Close to the centre of the city of Beauvais, 50 miles north of Paris, is a bronze statue of a young woman who holds a captured standard in one hand and a vicious-looking hatchet in the other. This is “Jeanne Hachette”, who lived in the 15th century and is credited with saving the city from being overrun by a besieging army.
Her actual name was Jeanne Laisné, the daughter of a local butcher. She lived in the walled city of Beauvais at a time of conflict between King Louis XI and Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, who were fighting over the control of France.
In the spring of 1472 the Duke’s troops were advancing on Beauvais. They had already taken the smaller city of Nesle, to the north-east, which had made the mistake of surrendering to the Burgundians. This had not stopped the Duke’s men from bursting in and killing all the people they could find, many of whom had fled to the church as a place of refuge.
The citizens of Beauvais were therefore determined to put up the strongest resistance they could. On 27th June the Duke’s men lay siege to the city walls, erecting siege ladders so that they could swarm over the top.
Nobody fought as fiercely as Jeanne Laisné, who armed herself with a hatchet from her father’s butcher’s shop. Her most prominent victim was the Duke’s standard-bearer – seizing the standard was a moral victory that gave heart to all her fellow defenders, who no doubt saw Jeanne as a reincarnated Joan of Arc.
Duke Charles failed in his aim of capturing Beauvais and was forced to withdraw after 25 days. Beauvais had its eternal heroine.
© John Welford