Jeanne de Clisson
|Some or all of this article's listed sources may not be reliable. (April 2013)|
|Jeanne de Clisson|
|— Pirate —|
|Nickname||Lioness of Brittany|
|Base of operations||English Channel|
Early life and family
She was born Jeanne-Louise de Belleville, Dame de Montaigu, the daughter of Maurice IV of Belleville-Montaigu and Létice de Parthenay, in 1300. At the age of 12, she was married to 19-year-old Geoffrey de Châteaubriant, by whom she had two children, Louise and Geoffrey. In 1326, the marriage ended with the death of Châteaubriant. Four years later, in 1330, Jeanne married her second husband, Olivier III de Clisson. This union was an especially close one; Olivier and Jeanne were of an age and seemingly content, as they had five children together: Maurice, Guillaume, Olivier, Isabeau (died 1343) and Jeanne. Olivier was also a wealthy nobleman, holding a castle at Clisson, a manor house in Nantes and lands at Blain; in 1342 he joined Charles de Blois in defending Brittany against the English claimants, and the forces of English sympathiser John de Montfort.
Olivier III de Clisson's betrayal
During the Breton War of Succession, Olivier came under suspicion and criticism from Charles de Blois for failing to hold Vannes against the English forces, and so he defected to the English side. In the summer of 1343, while he was attending a tourney in French territory, Olivier was arrested and taken to Paris for trial. Fifteen of his peers, including his putative friend Charles de Blois, found him guilty of treason and on 2 August 1343, he was executed by beheading at Les Halles, on the orders of King Philip VI. Olivier's head was then sent to Nantes and displayed on a pole outside the castle of Bouffay. Jeanne de Clisson, enraged and bewildered over her husband's execution, swore revenge on the King, and Charles de Blois in particular. She sold off the remnants of the Clisson lands, and sold her bodily services to noblemen, to raise money, whereupon she bought three warships, and the aid of many of the lords and people of Brittany to ensure their independence.
The ships that Clisson purchased were painted all black on her command, and the sails dyed red. The 'Black Fleet' took to the waters and began hunting down and destroying the ships of King Philip VI, and were merciless with the crews. But Clisson would always leave two or three of Philip's sailors alive, so that the message would get back to the King that the “Lioness of Brittany” had struck once again. Jeanne and her fleet also assisted in keeping the English Channel free of French warships, and it is very likely that as a privateer she had a hand in keeping supplies available to the English forces for the Battle of Crécy in 1346. When King Philip VI died in 1350, it was not the end to Jeanne's revenge. She continued to wreak havoc among French shipping, and it was reported that she took particular joy in hunting down and capturing the ships of French noblemen, as long as they were aboard. She would then personally behead the aristocrats with an axe, tossing their lifeless bodies overboard.
In 1356, after 13 years of piracy, Clisson took refuge in England and married Sir Walter Bentley, a lieutenant to the English King Edward III during the fighting against Charles de Blois. She later returned to France, but resided in Hennebont as Blain was closed to her and the lands given to Louis de Poitiers after Olivier III's execution. Her son Olivier later returned to Brittany and fought in the War of Breton Succession.
Jeanne de Clisson is said to have died in 1359.
Notes and references
- John de Montfort's wife, Jeanne de Montfort, also took to the sea to combat the French alongside the English Navy. Nicknamed “The Flame” due to stories about her carrying a flaming sword into battle, she is sometimes confused with the Lioness of Brittany.