Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The War of Breton Succession: Fiery Joanna

When John of Montfort was captured by France during the War of Breton Succession and imprisoned in the Louvre, his wife took up arms to defend his honor and their possessions.

Joanna in armor [source]
Joanna of Flanders was born before 1300 to Count Louis I of Nevers and Joan the Countess of Rethel. She was already in her 30s when she married John of Montfort, the rightful Duke of Brittany (thanks to the previous duke's wishes). Unfortunately for John, King Philip of France favored the Count of Blois (who happened to be Philip's nephew) as Duke of Brittany, due to his marriage to John of Montfort's cousin, Joan of Penthièvre (known as La Boiteuse or "The Lame").

One great objection to John was that he made alliances with King Edward III of England, who had just recently asserted his claim to parts of France in an event later called the Hundred Years War. King Philip saw an opportunity to arrest John and remove him from the playing field (literally from a playing field: John was arrested at a tournament after being promised safe conduct). He thought this would help settle the conflict between the two claimants.

Not so! Joanna sprang into action. She declared her son John the head of the Montfort faction—despite the fact that he was only a few years old. She herself directed the Montfort supporters and captured a town, Redon, and then retired to Hennebont on the coast to prepare for a siege. When Charles of Blois showed up to lay siege to Hennebont, Joanna dressed in armor and encouraged men and women to fight. In one engagement, she led 300 men to attack and burn Charles' tents and supplies. This earned her the title "Jeanne la Flamme" ["Fiery Joanna"].

When things looked bleak for Hennebont, and the bishop of Leon tried to convince Joanna to surrender, English forces arrived by sea to support her. Hennebont survived the siege. Joanna later went by ship to England to ask for more aid. Her ships survived an attack by the French, and she landed near Vannes, which she captured.

The English pretty much took over the managing of the War of Breton Succession at that point. Joanna, after her impressive feats, ended her life in England suffering from an unidentified mental illness. She did, however, live long enough to see the War of Breton Succession concluded in a way that she would consider satisfactory, and I will address that tomorrow.

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