Jeanne de Clisson Biography

Jeanne de Clisson

Jeanne de Clisson was a 14th century Bretton noblewoman who is today mostly remembered for her 13 year long career as a pirate and privateer in the waters of English Channel. Born in the high nobility of the northern French province, she swore revenge against the France for the execution of her husband that was approved by the King Philip VI himself. During the time of her naval war she gained nickname "Lioness of Brittany", which is remembered vividly in the modern history and pop culture.

She was born in 13000 under the name Jeanne-Louise de Belleville, Dame de Montaigu, as a daughter of the wealthy and influential nobleman Maurice IV of Belleville-Montaigu and Létice de Parthenay in Bretton. At the age of 12 she married her first husband Geoffrey de Châteaubriant with whom she had two children (Louise and Geoffrey). After the death of Châteaubriant in 1323, she remained to Olivier III de Clisson. Jeanne was very satisfied with the relationship of Olivier, and they had five children together (Maurice, Guillaume, Olivier, Isabeau and Jeanne). As their wealth was substantial, Olivier was soon contacted by his friend Charles de Blois to help him defend Britton against the forces of English sympathizer John de Montfort. Sadly, during the Breton War of Succession Olivier became suspected by the Charles de Blois that he is a traitor, and that he will possibly defect to the England. In 1343 French authorities finally managed to arrest to Olivier III de Clisson during one of his visits to the France. He was promptly transported to the Paris where he attended trial where he was sentenced to death by beheading.

News of her husband's death brought great rage in Jeanne de Clisson. She promptly sold all Clissonlands and belongings, raising enough funds for the creation of her famous "Black Fleet". Her revenge against French nobility, military, and King Philip VI begun in 1343 when she started attacking French ships in the English Channel. News of the arrival of "Lioness of Brittany" quickly spread across the Europe. Few intentionally released prisoners spoke with horror about her fleet painted all in black with red sails, and of Jeanne de Clisson'srage against their crews and especially captured French nobility which received no mercy. According to some reports, Jeanne personally decapitated all high valued prisoners with an axe, before tossing their bodies into sea. Her quest for revenge continued with same intensity even after King Philip VI died in 1350.

Finally in 1356, after 13 years of piracy, Jeanne de Clisson retired and went to live in England. There she married for the third time to lieutenant to the English King Edward III, Sir Walter Bentley. Toward the end of her life she returned to France, and has lived in Hennebont castle until the end of her life in 1359.