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Peter of Dreux

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Peter of Dreux

Peter I
Duke of Brittany
Earl of Richmond and Lord of Machecoul

jure uxoris Duke of Brittany
Reign 1213–1221 (as duke)
1221–1237 (as regent)
Predecessor Alix
Successor John I
Co-ruler Alix
Spouse Alix, Duchess of Brittany
Margaret of Commequiers
John I, Duke of Brittany
Yolande, Countess of Penthrièvre
Oliver I of Machecoul
House House of Dreux
Father Robert II, Count of Dreux
Mother Yolande de Coucy
Born c. 1190
Died 6 July 1250 (aged 59–60)
Religion Roman Catholicism

Pierre Mauclerc (literally Bad-clerk[1]) (c. 1190 – 6 July 1250), also known as Peter of Dreux or Pierre de Dreux, was duke of Brittany jure uxoris from 1213 to 1221, then regent of the duchy (for his minor son) from 1221 to 1237 as well as Earl of Richmond from 1219 to 1235.


He was the second son of Robert II, Count of Dreux. The latter was in turn the son of Robert I of Dreux, a younger brother of Louis VII of France. Pierre was thus descended from the Capetian dynasty, and was a second cousin of Louis VIII of France.

Despite being of royal descent, as the younger son of a cadet branch Pierre's early prospects were that of a minor noble, with a few scattered fiefs in the Île-de-France and Champagne. He was initially destined for a career in the clergy, which he later renounced, earning him the nickname Mauclerc (French: mauvais clerc, bad-cleric). He broke the convention of ecclesiastical heraldry by placing on the canton of his paternal arms the ermine, then reserved for the clergy.

In 1212 King Philip II of France needed to find a weak and faithful ruler for Brittany. The duchy lay athwart the sea lanes between England and the English territories in Gascony. Furthermore it bordered on Anjou and Normandy, which the English had lost ten or twelve years before and were eager to recover. It was being ruled with less than a strong hand by Guy of Thouars, as regent for his young daughter Alix. Also worrisome was that Alix's older half-sister Eleanor, Fair Maid of Brittany was in an English prison.

And so King Philip broke off the betrothal of Alix and the Breton prince Henry of Penthièvre, and turned to his French cousin Pierre, then in his early twenties. Pierre married Alix, and on 27 January 1213, paid homage to the king for Brittany.

There is some ambiguity regarding whether Pierre should be considered duke or count. The duchy was legally held by his wife. King and Pope (and their courts) always addressed him as "count", but Pierre in his own charters used "duke" by de jure uxoris.

In 1214 King John of England had assembled a formidable coalition against the French. He landed in Poitou while King Otto of Germany prepared to invade from the north. John chased off some French forces in the north of Poitou, and then moved to the southern edge of Brittany, opposite Nantes. Pierre drove him off after a brief skirmish but did nothing to hinder John's subsequent movement up the Loire valley where he took a few Breton fortresses and then besieged La Roche-aux-Moines. John's Poitevin vassals, however, refused to fight against a French force led by Prince Louis (later Louis VIII of France). Meanwhile, Otto's army was crushed at Bouvines, and the entire invasion foundered.

It is not clear why John attempted to capture Nantes/Naoned, even less why he would do so the hardest way, via the very well-defended bridge across the Loire. Nor is it clear why Pierre declined to harass his forces from the rear as John marched east. A likely explanation is that the two had come to some sort of agreement whereby John would leave Brittany alone for the moment, and in return the Bretons would not hinder him elsewhere.

John had a prize he could dangle in front of Pierre: the Earldom of Richmond. This great English honour (land) had traditionally been held by the dukes of Brittany, and in fact a constant theme in Pierre's political affairs was the desire to hold and retain the English revenues from Richmond.

Pierre did not yield to King John's offers to accept the earldom and take up the King's side in his conflicts with the English barons, probably because he deemed the King's prospects too uncertain. Moreover, Prince Louis was again fighting against the English. But when Louis was defeated, Pierre was sent as one of the negotiators for a peace treaty. After the negotiations were completed (in 1218), William Marshal, the regent for the young Henry III of England, recognized Pierre as Earl of Richmond. The center of the earldom's properties in Yorkshire was in the hands of the Earl of Chester, whom the regent could not afford to antagonize, but Pierre did receive the properties of the earldom outside of Yorkshire, which in fact generated the bulk of the earldom's income. In 1219 he participated in the capture of Marmande and the Siege of Toulouse during the Albigensian Crusade.

While the negotiations were slowly proceeding, Pierre turned his attention to his next goal. The authority of the dukes of Brittany had traditionally been weak, in comparison to the great peers of northern France. For example, the duke could not limit the building of castles by his counts. Nor did he have the right to guardianship of minor heirs of his vassals. Pierre aimed to re-establish his relationship with his vassals (or subjects) more along the lines of what he knew from the Capetian royal court.

To that end Peter simply declared new rules by fiat, and then faced the inevitable turmoil that resulted from the reaction of his barons. There followed a series of small civil wars and political maneuverings. In 1222 he suppressed a revolt by Breton barons in the Battle of Châteaubriant. By 1223, the barons had all acquiesced to the changes or been dispossessed.

The six Breton bishops were the other threat to the ducal power, for they had substantial landholdings (including control of all or part of the few cities in Brittany), and were recalcitrant in the face of Pierre's attempts to raise revenues by increasing taxes or simply taking possession of episcopal holdings. For this he was excommunicated for a time in 1219–1221. Pierre submitted in the end, but this was not to be the last of his conflict with the bishops.

Pierre's wife Duchess Alix died on 21 October 1221, leaving behind four young children. She was then only 21, and little is known about her beyond the basic genealogical facts.

Her death meant that Pierre was no longer duke, although he continued to rule the Duchy with undiminished authority, as regent for his son John, then a boy of four or so.

Alix's death changed Pierre's goals in two ways. First, he aimed to acquire some additional territory, not part of the Duchy, to augment his retirement after his son came of age. Second, there was a strong tradition in France that a minor heir should, when coming of age, have his property in the state it was in when he inherited it. Thus Pierre could not now take some risks without fear of harming the prospects of his son.

Pierre helped Louis VIII the Lion in his fight against Henry III of England (in the sieges of Niort and La Rochelle in 1224). He also accompanied Louis VIII by joining the Albigensian Crusade, but with the latter's death, he participated, with Theobald, Count of Champagne and Hugh of Lusignan, Count of La Marche, in rebellions against the regent Blanche of Castile, between 1227 and 1234.[2]

Pierre's son John reached the age of majority in 1237. Pierre Mauclerc was then called "Pierre Braine" and went to fight in the Holy Land in 1240. Back in France, he won some success against the English sea in 1242 and 1243.

In 1249, he participated in the Egyptian crusade of King Louis IX. He died at the sea before he was able to return home. He was buried in Braine.

Marriages and children

Peter was married three times.

His first wife was Alix of Thouars, Duchess of Brittany (1201-1221). Alix and Peter had three children:

  • John I (to 1217-1286), duke of Brittany;
  • Yolande of Brittany (1218-10/10/1272), married (January 1236) to Hugh XI of Lusignan, Seigneur de Lusignan, Count of la Marche and Angoulême
  • Arthur of Brittany (1220-1224)
  • unnamed.

His second wife was Nicole († February 1232). Nicole and Peter had a son:

  • Oliver de Braine (1231-1279), who inherited the Lordship of Machecoul (became Oliver I of Machecoul and founded the Machecoul branch of the House of Dreux).

His third wife was Marguerite de Montaigu, Lady of Montaigu, Commequiers, La Garnache then Machecoul , and widow of Hugh I de Thouars († 1230), a brother to Guy of Thouars; this made Marguerite a paternal line aunt of Alix. They married by 1236, and had no issue.



Further reading


Peter I, Duke of Brittany
Cadet branch of the Capetian Dynasty
Born: circa 1190 Died: 6 July 1250
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Duke of Brittany jure uxoris
with Alix
Succeeded by
John I
Preceded by
Margaret of Commequiers
Lord of Machecoul jure uxoris
with Margaret of Commequiers
Succeeded by
Oliver I of Machecoul
Peerage of England
Title last held by
Arthur I thru 1203
and thereafter nominally by the imprisoned Eleanor
Earl of Richmond
Title next held by
Peter of Savoy
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