A French Noblewoman Who Became a Ferocious Pirate Legend

Samuel Reason | December 4th, 2017

During the height of the Hundred Years War between England and France, one French noblewoman became feared throughout France for her ferocious never-ending appetite for revenge. Jeanne de Clisson with the help of the English outfitted three warships and caused havoc to any French ships crossing the English channel. Some may say privateer but at the end of the day, this is just a fancy word for saying, pirate! Jeanne would show no mercy and slaughter nearly the whole crew of the King’s ships, letting just one sailor take back the message to the French king that she had attacked him once again. Her need to avenge her husband’s death was so ferocious it earned her the nickname The Lioness of Brittany.

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In 1300 Jeanne de Clisson started life in a rich and powerful French family. At the early age of 12, she was married to an affluent man Geoffrey de Chateaubriant. However, he died quite unexpectedly and Jeanne was a widow with her two children to look after. Then she met her second husband, Olivier de Clisson, a well respected Breton noble who had spent his life defending Brittany from the English. Olivier took in her children as his own and it is said their love was very great.

The great oath of vengeance

Rumours started to spread that Olivier was, in fact, a traitor. Even though he had been defending Brittany from the English, King Philip VI began to doubt his loyalty. What happened next was particularly surprising, Olivier was not only captured and charged with treason, he was executed. But it was no simple execution, for the first time in history, a nobleman’s head was put on public display for further humiliation. This could not stand, Jeanne was so shocked by the fashion of her husband’s execution that she swore she would not rest until she had her revenge.

The Black Fleet

It sounds like something out of Pirates of the Caribbean, doesn’t it? But no the Black Fleet was indeed the name of Captain Jeanne, the Lioness of Brittany’s, group of warships. The English king provided her with three warships which Jeanne chose to paint black and dye the sails red. And if anyone was still confused about her intentions, by naming her flagship My Revenge, everything became clear. Her reign of piracy lasted 13 years, slaughtering entire crews and putting several coastal villages to sword and fire. Only ever leaving a couple of witnesses to take the message back to the French king.

A happy ending?

Her relentlessness and anger gave her the nickname The Lioness of Brittany, seen as a heroine or a monster depending on who you asked. She was able to survive her piracy days even after her flagship was sunk. Finding love again for an English noble, Sir Walter Bentley, seemed to quell her thirst for vengeance and she lived out the rest of her days peacefully in the Castle of Hennebont.

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