“Jeanne de Clisson, the ‘Lioness of Brittany’ and fearsome pirate queen, stalked the English Channel for French ships from 1343 - 1356.
In 1330, the daughter of Maurice IV of Belleville-Montaigu and Létice de Parthenay, Jeanne-Louise de Belleville (Dame de Montaigu) married Olivier III de Clisson. Olivier was also a wealthy nobleman, so in 1342 he joined Charles de Blois in defending Brittany against the English claimants - and the forces of English sympathiser John de Montfort (whose wife, Jeanne de Montfort, also took to the sea to combat the French alongside the English Navy. Nicknamed ‘The Flame’ due to stories about her carrying a flaming sword into battle, she is sometimes confused with the Lioness of Brittany).
During the ensuing campaign, Olivier defected to the English side, so in the summer of 1343 he was arrested and taken to Paris for trial. Fifteen of his peers, including his friend Charles de Blois, found him guilty of treason and on the 2nd of August, 1343, he was executed by beheading. Olivier’s head was then sent to Nantes and displayed on a pole outside the castle of Bouffay. Jeanne, enraged and bewildered over her husband’s execution, swore revenge on the King and, in particular, Charles de Blois. She sold off the remnants of the Clisson lands to raise money - whereupon she bought three warships, and the aid of many of the lords and people of Brittany to ensure their independence.
The ships that Jeanne purchased were painted all black on her command, and the sails dyed red. The ‘Black Fleet’ took to the waters and began hunting down and destroying the ships of King Philip VI, and were merciless with the crews. But Jeanne would always leave two or three of Philip’s sailors alive, so that the message would get back to the King that the ‘Lioness of Brittany’ had struck once again….When King Philip VI died in 1350, it was not the end to Jeanne’s revenge. She continued to wreak havoc among French shipping, and it was reported that she took particular joy in hunting down and capturing the ships of French noblemen, as long as they were aboard. She would then personally behead the aristocrats with an axe, tossing their lifeless bodies overboard.”
Jeanne retired in 1356, after 13 years of piracy, and died in 1359.