Guerre Folle (“Mad War”) (1488–1491)

During the minority of King Charles VIII (1470-98) of France, a dispute broke out among rival claimants to the regency. The young king’s sister Anne of France (1460- 1522) was opposed to the insurgent claims of Duke Louis (1462-1515) of Orléans, who had gained the support of Brittany’s duke Francis II (1435-88). Anne of France dis- patched troops, who defeated the forces of Louis and Fran- cis II at the Battle of Saint-Aubin-du-Cormier in 1488. A settlement, the Treaty of Sablé, was drawn up, stipulating the evacuation of all foreign troops from Brittany and obliging Anne of Brittany (1477-1514), Duke Francis’s heir, to secure royal permission before marrying.

After Francis died later in 1488, Anne-without the required permission-married Austria’s King Maximilian (1459-1519) by proxy, thereby menacing Charles with Austrian encirclement. Accordingly, Charles petitioned Anne of Brittany to renounce the marriage in favor of mar- riage to himself. The petition touched off a conflict in which King Ferdinand II (1452-1516) of Aragon and King Henry VII (1457-1509) of England backed the Austrian monarch. France sent a large force to Rennes, prompting Maximilian and his allies to back down and agree to the Treaty of Laval, whereby Anne of Brittany agreed to marry Charles in exchange for a pledge of Breton autonomy.


Anne of Beaujeu (also known as Anne of France) (c. 1461-1522) was duchess of Bourbon and a steady- ing influence in French royal affairs. Louis XI of France (r. 1461-1483) and his second wife, Charlotte of Savoy, had three children who lived to adulthood: Anne, Jeanne, and Charles. Anne was married young to Pierre de Beaujeu, son of the duke of Bourbon. When Louis died in 1483, Anne-not her mother- was named guardian of her brother, Charles VIII (r. 1483-1498). Louis had curtailed the power of the nobles, and they tried to recoup their losses upon Charles’ succession. The leader of the opposition was Louis of Orleans, husband of Anne’s sister Jeanne and heir presumptive to the throne. The Beaujeus decreased resistance to their guardianship of the king by sacrificing some of Louis XI’s more unpopular servants and reducing taxes. This allowed them to dominate the Estates General of 1484 and to defeat Orleans in the so-called Mad War of 1485. The Beaujeus increased French power in Brittany by marrying King Charles to Anne, the duke’s heiress, kept peace with the papacy, and permitted Henry of Richmond (Henry VII) to challenge Richard III for the throne of England.

When Charles VIII took control of the government in 1491, the Beaujeus, who had become duke and duchess of Bourbon, retired to Pierre’s estates, where “Madame la Grande” educated ladies of good birth. One factor in their withdrawal from government was disapproval of Charles’ desire to claim the throne of Naples by force. Nonetheless, Anne governed during her brother’s Italian campaign and later did the same for Louis XII (Orleans) during his wars. Anne left behind a book of lessons for her daughter Suzanne, balancing conventional values with sound political advice. Anne died in 1522, during the reign of Francis I, having outlived her siblings, husband, and daughter.

References and Further Reading Anne of France. Lessons for My Daughter, translated by Sharon L. Jansen. Woodbridge, Suffolk, England: D. S. Brewer, 2004. Jansen, Sharon L. The Monstrous Regiment of Women: Female Rulers in Early Modern Europe. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002. Pradel, Pierre. Anne de France, 1461-1522. Paris: Editions Publisud, 1986.

Battle of Saint-Aubin-du-Cormier (1488)

The Tale of Sir Edward

Edward Woodville is not recorded as being at the coronation, but he was certainly not in royal disfavour. The following year, on 27 April 1488, he was invested with the highest chivalric honour in England – the Order of the Garter. Described by S.B. Chrimes as ‘the ultimate mark of honour favoured by Henry VII’, the Garter was an honour Edward’s father and his brother Anthony had also achieved. The queen and the king’s mother, along with other ladies including Countess Rivers, were among the company assembled at Windsor for the feast of St George. The ceremonies, which included a requiem mass at which Edward offered the helm and crest of a deceased knight, John, Lord Dudley, inspired a burst of poetry:

O knightly order, clothed in robes with garter:

The queen’s grace, thy mother in the same;

The nobles of thy realm, rich in array, after;

Lords, knights and ladies unto thy great fame.

Now shall all ambassates know thy noble name.

By they feast royal. Now joyous may thou be,

To see thy king so flowering in dignity!

Edward had other concerns than the new garter adorning his calf, however. Francis, Duke of Brittany, who had offered succour and support to Edward as well as the king during their exile, was threatened with a French invasion. As Henry VII owed his very crown to the aid of France, he was in a difficult position.

Edward longed to help his old friend. As Vergil tells it:

    Edward Woodville, a stout and courageous man […], either to avoid the tedium of peace or moved by his love of the duke, earnestly beseeched King Henry that by his permission he might go to Britanny with some band of soldiers to aid his friends. And, lest the King of France could reproach Henry for this, he said he would go secretly with no supplies, which would give a show of unfeigned flight. The king, who hoped that a peace would be arranged by his ambassadors, was so far from indulging Edward’s ardor that he strictly forbade him to undertake any scheme of the kind, thinking it foreign to his dignity to offend Charles, to whom he hoped to ingratiate himself in a matter of little importance which he thought would do nothing to aid the Duke of Britanny. But Edward, when the king had forbidden him to do as he wished, decided to act without his knowledge, and quickly and secretly went to the Isle of Wight, of which he was lieutenant. And from there, having gathered a band of soldiers to the number of approximately four hundred, he crossed over to Britanny and joined with them against the French.

Edward crossed the seas with his 400 men in ships provided by the Breton ambassadors. Meanwhile, his preparations had inspired others to follow suit. Writing to his brother, John Paston III, William Paston III reported:

    [W]hereas it was said that the Lord Woodville and others should have gone over into Brittany to have aided the Duke of Brittany. I cannot tell you of nonesuch aid. But upon that saying there came many men to Southampton, where it was said that he should have taken shipping to have waited upon him over, and so when he was countermanded those that resorted there to have gone over with him tarried there still, in hope that they should have been licenced to go over, and when they saw no likelihood that they should have licence there was two hundred of them that got them into a Breton ship the which was come over with salt, and bade the master set them a land in Brittany. And they had not sailed past six leagues but they espied a Frenchman, and the Frenchman made over to them, and they feared as though they would not have meddled with them, and all the Englishmen went under the hatches so that they showed no more but those that came to Southampton with the ship, to cause the Frenchmen to be the more gladder to meddle with them. And so the Frenchmen boarded them, and then they were under the hatches came up and so took the Frenchmen and carried the men, ship, and all into Brittany.

Edward had sparked an international incident. Vergil tells us that the French suspected a trick on King Henry’s part and that the English ambassadors in France feared for their own safety, although ‘international law prevailed’. To mollify King Charles, Henry wrote a letter declaring that Edward had been expressly forbidden to make the trip to Brittany and that he had arrested the Earl of Arundel’s younger brother when he tried to follow Edward’s example. For good measure, Henry added, most of the men had gone without armour and were in any case low-lives who had taken asylum for their crimes and misdemeanours. It would soon be apparent, Henry concluded smugly, that Edward had been ‘badly counselled’ in making such a foolish attempt. King Charles, Vergil tells us, did not put much credence in the king’s letter, but put a good face on things. Meanwhile, Edward was enjoying the hospitality of Rennes, which welcomed him on 5 June by breaking open two barrels of claret and two barrels of white wine.

King Charles instructed his commander, General de la Trémoille, on 5 July to ‘make war as vigorously as you can’, an order which the general followed with enthusiasm. On 14 July, King Henry signed a peace treaty with France. The next day, Ferdinand and Isabella, whose ambassadors were discussing the possibility of a marital alliance with England, put in a good word for Edward, describing him as their faithful servant and asking Henry to forgive him.

By this time troops had streamed into Rennes, including contingents contributed by Emperor Maximilian and King Ferdinand. On 25 July, Duke Francis, after meeting with a council of war that included Edward, determined to go to the relief of Fougères and St Aubin, both under siege. Although it turned out to be too late to save the fortresses, which had surrendered, the Bretons determined, as reported by Molinet, ‘to engage the French […] as best they could’.

The Marshal de Rieux was in overall command of the Breton forces, Trémoille in charge of the French. To fool the French into believing that there were a large number of English troops, the Breton army dressed 1,700 Bretons in surcoats bearing the red cross of St George, like the men of Edward’s forces.

As reported by Hall:

    When both the armies were approaching to the other, the ordinance shot so terribly and with such a violence, that it sore damaged and encumbered both the parties. When the shot was finished, both the vanguards joined together with such a force that it was marvell[ous] to behold. The Englishmen shot so fast, that the Frenchmen in the forward, were fain to recule to the battle where their horsemen were. The rearward of the Frenchmen, seeing this first discomfiture began to flee, but the captains retired their men together again, & the horsemen set fiercely on the Bretons, and slew the most part of the footmen. When the forward of the Bretons perceived that their horsemen nor the Almaines carne not forward they provided for themselves & fled, some here, and some there, where they thought to have refuge or succour. So that in conclusion the Frenchmen obtained the victory, & slew all such as wore red crosses, supposing them all to be Englishmen. In this conflict were slain almost all the Englishmen, & six thousand Bretons, Amongst whom were found dead the lord Woodville […].

Molinet reports that Edward fell ‘near a wood called Selp’.

On 20 August, the Duke of Brittany signed a treaty with France in which he acknowledged himself as its vassal. Three weeks later, he died, leaving his 12-year-old daughter, Anne, as his heir. Anne would ultimately marry Charles VIII of France.

Legend has it that only one of the numbers who had left with Edward returned to the Isle of Wight: a page named Diccon Cheke. A ballad tells his story:

Fight on, fight on, my Island men

Still gallant Wideville cried.

Ah, how he fought till stricken sore

Our Captain fell to rise no more

Within these arms he died.

Of all that sturdy Island band

Who stern refused to flee,

Knights and squires thirty and ten,

Twenty score of stout yeomen,

There is returned but me.55

When the Knights of the Garter met again in 1489, they would hold a requiem mass and offer the swords, helms, and crests of two fallen knights, Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland (murdered during a tax revolt) and Edward Woodville. It was left for the same heralds who had recorded Edward’s presence at his one and only Garter feast to write his epitaph: ‘a noble and a courageous knight’.

Castle of Saint- Aubin- du- Cormier

Demolitions proved as significant as new construction under Louis XI. Lisieux, for example, saw its fortifications dismantled as a result of the Seigneur de Parthenay’s plotting against Louis XI during the Guerre Folle (1485-1487), though Charles VIII soon thereafter authorized their reconstruction, which began in 1492 and lasted until 1523. A number of Burgundian towns also witnessed systematic dismantlement of just enough of their enceintes to render them easily vulnerable to royal action. Charles VIII’s order in July 1488 to destroy the castle of Saint- Aubin- du- Cormier, located in the Breton marches, was doubly symbolic. First, it created a physical reminder of ducal independence following the recent Breton defeat by severing the castle keep in two, leaving only the side facing France intact. In the seventeenth century, the grounds even became part of a garden complex for the royal provincial governor who maintained it as an archaic attraction. But not all demolitions were punitive in nature.


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