Bertrand du Guesclin, an “ugly little man” and fierce soldier

Bertrand Du Guesclin, Grand Constable of France, is one of the most popular figures in the history of France.

Tombstone for the heart of Bertrand du Guesclin
Tombstone for the heart of Bertrand du Guesclin

The eldest of ten children, Bertrand du Guesclin was born around 1320 in the Château de la Motte-Broons.

It is said that he was known for his extreme ugliness, small size and unsightly body.

Apparently, his mother, the beautiful Jeanne de Malemains, rejected him as soon as she saw him!

As a result, the unloved child turned into a quarrelsome and surly teenager and developed his legendary fighting spirit and tenacity.

He indeed began ‘to stand out from the crowds’ at the age of 17, in the early days of the Hundred Years War in 1337.

Courageous, intrepid and warlike, Bertrand du Guesclin indeed collected military distinctions.

He soon became one of the most popular figures, not only of Brittany but of France, and acceded to the highest offices of state.

His popularity grew during the siege of Dinan when he defeated the English in 1357.

Bertrand du Guesclin and Thomas Canterbury’s duel

In 1357 Bertrand Duguesclin and his brother Olivier were indeed in charge of the defense of Dinan.

By then, the Duke of Lancaster and his men had already been besieging the town for months.

However, Bertrand negotiated a truce of 25 days, on condition that his men didn’t try to come out the city.

Olivier violated the agreement.

Commemorative slab Bertrand du Guesclin
Commemorative slab

Thomas of Canterbury captured him and, of course, demanded an astronomical ransom in exchange for his freedom.

This was enough to infuriate the quarrelsome Bertrand du Guesclin!

He told Canterbury that he won’ pay the ransom.

Instead, he’ll duel with him under the chairmanship of the Duke of Lancaster in order to recover his brother’s freedom.

This historic duel took place in front of a huge crowd gathered on the town’s market square.

Middle Ages were not an era for weak-willed people; the strongest and most cunning prevailed…

Therefore, Bertrand got rid off his heavy knee pads, leggings and boots.

He then threw himself on his opponent and furiously pounded his face with the pommel of his dagger!

His men had to step in to stop him from killing the English man.

Needless to say that Canterbury freed Olivier and didn’t ask for ransom.

Bertrand du Guesclin made Grand Constable of France

At 43, Bertrand du Guesclin married Tiphaine de Raguenel, a 38-year old spinster with an equally strong personality.

Bertrand du Guesclin made Constable of France
Du Guesclin made Constable of France

Tiphaine was also smart enough to overlook Bertrand’s ‘ugliness’ and only saw his courage, strength and determination.

Bertrand returned to the battlefield and was captured twice.

However, the king of France paid his ransoms to recover this exceptional knight.

In 1370 he rewarded him for his exemplary bravery by appointing Constable of France.

Bertrand du Guesclin died 10 years later during the siege of Châteauneuf de Randon in Lozère.

In his will he asked that his burial took place:

“en Dinan en la chapelle de nos prédécesseurs”

“in the Eglise des Jacobins in Dinan in the chapel where his ancestors were buried.”

However, only his heart reached the Convent of the Jacobins; it was transferred to the St. Sauveur Church in 1810.

Place du Champ Clos

The former Place du Marché in Dinan is now known as Place du Champ Clos.

Statue of Bertrand du Guesclin on Place du Champ Clos
Statue of Bertrand du Guesclin on Place du Champ Clos

A discrete commemorative slab today marks the spot where Bertrand du Guesclin and Thomas Canterbury dueled.

In the 19th century Emmanuel Frémiet sculpted an equestrian statue of Bertrand du Guesclin in order to celebrate the historic event.

It stands on Place Duguesclin, a stone’s throw from the slab.

A cobbled lane delineate the two squares which are bordered with elegant 18th and 19th century buildings.

They house the Gendarmerie, the Tourist Office, restaurants, banks, estate agencies and shops.

The Place du Champ Clos serves as car park the rest of the week.

However, it still hosts the town’s market every Thursday mornings.

This market is very popular, especially during the holiday seasons.

It is therefore advised to arrive early, not only to secure a car park space, but also to traverse Dinan.

Department of Côtes d’Armor
Coordinates: Lat 48.452645- Long -2.044648

Photos via Wikimedia Commons:  DuGuesclin made Constable of France Public Domain  –  Death of DuGuesclin  Public Domain

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