Jeanne de Clisson, also known as the Lioness of Brittany, was a Breton pirate who launched a reign of terror across the English Channel in the 14th century.
Jeanne became embroiled in the events of the Hundred Years’ War between England and France when her husband, Oliver, placed his support behind the English candidate to rule Brittany. For this he was tried and executed for treason by King Philip VI of France.
Enraged, Jeanne swore vengeance for the betrayal. She sold her husband’s remaining land so that she could buy three warships, which she had painted black with red sails. Under Jeanne’s command the ‘Black Fleet’ raided the English Channel for the next 13 years, destroying any French warships they came across. Each time Jeanne had the crew slaughtered, save for one or two French sailors which she sent back to the French king to let him know what she had done.
While an independent privateer, Jeanne formed an alliance of convenience with the English and helped to keep supplies available to the English forces for the Battle of Crécy in 1346. Even after Philip VI died in 1350, Jeanne continued to wreak havoc on French shipping. She made a point of targeting ships carrying French noblemen, which she boarded so that she could personally behead the aristocrats with her axe.
In 1356, Jeanne retired from piracy and married an English lieutenant. She later returned to France, where she died in 1359.