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For those of you who don’t have time to peruse the footnotes, the short version:
- We know she existed, she led forces against France, and she became a pirate.
- How long, and to what extent, we don’t know. Estimates range from five months to thirteen years.
- She possibly palled around with another badass female pirate named Jeanne — Joanna of Flanders, aka Jeanne la Flamme. Her pointy-hat outfit early on is actually based on Joanna!
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- Her birth name was Jeanne de Belleville – possibly Jeanne-Louise de Belleville, according to some sources. She took the de Clisson name from Olivier, who was her third husband. The first, she had two kids with before he died. The second was Jean de Montfort, although it was quickly annuled. More on Montfort in a bit. ↩
- She is popularly referred to as the Lioness of Brittany in English, but the French sources call her La Tigresse Bretagne, which would translate more as the Tigress of Brittany. I have no idea where this disparity originated. Maybe England just likes lions more? Some heraldry stuff? No idea. ↩
- This picture of their kids leaves out her two children from her previous marriage. I’m not sure when her previous two were born, but I believe they would have been full adults by this period, and likely not living with her. The children pictured, left to right, are Isabeau, Jeanne, Olivier, and Guillaume. ↩
- Additionally, there’s no mention in any sources as to their level of affection for each other, but given that they had this many children (plus another one who died in childhood), and given her outsize reaction to Olivier’s death, it’s a reasonable bit of artistic interpretation to assume a happy marriage. She also may have just been doing this to secure her holdings. Your interpretation may vary. ↩
- I believe at this point that her husband was Olivier IV, although a number of sources list him as Olivier III. The curly haired boy would then be Olivier V (more on him later). ↩
- This war, the War of Breton succession, was a major side conflict in the early days of the Hundred Years War. Essentially, England and France were in dispute over who was to take the throne of Brittany/Bretagne (an area in modern-day northwestern France). England backed John de Montfort, an English sympathizer and half-brother of the previous ruler – and short-term husband to Jeanne de Clisson herself! France, not wanting an English continental foothold, backed Jeanne de Penthievre, full sister of the previous ruler. This resulted in war. ↩
- What is super cool about this is that there were THREE separate badass Jeannes in this conflict. Jeanne de Clisson, you see here. Jeanne de Penthievre, previously mentioned, was, with her husband Charles, running the French claim to Brittany. But best of all, Joanna of Flanders, known as Jeanne la Flamme (“the flame”), was ALSO A FEMALE PIRATE in this war. Married to John de Montfort – de Clisson’s ex and the guy running the English side of the war, Joanna started running the conflict after Montfort was captured. Her exploits are just as gonzo as Jeanne de Clisson’s, and there’s some possibility they were even buddies. Jeanne de Clisson’s clothing here, with the weird pointy hat, is even based on Joanna’s outfit from the same period. She’s on the docket for a future entry. ↩
- I don’t know for sure that Olivier was outgunned, or the circumstances under which he was captured. ↩
- This is a murky area. Some sources insist that Olivier was already in league with the English, but others don’t. The Wikipedia entry, which has no huge errors that I can see – but does have claims I couldn’t source – says that Philip VI got suspicious because the money wanted for Olivier’s ransom was too small. ↩
- He was invited in for a tournament in Paris after the Truce of Malestroit – not to be confused with the Treaty of Brittany, which came later. ↩
- Olivier’s body was strung up on the gibbet in Paris, while his head was sent to be displayed at Nantes, an area not far from Jeanne. Many account have her taking her two young boys to see their father’s head on a pike. ↩
- The man in green here is Galois de la Heuse, one of the French commanders who’d fought in several conflicts. The Chronographia regum Francorum describes this event as happening at the fortress at Brest — which is still around today, and this is visually based on! — but a later compiler acknowledges that it could not have been Brest, as Brest was likely occupied by the aforementioned Joanna of Flanders at this time. ↩
- The Chronographia regum Francorum – if my translation is correct – describes her approaching the castle with forty soldiers, and an additional 360 hidden. Galois de la Heuse had eighty manning the fortress. Upon lowering the drawbridge, she sounded a horn and the remaining soldiers rushed in. There is no forest outside of Brest — really, who would let a forest grow right outside their castle door? — but I put it here because I honestly don’t know how 360 armor-clad soldiers could sneak up on anything. ↩
- She was also mentioned as attacking other areas before taking to the sea, after being challenged militarily by French forces. Much of her forces had been assembled from discontent nobles (Philip VI executed around forty people along with Olivier, so, lots of bad blood). It’s assumed in some sources that said nobles were helping move her from place to place, and stage ambushes. ↩
- This is an area where sources differ. It’s generally agreed that she sold their belongings and used the proceeds – and her contacts with discontented nobles – to mobilize militarily against France. Most agree she started on land and took to the sea. Whether she started with three ships which she’d purchased independent of England, or whether she had one ship that was scuttled in early fights with France, is unknown. Surviving historical French records from the end of 1343 indicate she was labeled a traitor and had her lands confiscated, so at least that much is true. ↩
- This part shows up in several sources, but details change. In some, the ship sank because of a storm. In others, it was because of the French, and she was able to escape because of the storm. ↩
- Many sources only list her with her two sons, but as James Adams points out, she likely had her youngest daughter Jeanne with her. Isabeau at this point would have been old enough to be married and not living with Jeanne. ↩
- Speculation on my part, as there’s no record of Edward III’s reaction upon their reception. But as I consider it probable she got her Black Fleet from him, a strong impression seems likely. ↩
- Again, sources differ on whether she got the Black Fleet from Edward III or purchased it with her own funds. Given the speed with which she mobilized a resistance, combined with the expense and general lack of availability of warships, I consider it most likely Edward III assisted her in this. ↩
- French Wikipedia is the only source I found for the “Ma Vengeance” name, so take that with a grain of salt. ↩
- The boy here, Olivier V – although some sources say he was Olivier IV, and his dad was Olivier III – was raised in the court of John de Montfort, earlier mentioned as the chief English antagonist against French interests in Brittany. Olivier V grew up to become a great warrior, nicknamed The Butcher, although he turned on John de Montfort and fought the English later in life. ↩
- Quite literally, nobody can say. Many sources say she did this for thirteen years, while James Adams considers it more likely it was merely five months. Adams cites as evidence some English legal documents that list her as an ally, and I’ve not been able to gain access to those. Given that many sources have her continuing her piracy after fleeing to England, and that Adams seems to take that as unlikely, I disagree with him here. ↩
- This page was changed from its initial version – for more information, click here. I’d previously characterized her as vanishing from history, while fading is a more accurate depiction. ↩
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So the theme of this entry, because so little is concretely verifiable about Jeanne — Stuff You Missed in History Class considers her impossible to cover in the absence of more English-language documents — is that of Jeanne stepping out from history and becoming a boogeyman.
I tried to get this across by a couple different ways:
- The most obvious is the fog, which begins obscuring things more and more.
- I begin angling her away from the camera more and more, so you can no longer see her face. Eventually you can barely make her out at all.
- Blue here represents France (due to the old French flag, in use at the time). Red represents England.
- The red lion-looking thing on her first ship’s flag is the Clisson crest.
- I have the recurrent usage of an axe for decapitations and the like because I wanted the symmetry between Philip VI’s actions and Jeanne’s reactions. She’s mentioned as using an axe in her pirate days, so I want back and put one in Philip VI’s hands — even though he himself likely did not perform the executions himself, and they were probably done with a sword, as depicted here:
(note the background characters here are also in my art when she visits her husband’s decapitated head)
- Olivier himself had a much weaker chin and wasn’t as rugged a guy. I plead artistic interpretation.
(I believe this is him. There were several Oliviers de Clisson. Their son Olivier V – the curly haired kid – actually went on to become a fearsome warrior nicknamed “The Butcher.” He did end up working for the French, though, which likely had his mom rolling in her grave.)
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