Biography: Jeanne de Clisson

I recently found out about Jeanne de Clisson, when someone on Twitter said that Taylor Swift was the most badass woman of all time. Someone else replied by mentioning Jeanne de Clisson, and some of her deeds, so I looked it up. Wow. Such a cool story. So now I shall share it with you.

Jeanne de Clisson’s story is a bit difficult to tell, because she lived in the 1300s. Some of her history is known, and a lot of it is legend. Still, there’s more historical evidence that she existed than Jesus.

Born to nobility in 1300 in France, Jeanne de Belleville was married to Geoffrey de Châteaubriant VIII at the age of 12. During their 14 year marriage, they had two children, Geoffrey IX and Louise. Two years after her husband’s death, Jeanne remarried Guy of Penthièvre, but the Pope annulled it in 1330. That same year, she married Olivier de Clisson IV of Brittany (now part of France). They had five children, Isabeau, Maurice, Olivier V, Guillaume, and Jeanne.

During the Breton war for Secession, the de Clissons sided with France, who wanted Charles de Blois. The Hundred Year’s War had recently started, so England and France were against each other. Brittany was a buffer country between France and England, so both sides wanted it. France wanted a buffer in case of English attack, and England wanted it to make invasion easier. The English choice, John de Montfort, quickly invaded, and captured Jeanne’s husband.

Exchanged for a French prisoner, Ralph de Stafford, Olivier was released. His freedom didn’t last, however. Charles de Blois convinced the French King, Philip the VI, that de Clisson was a traitor, which was why his exchange was so… “reasonable”…

Under the guise of a celebration of the Malestroit Truce, de Clisson and some other Bretons were invited to France, where he was quickly arrested and sent to Paris. There, in 1343, he was beheaded for treason, and his head was sent back to Brittany and set on a pike as a warning to other would-be traitors.

This is where the story gets awesome. Jeanne was so outraged at this, that she swore revenge against King Philip VI and Charles de Blois. She sold everything she had, and raised an army of loyal Bretons. She and her band of merry men attacked French outposts and castles. She massacred entire garrisons. She always, however, left one or two men alive, so that they could tell the King what had happened and who had done it. Isn’t that just like a woman?

The land battles became too difficult, so she went to England, where the English King, Edward III, who was more than happy to help fuck with Philip VI, gave her three warships, which she painted black with red sails. Her main ship, she called My Revenge, after her oath.

Jeanne and her Black Fleet roamed the English Channel, and hunted anything loyal or in service to, King Philip or France. She raided villages, sank ships, and pillaged.  She and her men would kill entire crews and towns. Save, of course, for the one or two witnesses. She would personally behead any French nobility she could find… with an axe. This earned her the name, The Lioness of Brittany.

She and her pirates patrolled the Channel for 13 years. The same year as her husband’s death, she was also declared a traitor. By 1347, in the Treaty of Calais, she was mentioned as an English Ally. Yeah. She was mentioned in the Treaty. Now, ladies and gentlemen, you may claim to love your partner. But are you “become a motherfucking pirate to avenge them” in love? I think not.

At some point, My Revenge was sunk, and she and her two children she had with her had to row for five days. One child, Guillaume died from thirst, cold, and exhaustion. Finally, she and her surviving son, Olivier, were rescued by the English.

According to my math, Guillaume was 7 or 8 when he died, which would mean that My Revenge sunk around 1346. That means that she continued her piracy for another 10 years.

In 1356, for no known reason, she rejoined the landlubbers, and married one of King Edward’s deputies, Sir. Walter Bentley, and lived at the Castle of Hennebont, in English occupied Brittany. She died in 1359. The source of her anguish, Charles de Blois, died in 1365. King Philip VI died in 1350. Her son, Olivier V, went on to serve the English and was nicknamed “The Butcher”, but switched to the French side in 1360. He eventually became Constable of France. He died in 1407.

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