10. The Dangerous Medieval Pirate Queen
Jeanne de Clisson (1300 – 1359), also known as the Lioness of Brittany, was one of France’s most dangerous female outlaws. A Breton noblewoman, she was born in the town of Belleville-sur-Vie into a prominent family, which had ruled the area for centuries. She was married at age twelve, and bore her husband two children before he died in 1326. She remarried in 1328, but that marriage was annulled two years later, so she remarried once more, this time to a wealthy Breton named Olivier Clisson. When the French accused her third husband of being an English spy and executed him as such, the widow Clisson went on the warpath. She turned pirate, preyed on French ships in the English Channel, and tortured and executed every French nobleman she came across.
In 1342, during the Hundred Years War, Jeanne’s husband was military commander of a town that was captured by the English, and he was taken prisoner. They released him soon thereafter in a prisoner exchange – the only Frenchman who was freed. Between that and an unusually low ransom requested by the English, Olivier Clisson was suspected of treason. He was tried and convicted by a court of French aristocrats, and beheaded in 1343. Jeanne viewed her husband’s execution as a cowardly murder, took her young sons to see their father’s head mounted on a spike, and vowed revenge. She sold her estates, used the proceeds to raise a force of armed followers, switched her loyalties to the English, and began to attack the French.