Ok, I hope you guys are ready, because today we’re embarking on one of my favourite bat-shit stories in history! We’ll be travelling to 14th century France to meet a lady who took the term ‘woman scorned‘ and ran way past the line with it. Going from a rich noble-born, to making a name for herself as both Frances’ number one enemy and a fearless swashbuckling pirate! Ready? Let’s get to it then:
Born in Brittany, France, in 1300 to wealthy titled parents, Maurice IV of Belleville-Montaigu and Létice de Parthenay, the story of Jeanne De Clisson starts off as that of your average 14th century noble born woman. And by that I of course mean that Jeanne was married off at 12 (wasn’t the past great!?).
She lived her life how a well behaved noble lady was expected to. Popping out babies and re-marrying other rich influential men when her husbands died. So far so standard.
By the time Jeanne reached her thirties she was onto marriage number three, to noble, Oliver De Clission. But Jeanne and Oliver’s marriage was actually incredibly unique for this era. You see, they actually loved each other!
Unsurprisingly with people being married off purely based on how it would help build up a families wealth and titles, true ‘love matches’ were few and far between. Luckily, Jeanne and Oliver were the exception to that rule.
Together, they lived together in a blissful bubble. Having five children and flitting between their family castle and manor, with little to no drama’s occurring. Life was perfect.
That is, until war tore their world apart
In 1337 France and England were at each others throats, fighting for the right to rule over France. You see, ten years earlier, French king, Charles VI had died without leaving a clear heir, meaning the crown was anyone’s to grab (if you could come up with a decent claim for it!). To make things even worse, this wasn’t your usual battle for power. Oh no. This went on so long that it became known as the ‘hundred year war’.
And you know what makes any already confusing and convoluted war even better? That’s right, another mini war to take place in the already existing war!
Enter, The War of Breton Succession
In 1341, John ‘the good’ of Brittany, who ruled over the homeland of Jeanne and her brood, died childless. This meant that he left no clear cut heir to take his place (apparently France loves a theme) thus two rival factions made a claim to Brittany. John Montfort, who was backed by the English and Charles of Blois, who was both married to John ‘the goods’ niece and had the French nobility’s support.
As battle over their Brittany home sped up, Oliver and Jeanne opted to give their support to noble fave, Charles of Blois. With Oliver stepping into the role of one of Charles military commanders.
This would prove to be a bad choice. In 1341 Oliver was sent to defend the town of Vanne, against English invaders. Sadly, Vanne fell and Oliver and several others were captured and ransomed.
Left alone with five kids, her beloved husband locked up and her home at war, this was far and away one of the darkest times in Jeanne’s life.
But suddenly there was a light! Oliver’s ransom was set incredibly low and he was released. Not only that, but England and France had signed a truce. To celebrate this incredible turn in events , Oliver was invited to take place in a tournament.
The family back together, a lovely day out and relative peace? Surely for our lovebirds Jeanne and Oliver, the future was looking bright?
Nope. It was all a rouse.
It turned out that Charles of Blois suspected that Oliver’s ransom had been set so low because he was actually working with the English to assist their seize of Vennes. So he had lured Oliver to the tournament to arrest him.
Oliver was detained and sent to Paris for trial. There, under the blessing of French king, Phillip the Fortunate, he was sentenced to death. Despite no clear proof of guilt being found against him.
And so Oliver was executed as a traitor. Essentially because his boss reckoned he might have been one.
Something had shattered inside Jeanne and what replaced it was cold steel.
To further her pain, Oliver’s body was desecrated. His body strung up by the armpits and his head sent to be placed on a spike in Nantes as a warning to others.
Emotionally broken, Jeanne actually took her sons to see their fathers head in Nantes. And after that minor child trauma was over, she decided to pack up her stuff, sell the families lands, raise a small army of fighters and set out to avenge her husband.
Newly armed and incredibly dangerous, she was determined to reek bloody revenge on Charles of Bois, King Phillip the Fortunate and France itself.
Jeanne’s first stop was to the castle owned by Galois de la Heuse, a friend of Charles of Bois. She turned up, kids in tow and asked to be let in. And of course they let her in! I mean, sure she was the wife of a traitor, but how much of a threat could one woman be? Right….
By morning everyone in the castle had been killed.
All except for a few wide eyed survivors who Jeanne let flee so they could spread word of her murders.
In 1343 Jeanne had been declared a traitor and with the French fuzz catching up to her, she decided to take her fight to the sea and become a pirate (as you do).
She bought three ships with the money she had from selling all her lands and goods. She then ordered them to be painted black and their sails dyed crimson. With her incredibly dramatic ships set, she set sail across the channel.
Now if you thought that seeing the pirate skull cross bones set fear into the hearts of sailors, well that had nothing on Jeanne and her merry band of murderers.
French crews who saw those crimson sails emerging from the fog, knew it meant one thing. They were about to die.
Jeanne and her crew set their sights on any and all French ships. Capturing them and slaying the entire crew. And unlike many other pirates, noble borns weren’t kept for ransom. Instead it’s believed that Jeanne would behead them herself.
Yet it wasn’t all stabby stabby kill time. As she had before, Jeanne left a few survivors. Not because she was being nice, but so word would spread back to King Phillip of the horror she was wreaking across the seas.
Now Jeanne wasn’t just about indiscriminate murder. She was also one smart woman. Which is why she joined forces with England in her quest to take down France.
You see, by this point France and England had fallen out once more, with their truce only lasting two years (1343-1345) and the battle for the French throne was back on (it was called the hundred year war for a reason!)
With his country at war, things were already bad, but things started to look very unfortunate (get it) for King Philip after he discovered that Jeanne was not only brutally murdering his ships crews, but also using her fleet to provide supplies to English troops in France.
Much of this particular time in Jeanne’s life has been turned into legend. Meaning it is really hard to sift through and tell fact from fiction. There are tales of her plundering french fishing villages and towns, joining English ships as they invaded France and beheading more people than Henry VIII on a really bad day,
You might think that King Phillip dying in 1350 would have satisfied Jeanne’s blood lust and stopped her quest for vengeance. But it didn’t.
It looked like only death could stop Jeanne. And it came for her around 1353, when her flagship sunk. Leaving Jeanne and her two sons, Guillaume and Oliver adrift in the middle of the sea.
Huddled together in a small boat, mother and sons looked like they stood no chance against the elements.
Guillaume soon died from exposure and time was fast running out for Jeanne and Oliver.
But a little shipwreck wasn’t going to stop Jeanne. She didn’t stop rowing. Even after her son died, she wouldn’t stop. This lasted for five days, until both her and Oliver were picked up by Montfort forces. Their survival was nothing short of miraculous and yet, considering Jeanne, not surprising.
Following this, Jeanne and her surviving son sought exile in England. And from here, Jeanne’s story takes a very unexpected turn.
Jeanne found love once more.
She met English Knight, Sir Walter Bentley, during her exile, and for the first time in years, she must have felt a joy that she thought had been lost forever. The pair married in 1356. With Jeanne choosing to leave her pirating days behind her, in favour of returning to the quiet married life she’d left behind over a decade ago.
With her new husband by her side, Jeanne actually moved back to Brittany (all be it a part of Brittany now looked after by English forces!) Living happily in Honnebont Castle until she died peacefully in 1359.
More like this
- Meet another woman from history with an unreal story, Hortense Mancini
- After another tale of murder, power grabs and treason? Check out Roman Empress Lucila
- Let’s step up the positives here and meet a bunch of women who used their bravery and power to take on the Nazi’s in WW2!