of ostentation, the eagerness of the royal environment to consummate the union to make it irreversible.

This marriage, which comes after five years of violent conflict, marks the end of the ambitious adventure of the Montforts dynasty, of which Anne is the last direct descendant. Since their accession to the throne in 1364, the Montforts have built a princely state, more and more embarrassing for the King of France.

Covering an area of ​​35,000 km2, the Principality has a population of about 1 million at the end of the Middle Ages. Naturally turned towards the west, Brittany is at the heart of the major trade routes of the Atlantic (see Olivier Chaline, page 44). In the 13th and early 14th century, Brittany was influenced by the kingdom of France, which installed at its head a ducal dynasty from the Capetian line, to try to assimilate it gently. This policy was met with stubborn opposition, as evidenced by the War of Succession (1341-1364), a Breton episode of the Hundred Years War. The victory of John IV of Montfort on the Penthièvre at Auray, September 29, 1364, marks the lasting decline of the French influence. It pushes Brittany to play, under the aegis of its “natural” princes, a personal political map.

why did france and britain fight in the war
Image: On December 6, 1491, Duchess Anne married Charles VIII of France.
(Detail of the stained glass window of Champigneulle, 1885, town hall of Vannes)



Indeed, whether it is administrative literature, history or even poetry, documents from the late Middle Ages testify to the emergence of Breton “nationalism”. From the time of John IV to that of Duchess Anne, chroniclers, unknown by the royal literary history, have thus succeeded to support the enterprise of dukes2. They justify the pretensions of the Breton princes by recalling that “there was a king once, / Now a duke who has the same rights / That the king, neither more nor less”.

This reference to the rulers of the past is based on the myth, or forges it if necessary when the tradition resulting from the Historia Regum Britanniae of Geoffroy de Monmouth, Welsh historian of the twelfth century, does not allow to establish the uninterrupted chain of kings who reigned over the island of Brittany (see Amaury Chauou, 22).

Such an inheritance distinguishes the dukes from all the other territorial princes. It is therefore legitimate to glorify them, and the flattering portraits that embellish the historical works underline their appearance of “very beautiful princes” and “the royal state” of their train of existence; they put forward their human qualities and their political virtues, a guarantee of safeguarding and prosperity for their people. The love of the prince for his subjects, his devotion to public affairs call-in return the fidelity of the Bretons. Hence the repeated desire to exalt the successes of the great hours of national unity, to condemn the traitors, like Du Guesclin, passed to the service of the King of France, who “Too much mourning in his heart had / Of the war and dissension / Being between his nation / And the French he loved “.

From where, still, the necessity to nail to the pillory the enemies of the dukes, in the first rank of which one recognizes, even if its name is not quoted, Louis XI: “Prince who hates to have powerful neighbor […] / Prince who carries and supports the bad / Against the good ones, the honor of his palace […] Prince tending to falsity covered / To take others and lead him to a loss “(Jean Meschinot).


Although the dukes never explicitly claimed the royal title, their chancery form and the language of some of their spokespersons abroad or their political partners speak volumes about their idea of their power. A sentence of the historian Pierre Le Baud, borrowed from the judicial archives of the country, sums it up perfectly: “The duke was as well in his duchy as was the king in Paris. ”

The claim of sovereignty is expressed in many ways. And first of all in the refusal of homage lige, the duke considers that he owes to the king “oath, fealty, and lordship.” But he demands from his own vassals an obedience to “him alone and against all,” a real challenge to monarchical authority. This refusal is explained by the conviction that the Montforts have to hold their power of God: the formula “duke by the grace of God” systematically appears under John V and his successors from 1417.

Pope Martin V subscribed in 1418 when he said that “the Duke of Brittany holds his power of divine largesse, like any king and prince”. The same goes for the wearing of the “royal” crown of Brittany, “the great golden circle” which is placed on the head of the prince on the day of the coronation in the Saint-Pierre cathedral of Rennes and whose ” ten plates, plates embellished with precious stones, and especially the arrogant “Haut fleurons” make the king a shade.

When this ceremony is institutionalized and the royal crown appears clearly in the written and figurative documentation (1442), Breton princes have for a long time forged a stature of sovereigns, using for their benefit the Roman notion of lèse- majesty to which Jean IV refers from 1384 to force the inhabitants of Saint-Malo, guilty of rebellion, to make amends.

Also, when Duchess Anne declared in 1490, during the war of independence, that “all those who obey the King of France would be guilty of lèse-majesté”, which amounts to reversing the hierarchy of powers in the kingdom, his attitude appears as the consequence of a more than secular evolution. It is not surprising, therefore, to see the prince included among his “royal and ducal rights”, corroborated by the great inquiry that Peter II diligently ordered in 1455, a series of prerogatives revealing the true nature of Breton ducal power.

The duke legislates and renders justice throughout the duchy and, even though custom continues to admit, until 1485, the call to the king, this right is strictly regulated. In addition, it strikes the currency of gold and silver, and, as of the end of XIVe century, the Breton monetary types are distinguished from those of the king, sign that Brittany does not need any more to play on the imitation and the confusion to accept currencies whose value liberatory strengthened during the fifteenth century.

It is true that since the advent of the Montforts, the financial independence of Brittany, where there is a complete fiscal arsenal, has become a reality that lasted until 1491. The same goes for what concerns the mobilization of the army, the construction or the maintenance of the fortresses, which require the prior authorization of the ducal power.

Its independent diplomacy, active throughout the European scale, allows Brittany to maintain direct contacts with the Holy See and to multiply the treaties of alliance with the main nations of the Ponant: Castile (1430), England, the Netherlands. Low Burgundy (1440), Portugal (1452), Norway and Sweden (1467), Germanic Hanseatic (1479).

The right to create the offices and public offices necessary for the State, to ennoble or privilege “those of their subjects as they wish,” to concede “letters of grace, forgiveness, recovery, respite, safeguards and others” complete the arsenal of powers possessed by the dukes, and which they forbid both to the leaders of the powerful local aristocracy and to the king, “who has neither nor does he take no sovereign rights in the duchy.”

To impose the respect of the prince, the Montforts modernize the institutions of the duchy with the support of the ruling classes of the principality. Only the great nobility, removed from the effective exercise of government and anxious not to lose the lands it has in the kingdom, remains on the reserve when it does not pay into the open opposition. The small aristocracy, numerous in lower Brittany, responds massively to the demand for political, administrative and military cadres; the bourgeoisie, late enriched, plays a growing role, especially in the financial administration, from the middle of the fifteenth century.

In Brittany of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, there is a pattern of institutional organization common to the centralizing monarchies of time. At the ducal council are found both the heads of the administrative services and the representatives of the political forces of the country. We can talk about everything and its role in the choice of political orientations is essential. The Chancellery is headed by a Chancellor whose place on the Council, the first after the Duke, and the relations within the administration make a real Prime Minister.

A Chamber of Accounts was created in Vannes in 1365. It controls all accounting officers, maintains the profitability of the Estate, monitors fluctuations in the number of taxpayers and exempts. The finances are placed under the authority of a treasury and general recipe, entrusted to a unique manager, financial of high flight: it is the case, in the last third of XVe century, Pierre Landais, which becomes the main character advice. From him depends on all the removal of the ducal resources. The main thing comes from direct or indirect taxation and not from the Domain – the “Ordinary” – unable to meet the enormous needs of the State.

The states of Brittany include about a hundred nobles, about sixty clerics and about thirty bourgeois representing twenty-five cities. They meet at least once a year. Their action was decisive in providing the duchy with a public tax, to which they must give their approval under the principle that “what affects all must be agreed by all”. But power also associates this assembly with most of the decisions that affect the future of the country.

No modern state without judicial independence. In this field, the obstacles have been difficult to overcome: the call to the king, in cases of denial of justice and “false judgment” (biased judgment), is found in the customary Breton tradition since the thirteenth century. The organization of a hierarchy of courts, from the local “bar” to the Parliament of Brittany via the courts of justice installed in each of the eight chief towns of a bailiff (judicial and feudal district) that counts the principality, aims to discourage calls to Paris, which are actually few.

But the higher court works badly. He was unable to find either a fixed-seat or a stable staff before 1485, when Duke Francis II broke through and, breaking with the king, erected in Vannes the first sovereign parliament of the Duchy, which could be likened to a crime of lèse-majesté, since it calls into question an essential component of the royal image, that of the sovereign justice for the whole kingdom.

At this date, Brittany has for thirty years of a military instrument whose modernity can not be doubted. Imitating the royal model, it rests on three main elements: a permanent base of professional warfare, the ordinance; the traditional reserve of the back-ban, numerous but of reduced military value, provided by the tenants-stronghold of the duchy; the popular militias finally, reserves of specialists of the weapons of stroke, exempt from tax.

To these troops are added the guard of the ducal body, about 200 elite fighters, and a band of artillery for which serious efforts were made under François II, which increases the park of guns and makes come from the Germanic countries, by offering them much higher salaries than their counterparts in Brittany, many firearms specialists. This interest in the artillery is coupled with particular attention to the urban fortifications, built at the expense of the cities, under the control of ducal agents, in anticipation of a conflict with France.


The discourse of the dukes, their institutional achievements, are in fact in conflict with the interests of a monarchy that perseveres in its enterprise of centralization. The crisis of the end of the Middle Ages thwarted this process: the disturbances of all kinds that it generated naturally turn to the nearest authorities, like that of the Breton duke, the elements of society threatened with downgrading and those who dream of social climbing. But the royal power finally grew out of the crisis, sitting on solid finances (permanent size) and an army of trade unparalleled in Europe. Also, from the reign of Louis XI (1461-1483), the time is no longer the discretion of the competing authorities.

In these conditions, the destiny of Brittany is sealed. Alone against the royal France after the victory of Louis XI on Charles the Bold in 1477, resulting in the collapse of the Burgundian state, which was long his privileged ally, it does not have the material means to resist. The country can not face the test of a long war: a single year of conflict requires the mobilization of all its resources and even to resort to the loan secured on the receipts of the following year.

However, with the equivalent of 500,000 pounds tournaments re-entries in a normal year, one can not compete with a royal France capable of mobilizing more than 4,600,000 books in a war year at the beginning of the 1480s. Remain the expedients, at the limited effectiveness: the alienation of the domains of the Crown and especially the currency devaluation, which is solved a few months after the beginning of the French invasion.

A Chamber of Accounts was created in Vannes in 1365. It controls all accounting officers, maintains the profitability of the Estate, monitors fluctuations in the number of taxpayers and exempts. The finances are placed under the authority of a treasury and general recipe, entrusted to a unique manager, financial of high flight: it is the case, in the last third of XVe century, Pierre Landais, which becomes the main character advice. From him depends on all the removal of the ducal resources. The main thing comes from direct or indirect taxation and not from the Domain – the “Ordinary” – unable to meet the enormous needs of the State.

This inequality of resources leads to that of the combatants, Brittany struggling to regularly pay 800 spears – 4,000 fighters at best – in time of war, while the royal budget supports to pay ten times more. And the duchy does not weigh enough “heavy” on the international chessboard for its political partners to engage with him. The support provided by English, Germans, and Castilians remains limited, and the maintenance of expeditionary forces left to the charge of the Bretons further increases deficits: in 1488, for example, it is necessary to pledge the entire estate of Gavre, near Nantes, to pay the only Germans of Captain Lornay.

To this disproportion of means are added internal political divisions which weaken Brittany. Two rival camps clash – Francophiles and supporters of emancipation – whose opinions are radicalized from the 1450s, the dukes tolerating less and less contestation of their authority by a high nobility won the interests of the King of France.

The encroachments of the monarchy in Brittany are also favored by the uncertainties hanging over the succession of Francis II. The king’s people do not recognize the choice of states which, in 1486, fell on Princess Anne. They persist in considering that the devolution of the duchy must be done in the respect of the treaty of Guérande, more than a century old (1365), which had disposed, in a very different political context, that the crown of Brittany returned to Penthievre or their successors in case of failure of the Montforts male line.

Since 1480, the rights of the Penthievre are in the hands of the king who bought them from the last descendant of the family. It is feigning to ignore that the Penthieves have since 1448 renounced to avail of these rights, to regain possession of the Breton goods which the duke had deprived them in 1420. The king, therefore, bought only the wind, but with the idea of ​​using it to unleash the storm!

Everything accelerates when the treasurer and receiver-general Pierre Landais triumphs in Brittany, who, having eliminated his rival, the Chancellor Guillaume Chauvin, favorable to the maintenance of a dialogue with France, becomes the head of the political and political Breton diplomacy, the apostle convinced of an independence turning Brittany towards the Atlantic, and thus the man to defeat for the monarchy.

The conjunction of French ambitions and Breton reactionary forces is not long in coming. From the month of October 1484, by the treaty of Montargis, the great men recognize the validity of the royal pretensions to the succession of Francis II. Landais was executed in Nantes in 1485: the confidence of Duke Francis II was not enough to guarantee against the skillful maneuvers of the high aristocracy and royal agents. In 1487, the grandees, gathered around Francoise de Dinan, renewed the agreement of 1484 in the Treaty of Châteaubriant, and took the decisive step by requesting the intervention of a royal army limited to 6,000 men to hunt from the country. the strangers who surround the duke, essentially French princes rebelling to the king.

The latter could not miss his chance. In May 1487, 15,000 men invaded the duchy. The milestones and the results of the operations are well known: the military disaster of Saint-Aubin-du-Cormier, which results in the crushing of the Breton army and its allies (July 28, 1488); the signing of the treaty of the Orchard, at the end of which the duke agrees not to marry his daughters without the consent of the king and to let the victorious army occupy the main fortresses of the north-east of Brittany (August 19, 1488); repeated campaigns (1487, 1488, 1489, 1491), violent and devastating French armies ever more numerous; the mediocrity of foreign reinforcements; the gradual erosion of the resistance, until the fall of Nantes, taken by treason (March 1491), and the investment of Rennes finally, ultimate bastion of a duchess forced to submit or to resign (July-August 1491).

Anne’s counselors choose the first solution. The year before, the Breton government thought to break the impasse by linking the fate of the duchy to that of Maximilian of Habsburg, king of the Romans, future German emperor. But the proxy marriage that unites Anne to the Austrian prince on December 19, 1490, was not consummated and, although at the Chancery of Brittany appeared a new official titulature, “Maximilian and Anne, by the grace of God King and queen of the Romans, duke and duchess of Brittany “, the new” duke “, too absorbed by the Flemish questions, could never really get involved in Breton affairs.


Locked in Rennes, the last square of Anne’s defenders knows what to expect. A military surrender might allow the duchess to join her distant husband, but she would deliver Brittany to the French. A new marriage of the duchess, made possible by the defects of form found in the first and its non-consumption, would necessarily be accompanied by a negotiation, preferable to an unconditional surrender.

Charles VIII (1483-1498) and Anne de Beaujeu, his sister, lend themselves to the matrimonial compromise while not sparing the humiliations to the young bride, unable, given his age (14 years), to oppose a political decision that goes beyond it. And the marriage contract says nothing about the “liberties and privileges” of the country, but provides that the spouses transmit to one another all their rights over the duchy, an exchange very favorable to the monarchy whose rights are nothing less than established.

The obligation of remarriage with the successor of the king or the nearest heir to the Crown, imposed on the queen-duchess in the event that Charles VIII died without a male child, clearly signifies that France does not intend to give up her conquest easily. Without even waiting for the marriage, she began to align administratively on the rest of the kingdom since, in the spring of 1491, a French finance general was appointed by the king. His arrival transforms Brittany, financially speaking, into the generality of the kingdom. The page of independence is turned, the process of integration is underway.

The fact that Charles VIII preferred the matrimonial compromise to annexation pure and simple deserves consideration. By marrying the duchess, the king renounces another marriage, that of Margaret of Austria, granddaughter of the Duke of Burgundy Charles the Bold, promised to Charles VIII with Artois and Franche-Comté for dowry. That we have chosen to send the Austrian princess to her father Maximilian speaks volumes about the importance that France attaches to the capture of Britain.

At a time when Western civilization is deliberately moving towards the Atlantic, its strategic interest is considerable, and its position at the heart of the roads of the great international trade has already begun to enrich it. All this could escape the King of France. It is also permissible to believe that the profound transformations that have affected the duchy since the arrival of the Montforts have been well perceived in Paris.

For Brittany inherited by Charles VIII hardly resembles that of the last century: the Montforts have accustomed it to the presence of a centralized government, they have advanced the knowledge of the country by the administration, obliged the great to bend in front of the power, sensitized the population to the notion of State. In doing so, they also fostered the crystallization of national sentiment and marked mentalities. What matters in 1491 is the relative ease with which the change of regime takes place, as if the time of the Montforts had been the interlude of political acculturation necessary for the integration of Brittany in the French State.

Certainly, in 1491, the duchy still exists, but the Duchess, to whom one even refuses her title, is totally marginalized, and only a personal union binds it to France, a fragile link which can be broken at any moment. To ease the tensions, the king must however resolve to confirm the privileges and liberties of Brittany (1492), to which, in 1498, the absence of heir gives a new meaning: Anne became widow of Charles VIII finds, in application of the contract of 1491, full and complete disposition of the inheritance of Montforts. Returned to Brittany, she behaves like a sovereign, beats gold money, restores the chancery suppressed by her husband, reminds the business of the servants of the past. And when she married Louis XII in Nantes in 1499, the new marriage contract multiplies the precautions to avoid that Brittany returns to the heir to the throne of France.

The reason of state is, however, stronger than the will of a queen, and in 1506 the daughter of Anne and Louis, the princess Claude, is trusted to François d’Angoulême, heir apparent to the Crown. Until her death, in 1514, Anne manages to avoid the marriage that condemns Brittany to merge into the kingdom. It is celebrated as early as May 18, 1514, and François d’Angoulême, king the following year under the name of François Ier, is yielded the duchy in usufruct, then perpetually in 1515. The death of the queen Claude (1524) makes Dauphin Francis the new owner of the duchy, which his father continues to administer on his behalf.

Political realism eventually prevails: no one imagines a new war of succession and royal propaganda has cleverly worked, multiplying gifts and favors to the influential members of the states. On August 4, 1532, the states “solicit” the union of Britain to the kingdom. The edict of Union, published in Nantes on August 13, 1532, confirms the privileges and the local liberties and regulates for more than two centuries the legal status of the country.

1. Municipal Archives of Rennes (modernized text).

2. The following quotes are from the works of William of St. Andrew, John of St. Paul, Pierre Le Baud, Alain Bouchart or Jean Meschinot.