This page is about the second battle of Conquereuil in 992
and not the first battle of Conquereuil in 981, which was a succession fight among
Bretons. In addition to a number of online sources, this page relies heavily on
Bernard Bachrach’s Fulk Nerra: the Neo-Roman Consul, 987-1040.
Early in his rule, Fulk III Nerra was not secure in his position. He had fluid borders on several sides and heavy obligations to Hugh Capet, the dynasticly new king of France. One troublesome frontier was his Breton border. Fulk was aligned with the count of Nantes, who had been killed when Conan of Rennes seized the city in 990 and declared himself duke of Brittany.In response Fulk marched to Nantes to recapture the city for the boy count of Nantes. The city had a double defense; an outer wall and an inner citadel. Fulk was successful in capturing the outer wall but not the citadel. He left the outer city in control of his forces and went to gather a larger troop, drawing on men from Poitiers, Anjou and Maine.
There was a somewhat back and forth movement on both sides.
While Fulk was away, Conan came to recapture the city. Now he set up a siege of
the outer wall, whose defenders were now allied with Fulk. These people now
found themselves between Conan’s troop in the citadel and his besieging army.
During this siege, Fulk returned and Conan realized he would be in an untenable
position if he was caught between the Nantes’ walls and an attacking army.
Conan and Fulk agreed to meet in open combat at Conquereuil, a small village to the north of Nantes. Agreed combat was not an uncommon arrangement in this era. This was a ‘judicial duel or trial by combat between two armies’ says Bachrach. (See the battle of Fontenoy for another agreed up combat.) Conan and his Bretons withdrew to Conquereuil and arrived before Fulk, having a shorter distance to travel. He left his force in control of the citadel, to wait for the outcome of this arranged meeting.
Map 1 gives offers an overview of the region. Conquereuil is circled in red and about 40 miles north of Nantes.
Placing this battlefield with precision is
difficult. Key is identifying 'la voie romaine' a number of sources
discuss. There are traces of the Roman road near le Grand Pont Viex SE
of Conquereuil. It continues to l'ancienne gare' to the NNW of
Conquereuil. IGN Carte Randonee 1221 O shows a location called 'la
Gare' adjacent to an old track that is on a straight line from le Grand
Pont View to Le Grand Fougeray, further north, also along the Roman road. A resident at le Fretay
pointed out la Gare as the site of the Roman road. Private
correspondence with Dr. Salmon-Legagneur also places the battle near
the Roman road.
Map 2 offers a
closer view of the area around Conquereuil and a likely path of the
Roman road, rising from le Grand Pont Viex at the lower end of the line
to la Gare at the top, where the modern D775 (brown line) crosses the
supposed route of the Roman road.
Conquereuil is just north of le Don.
Fulk, for his part, was a cautious general. He divided his force into two groups, one to attack and one to act as the reserve. Fulk was conscious of the fact that if he faced defeat he needed the ability to strategically withdraw so as to be able to fight again another day. He followed a similar strategy Pontlevoy in 1016.
The size of medieval armies is always hard to judge and contemporaries tended to wildly exaggerate. For example, Richer, in his Histoire de France, claimed Fulk had 20,000 men. A more likely estimate is 2- 3000 mounted troops and additional auxiliaries. Conan apparently had a smaller army. By the same token, different contemporaries describe the action differently. For example, Raoul Glaber has Conan initiating the fight (which doesn't make as much sense if he prepared a defensive battlefield) while Richer has Fulk initiating the conflict.Conan’s ruse worked. From Richer (Book II, 84) “Apres avoir prepare son piege et range son armee, il recourut a la ruse et declara qu’il resterait sur place sans chercher a attaquer les ennemis…. En voyent Conan qui ne bougeait pas et qui ne cherchait pas a quitter ses positions, Foulques, qui ignrait le piege, exhorta d’une manner presente ses homes a charger vigoureusement et a attacquer l’ennemi sans hesitation. Il leur dit de ne pas doubter la victoire … Le signal donne, les troupes s’elancement et, croyant le terrain solide, se rapprochent sans hesitation des fosses.”
Other descriptions have some of Fulk’s troops impetuously attack and he is obliged to follow. Regardless, the Angevins attacked and their charge stumbled when they blundered into the traps Conan had set. As the Angevin attack faulted, Conan’s army turned and attacked and it appeared Fulk would be vanquished. Fulk was unhorsed and his banner was lowered, signaling a withdrawal. The Bretons thought they had one the day, but now they were disorganized on the field while Fulk still had his reserve.
Conan died in this conflict. There are two distinct versions of how this happened. Richer says “Pendant que Foulques fuyait, Conan se retira dans un Buisson avec tres compagnons et deposa ses armes pour rafraichir avec l’air son corps echauffe. Un des adversaries, l’ayant vu, se precipita sur lui avec impetuosite et le transperca de son epee, ce qui procura la vistoire a Foulques.” Whether he died while out of his armour and by a surprise attack, as Richer recounts it, or was captured in battle and died as a result of having his hand deliberately cut off, as Glaber argues, is unclear.
In either case, after the initial rout of the Angevin forces, Fulk rallied them and brought the reserve into the conflict and defeated the Bretons. Casualty estimates are very vague. One suggestion is of a thousand deaths (on each side?) but it was apparently not the complete slaughter of the Breton army.Fulk returned to Nantes and completed the capture of the city. This victory secured his eastern frontier and continued to extend his influence. You can visit the Anjou page for more detail on Fulk and pictures of many of the fortifications he built during his rule.
"It is said that Conan had made use of a war trick of
covering with branches a ditch dug in
advance, in which the cavalry of Foulques had come to stumble. I attentively examined the places: it exists
in the moor of Conquereuc or Conquereuil, to a quarter of league to the east of
the town (about 1.5 miles) , a ditch developing south to the north, on a length
of 2000 to 2400 meters, alongside the western side of a Roman way, the edge of
which ones it is only to 20 meters. The
embankment is 15 feet from the base and 5 feet of current height; the trough is dug to the west for the most part … If
there is something true in the trick retrieved by the chronicles, Conan could
well have used this ditch, that appears me to have been constructed long time
before him, and well before the battle of 992.
For, given the ground level, a clayey bottom, if one was able to dig a
ditch able to let horses falter and hide this work under some leafy ones, it
does not make sense. The
color of yellow ochre of this clay and the huge silicon of the excavations
would have led to the recognition of the trick at more than a half league. It will have been necessary on the contrary,
to do it to succeed, that Conan, establishing the front of his line alongside
the old embankment and … dig a ditch of his side, to the foot of this
embankment, that will have robbed some of the view. One conceives while Foulques, coming sharply
has the attack, and wanting to cross the embankment, will have fallen again in
the ditch, when it believed to find a level land. This would explain how this embankment has a
double ditch; and one could believe that it is in the only part where this one
exists, that would have given itself (to the location of) the battle of
Foulques and of Conan."
Bachrach, B., Fulk Nerra: the Neo-Roman Consul, 987-1040
Salmon-Legagneur, E. private correspondence
The Insitut Culturel de Bretagne site of Les Batailles de l’Histoire
de Bretagne web site http://www.skoluhelarvro.org/culture-bretagne/batailles/detail.php?id=127
Richer, Histoire de France (885-995) Tome II