Joanna of Flanders seeing English ships during the Siege of Hennebont

Joanna of Flanders seeing English ships during the Siege of Hennebont

Joanna of Flanders (c. 1295—c.1374 CE), also known as Jeanne la Flamme and Jeanne de Montfort, was a Bretton noblewoman who fought at the beginning of the Hundred Years War. She was the daughter of Louis I, Count of Nevers and Joan, Countess of Rethel. Her brother was Louis I, Count of Flanders. In 1329 she married John of Montfort, the Duke of Brittany and had two children by him, John and Joan. Unfortunately, due to some inconsistencies in the will of John III, the previous Duke of Brittany, there were discrepancies about who was the rightful Duke. The succession was split between the House of Montfort and the House of Blois. Philip IV, King of France, supported Charles de Blois’s claim, which he got through his wife, the niece and named heir of the previous Duke. When John IV did not agree, he was imprisoned by the King and de Blois.

At this, Joanna declared her son, who was still just a child, the leader of the Montfort faction. She raised an army and captured Redon. After this, she returned to Hennebont Castle to prepare it for an expected siege from Charles de Blois. To do so, she sent an emissary to Edward III of England, asking him for aid. As he had long considered himself as the rightful King of France, he agreed, knowing it would be wise to have so powerful an ally as the Duchy of Brittany.

During the Siege of Hennebont, Joanna took up arms and kept up the defenses. When she saw that de Blois had left his camp mostly unguarded, she quickly gathered 300 of her men. They rode out, burned supplies and destroyed tents. This earned Joanna the epithet, “Jeanne la Flamme”, or “Fiery Joan”. When the Blois army realized what was happening, they cut Joanna and her troops off from their retreat. Instead, they rode to Brest, where they gathered support. She secretly returned to Hennebont later.

As the people of Hennebont were starving, the Bishop of Leon tried to persuade Joanna to surrender to Charles de Blois. She refused, and was rewarded when she saw English ships out in the harbor courtesy of Edward III. Charles de Blois was forced to retreat for the moment. Knowing that he and his forces would return, Joanna sailed to England for more reinforcements. On the way back, they were intercepted by Spanish ships, as Louis of Spain had allied himself with Charles de Blois. In the accounts of the naval battles and warfare, Joanna fought fiercely with a glaive. The English and Joanna were victorious in this fight, and they sailed to Vannes. After taking the city, Joanna laid siege on Rennes. As neither side was victorious after a long siege, a truce was made in 1343. Joanna’s husband, John IV, was released. He died in 1345.

War broke out again, as John V, Joanna’s son, was still young and easily usurped. The English had allied themselves completely with the House of Montfort, and they captured Charles de Blois in 1347, in the name of Joanna. At that point, Joanna and her son had taken refuge in England. The war continued until 1364, when the House of Montfort was victorious, and John V was named the rightful Duke of Brittany. Unfortunately, Joanna had contracted a serious mental illness, and was in confinement in England. She never returned to France and died in 1374.

Legacy: She was celebrated in folklore and literature. She was a possible influence and inspiration for Jeanne d’Arc (which may not be true, as they were on opposing sides.) She was certainly an influence on the women’s movement during the Victorian Era.