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Pencil portrait, heightened with colour, Le sr. de lanoue(Musée Condé, Chantilly)

Charles de Cossé, comte de Brissac (1505 (O.S.)/06 — 1563), was a French courtier-soldier, named beau Brissac at court and remembered as the Maréchal Brissac. A member of the nobility of Anjou, he was appointed in 1540 to his father's prestigious former post of Grand Falconer of France, one of the Great Officers of the Maison du Roi, and not purely honorary, as the king still hunted with falcons. Brissac was as well Grand Panetier. His position as colonel general of the cavalry (1548–49) was also a court appointment. Raised to Marshal (1550) he was also Grand Master of the Artillery.


The son of René de Cossé, seigneur of Brissac and of Cossé in Anjou, grand fauconnier du Roi, and of his wife Charlotte de Gouffier, he was an enfant d'honneur in the household of the dauphin François, son of François I; the young prince made him his premier écuyer.

Not robust by nature, he made himself an agile swordsman and horseman. Sent to the siege of Naples in 1528, he made a name for himself when his forces being attacked by the Spanish upon embarking from the galleys, he was forced back to the shore's edge: there, helmetless and without his cuirass, afoot, sword in hand, he made prisoner the armed knight on horseback who attacked him. Later he commanded a hundred light cavalry at the taking of Avigliana and at the castle of Susa in 1537.

Grand fauconnier de France since 1540, in 1542, he was named colonel général des gens de guerre français, à pied, de là les monts At the siege of Perpignan, fighting under the new Dauphin (later {Henri II) he covered himself with glory when the besieged forces surprised the unwary young nobles engaged in gaming in the dauphin's tent, defended the pieces of artillery until the infantry regrouped and relieved him.

As colonel general he was in command of all the light cavalry in Piedmont in 1543 and that same year followed the king to Flanders, where he took 600 prisoners; in the following retreat of Hapsburg forces and their allies, he took prisoner Francesco d'Este, brother of the Duke of Ferrara. In the return to France, he took the exposed position of rear guard at great personal danger.

In 1544, with his light cavalry he was sent to harass Imperial forces at Vitry-en-Perthois, was twice taken prisoner and twice rescued by his troops. The following year he Oye in the Boulonnais. Following the peace that was agreed in 1546 he was made Grand Master of Artillery.

In the Italian War of 1551–1559, as Maréchal de France (1550) Brissac was sent as governor to French-occupied Piedmont, where he distinguished himself by the strict discipline kept in the occupying army, maintained in fighting trim by regular military exercises and forbidden to harass peasant, merchant or bourgeois, which was considered remarkable at the time.

Pencil portrait, heightened with colour, c 1550 (Musée Condé, Chantilly)

In 1551 Brissac established himself at Chieri and several other Piedmontese cities, obliging Gonzaga to raise the siege of Parma. In 1553 he took Vercelli, and pillaged the treasury of Charles III, Duke of Savoy, which had been transported there as an impregnable place of safety. Though he was unable to take the citadel for lack of cannon, the energetic presence of Brissac in Piedmont forced the Duke to reinforcee his garrisons, weakening his forces in the field, as Brissac hoped. Perennially short of cash from the king of France, Brissac held his troops together through the force of their loyalty to him. In 1554, he occupied the hilly district of Langhe and finished his campaign with the conquest of Ivrea, which opened a route for the auxiliary Swiss forces. In 1555 by a daring move, he surprised and took Casale, where the nobles of the Imperial forces, gathered for a festive tourney, had barely time to fortify themselves in the citadel. Brissac, forbidding his troops to pillage the city, secured the capitulation of the fortress and all its armaments, and paid his soldiers through the ransom of their captives. Henri II made a present of his own sword to Brissac.

These and other episodes of his military role were recounted by François de Boivin.[1]

His portrait, attributed to Corneille de Lyon is conserved in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.[2]

His son, also named Charles, headed forces loyal to the Catholic League during the French Wars of Religion.


  1. Boivin, Mémoires sur les guerres meslees tant en Piedmont, qu'au Montferrat et Duché de Milan par Charles de Cossé, comte de Brissac (Paris, 1607), which, in spite of some drawbacks, is valuable as the testimony of an eye-witness of the Italian War of 1551–1559.
  2. Metropolitan Museum of Art: Charles de Cossé (1506–1563), Comte de Brissac

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