Avenue du Peuple Belge, Lille, France
The Hurlus weren’t welcome in Lille. For all the pillaging and plundering they’d done around the north east of France, all the pilfering and looting, they were feared. The year was 1582. Europe was in turmoil. Across the continent, new ideas were spreading. Protestant ideas, Calvinist ideas…ideas the Hurlus welcomed. The Hurlus were Protestant rebels from Belgium, followers of the Dutch Prince of Orange. And they were about to attack Catholic Lille. Sunday, 29 July. Market day. Livestock and fabrics, meat and fish, grains and pulses were bought and sold on the market square. But in among the shoppers and traders, the Hurlus were lurking. Hidden, and in disguise, their weapons concealed under stalls and in shopping baskets. Suddenly, the Hurlus threw off their disguises. They attacked. And would have won the day. Had it not been for Jeanne Maillotte. Jeanne ran a local alehouse, and she wasn’t going to let her city be overrun, pillaged, plundered, pilfered and looted by the Hurlu rebels. Instead, she reached for the nearest thing to hand with which she could arm herself (and luckily for Jeanne, that was an axe). She punched the air with her fists and called together her fellow citizens of Lille to fight. By the time the military arrived on the scene, Jeanne had already led the people of Lille into battle with the Hurlus. They fought bravely. Because they were fighting for what they cared about, their freedom and the freedom of their city. The Hurlus were defeated. And Jeanne Maillotte had become a hero. But it’s here that history loses Jeanne Maillotte. Presumably, she went back to her alehouse and after a well-deserved tankard of locally-brewed beer, got on with her normal life. Five hundred years on from that Sunday afternoon in 1582, some historians question the story of Jeanne Maillotte. There simply aren’t any records of anyone of that name living in Lille at that time. She may be a legend, a story to embolden and make people proud. Hers, after all, is the story of an ordinary person achieving the extraordinary. But no matter if history or legend, her name will be remembered for a long time yet to come.