Combat of the 30
Combat des Trente
26 March 1351
Jean de Beaumanoir v. Robert Bramborough
War of Breton Succession
"Drink your blood Beaumanoir and your thirst will pass"
Neither of the leaders had coinage but those they represented did.
Billon Gros au Lion, 26mm, 2.99gr. Obv: CHA ROL LVS DVX inner ring, +BNDICTV:SIT:NOME:DNI:NRI:HV:XPI, central cross. Rev: +MONETA BRITAN, central lion. Bigot 425; Jez.159. Image from monnaiesdantan.com, Alexis Bigot sale 11/2010.
Jean IV (1341-45) (1364-99)
AR Gros, 28mm, 3.61gr. Obv: + IOHANNE DEI GRACIA DVX BRITANIE, central lion and shield. Rev: + XPC VINCIT XPC REGNAT XPC IPERAT V, central cross. Bigot 770; Jez 254. Image from monnaiesdantan.com, Alexis Bigot sale 11/2010.
During this phase of the war of Breton Succession there was ostensibly a truce in the territory around Ploermel. The Monfortists were not honoring the truce and Jean de Beaumanoir, leader of the Franco-Breton forces in the area, issued a challenge to Robert Bramborough. They agreed to meet at a location to the west of Ploermel. This IGN map shows the regional location.
Today the location is marked with a monument. IGN Carte Randonee 1019O shows the closer view of the site. The site is just north of the N24 and the Bois de Bon Coeur. The countryside is flat.
This arranged combat turned out to be one of the great episodes in medieval combat, and one of the last instances of what we might think of as High Chivalry. It has been celebrated in art and literature. An early image is Combat des Trente by Pierre le Baud (1480). This is followed by Penguilly l'Haridon's Le Combat des Trente (both from Wikipedia).
The Franco-Bretons were represented by:
Sir Jean de Beaumanoir Constable of
Squires Geoffroy de Beaucorps
The Anglo-Bretons were represented by:
Robert Bramborough, Captain of Ploermel (killed)
Squires & Men-at-Arms
This was violent combat, with deaths on both sides. Most combatants were wounded in the fight.
There are several good descriptions of the action. The first presented here is from Histoire de Bretagne, vol. i. p. 280 by the editor of Froissart's Chronicles cited below.
He notes with surprise that Foissart did not address this combat in his chronology. Both these accounts vary in the spelling of names and places.
After the death of Sir Thomas Daggworth, the king
appointed Sir Walter Bently commander in
At last one of them proposed a combat of thirty on each side: the place appointed for it was at the halfway oak-tree between Josselin and Ploërmel; and the day was fixed for the 27th March, the fourth Sunday in Lent, 1351. Beaumanoir chose nine knights and twenty-one squires: the first were, the lord de Tinteniac, Guy de Rochefort, Yves Charruel, Robin Raguenel, Huon de St. Yvon, Caro de Bodegat, Olivier Arrel, Geoffry du Bois, John Rousselet, etc."
"Bembro could not find a sufficient number of English in his garrison; there were but twenty, the remainder were Germans and Bretons. Among them were, sir Robert Knolles, Croquart, Hervé de Lexualen, John Plesanton, Richard and Hugh le Gaillart, Jannequin Taillart, Ressefort, Richard de la Lande, Thomelin Billefort, Hugh Calverly, Robinet Melipars, Yfrai or Isannai, John Russel, Dagorne, and a soldier, named Hulbitée, of a very large size, and of great strength. Bembro first entered the field of battle, and drew up his troop. Beaumanoir did the same. Each made a short harangue to his men, exhorting them to support their own honour and that of their nation. Bembro added, there was an old prophecy of Merlin, which promised victory to the English."
As they were on the point of engaging, Bembro made a
sign to Beaumanoir he wished to speak to him, and represented he had engaged in
this matter rather imprudently; for such combats ought first to have had the
permission of their respective princes. Beaumanoir replied he had been somewhat
late in discovering this; and the nobility of
The second description of the combat presented here is
said to be from Froissart's Chronicle (possibly a different, later
version?) edited by Steven Muhlberger and from the
In this same
season as the siege of
St.-Jean-d'Angely, there took place in
de Beaumanoir, a very
valiant knight of a great family in
When Messire Robert saw that none of the garrison was coming out, he went to the gate and called out this Blandebourch, under a guarantee of safety, and asked him whether he had any companion, or perhaps two or three, who wished to joust with steel lances against three others, for the love of their ladies. Blandebourch replied and said that their ladies would hardly wish that they should get themselves killed in a single joust, for this kind of venture was over too soon."
But," he said, "I will tell you what we will do, if you like. We will choose twenty or thirty of our companions in the garrison and we will go to an open field and there we will fight as long as we can endure it; and let God give the victory to the better of us."
By my faith," replied Messire Robert de Beaumanoir, "you speak very well and I vow we will do just what you say; now, pick a day."
An appointment was made for the following Wednesday and they gave each other a firm truce up to that day; and under its terms Robert and his people departed. So they provided themselves with thirty companions, knights, squires and others taken from the garrisons, and Blandebourch also chose thirty from all his companions."
When the day had come, the thirty companions of Blandebourch heard Mass and then armed themselves and left for the field where the battle was to take place. And they dismounted and ordered all those who were there that none of them should be so bold as to intervene for any reason whatever. Thus did the thirty companions whom we will call "the English;" and they waited a long time for the other thirty, whom we will call "the French."
When these had come, they dismounted and gave the same command. And when they all had come face to face, they spoke a little, all sixty of them, and then stepped back a pace, each party to its own side. And then they made all their people retreat well back from field. Then one of them gave a signal and immediately they ran over and fought fiercely all in a pile, rescuing one another handsomely when they saw their companions in trouble."
Soon after they had come together, one of the Frenchmen was killed, but the others did not leave off fighting on this account. They held themselves as valiantly on both sides as if they had been all Rolands and Oliviers. In truth, I cannot say "These conducted themselves better than the others;" but they fought so long that they all lost strength and breath and ability to fight."
It seemed a good idea for them to stop and rest, and they rested by mutual agreement. They granted each other a truce until they had recovered and until the first who got up again should call the others back. At this point there were four French dead and two English. They rested a long time, and drank some wine which was brought to them in bottles, and tightened their armor which had broken and cleaned their wounds and bandaged them up."
Then they had rested enough, the first who got up made a sign and called the others. The battle recommenced as fiercely as before and it lasted a long time. And they conducted themselves very well in this second round. But finally the English were worsted; for as I heard tell from those who saw it, one of the Frenchmen, who was on horseback split them up and badly trod them underfoot. And so Blandebourch their captain and eight of their companions were killed. Messire Robert de Beaumanoir and his men took the rest as hostages back to his garrison. And that is how the affair went."
Today there are two monument on the Colonne des Trente site. The larger one was put up in 1819 after the Restoration. It is made up of 30 blocks of granite, one for each of the Franco-Bretons who fought. The text reads "Vive le Roi longtemps, les Bourbons toujour ... erected 1819 during the reign of Louis XVIII." The thirty names on the the monument are the Bloisists who fought and there is no mention of the Montfortists.
The second monument is set to the back of the site and is smaller and looks older. The text honors Beaumanoir.
Nearby is the small
Finally, here is one final representation of the combat, from a placard at the Colonne des Trente.
Froissart's Chronicles: http://www.maisonstclaire.org/resources/chronicles/froissart/book_1/fc_b1_contents.html
Muhlberger, S. A Collection of Account of Formal Deeds of Arms of the Fourteenth Century http://www.nipissingu.ca/department/history/muhlberger/chroniqu/texts/thirty.htm
Breton War of Succession was a struggle between the House of Montfort and House
of Blois for control of the Duchy of Brittany. It came to be absorbed into the
larger Hundred Years War between
Bemborough, a knight leading the Montfortist faction which controlled Ploërmel,
was challenged to single combat by Jean de Beaumanoir, the captain of nearby
Josselin, controlled by the
The motivation for the combat is unclear. The earliest written sources present it as a purely chivalric exercise, undertaken to "honour" the ladies for whom the knights were fighting: referring to Joan, Duchess of Brittany (House of Blois) and Joanna of Flanders (House of Montfort). These woman were leading the two factions at the time, as Joan's husband was in captivity and Joanna's was dead (her son was a young child at the time). This is the account given by the contemporary chroniclers Jean le Bel and Jean Froissart, both of whom present the conflict as purely a matter of honour with no personal animosity involved. Le Bel states that he had his information from one of the combatants. Froissart appears to simply copy le Bel's version.
Beaumanoir's knights kneel in prayer before battle. Illustration by J.E. Millais to Tom Taylor's translation of a Breton language ballad in Barzaz Breiz
popular ballads portrayed the cause differently. The earliest of these, written
by an unknown local supporter of the
Whatever the cause, the fight was arranged in the form of an emprise —an arranged Pas d'armes— which took place at an area known as the chêne de Mi-Voie (the Halfway Oak) between Ploërmel and Josselin, between picked combatants. It was organised in the manner of a tournament, with refreshments on hand and a large gathering of spectators. Bemborough is supposed to have said,
And let us right there try ourselves and do so much that people will speak of it in future times in halls, in palaces, in public places and elsewhere throughout the world.
The words are recorded by Froissart: "the saying may not be authentic", Johan Huizinga remarks, "but it teaches us what Froissart thought".
Beaumanoir commanded thirty Bretons, Bemborough a mixed force of twenty Englishmen (including Robert Knolles and Hugh Calveley), six German mercenaries and four Breton partisans of Montfort. It is unclear whether Bemborough himself was English or German. His name is spelled in many variant forms, and is given as "Brandebourch" by Froissart, and also appears as "Bembro". His first name is sometimes given as Robert, sometimes as Richard. Both Le Bel and Froissart say he was a German knight, but historians have doubted this. All the Blois-faction knights can be identifed, though Jean de Beaumanoir's given name is "Robert" in some versions. The names and identities of the Montforists are much more confused and uncertain.
Combat des Trente: an illumination in the Compillation des cronicques et ystoires des Bretons (1480), of Pierre Le Baud. The two strongholds of Ploërmel and Josselin are fancifully depicted within sight of eachother.
The battle, fought with swords, daggers, spears, and axes, mounted or on foot, was of the most desperate character, in its details very reminiscent of the last fight of the Burgundians in the Nibelungenlied, especially in the celebrated advice of Geoffroy du Bois to his wounded leader, who was asking for water: "Drink thy blood, Beaumanoir; thy thirst will pass" (Bois ton sang, Beaumanoir, la soif te passera).
According to Froissart, the battle was fought with great gallantry on both sides. After several hours of fighting there were four dead on the French side and two on the English side. Both sides were exhausted and agreed to a break for refreshments and bandaging of injuries. After the battle resumed, the English leader Bemborough was wounded and then killed, apparently by du Bois. At this point the English faction formed a tight defensive body, which the French repeatedly attacked. A German soldier called Croquart is said to have displayed the greatest prowess in rallying the Anglo-Breton defence.
In the end, the victory was decided by Guillaume de Montauban, a squire who mounted his horse and rode into the English line, breaking it. He overthrew seven of the English champions, the rest being forced to surrender. All the combatants on either side were either dead or seriously wounded, with nine on the English side slain. The prisoners were well treated and released on payment of a small ransom.
Statue of Jean de Beaumanoir in Dinan, representing him as a heroic figure
While the combat did not have any effect on the outcome of the Breton war of succession, it was considered by contemporaries to be an example of the finest chivalry. It was sung by trouvères, retold in the chronicles of Froissart and largely admired, and honoured in verse and the visual arts. A commemorative stone was placed at the site of the combat situated between Josselin and Ploermel. The renown attached to those who participated was such that twenty years later, Jean Froissart noticed a scarred survivor, Yves Charruel, at the table of Charles V, where he was honoured above all others due to having been one of the Thirty.
According to historian Steven Muhlberger, this chivalric version concentrates on "how the deed was done and not on who won. The willingness of all concerned to agree to rules and to actually observe them, to fight their best and not to run when injured or in danger of capture are the focus - and both sides are shown as equally worthy in that respect."
the combat came to be seen in very different terms, influenced by the most
famous of the contemporary popular ballads on the topic. In this version the
English knights are villains, and the
Though the combat had much less significance for the English, the fact that it was won because one combatant mounted a horse to break the Anglo-Breton line was later portrayed as evidence that the Franco-Bretons cheated. Edward Smedley's History of France (1836) states that the manoeuvre "wears some appearance of treachery". This version was fictionalised by Arthur Conan Doyle in his historical novel Sir Nigel, in which Bemborough (called Richard of Bambro' in the novel) accepts the rules of the challenge in a chivalric spirit, but the Franco-Bretons only win because Montauban, portrayed as Beaumanoir's squire, mounts his horse, when the conflict was supposed to be on foot, and rides upon the English trampling them.
A free English translation in verse of the ballad was written by Harrison Ainsworth, who gives the name of the English leader as "Sir Robert Pembroke". He is fancifully portrayed as the overall English leader after the death of Thomas Dagworth. Ainsworth argued that "Bembro" was originally "Pembroke" on the grounds that the Breton language version of the name was "Pennbrock". "Penn brock" means "badger head" in Breton, which had become a derogatory nickname for Bemborough in Breton ballads.
† indicates that the combatant was killed. The English side lost nine killed in total and the remainder captured. The Franco-Breton side lost at least three and probably more. A number of them were captured during the fighting, but were released at the final outcome of the conflict.
Combat of the Thirty
(1351) in: John A. Wagner. Encyclopedia of the Hundred Years War. —
2. Jean Froissart's Chronicles Amiens ms. version.
3. Henry Raymond Brush, "La Bataille de Trente Anglois et de Trente Bretons", Modern Philology, Vol. 9, No. 4, Apr., 1912, PP.511-544
4. Pierre d'Hozier (ed), Pierre Le Baud, Histoire de Bretagne, avec les chroniques des maisons de Vitré et de Laval, Gervaise Alliot, 1638, p.310.
5. Froissart, Chroniques, ed. S. Luce, c. iv. pp. 45 and 110ff, and pp. 338–340.
6. Huizinga, The Waning of the Middle Ages (1919) 1924:59.
7. Muhlberger, Steven, "The Combat of the Thirty against Thirty", in L. J. Andrew Villalon, Donald J. Kagay (eds), The Hundred Years War (Part II): Different Vistas , BRILL, 2008 p.289-294.
French: "Ici le 27
mars 1351, trente Bretons, dont les noms suivent, combattirent pour la défense
du pauvre, du laboureur, de l'artisan et vainquirent des étrangers, que des
funestes divisions avaient amenés sur le sol de
Smedley's History of
10. Tom Taylor, Ballads and Songs of Brittany, Macmillain, 1865, p. 125.
11. Oddly, the poem which makes this combat legendary and names these knights lists 31 names for the English side.