Saturday, June 23, 2012

King Raymond I "the Great" (1323-1354)

Gilla-Ruad II's son, Raymond, was much like his father. He was a devout Christian, friend to Popes, and a fierce warrior. But he was more. Everything good about his father was magnified in the young man who followed him. His faith was not expressed through the act of crusading (there was no Crusade during his reign) but through writing; he wrote several biographies of local saints, most of which reside in the University of St. Brieuc's special collections to this day. He was brave but not rash, friendly to all he met, whether friend or enemy, and one of the hardest working rulers in Brittany's history. It was not unusual to find him going through the censuses and tax records well into early morning, waking on only four hours sleep for personally led military drills.

He was tested early on by a Cornish rebellion, with yet another attempt by Scotland to sneak the duchy away from the Bretons, but this was, remarkably, the only rebellion he would deal with in his entire reign. He was wildly popular, both due to his personal qualities, his obvious capability for rule, and the first stirrings of a modern sense of national identity amongst the people of the Triple Kingdom.

The Cornish rebels didn't hold out long. They rebelled shortly after the 17 year old Raymond's coronation, taking up arms in early 1324, but were put down by late 1327. The Scottish weren't even a real problem; despite eclipsing England as the dominant power on the Isle of Britain, their troops were largely uninterested in marching south for another stab at Cornwall.

On May 1, 1239, King Raymond I married his betrothed, Queen Eleanor I of England. The young queen's situation was entirely precarious, with several rival claimants prepared to do battle over the throne. England, by the time of the marriage, was essentially a battleground for France, Wales, and Scotland, with the English throne entirely at the mercy of largely autonomous vassals. With Raymond's marriage, the crown was set to pass to Brittany's ruling dynasty. This situation was not one which France was willing to tolerate.

As Eleanor set off for her nuptials, she faced two serious wars. The first, a rebellion by the Duke of Oxford. The second, and more serious, was against France. King Renaud II of France had brought the entire southern coast of Britain into his borders through the inheritance of Bedford by the Duke of Champagne. He had a vested interest in seeing Eleanor deposed in favor of the only person in his court with a viable claim: her aunt Catherine.

The familial relationship is worth mentioning. Catherine's daughter was Catherine of Kent, Gilla-Ruad II's second wife and Raymond's stepmother. The Countess of Kent also happened to be the mother of Osmond de Rennes, Raymond's half-brother and, if the elder Catherine's claim was successful, the potential future King of England.

With the confusing, incestuous backdrop of dynastic politics set, Raymond went to war before a formal request of aid was sent. He demanded the County of Eu from Renaud II in his capacity of Duke of Normandy, launching a devastating invasion of the French heartland as soon as it was sent.

The war with the French was a tale of two conflicts. In Britain, France had amassed a truly stunning display of military might, besieging the English population centers with sheer numbers which could not be matched by the combined English and Breton forces. To boot, he had called on his ally, the King of Denmark, to supply reinforcements. Time and again, the Irish troops which were raised in the Isles were cast back. England was lost.

All of this activity in Britain left the French countryside largely defenseless. The Bretons experienced little resistance, even taking Paris, itself, after a year long siege. The names of Maine and Anjou, taken by Renaud II from Raymond's father so many years ago, were on the lips of every stout-hearted Breton as he stormed the Paris gates.

The war lasted six years, until 1335, and was a bit of a split decision for the Bretons. Eleanor was deposed in July of 1334 and her aunt Catherine named Queen Catherine I of England. The former queen was allowed to keep her baronial holdings in the countryside of Kent, though she spent most of her time in Rennes Castle with her husband.

The prize of Eu was gained by the Bretons in May of 1335. Renaud II had died of old age during the conflict and his son, Guy II, was a weak ruler and eager to end his father's war. Eu was ceded to Raymond as a part of his personal demesne.

Two years of peace ensued for Brittany, though not for France. Rebellions popped up here and there after Guy's war against Brittany and England, culminating in a full-fledged disintegration of France in 1337. The revitalization of French culture and arms which Renaud II had presided over seemed to have died with him. Guy II was presiding over an increasingly desperate situation, as Champagne, Burgundy, and Valois all revolted.

Raymond sensed a chance to expand the Breton borders once more, this time by coming to France's aid. The southern provinces of France were once part of the Kingdom of Aquitaine. Raymond sought to bring them back into the renewed kingdom of that name. He swiftly claimed Armagnac, Marsan, and Dax, all provinces of the divided Duchy of Gascony. All three capitulated quickly, with Armagnac and Marsan won in 1339 and Dax won the following year.

During the years of war, another, smaller succession crisis threatened the cohesiveness of the Irish third of Raymond's kingdom. His cousin, the King of Wales, had inherited Connacht in 1337. Raymond let this alone for three years, until his campaign in southern France was concluded successfully. Once he had gained his Gascogne provinces, Raymond reclaimed Connacht and marched into Wales; it took less than a year for the well past its prime Welsh kingdom to relinquish Connacht back to the Breton crown.

Brittany's entanglements in France did not end with the capture of most of Gascony. Increasingly, Raymond began to see France, rather than Scotland or England, as his main rival. He married off his daughters to French dukes, enmeshing him ever further into the turbulent French dynastic politics of the mid-14th century. This reached a head in 1343.

The Duke of Galicia, a vassal of France, had claimed the throne from Renaud III, Guy's nephew, after the successful war to depose King Guy II. Raymond's sister had been pledged in marriage to Duke Jaufre of Galicia. With the conclusion of the marriage ceremony, Raymond and Jaufre were allies in the effort to see the Duke of Galicia ascend to the throne of France.

Raymond was only too pleased to help his new brother-in-law. He had a great distaste for the Valois family who had taken it from the much more estimable Karlings (Jaufre was a Karling, descended from Charlemagne). Breton forces invaded a terribly divided France in aid of a hard-pressed Jaufre.

With the aid of Brittany's armies, Jaufre was crowned King Jaufre IV of France in December of 1345. While not great friends, Jaufre and Raymond carried on a decent relationship in letters and pledged to visit one another, either in Rennes or in Paris, each summer; they carried on this tradition until Raymond's death.

Jaufre would have need of the relationship with Raymond once again. In early 1348, Jaufre was in serious danger of being deposed, himself. The Flemish Duke sought to place his own candidate on the throne and, aided by the Duke of Champagne, largely had Jaufre on the ropes. Raymond offered his support unbidden; Jaufre accepted.

Again, it was Brittany saving France, a prospect unthinkable just 15 years earlier. The effort to save Jaufre's throne was successful, ending in October of 1349.

Brittany settled into peace for many years. Raymond's people and vassals loved him (out of character note: about 2/3 of his vassals had a relationship of 100, an astonishing clip I've never seen before) and he used his popularity to embark on another of his family's traditional building programs. Prosperity settled in and Brittany once again looked like an ascendant power.

Duke Torf of Aquitaine, the premier military strategist of the century, died in 1352 at age 69. He had served as Marshal for three Breton kings and had orchestrated the recent wars with France alongside King Raymond. He was buried in a ceremony fit for a member of the royal family. Emissaries from Byzantium and even the Shia Caliphate were present to pay respects to the old warrior. He was interred in the de Rennes family crypt, the only non-family member to ever be so honored.

Raymond would die in December of 1354. His last years had seen him become more and more stressed, sometimes spilling out into loud outbursts. He had seemingly felt the strains of his office more than he let on and had internalized these stresses to an alarming degree. Witnesses to his death, including Eleanor, describe what was probably a heart attack brought on by high blood pressure. He was 48.

There were some fears at the time that Brittany, after so many years of consolidation and power, was a kingdom on the decline after Gilla-Ruad II's sometimes loose reins with his dukes and his repeated defeats at the hands of the French. Raymond put these fears to rest. He was the first ruler to be at all considered an equal of Marguerite the Great, a man whose personal qualities were matched, finally, by his political capability. He both saw France to a stable outcome in its wars while also ensuring that it was a smaller, more pliable power after getting out of the kingdom's wars just in time to keep the Duchy of Champagne a powerful independent entity. To top it all off, he died knowing that his son might still inherit the throne of England from his brother, King Osmond I, since he had no heirs. He was a warrior and a scholar, one of the greatest, if not the greatest, kings in Brittany's history.

No comments:

Post a Comment