A Brief History
On August 2, 1343, Olivier Clisson, a French nobleman from Brittany, was convicted of treason in Paris and beheaded. He had been fighting the British in the Hundred Years War, and when his success tapered off, he was criticized and accused of treason, perhaps to deflect blame from French losses.
Olivier, miffed and sensing danger, then defected to the English for real and was later arrested. Taken to Paris for trial, he was beheaded, as was the fate of traitors in those days. His head was placed on display at Nantes, and his enraged wife (widow) Jeanne swore revenge against King Phillip VI and French nobles.
Jeanne Clisson sold her holdings and lands, bought 3 ships and had them painted black. She used leftover money to bribe key people in Brittany to guarantee her free movements. Her little “black fleet” terrorized French ships in the English Channel, capturing the ships and massacring the crews, usually leaving 1 or 2 crewmen alive to spread the word of the terror of “The Lioness of Brittany.” Particular attention was given to ships owned by French noblemen, and if any such nobles were on board, they were sure to be killed without exception, beheaded by Jeanne herself.
King Phillip VI died in 1350, but Jeanne continued her predatory ways for another 6 years, until quitting in 1356 to settle in England and marry Sir Walter Bentley. She is believed to have returned to France, but not to her previous home as that had been seized when Olivier was executed. She is said to have died in 1359, but her revenge on her upper class peers was apparently not complete, for she haunts the Clisson Castle as a menacing grey ghost.
Many women throughout history have taken up the sword of vengeance when they or their husbands have been wronged. Woe to those who foolishly get in their way! Question for students (and subscribers): What other scorned women do you think of when the subject comes up? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below this article.
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For more on bad-ass women of the era, please read…
Robbins, Trina. Wild Irish Roses: Tales of Brigits, Kathleens, and Warrior Queens. Conari Press, 2004.