By Kimberly Ison
What’s that old quote about a woman scorned? Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. Well, that quote pretty much sums up the bad-assery that was an enraged French woman named Jeanne de Clisson, AKA The Lioness of Brittany.
She had her ships painted black and dyed their sails red to intimidate her enemy, earning the title “The Black Fleet”.
Jeanne de Clisson was born into an affluent French family in 1300 and spent most of her life as a noblewoman. Jeanne married Olivier de Clisson, who was an important Breton noble that spent years in service defending Brittany against the English. When the Duke of Brittany died with no male heir in 1341, both King Edward III of England and Phillip VI of France saw an opportunity.
Brittany lay between their kingdoms and would provide either a useful foothold or buffer to invasion. This issue, combined with King Edward’s claim to French territories and to the crown itself, formed the basis of the Hundred Years War. (Lesson within a lesson, I’m good).
Jeanne’s husband Olivier’s loyalty to the French cause was beginning to come in to question by a few high ranking French officials. Rumors spread that he pulled a Benedict Arnold and switched to the side of the English.
Jeanne and her crews were merciless. They would murder an entire enemy ship’s crew except for only one or two men, so that they could carry news to the king that she had struck again.
On the order of the French King, Olivier was captured, tried with treason, and executed; with his head being put on display. Jeanne, enraged and bewildered over her husband’s execution, swore vengeance against both the King and his main informant Charles de Blois.
First thing Jeanne de Clisson did, was sell off her remaining lands and raise a small, loyal army with which she attacked the French. When her situation became too dangerous on land, she purchased three warships and took to the seas.
She had her ships painted black and dyed their sails red to intimidate her enemy, earning the title “The Black Fleet”. The ships of the Black Fleet patrolled the English Channel for French ships, especially those owned by King Phillip and members of the French nobility.
Jeanne and her crews were merciless. They would murder an entire enemy ship’s crew except for only one or two men, so that they could carry news to the king that she had struck again. This earned Jeanne the epithet, “The Lioness of Brittany”.
In her efforts to keep the English Channel completely free of French ships, she formed an alliance with the English, laundering supplies to their soldiers for battles. She continued her work as a pirate even after the death of her enemy, King Philip VI, in 1350.
Jeanne remained vigilant in her revenge for thirteen years. When she finally ended her quest it was not due to capture, it was due to love. Jeanne met and fell in love with British nobleman Sir Walter Brentley, they were married in 1356 and settled into a quiet life in the Castle of Hennebont in France.
It should be noted that actual verifiable references relating to Jeanne’s life and exploits are limited, though they do exist. Historical records include a French judgement of late 1343 condemning Jeanne as a traitor and ordering the confiscation of her lands.
In 1345, records from the English court indicate Edward granted her an income from lands he controlled in Brittany and she is mentioned in a truce drawn up between France and England in 1347 as a valuable English ally. There is also a 15 th century manuscript, known as the Chronographia Regnum Francorum, which confirms some of the details of her life.
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