A Princess and a Pirate Queen: Marvel Has Nothing on the Lioness of Brittany

The great director Martin Scorsese recently took some flack in Hollywood circles for his critique of Marvel’s superhero movies. You know, the flicks your kids or grandkids drag you to.

In my view, “Thor” is funny. The first “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Avengers: Endgame” were pretty good, too.

But these Marvel movies — ALL 23 of ‘em — are such formulaic paint-by-numbers productions that I refuse to go anymore. So, imagine my surprise when I found out Scorsese agreed with me.

“That’s not cinema,” the director said in an interview last week, about the Marvel Cinematic Universe. “The closest I can think of them … is theme parks.”

So, you might be thinking, “OK, Mister Crabby-Pants. What story would you have Marvel make into a movie?”

I tell you what I’d do. I’d have them make movie of the revenge of Jeanne de Clisson.

Who is she? Only a princess who turned into a real-life pirate queen.

Pour yourself another cup of coffee and pull up a chair. This one is going to be good.

Jeanne de Belleville (that’s her maiden name) was born on the cusp of the 14th century. That was “The Calamitous Century,” best known for the Hundred Years’ War, the Black Death, the Papal Wars and other fun times.

But Jeanne was lucky.

Jeanne was born a high noblewoman, in the French town of Belleville-sur-Vie, in the Brittany region of France. At the age of 12, she married her first husband Geoffrey de Châteaubriant. They had two kids and lived happily until Geoffrey died when she was 26.

Wait! I said she was lucky, right? Well, she remarried, to another nobleman, Olivier III de Clisson. It was a marriage of convenience, but a very happy one. Jeanne bore Olivier five children.

Then England and France went to war. Olivier went to fight for the French king and his lord (aka, immediate supervisor) Charles de Blois. Olivier was defeated in battle and got captured. Released in a prisoner exchange, Olivier fell under suspicion. Did he lose the battle on purpose? De Blois thought so.

The French king, Philip VI, brought matters to head when he insisted Olivier come to Paris to celebrate France’s truce with England.

Olivier and 14 other Breton lords were arrested in front of everybody, under a flag of peace. He was executed on orders of King Philip IV. Then the king confiscated Oliver and Jeanne’s lands.

Jeanne’s luck had run out. Her happiness ended when Olivier’s head went up on a pike.

She took her sons to show them their father’s head and tell them that Charles de Blois and the king were their enemies.

Next, Jeanne led a small band of followers to a fort that de Blois controlled. By deception, she gained entrance and slaughtered the small force there. Philip IV sent an army to get the fort back, but Jeanne was long-gone, having looted everything that wasn’t nailed down. She also torched the place on her way out.

Then, she sold everything she had — loot, jewelry, furniture and clothes. She raised enough money to support a small army and began attacking more French strongholds.

But the king was determined to hunt her down. So, Jeanne took to the sea aboard a leaky ship. She became a pirate.

But not just any kind of pirate. She sailed to continue her bloody war against the French crown.


Source: RejectedPrincesses.com

Hiding in the fog, she would swoop out to pounce on ships. Jeanne was ruthless. She’d leave one survivor on each ship (some retellings of her story have her leave two or three people), to spread word that she was coming.

Philip IV kept hunting her. And eventually he caught up with her!

But as the enemy swarmed over her ship, Jeanne threw her children in a boat and together they rowed toward England. They got away.

But they weren’t safe. They had no provisions. For five days and nights, Jeanne rowed. Her youngest child sickened and died.

But they made it to England. And she managed to impress the English king, Edward III. So, with his support, she bought three more ships. She painted them black and hoisted red sales. She named the flagship “My Vengeance.”

Imagine the French king’s outrage. Now, this crazy, revenge-fueled fury had three ships!


And for 13 years, her pirate fleet sowed terror among French sailors. They sacked and burned French ports, too.

Thirsting for revenge, Jeanne was ruthless. She personally beheaded any aristocrats on the French ships she captured.

This, along with her general grand demeanor, earned her the title the “Lioness of Brittany.” It didn’t hurt that her family crest was a red shield with a white lion.

In 1350, Philip IV died. Maybe that took some of the fury out of Jeanne. She met a nice English knight, Sir Walter Bentley. He had been King Edward III’s lieutenant during a campaign against Charles de Blois.

For the first time in years, she found joy and even love. Her days as a pirate queen came to an end in 1356, when she married Sir Walter and retired from the sea.

The duo moved back to Brittany — then conquered by the English — where Jeanne lived peacefully in Honnebont Castle. She died in 1359.

It is almost certain that the legend of the Lioness of Brittany got exaggerated over the years. Many of the tales don’t agree on specifics. But her romance-and-revenge saga is true enough. She’s even mentioned in a truce between France and England in 1347, as a valuable English ally.

So, what can we learn from Jeanne de Clisson?

Know Who Your Friends Are.

The Hundred Years’ War was chock-full of betrayal. Olivier should have guessed that Charles de Blois was up to no good.

Know who you can really trust and keep everyone else at arms’ distance.

Don’t Create Enemies Unnecessarily.

The French king really screwed up. In a fit of pique, he not only killed a loyal servant, but he also created a furious nemesis who would wreak havoc on his kingdom for 13 years! We should all remember that kindness goes a long way.

Don’t Mess with Love.

Jeanne’s campaign of revenge was fueled by her undying love for Olivier. She was unusual for a 14th-century woman in that she actually had the means to carry out her revenge. But you know that without that fire burning in her belly, she wouldn’t have turned into the terror of the seas.

Love Conquers All.

What finally turned Jeanne from her path of vengeance? The same thing that put her on it: Love. She had no peace when love was robbed from her … she never achieved peace until she found love again.

So, yeah, THAT’s the kind of movie Marvel should make. The story of Jeanne de Clisson has love, action, revenge, bloody violence, a coherent story, and believable villains. That’s my kind of movie.

Are you listening, Hollywood?

All the best,
Sean

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

One comment on “A Princess and a Pirate Queen: Marvel Has Nothing on the Lioness of Brittany

  1. Brandon Caesar October 15, 2019

    I always love these stories.

    Reply