Jeanne de Clisson, known from history as the Lioness of Brittany, began life as a Breton noblewoman in 1300. Her parents arranged for her marriage at the age of 12 to the 19-year-old Geoffroy de Chateaubriant VIII. They had two children before he died prematurely in 1326.
She married again in 1328 to Guy of Penthievre, but this didn’t last long – the marriage was annulled in 1330 by Pope John XXII. Until her third marriage, Jeanne’s life was uneventful, but in 1330 she married Olivier de Clisson IV, a wealthy nobleman with lands in Blain, a castle in Clisson and a manor house in Nantes. They had a successful marriage, producing several children but trouble came during the Breton War of Succession.
The French choice for who should be the new Duke of Brittany was Charles de Blois, while the English choice was John de Montfort. This war formed an important part of the Hundred Years War between France and England. Jeanne and her husband (along with most of the Clisson family) supported the French choice, although Olivier’s brother Amaury supported de Montfort. In 1342 the English managed to capture Vannes on their fourth attempt, and Jeanne’s husband was captured along with the other military commanders. Olivier was the only one to be released, and was exchanged for an English nobleman, Ralph, 1st Earl of Stafford and for a small sum of money. That he was the only one released, and for such a small sum of money raised suspicions in the French camp that de Clisson had not defended the city properly on purpose.
At the Treaty of Malestroit in 1343, de Clisson and 15 other Bretons were invited to a tournament in France to celebrate the treaty. It was a trap, Olivier was arrested, tried and beheaded as a traitor. When Jeanne heard the news she was furious, and swore vengeance on the King of France, Phillip VI and Charles de Blois. Jeanne‚Äôs next steps show her to be a formidable woman who meant vengeance when she said it.
She sold the Clisson estates, raised an army and started attacking the French forces in Brittany. Next, with the help of the English king and nobles in Brittany who sympathised with her, she purchased 3 warships and had them painted black and fitted with red sails, naming her flagship ‘My Revenge’. Over the next 13 years she was a pirate in the English channel, attacking French ships and killing most of the crew, leaving a few alive to spread the word of her revenge. It was at this point¬†she became known as the ‘Lioness of Brittany’.
Eventually, her flagship was sunk, and for 5 days she was cast adrift with her 2 sons by Olivier; Guillaume and Olivier. Sadly Guillaume died during this time, but Jeanne and Olivier were found alive and rescued by de Montfort supporters. In 1356 Jeanne married for the fourth time, to an English military deputy of Edward III, Sir Walter Bentley. After over a decade of piracy, she settled down in de Montfort territory in Brittany. She died 3 years later.
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