The havoc she wreaked

A caricature of de Clisson’s naval battles

Jeanne de Clisson (1300—1359 CE) was born in Brittany as Jeanne de Belleville, the daughter of an aristocrat. Her father was Maurice IV de Belleville-Montaigu and her mother was Jeanne-Louise de Belleville. In 1312 she married Geoffrey de Châteaubriant, and had two children by him. He died in 1326. Four years later she married Oliver III de Clisson, a wealthy landowner. They were good friends before their marriage and she had five children by him. In 1342, de Clisson joined Charles de Blois in his war against the House of Montfort. De Clisson defected later to the English, who were Montfort allies, causing his arrest at a tournament in 1343, and his trial and execution on August 2nd later that year. Philip VI, King of France, ordered that de Clisson’s head be displayed outside a castle in Nantes. This enraged Jeanne, who didn’t believe that her husband deserved to be executed, and she swore revenge on both the King and Charles de Blois. She sold the remains of de Clisson’s lands in order to purchase three warships and the aid of Bretton nobles and commoners. She had her ships painted black, earning the title “The Black Fleet”.

The ships of the Black Fleet flew red sails and patrolled the English Channel for French ships. For the next seven years, they hunted the King’s ships and de Blois’s ships specifically, killing all but a few men in order to send messages to their masters. This earned Jeanne the epithet, “The Lioness of Brittany”. Her efforts helped 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, Philip VI, in 1350.

After ruling the seas for 13 years, Jeanne settled down in England, and married Sir Walter Bentley in 1356. Sometime before her death in 1359, Jeanne returned to France and lived in the Castle of Hennebont, which was a territory of her Montfort allies.