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Joan of Arc, Jeanne La Flamme, Jeanne de Penthièvre: each one his Joan?
In these times of elections [in France], a character, well-known in school books, is back up in front of media scene, Joan of Arc, the protector of eternal France, holy
Jacques-Yves Le Touze pour ABP le 8/01/12 7:40
Jeanne of Flanders called “the Flame” on a Breton warship (the left one) with a half-Breton half-Flanders livery. XVIIth century illuminated book : The Compilation des cronicques et Ystoires des Bretons. Ed. D'Hozier. Paris 1637. By Pierre Le Baud.

In these times of elections [in France], a character, well-known in school books, is back up in front of media scene, Joan of Arc, the protector of eternal France, holy by grace of the Church of France, heroine of the Republic, icon of patriotic blue-white-red, celebrated by the Left, the Right, far Right, each at their turn, simultaneously or sequentially. In short, a true symbol of Frenchness [“francitude”], as Ségolène [Royal] (1) would have said.

And Nicolas Sarkozy last Friday, who went and celebrate her 600th anniversary in Lorraine, putting her at the same level as the Resistants of the Second World War, calling her a heroin respected world wide (sic). And on Saturday it's been Marine Le Pen's turn to capture the aura of the young shepherdess from Lorraine, who came and helped the King of France kick the stranger out of the hexagon [drive the English out of France].

What to say? As a teenager, I was always surprised to see in many Breton churches Sulpician statues of this famous Joan of Arc , not to mention the Saint-Joan of Arc parishes here and there as in Lorient. But what had this Jeanne done to be that much honored? And I read her epic liberating adventure, ending on a fire lit by these treacherous English. And Brittany among all this? Nothing or almost nothing, except a Gilles de Rais fighting alongside the virgin. In short, this Joan of Arc owes her presence in Brittany to the French domination in memory, history, culture and politics. One is in favor of it, one is against, but it is a fact.

What to say then about the almost totally forgetting of our two Breton Jeanne who fought to save Brittany from English and most often French appetites? No statues, no or very few parishes, no church windows, a few streets, nearly fallen in oblivion, a black hole in Breton memory... I'm exaggerating just a little when one considers our people's lack of historical knowledge, the lack of teaching our history.

So here is Jeanne de Flandre (1295-1374), Duchess of Brittany, wife of Jean de Montfort, who when her husband is being imprisoned by the French, takes over the fight against the French, with the long celebrated episode of the defense of the city of Hennebont in front of Charles de Blois' troops in 1342 (3). Urging people of Hennebont to defend their city, Jeanne, known as the Flame, will destroy by fire the French camp and return from Auray with fresh troops to strengthen the defense of Hennebont. The arrival by the [river] Blavet of an English fleet with 2,000 archers will force the troops of Charles de Blois to break camp. This is a quite remarkable moment in our history full of passion, pain, heroism and suffering in which our Jeanne Flame played an utmost part. Anyone remembers that outside Hennebont (and even in Hennebont...)? Well, no, while the siege of Orleans with its maiden is one of the classical lessons in our schools ... Look for what's wrong?

One can also talk about another Jeanne, Jeanne de Penthièvre (1319-1384), Charles de Blois' wife, who, for years opposed Jeanne the Flame in this war of the two Jeanne, confident of Charles' right to the throne of Brittany. Yet supported by the French during these years of war, Jeanne de Penthièvre was at the forefront of resistance to the attempts of annexation of Brittany by the French king Charles V in 1379 and she supported the return of exile of Jean IV, legitimate Duke of Brittany, to deal with the French maneuvers. Anyone remembers her? Not at all, again Breton memory faded, replaced by the French historical catechism.

So it seemed important in this day [of celebrating Joan of Arc in France] to recall the memory of our two Jeanne while our neighbours across the [river] Couesnon (2) (or part of them) celebrate their Jeanne. Not to make a higher politician bid or to enter a challenge type “my Jeanne is better than yours” or to rebuild a fantasy story more or less xenophobic, but simply to emphasize the importance of history and of its teaching for the durability and development of our culture, our country. And there is an emergency.

For more information about the siege of Hennebont : (voir le site) of the Cultural Institute of Brittany.


(1) Ségolène Royal: a presidential candidate in 2007, faced Nicolas Sarkozy in the second round of voting.

(2) our neighbours across the river Couesnon: People of France.

(3) Illustration 1 : Pierre Le Baud (1450-1505), chaplain of Anne of Brittany, is a historian who left several works about Brittany, the best known of which is the “Cronicque”, completed in 1480. The miniature on top of this page is taken from it. The artist is not known.

The miniature above presents the engagement (in the pouring rain) between the two fleets, on August 18th, 1342, off the Breton shores. Montfort on the left, Blois on the right.

Joan of Flanders, back from a visit to Edward III's court, wearing a helmet and a coat adorned with Breton ermine and English leopard, could be the main character on the left hand ship.

This note like the illustration are taken from (voir le site) with his agreement.

Jacques-Yves Le Touze. Translation (and notes) by Maryvonne Cadiou from ( voir l'article )

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