Jeanne de Montfort (c. 1310–c. 1376)

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Jeanne de Montfort (c. 1310–c. 1376)

Countess of Montfort and duchess of Brittany. Name variations: Jane or Joan of Flanders; Jane, countess of Montfort; Jeanne of Flanders. Born around 1310 in Flanders; died around 1376 in England; daughter of Louis de Nevers, count of Flanders; married Jean de Montfort also known as John III (IV) de Montfort (d. 1345), duke of Brittany (r. 1341–1345); children: Jean also seen as John IV (or V) the Valiant or John IV de Montfort (1339–1399), 5th duke of Brittany (r. 1364–1399).

Daughter of the count of Flanders, Jeanne de Montfort was born around 1310 and spent much of her life warring against claimants to her husband's estates. Historians describe her as a woman of great valor, capable of leadership that would rival the most experienced general. She married John III de Montfort, becoming countess of Montfort and later duchess of Brittany, and gave birth to at least one son in 1339. Throughout Jeanne's married life, the French king Philip VI made war on the dukes of Brittany, seeking to annex that rich province and place his nephew, Charles of Blois, on the ducal throne. After her husband was captured by the French and imprisoned in Paris in 1342, Jeanne de Montfort was forced to continue the war to save Brittany from Charles of Blois and his formidable wife, Jeanne de Penthièvre .

To protect her property from falling into the hands of her enemies, Jeanne de Montfort assembled an army of supporters from neighboring towns to take up arms in her behalf. From the castle of Hennebonne (or Hennobont) on the coast of Brittany, she led a remarkable defense against constant attack from Charles of Blois, who thought a war conducted by a woman would mean an easy victory. Much has been written of Jeanne de Montfort's valor, strategic capabilities, and quick intellect. Accounts portray her in full armor, sword in hand, standing resolute amid violent assaults. Under her leadership, the dispirited Bretons rallied to the cause of saving their native land from French rule.

After three years in prison, Jeanne's husband escaped from Paris but died during the siege of Hennebonne in 1345, shortly after making his way home to Brittany. The widow Jeanne refused to give up the fight. After her own army had suffered numerous losses and was exhausted from battle, she finally received reinforcements from some English troops. At one point, she mounted a nighttime attack on Charles of Blois' encampment, dispatched his army, and took him hostage. Her military skills, as well as a strong alliance with the English king Edward III, eventually led her to victory. Ultimately, Charles of Blois was killed in the battle of Auray, fought on September 27, 1364, and the disputes in Brittany ended. Finally acknowledged by Charles V, king of France, Jeanne's son inherited the duchy as Duke John IV de Montfort, regaining his rightful properties and title, even though he was a fierce supporter of England. He would marry Joanna of Navarre in 1386.

Jeanne de Montfort did not put away her sword after Charles V conceded defeat; she appears in later chronicles fighting in a naval battles off the coast of Guernsey. The historian Roujoux called her "a new Penthesilea [the legendary daughter of Orithia, co-ruler of Amazonia], with all the grandeur of a noble character."


Salmonson, Jessica. The Encyclopedia of Amazons. NY: Doubleday, 1991.

Tuchman, Barbara. A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous Fourteenth Century. NY: Ballantine, 1978.

Laura York , Riverside, California

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Jeanne de Montfort (c. 1310–c. 1376)

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