Jeanne la Flamme, Duchess of Brittany

23 May

Joanna of Flanders was born in 1295, she was the daughter of Louis I, Count of Nevers and Joan, Countess of Rethel, and the sister of Louis I, Count of Flanders.
She married in 1329 the future John IV, Duke of Brittany, with whom she had two children.


When John’s half-brother (the Duke of Brittany) died in 1341 without male issue, his niece Joanna of Penthièvre and her husband Charles of Blois claimed Brittany. John claimed Brittany for himself, and went to Paris to be heard by King Philip VI of France. Philip was an uncle of Charles, and he imprisoned John, despite having given him a promise of safe conduct.
Joanna then announced her infant son leader and true heir to Brittany. She mustered an army and captured Redon. From there she went to Hennebont, to prepare it for a siege, and then asked King Edward III of England for aid. This, Edward was eager to give, since he had been claiming the French crown for himself, and he was therefore at odds with Philip. If he could get Brittany as an ally, this would be of great advantage for future campaigns.


In the siege of Hennebont by Charles of Blois in 1342, she took up arms and, dressed in armour, conducted the defence of the town, encouraging the people to fight, and urging the women to “cut their skirts and take their safety in their own hands”. When she took a look from a tower and saw that the enemy camp was almost unguarded, she led three hundred men on a charge, burned down his supplies and destroyed his tents. After this she became known as “Jeanne la Flamme”. Charles of Blois tried to starve the people in Hennebont. During a long meeting the bishop of Leon tried to persuade Joanna to surrender, but from the window she saw the ships of Sir Walter Manny’s ships from England sailing up. Hennebont was strengthened with English forces and held out.


By the treaty of Malestroit in 1343, her husband John was released and hostilities ceased. When her husband died in 1345 in the midst of the Breton War of Succession, she again became the leader of the Montfort party to protect the rights of her son John V against the party led by Charles of Blois and Joanna. In 1347, Joanna’s forces captured Charles of Blois in battle. She was, however, forced to retreat to England. In England, she succumbed to a mental illness, and spent the rest of her life in confinement at Tickhill Castle.
Joanna was later celebrated for her exploits in Breton folklore, in particular in a ballad collected in Barzaz Breiz.
She was later known as an earlier patron for women in Brittany, and a possible influence to Joan of Arc of France.

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