Hundred Years War

Truce of Malestroit
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1343 Jan 19

Truce of Malestroit

Malestroit, France

In late October 1342, Edward III arrived with his main army at Brest, and retook Vannes. He then moved east to besiege Rennes. A French army marched to engage him, but a major battle was averted when two cardinals arrived from Avignon in January 1343 and enforced a general truce, the Truce of Malestroit. Even with the truce in place, the war continued in Brittany until May 1345 when Edward eventually succeeded in taking control.

The official reason for such a long truce was to allow time for a peace conference and the negotiation of a lasting peace, but both countries also suffered from war exhaustion. In England the tax burden had been heavy and in addition the wool trade had been heavily manipulated. Edward III spent the next years slowly paying off his immense debt.

In France, Philip VI had financial difficulties of his own. France had no central institution with the authority to grant taxes for the whole country. Instead the Crown had to negotiate with the various provincial assemblies. In accordance with the ancient feudal customs, most of them refused to pay taxes while there was a truce. Instead Philip VI had to resort to manipulation of the coinage and he introduced two vastly unpopular taxes, first the 'fouage', or hearth tax, and then the 'gabelle', a tax on salt.

When there was a treaty or truce in place it left many a soldier unemployed, so rather than go back to a life of poverty they would band together in free companies or routiers. The routier companies consisted of men who principally came from Gascony but also from Brittany and other parts of France, Spain, Germany, and England. They would use their military training to live off the countryside robbing, looting, killing or torturing as they went to get supplies. With the Malestroit truce in force, bands of routiers became an increasing problem. They were well organised and would sometimes act as mercenaries for one or both sides. One tactic would be to seize a town or castle of local strategic importance. From this base they would plunder the surrounding areas until nothing of value remained, and then move on to places more ripe. Often they would hold towns to ransom who would pay them to go away. The routier problem was not solved until a system of taxation in the 15th century allowed for a regular army that employed the best of the routiers.

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