Joan, Duchess of Brittany

For the daughter of her opponent, see Joan of Brittany, Baroness of Drayton.
Joan of Penthièvre

Tomb of Jeanne de Penthièvre, duchess of Brittany
Duchess of Brittany
Reign 30 April 1341 1365
(disputed suo jure)
136510 September 1384 (titular)
Predecessor John III
Successor John IV
Born 1319
Died 10 September 1384 (aged 65)
Burial church of the Friars Minor of Guingamp.
Spouse Charles I
Issue John I of Blois-Châtillon
Marie, Lady of Guise
Marguerite, Countess of Angoulême
House House of Dreux
Father Guy, Count of Penthièvre
Mother Jeanne d'Avaugour
Religion Roman Catholicism

Joan of Penthièvre or Joan the Lame (in French Jeanne de Penthièvre, Jeanne la Boiteuse) (c.1319 10 September 1384) reigned as Duchess of Brittany suo jure together with her husband Charles of Blois between 1341 and 1364. Her ducal claims were contested by the House of Montfort, which prevailed only after an extensive civil war, the War of the Breton Succession. After the war, Joan remained titular Duchess of Brittany to her death. She was Countess of Penthièvre in her own right throughout her life.

Early life

Joan was the only daughter of Guy, Count of Penthièvre, the brother of Duke John III, and Jeanne d'Avaugour. Through her father she became Countess of Penthièvre in her own right, and established her ducal claims.

War of the Breton Succession

Joan was one of the protagonists of the War of the Breton Succession. The issue of succession to the ducal crown would involve the issue of whether a child could, regardless of gender, claim the right of "representation" of a deceased parent — in which case Joan would inherit her father's rights as the second brother of the late duke — or whether the next eldest male heir in a partially collineal line outranked all others. In the Breton succession, the collateral claimant was Joan's half-uncle John of Montfort, born from the second marriage of Duke Arthur II to Yolande of Dreux. John III had been alienated from Yolande, his stepmother, and sought to prevent his half-brother from succeeding him, including an abortive attempt to annul his father's second marriage and so render his half-siblings illegitimate.[lower-alpha 1]

In 1337, Joan married Charles of Blois in Paris.[2] In 1341, on the death of John III, the couple assumed the rule of the duchy of Brittany, Charles having been granted permission to perform homage by King Philip VI by the arrêt of Conflans on 7 September 1341. They appeared to be supported by most of the local nobility and administration. However, John of Montfort did not agree to let go of his own rights, and war ensued.[lower-alpha 2]

When John died in 1345 in the midst of the succession war, his wife Joanna of Flanders took arms to protect the rights of their son John against the party led by Joan and Charles. Joanna organized resistance and made use of diplomatic means to protect her family's position.[lower-alpha 3]

After these initial successes, Charles was taken prisoner by the English in 1347. Thomas Dagworth was the official captor of Charles of Blois.[4] He was released nine years afterwards against a ransom of about half a million écus, and resumed the war against the Montforts. Charles died in the Battle of Auray, which determined the end of the war and the victory of the Montforts, leaving Joan a widow.[lower-alpha 4]

Later life

The contest between the two claimants was then settled in 1365 by the First Treaty of Guérande; by its terms, Joan received a substantial pension (payments of which continued until 1372) in compensation for her claims, the right to maintain the ducal title for life, all her familial lands of Penthièvre and Avaugour, and an exemption from homage to the new duke for these territories. Most critically for future events, her male heirs would recover the duchy if John IV had no male posterity, and women were now formally prohibited from inheriting the duchy.

In 1379, when John IV had been forced into exile in England, King Charles V of France attempted to annex Brittany to the French royal domain. Joan was shocked by this violation of her rights and those of her sons, as laid out in the Treaty of Guérande. Both her supporters and those of the Montfort line united to invite John IV back from his exile in England and retake control of the duchy.

After the death of Charles V, she ratified on 2 May 1381 the Second Treaty of Guérande, which essentially re-stated the terms of the first. From the legal perspective of the Treaties of Guérande, the issue of succession to the ducal crown appeared settled, although Joan's descendants provoked various conflicts with John IV and future dukes from the House of Montfort.


Joan died on 10 September 1384 and was buried at the church of the Friars Minor of Guingamp.

Joan had lost the ducal title and powers of Brittany for her descendants, and despite attempts to reclaim the ducal crown this loss was permanent. However, her descendants were appointed from time to time to high administrative posts in Brittany under the future kings of France. Her title and rights as Countess of Penthièvre were inherited only to be lost from time to time to the Duke of Brittany as her descendants continued their conflicts with the House of Montfort.


Joan and Charles had the following children:


  1. The issue of 'representative' versus 'cadet' inheritance[1] was related also to the question of whether the ducal line of Brittany ought to adhere to French royal tradition (cadet succession) or its own local custom (representative).
  2. The reverberating theme in the history of Brittany to the current day is its strong preference for independence. See for example the expression of this theme in the life of Francis II, Duke of Brittany. Ironically, while the initial argument of the Montfortist cause actually relied very strongly on the idea that Brittany should follow French successorial practice, in subsequent generations the line would vigorously enforce the notion that the Duchy of Brittany should remain independent from its royal neighbor.[3]
  3. In the siege of Hennebont, she supposedly (according to an isolated account) took up arms and, dressed in armour, conducted the defence of the town. In this version, Joanna even led a raid of knights outside the walls that successfully set fire to (and destroyed) one of the enemy's rear camps. After this she popularly became known as "Jeanne la Flamme". However Joanna was eventually forced to retreat to England, where she became mentally ill, leaving her young son in the care of the English court. Joan and Charles by this time controlled most of Brittany.
  4. His partisans led a movement to canonize him as a saint for his devotion to religion, but despite the apparent support of Pope Gregory XI, no final canonization was achieved at this time. He was eventually beatified in 1904.


  1. See Louise Wilkinson, "Pawn and Political Player: Observations on the Life of a Thirteenth-Century Countess," Historical Research 73 (2000), 108, for an outline of the types of succession.
  2. Michael Prestwich, The Three Edwards: War and State in England, 1272-1377, (Routledge, 1993), 174.
  3. Michael Jones, ed., "Some Documents Relating to the Disputed Succession of the Duchy of Brittany, 1341," Camden Miscellany 24 (1972), 4.
  4. Historical Note Vagabond by Bernard Cornwell 2002 pg 405

See also

Joan, Duchess of Brittany
Born: 1324 Died: 1384
Regnal titles
Preceded by
John III
Duchess of Brittany
with Charles I as co-duke
John of Montfort and John IV as rivals
Succeeded by
John IV
as undisputed duke
Viscountess of Limoges
with Charles I
Succeeded by
John III
Preceded by
Countess of Penthièvre
with Charles I
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