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The Illustrious Sister, Marie of Champagne

11 March was the day when Henry the Young King's elder sister Marie, Countess of Champagne died in 1198, aged fifty-three. Marie was Henry's half-sister, to be precise. To make it even more complicated, she was both Henry's and his wife, Marguerite's half-sister. The eldest child of Eleanor of Aquitaine (1124-1204) and Louis VII of France (1120-1180), Marie was born in 1145, eight years after her parents were married. The story of her arrival in this world is a well known one. Marie's mother, young Eleanor, her royal husband and his subjects must have been greatly disturbed by the fact that the years passed and much awaited male heir to the throne did not appear. Many became convinced that their queen was barren.



Eleanor decided to seek advice of Bernard of Clairvaux [later saint]. The meeting was arranged on the occasion of the dedication of Abbe Suger's newly built cathedral at Saint-Denis, in June 1144. Eleanor met Bernard in private to discuss her sister Petronilla and her husband Raoul's case. She asked him to intervene on the latters' behalf promising to make concessions in the matter of Champagne (Louis and Count Thibaut were waging war) and perhaps recognize Peter de la Châtre as archbishop of Bourges. What she said and the “manly” way she presented her ideas must have horrified the holy man, for he rebuked her harshly, commanding her to stop meddling in affairs of state. Eleanor, a shrewd tactician, humbled herself by saying what troubled her most, namely her failure to produce a child. Upon hearing this Bernard offered her a bargain. She was to do everything she could to re-establish peace and he, in return, by his prayers would obtain from the Lord what she requested. Eleanor reported the abbot's words to Louis and kept her part of the bargain. Bernard, as the time showed, was less successful. The royal child indeed was born the following year, but it was not a much awaited son, but a daughter, whom Eleanor named Marie.




Marie was barely seven and her younger sister, Alix, one, when their parents obtained the annulment of their marriage in 1152. The princesses came under the protection of Louis. Both seem to have had remarkably little contact with their mother thereafter. Louis had them bethrothed to the brothers Henri of Champagne (1152-1181) and Thibaut of Blois*. Marie had long been promised to Henri, whom her father befriended on the Second Crusade and who at twenty-five succeeded his father as count of Troyes and Meaux. In 1155, the year when Marie's half-brother Henry [the future Young King] was born, ten-year-old Marie was staying under the tutelage of abbess Alice of Mareuil, at the prestigious old Benedictine convent of Avenay, near Epernay, in Champagne, where she had been sent to in 1153, the year she reached the canonical age of consent and was formally betrothed to Henri of Champagne. They were married in 1159, when Marie was fourteen. Some scholars still give the date of 1164 for Marie and Henri's wedding, proposed by Henri d'Arbois de Jubainville (Histoire des ducs et des comtes de Champagne [Paris, 1861], III, p.96), who bases it on 'a late and unreliable document', but I would rather follow June Hall McCash, who gives 1159 as the date, explaining that (let me quote): "An 1159 charter refers to Marie as "Trecensis comitissa", evidence that the marriage of Henri and Marie had already taken place. In the twenty-two years of their marriage they had four children: Henri, Marie, Scholastique and Thibaut.

Sometime in 1178, Marie's husband decided to revisit the Holy Land. In the count’s eighteen-month absence (May 1179- February 1181) Marie ruled the county in his stead. She had never done it before because her husband had his system of governance well established before she arrived in Troyes and because there was no such need. She did it alone, without regency council, and she showed great skill and decisiveness. She did not hesitate to join the opposition against her half-brother Philip, when the latter acted against his mother's family and married Isabelle of Hainaut, who was already bethrothed to Marie's oldest son, Henri. Marie's husband returned from the Holy Land in February 1181 only to die a month later, on 16 March 1181. After his death Marie exercised the comital office as regent, this time for her son Henri (II), for six years (March 1181- May 1187). We get the glimpse of Marie the politician thanks to Gislebert of Mons, who, in his Chronicle of Hainaut, described the conference at Sens, between Marie, her late husband's family, her brother Philip [Augustus] on one side and Baldwin, the count of Hainaut on the other. The latter was summoned by Philip to “keep the cotracts of matrimony confirmed for his children and the countess of Champagne's children, with faith given and oath offered.” (Chronicle of Hainaut, p.104)** Baldwin asked for delays, but he was, as Gislebert put it, “constrained” by the countess and her in-laws. Cornered, the Count came from Sens to Troyes, where the contracted marriage of his son Baldwin, and Marie of Champagne (the daughter) was sworn on both sides.



When Henri reached maturity and assumed the countship Marie decided to retire to Fontaines-les-Nannes, a Fontevrist priory near Meaux, taking with her her second son, eight-year-old Thibaut. Marie herself was forty-two at the time and probably could not have imagined she was ever to rule again. The fall of the Holy City, however, made her son, Henri, as many young men at the time, take “the Jerusalem road”. In 1190, before he set off at the head of a large contignent of barons and knights to accompany his uncle, Richard I , king of England [Lionheart], on the Third Crusade, he summoned his barons and knights to Sezanne to swear oaths of fidelity to his twelve-year-old brother Thibaut in the event that he himself did not return from the Holy Land. Upon his departure Marie resumed the office of a regent. She could not have known she would never see her son again, for “... although all the kings and princes returned from there to their own lands, he remained there as if alone, and received through a certain marriage the kingdom of that land, the wealth of which seemed greater than his own regions’(Chronicle of Hainaut, pp.139-40). ‘A certain marriage’ meant Henry’s marriage to Isabelle, daughter of King Amaury I of Jerusalem and widow of Conrad of Montferat, whom Henry took as his wife on 5 May 1192. Henry refused the title of king, styling himself ‘lord of the kingdom of Jerusalem’ and to the very end ‘count of Champagne'. He died tragically on 10 September 1197 in a most peculiar accident, falling from a window of his palace at Acre. Was it a window or balcony railing that gave way under his weight? The accounts differ when it comes to details. One thing is certain, though: at the time of his death Henry was thirty-one, too young and promising man to die. His untimely passing must have left Marie utterly distraught. Still she continued as regent for her younger son Thibaut (III) until her death in March 1198. A month later, Thibaut, aged nineteen, was knighted by his uncle Philip of France [Augustus] and did homage for his lands at Melun. He was to rule for three years, till May 1201, when he died suddenly in the midst of the preparations for the Fourth Crusade. Fortunately, Marie did not live long enough to see him passed away prematurely and in the flower of his youth. Thibaut's widow, Blanche of Navarre, being in the last weeks of her second pregnancy and absolutely unprepared for a role she was thrust into, did the only thing she could do. She immediately made her way to Sens, where she did homage to King Philip, who became her protector and guardian of the future Thibaut IV. The latter was born within days of Blanche's return to Champagne. Blanche was to be regent for her son for the next twenty-one years (according to the custom in Champagne, counts could succeed their deceased fathers at twenty-one).

Very little is known of Marie's personal life. There is evidence she was close to her half-brothers, Richard and Geoffrey. With the former she shared Adam of Perseigne as confessor, for the latter- after his untimely death in 1186- she dedicated an altar in Paris. She also entertained her half-sister, Marguerite, the Young King's widow, at the Christmas court of 1184. As for her relationship with Henry the Young King, we should tread carefully. The two certainly met on the occasion of coronation of young Philip Capet (All Saints' Day 1179), who was Marie's half-brother and Henry's brother-in-law, and on 11 April 1182 at La Grange St Arnoult, between Senlis and Crepy, at the conference held to discuss the Vermandois succession. I think we can assume that they must have met also on different occasions, such as tournaments, official meetings and royal banquets.

Marie remains best known as her mother's daughter and for her associacions with Chretien de Troyes, who claimed he wrote Lancelot at her request, and Andreas Capellanus according to whom the famous “judgements on love" were jointly pronounced by Eleanor and Marie, which, in the light of the recent research, is pure fiction.


* Louis VII himself married Henri and Thibaut's sister, Adele, meaning that the latter was both sister-in-law and stepmother of Marie's

** Young Baldwin of Hainaut was to marry young Marie, whereas young Henri of Champagne was to marry Baldwin's sister Yolende. Yolende never married Henri, but married Count Pierre II Courtenay of Nevers.



Sources:

Chronicle of Hainaut by Gilbert of Mons. Translated into English by Laura Napran. The Boydell Press, Woodbridge, 2005

The Aristocracy in the County of Champagne, 1100-1300 by Theodore Evergates. Google Books

"Aristocratic Women in the County of Champagne" by Theodore Evergates in Aristocratic Women in Medieval France ed. by T. Evergates. Google Books

Eleanor of Aquitaine by Marion Meade. London, 2001.

Eleanor of Aquitaine by Ralph V. Turner. New Haven and London, 2011.


The images come from Arthur les romans de la Table ronde and Daily Mail Online




Comments

  1. What a fascinating woman! I so enjoyed reading this post! Thinking about Henry and Marguerite having half-sisters in common has always made my head spin ;-)

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    1. Exactly! Not to mention her father, being a father-in-law and brother-in-law of her husband at the same time :-)

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  2. Fantastic post about an interesting lady. Enjoyed it very much. Shared on my timeline. xx :)

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    1. Thank you, Marsha! I sincerely do not know how to express my gratitude :-)

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  3. I second the motion.....fascinating woman! I have to say Tsk & shame to Bernard for this bargaining with Eleanor. His priestly duties should have first & foremost sent him catapulting to his prayer bench, supplicating to his Lord to quicken the young queen's womb!

    Very interesting post Kasia, thank you. Won't it be great to spend time with Henri again in Ransom. I became so attached to him in Lionheart.

    Joan

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    1. Somehow, young Henri from Lionheart reminds me of a certain young king I'm rather fond of :-)

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  4. Thank you for a great post on Marie de France, Countess of Champagne! Long interested in her, you have give me some great biographical information! One can only marvel at the complexities of relationships between the House of Capet, the Angevins and other French aristocratic families. Imagine being a sister to your brother's wife! Great blog on the Young King! :)

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    1. Thank you, dear Sarah! I'm happy you like my post. I especially enjoyed the research. Marie was a fascinating figure. I also highly admire her daughter-in-law and Berengaria of Navarre's sister, Blanche. She must have been a very courageous young lady indeed.

      I miss all my FB friends. I'm very happy to hear from you :-)

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  5. Great post Kasia enjoyed reading it !

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    1. Thank you, dear Libby! I really enjoyed writing it :-)

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  6. Like everyone else, I really enjoyed this post! Not surprised to see all the comments - it really was so interesting! I agree with Kathryn about the half-sister connection - takes a bit of getting used to. I love the name Scholastique! And what a freak accident befell Marie's son - were there any 'suspicious' rumours?

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  7. Thank you, Anerje! As for young Henri, it seems that his death really was accidental. Moreover one of the accounts has it that a servant, who was trying to save him, fell out with him and died as well.

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  8. I have been doing a lot of research on Marie (I am writing a novel about her) and haven't seen the 1159 date for her wedding to Henry the Liberal. Where did you find it? There was reference somewhere to their separation, giving the more common date of their wedding, 1164, as the time when they reconciled. However, I was not able to find, in that source, a date for the wedding.

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    1. How fascinating! I would love to read the novel. I'm sorry, but apparently I have forgotten to mention one source. I found the date in A Companion to Chretien de Troyes ed. by Norris J. Lacy in chapter 2 entitled "Chretien's patrons". The author, June Hall McCash gives 1159 as the date explaining that (let me quote): "An 1159 charter refers to Marie as "Trecensis comitissa", evidence that the marriage of Henri and Marie had already taken place (John Benton, 'The Court of Champagne', Speculum 36 [1961], 554).Some scholars still cite the date of 1164, proposed byHenri d'Arbois de Jubainville (Histoire des ducs et des comtes de Champagne [Paris, 1861], III, p.96), who bases it on 'a late and unreliable document' ('Court of Champagne', 554)".

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    2. Excellent, Kasia, as usual. You make the gravitational pull towards the 12th century ever stronger!

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    3. Thank you, Darren :-) I do my best :-)

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