In honor of women’s history month, I want to share some of my favorite stories of women from history.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about this woman called The Lioness or Brittany, a moniker she earned in her 40s.
Her name was Jeanne de Clisson and she went from being a widowed single mother to being one the most feared women in 14th century France while causally birthing babies and burying husbands along the way.
Little Jeanne was born to nobility and almost immediately married off to a nobleman from Brittany at the age of 12. She’d had 2 children by the time she was 16 and was a widow by 26. The trauma of that timeline is enough to make anyone crack but Jeanne was a survivor. She knew that to get by in the 14th century she needed a husband. She worked her magic on a guy named Guy. Seriously. Guy de Penthièvre. They had a whirlwind romance, and married quickly . Things went south when Jeanne had the audacity to have expectations of Guy. Suddenly, Guy says he’s promised to the Catholic girl down the moat & her family petitioned the ACTUAL POPE to annul this marriage. Says his hands are tied, so sorry, Jeanne, GTFO.
Alone again, having been publicly humiliated did Jeanne despair? No! And it turned out, like every other limp, mayonnaise-stained-napkin of a man that ever walked away from a strong woman, that Guy did her a favor.
Jeanne found love mere months later with Olivier de Clisson. A REAL ONE. They were married for 13 happy years, during which she once sued him for profits made off their lands, and won. They had 4 children together plus one of uncertain paternity (‘Happens to the best of us) owned tons of land, were influential and well loved. Jeanne was sitting pretty, Real Housewives of Brittany style, finally happy.
…Until then the King of France made the grave error of disrupting Jeanne De Clisson’s hard won peace, sending her on a literal warpath.
During the Hundred Years’ War the area of land where Jeanne and Oliver lived was being endlessly battled over by France and England. In these battles the de Clisson’s backed France. They’d lost a son to the fighting and Oliver himself was kidnapped from the battlefield and ransomed. The ransom was low, though & Oliver’s general , another noble named Charles de Blois, was suspicious. Still, he was released and returned home to his relieved wife and family. Days later the king summoned Oliver to a tournament celebration. But it was a trick! On the road to the tournament Oliver’s traveling party was seized by the king, he was imprisoned and tried for treason. Jeanne’s attempts to have him released were foiled, her appeals to powerful friends fell on deaf ears, her protestations were mocked and ignored.
Despite their family’s years of loyalty to the Crown, Oliver was executed as a traitor. Mutilated and decapitated, his lifeless body was publicly displayed hanging from an iron cage in Paris and his head, the king let Jeanne know, was on a spike in Nantes.
Upon news of her husband’s barbarous demise Jeanne, completely and utterly lost her shit. But did she crumble? Did she lay down and die? No. Not Jeanne.
In a questionable parenting move, she took her children to see their beloved father’s head. She forced them to face the gruesome site, burning it onto their minds eye, as she repeated over and over between anguished cries the names of the 2 men responsible; Charles de Blois and King Phillip VI! She made each of the children vow then and there to avenge their father.
Motivated by the white hot rage of a thousand suns, Jeanne sold off everything of value in her estates and used the money to raise a small ARMY.
They marched straight to de Blois castle. With her army remaining just far enough out of site, Jeanne approached the gate playing the grief stricken widow, throwing herself at de Blois’ mercy. Alpha males can’t stand to see a woman cry so they lowered the gate. Her army flooded in and slaughtered all but 1 person, leaving a lone survivor to relay her message to the king “You tell him I’m coming and HELL’S COMING WITH ME!” (Ok that’s from legendary cinematic accomplishment, Tombstone but it was the same sentiment)
For the next few years Jeanne and her army marauded their way through Britney, growing her forces, turning other nobles against France and decimating any one loyal to the French crown with enthusiastic brutality.
Jeanne was labeled a traitor by France and feverishly pursued by their armies, eventually forcing her to flee her homeland. Did she give up? Did she concede or retire from her life of fighting? No! She used her remaining money to purchase 3 war ships, painted those bitches pitch black, dyed the sales blood red and rebranded herself as a MOTHER FUCKING PIRATE. No minivan for Jeanne thank you very much, she loaded her kids up in the Black Fleet gathered her armies and off they went to the high seas.
The Black Fleet, as it was called by their enemies, was taking down King Phil’s ships left and right, always leaving a survivor or 2 to tell the tale. Once her crew boarded a ship, they killed everyone but the nobles. A Noblemen had married Jeanne off at 12, a Nobleman had impregnated her at 14, a Nobleman humiliated her with an annulment that could’ve left her destitute and it was many noblemen who had callously be-headed her husband on false charges. So Jeannne saved the noblemen for last, using an ax to decapitate them herself. Because every woman knows, if you want something done right…
When the king of France had about enough of her hindrances he sent his best men after her ships. They caught up to the Black Fleet and attacked. But as the fighting began, storm clouds gathered above them, the sky grew dark. Heavy rains and raging waves gave Jeanne a chance to escape capture once again.
She and the kids hopped in a dingy and for FIVE DAYS the Lioness row, row, rowed her cubs to safety on English shores. She lost a son to exposure during the journey.
Jeanne’s exploits had caught the attention of the King of England, she was welcomed there with open arms. At this point she could have returned to her old life as a Countess. She’d certainly amassed enough money and favor and earned every bit of her fierce reputation. She could have settled safely anywhere under King Georges’ rule. But Jeanne had other plans, She had named her ship “My Revenge” and she wasn’t done getting it.
The Black Fleet went back to terrorizing French ships and aiding their allies along the English Channel. In total, Jeanne spent 13 years, the exact amount of time she’d been married to Oliver, taking bloody vengeance on the French Crown for robbing her of the life and love they shared.
She retired back at home in France with a new husband and a legacy as the Lioness of Brittany.
There’s so much more to that story. I woke up thinking about the Lioness for some reason and felt compelled to share. This is just a quickly written summary, she’s worth a google, there are much more thorough accounts of her life and legend.
You may wonder why I would choose to highlight the life Jeannne during women’s history month. She’s not like the women we hear about growing up; She didn’t sew a flag like Betsy Ross or disappear attempting to fly solo across the Atlantic like Amelia Earhart. She wasn’t a martyr like Joan of arc.
To be honest, every time you crack a history book …or watch the news… it’s all stories about the murderous exploits of men, or some silly goofy past atrocity against women they’re trying to bring back. So, I thought it’d be fun to mix things up a bit🤪. Violence against women gets SO MUCH ATTENTION, I chose Jeannne because of her particularly high body count and indefatigable appetite for violence against powerful men.
Stay tuned for my next installment of Bad Ass Women you’ve never heard of where I write about the the Crow Nation bate’ warrior, Osh-Tisch, which translates to “Finds them and Kills them” 🥰
Happy Women’s History Month!