The Story of Mont Saint-Michel in the Hundred Years' War
Following the defeats at Crécy abd Poitiers, Charles V began a comeback for France with the help of Du Guesclin. The Breton knight was the captain of the Mont Saint- Michel when he left for Spain. His wife, Tiphaine Ragenel, lived in a house built at the top of the town, undertaking good works and practicing astrology.
Charles VI visited the abbey and made abbot Pierre le Roi his counsellor. He immediatley began to fortify the abbey. He defended the entrance by building towers, successive courtyards, and ramparts, thereby creating a veritable fort together with its 'barbican'. He completed living quarters on the south side. These were reserved for the abbot and for administration.
Normandy fell into English hands in 1415-1417 [following the defeat at Agincourt]. The region was govered by duke Bedford, brother of Henry V. Bedfort succeeded in winning a number of Norman personalities to his cause. One was the abbot of Mont Saint-Michel, Robert Jolivet, Pierre le Roi's successor. Jolivet became Bedford's counsellor.
The monks refused to support the treasonous abbot. The original French Norman knights who had been dispossed of their lands sought refuge at Mont Saint-Michel and stayed faithful to the Valois cause. The Romanesque chancel at the Mont collapsed, and could not be rebuilt due to the war. One of the Mont's captains died in combat; the small island of Tombelaine fell into English hands. But Mont Saint-Michel defied the English.
During these troubled times, the rather disorderly 'Shepherd's Crusade', that began in Cologne, Germany, passed through Mont Saint-Michel. Even in those trying times, the site remained one of the most important shrines in France.
The English made one of their most determined assaults on Mont Saint-Michel beginning in 1424. News of Mont Saint-Michel's heroric defense spread wide and gave hope to the French loyal to their rightful king. No one was more influenced by the story than the girl in Lorraine, Jeanne d'Arc. Most of the authors attrubute the dominant role of Saint Michael in her visions as derived from hearing about the valient defense of the fortress-abby. One might note that Jeanne d'Arc began to hear voices in 1423, in 1425 they gave her specific directions, in 1428 she made her first attempt to go to the king.
The English took up positions around the bay. They build small wooden forts called 'bastilles' [as at Orléans in 1428-29] at Ardevon, in front of the Mont. These were to meet possible attacks from the defenders, and to keep guard over the shore.
Finally, a flotilla arrived to complete the English blockade from the sea. However, some Breton noblemen commanded an expedition from Saint Malo (to the west), skillfully attacked the English ships, and dispersed the English fleet. This naval victory enabled the Mont to receive provisions by sea, and caused the English siege to fail.
Charles VII put a very able captain, Louis d'Estouteville, in charge of the Mont's garrison. D'Estouteville ended to the poor discpline in the abbey which had developed due to the war-time conditions. These reforms enable the citadel to withstand the last and most severe English attack in 1433. A fire broke out in the town and destroyed wooden houses and the ramparts. The English tried to take advantage of this destruction by a massive assault. Their artillery managed to breach the walls and partly enter the town. However, the English were forced to withdraw, leaving many dead and two cannon [small, wrought-iron 'bombards'], known as les Michelettes. These are displayed at the outter defense walls.
The Battle of Formigny (1450) destroyed the last formal English army in Normandy, and eventually led to the complete reconquest of Normandy by Charles VII. [See Battle of Formigny (15 April 1450).]