Women’s History – Jeanne Laisne

-by Gabrielle Friesen, student staff

One of the most well known French heroines is Joan of Arc, who helped crown the French King and end the Hundred Years War. A lesser-known French heroine is Jeanne Laisne, better known as Jeanne Hachette, who in fact looked up to Joan of Arc. Jeanne Hachette’s moniker comes from the weapon she used to save her town from an invading army, and her heroism is still celebrated today.

In 1471 Charles the Bold (le Temeraire), Duke of Burgundy, invaded France after the French King accused Charles of treason and seized some Burgundian towns. The Duke’s large army massacred the French town of Nesle before moving on to a town called Beauvais in June of 1472.  The siege lasted for twenty-one days. Over the course of the siege, a woman named Jeanne Laisne organized a contingent of women who loaded the town’s cannons, delivering arrows to the archers, and dumping boiling, scalding oil over the walls onto the attacking Burgundians. As the siege progressed, the Burgundians got up onto the walls and were about to take the town. Many of the French defenders began to flee, thinking their town was lost. However, Jeanne Laisne bounded up the stairs to the walls, grabbing a nearby weapon, a hatchet. Shrieking and swinging her weapon, she threw herself at the Burgundian officer about to plant the Burgundian flag on the wall and claim the town. She ripped the standard from his hands, and bodily flung him over the wall.

Seeing Jeanne Hachette’s efforts, the French soldiers returned to their posts, and kept the Burgundians at bay until reinforcements arrived. Jeanne’s women returned to supplying the troops, while Jeanne continued to fight with her hatchet. Even after the reinforcements arrived, the Burgundians attempted to claim the city, climbing the walls and trying to plant the flag, only to be pushed back and have their standards torn down. Finally, the Burgundians retreated, leaving Beauvais defeated.

King Louis XI, upon hearing of Jeanne Hachette’s heroism, allowed her to march at the head of the French army, bearing his standard. She was also allowed to marry any man of her choosing, which was unheard of for a woman in the 1400s.  She married a man named Collin Pillon. Jeanne was also granted tax exemption for the rest of her life, as were her descendants. On top of all this praise, rare enough for a man, let alone a peasant woman, every year on the anniversary of the battle a parade is held in Beauvais, “The Procession of the Assault,” where the women of the town march in front of the men. Jeanne herself led the parade until her death.

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