Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
The Writer Christine de Pizan at Her Desk

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Jacoba Félicie de Almania, Fourteenth-Century Parisian Doctor

Jacoba Félicie, a Medieval Medical Practitioner (verdict issued 22 November 1322)

On 11 August 1322, Jacoba Félicie was cited for illegally practicing medicine by an official of the Bishop of Paris and the proctor of the dean of the medical faculty at the University of Paris.*

The proceedings took place over the course of the next few months, the records of her case preserved in the Cartulary of the University of Paris: "Witnesses were brought . . . in the inquisition made at the instance of the masters in medicine at Paris against Jacoba Félicie and others practicing the art of medicine and surgery in Paris and the suburbs without the knowledge and authority of the said masters, to the end that they may be punished, and that the practice be forbidden them. . . ."

Manuscript illustration of 
a female healer, 14th century
(MS 544, Miscellanea Medica XVIII,
from Wellcome Collection, London)
Among those providing evidence for the prosecution of Jacoba Félicie  was John of Padua, a physician and  one-time surgeon to King Philip IV of France. He claimed that "penalties and prohibitions" against those practicing medicine illegally had existed for more than sixty years. 

According to his testimony, Jacoba Félicie was "ignorant of the art of medicine," not having been "approved as competent in those things which she presumed to treat." He also asserted that she was "not lettered," presumably unable to read or write.

Evidence presented by the prosecution said that Félicie had "visited many sick persons afflicted with grave illness," diagnosed them, promised to make them well again, "visited them often," and prescribed various medications for them. She charged them money for her services. And she did all this despite the fact that "she has not been approved in any official studium at Paris or elsewhere. . . ."

A number of witnesses, both men and women, offered testimony on her behalf. One man who was questioned about her said that he had been "suffering from a certain sickness in his head and ears," and that Félicie had shown him "great care" and cured him. 

Another of the witnesses, one who had been treated by many "masters in medicine," consulted Jacoba Félicie, who treated him with such "great care" that he was "completely restored to health." She hadn't made any "contract" with him about her services--instead, he "paid as he wished when he got well."

When questioned, a female witness said that she had been "seized" by a terrible fever and sought help from "many physicians." But she became so "weighed down" with her illness that "the said physicians gave her up for dead." But Félicie had cured her "of the said illness."

In Félicie's defense, her defending counsel also noted there were many practicing medicine on a daily basis in Paris who did not have licenses--and that the "law" being used against her had no validity, being merely a "mandate" that had been asserted but never a legally established statute. 

In an argument that seems as if it may have come directly from Jacoba Félicie herself, her defense asserted that the "prohibitions" and "statutes" that the "masters" were trying to use against her were made for "ignorant women and inexperienced fools"--and that she was clearly neither. She was thus "excepted" from the statutes and prohibitions because she was "an expert in the art of medicine."

To the prosecution's argument that "penalties of fines and excommunication" had been levied against "ignorant and illicit" medical practioners for more than sixty years, Jacoba Félicie also defended herself. She said that the law was old, that sixty years was long before she was born (according to the record, "she is young, thirty years or thereabouts"), and thus all the "ignorant women" and "inexperienced fools" the law had been aimed at were long dead. She was not one of them. 

MS 544, Miscellanea Medica XVIII,
from Wellcome Collection, London)
Moreover, her defense added, it was surely better for a woman to examine and care for female patients than a male doctor--and surely it was also better for a woman to to examine and care for a male patient who "dare not reveal" all the details of his illness to a male doctor. It was altogether a "lesser evil" to allow a woman to "exercise the office of practice" than it was to let sick patients die. 

In the end, however, the case was decided without any examination of Jacoba's expertise and experience but for an altogether different reason, one that had been argued by John of Padua: since a woman couldn't practice law, couldn't even provide evidence in a criminal case, it was obvious that she couldn't practice medicine either. This argument by analogy seems to have been what determined the case.

According to the final verdict against her, issued 22 November 1322: "Her plea that she cured many sick persons whom the aforesaid master could not cure ought not to stand, and is frivolous, since it is certain that a man approved in the aforesaid art could cure better than any woman."

And so, despite the witnesses in her defense and Jacoba Félicie's own arguments, she was found guilty, fined heavily, and threatened with excommunication if she continued to practice medicine. 

This is all we know of Jacoba Félicie--if she was about thirty years old at the time of her trial, she would have been born in the last decade of the thirteenth-century, but where is unknown. Nor is there information in the surviving documents where she might have gained her medical experience. She was never tested about her knowledge during the proceedings--nor was she ever given the chance to prove whether she was "not lettered."

Nor is it known whether she gave up practicing medicine, remaining in Paris, or moved on. 

I've linked above to the two most substantial articles about Jacoba Félicie, Pearl Kibre's "The Faculty of Medicine at Paris, Charlatanism, and Unlicensed Medical Practices in the Later Middle Ages" (1953) and Monica Green's "Getting to the Source: The Case of Jacoba Felicie . . . "  (2006). Both are excellent--Kibre's covers other cases and provides the cases made by prosecution and defense, Green’s focusing on the arguments made in Felicie’sdefense.  

You may also enjoy W. L. Minkowski's "Women Healers of the Middle Ages: Selected Aspects of Their History" (1992) for a brief overview of women as medical practitioners 

*Three other women were charged (as were two men) and condemned for practicing medicine: Johanna, identified as convert, Margarita de Ypra, identified as a surgeon, and Belota, identified as a Jew. All three women received the same penalty as Jacoba Félicie. 

Monday, November 13, 2023

Eleanor Cobham, duchess of Gloucester: "Beautiful, Intelligent, and Ambitious"

Eleanor Cobham, duchess of Gloucester (walk of penance, 13 November 1441)

I first came across a reference to Eleanor Cobham in a Shakespeare play--in Henry VI, part 2, she is depicted in a way not unlike Shakespeare's much later Lady Macbeth, tempting her husband to seize the crown for himself:
But list to me, my Humphrey, my sweet duke:
Methought I sat in seat of majesty,
In the cathedral church of Westminster
And in that chair where kings and queens were crowned,
Where Henry and dame Margaret kneeled to me
And on my head did set the diadem. (1.2.36-41)
Her husband, Humphrey, duke of Gloucester, responds to Eleanor by calling her "presumptuous" and "ill-natured," insisting that must "chide her outright" for such ideas and advising her to "[b]anish the canker of ambitious thoughts." 

But once her husband is gone and she is alone on stage, Gloucester's "sweet Nell" hints that she may not be as acquiescent as she seems: "Are you so choleric / With Eleanor for telling but her dream? / Next time I'll keep my dreams unto myself / And not be checked" (1.2.53-56).

Eleanor Cobham and her husband,
Humphrey, duke of Gloucester
(from The Benefactors' Book
of St. Albans Abbey,
BL MS Cotton Nero D VII
fol. 154r)
In Shakespeare's history play, Eleanor Cobham does not go mad like his Lady Macbeth, endlessly washing her hands because she can't get rid of a damned bloodstain. Instead, the duchess is brought down by her husband's political enemies, who use her and her ambition as a weapon against Gloucester. In the view of the duke of Buckingham, "She's tickled now; her fume needs no spurs; / She'll gallop far enough to her destruction" (1.3.154-5).

Although the history in this play is shaky, many of the details in Shakespeare's version of Eleanor Cobham's life do correspond to her biography, including the blame heaped upon her for being too "ambitious."* But I must admit that never thought much more about her until recently, decades after I first encountered her in Henry VI, part 2.

But there she was in Lauren Johnson's The Shadow King: The Life and Death of Henry VI, which I read not too long ago and which has inspired today's post.

Eleanor Cobham (her name is sometimes given in genealogical sources as "Eleanor de Cobham) was the daughter of Sir Reginald (or "Reynold") de Cobham, third baron Cobham, a knight who fought under Henry V in France during the Hundred Years' War, notably taking part in the battle of Agincourt in the "retinue of the Earl of Arundel." He then captained a group of "lances" and "archers" in the duke of Gloucester's "own retinue," taking part in the siege of Cherbourg in 1418.

Eleanor's mother was Reginald Cobham's first wife, Eleanor Culpepper, the daughter of Sir Thomas Culpepper. The pair were married about the year 1400. Eleanor Culpepper gave birth to three or four or five or six children, depending on which source you consult; the most reliable information I have been able to find indicates that the couple had four children, two sons and two daughters. I can't find any firm dates for the birth of these children, nor any source that details their birth order. According to a brass rubbing in the north chapel of Lingfield church (Surrey) where she is buried, Eleanor Culpepper, the wife of Reginald Cobham, died on 5 November 1420.** (Reginald Cobham would marry Anne Bardolf, widow of Sir William Clifford, in July 1422.)

Eleanor Cobham's date of birth is sometimes given as 1400 or "about" 1400 or 1404 or 1410. Nothing is certain, except that she was born after her parents' marriage in 1400 and before Eleanor Culpepper's death in 1420 or 1422. So "about" 1400 seems to be as close as we can get.

Aside from her birth, probably at the family's seat, Starborough, in Kent, Eleanor Cobham makes no mark in the historical record until she appears as a lady-in-waiting in the household of Jacqueline of Bavaria, countess of Hainaut, Holland, and Zeeland. 

Jacqueline, the would-be duchess of Bavaria, had been married at the age of fourteen, widowed at the age of sixteen, remarried at the age of seventeen, and then subjected to a relentless series of challenges about the validity of her second marriage. She had also been fighting for her inheritance since the death of her father, rejected as a female heir by those who had taken an oath to support her, challenged as an heir by her uncle, and subject to the vagaries of the politics of the Hundred Years' War. 

Fed up with the ongoing dispute over her second marriage, Jacqueline herself finally declared it to be invalid in 1420. A year later, just twenty years old, she fled to England, seeking aid in her fight for her inheritance. She not only found support from King Henry V, she found a husband in his younger brother. At the age of twenty-one, Jacqueline married her "third" husband, Humphrey, duke of Gloucester.

Gloucester's decision to marry Jacqueline of Bavaria was widely judged to have been rash--in the words of a contemporary French chronicler, Jean de Wavrin, Jacqueline already had a husband "who was still living" when she "married" Gloucester in England. "[M]any people were much dismayed" at their marriage, Wavrin claimed, "and not without cause." Although the couple had sought an annulment of Jacqueline's second marriage, they had hastily "married" before receiving any papal decree that would allow them to do so. And Gloucester's actions had also hurt England, damaging the country's interests on the continent: "from this marriage resulted great evils and losses," Wavrin opined.

It was at some point after Jacqueline's arrival in England that Eleanor Cobham joined her retinue. This date may suggest something about Eleanor's birthdate--if she were born about the year 1400, she would have become a member of Jacqueline of Bavaria's household when she was around twenty years old, but if she were born as late as 1410, she would have only been eleven or twelve years old. Possible, but less likely.

The timing also suggests that Eleanor may have come to the English court soon after her mother's death, though how exactly she gained her place in Jacqueline's retinue is not clear. Perhaps her father's earlier association with Gloucester made it possible. However it happened, Eleanor Cobham was with Jacqueline of Bavaria and Humphrey of Gloucester when they returned to the continent in October of 1424--Gloucester was determined to gain control of Jacqueline's inheritance. 

But with the validity of his own marriage now being questioned--the status of Jacqueline's second marriage had still not been clarified--and with his campaign to reclaim Jacqueline's titles and territories not notably successful, by April of 1425 Humphrey of Gloucester was back in England, leaving Jacqueline of Bavaria behind--he had begun "to wax weary of her, by whom he never had profit, but loss," explained the sixteenth-century historian John Stowe, who relied on a variety of fiftteenth-century chronicles in compiling his Annals of England. And, when Gloucester left Jacqueline and returned to England, he had brought Eleanor Cobham with him. 

Once again, the chronicler Wavrin had a few words to say: 
. . . the said duke of Gloucester took back to the land of England Eleanor Cobham, a very noble damsel and of grand lineage, whom he afterwards married . . . , and who had come with lady Jacqueline, the duchess his wife, to the country of Hainault by way of diversion, as young damsels are desirous of seeing new countries and foreign regions, for she was also marvellously fair and pleasing, and showed herself of good disposition in various places.
Wavrin didn't quite have the details right. Eleanor Cobham was the daughter of a minor knight, not a "very noble damsel," much less of "grand lineage." Whether she was "marvellously fair and pleasing," who knows? But she must have been fair and pleasing enough to Humprey, duke of Gloucester, because at some point, either before or after he had ditched his wife on the continent, Eleanor Cobham became his mistress. 

Despite his liaison with Eleanor Cobham, in 1427 Gloucester briefly considered returning to the continent in aid of Jacqueline of Bavaria, this time at the head of a new force and with full parliamentary support. The death of Jacqueline's second husband in April of that year might have made it possible for Gloucester and Jacqueline to have regularized their union, and popular opinion seemed to support such a reunion. 

As C. Marie Harker notes, for example, an entry in a "London city letter book record" in March 1427 referred sympathetically to "the miserable state of the most noble Duchess of Gloucester," meaning Jacqueline of Bavaria, while a contemporary report on events in parliament in January 1428 not only recorded support for her but also antagonism to Eleanor Cobham:
Also in this Parliament, a certain woman of Stokes came to Parliament publicly, with whom [came] other women of London respectfully dressed, proffering letters to the Duke of Gloucester . . . and to certain other lords appearing in that same place. The effect of the letters was loudly critical of the Duke of Gloucester, who was unwilling to snatch away his wife from . . . affliction . . . , but, [his] love having cooled, [leaving her] thus to remain perpetually in servitude; and because he held publicly with him another woman, an adulteress.
But if in fact such letters were presented to Gloucester, urging him to return to Jacqueline of Bavaria and continue his military pursuits on her behalf, they were useless. In the same month, the pope finally issued his decision on Jacqueline of Bavaria's second marriage--it had been a valid union, and even though this husband was now dead, "any marriage contracted by the former [Jacqueline] in the lifetime of the latter [her second husband] was declared to be illegal.

Eleanor Cobham and Humphrey of Gloucester,
detail, rom The Benefactors' Book
of St. Albans Abbey
And that was that. It's not clear when or where, but at some point after January 1428 and before July 1431, Humphrey, duke of Gloucester, married Eleanor Cobham. 

(One more bit about Eleanor's age--if she had been born about the year 1400, she was about the same age as Jacqueline of Bavaria, who was born on 15 July 1401. If she became Gloucester's mistress at about the time she returned with him to England in 1425, she would have been about twenty-five to Gloucester's thirty-five. The age gap would obviously have been some twenty years if Eleanor were born in 1410, not out of the question, of course.)

Whatever the popular sentiment about her may have been, the "second" duchess of Gloucester seems to have been accepted by her husband's royal family. In July 1431, for example, by which time they had certainly married, Eleanor and the duke were honored as benefactors of the monastery of St. Albans (the occasion is commemorated in the Benefactors' Book, the illustrations from which are used in this essay--for the original, click here and go to fol. 154r). The next year, at the end of March in 1432, Eleanor became a lady of the Garter when she was rewarded with robes of the Garter of St. George. (Interestingly, Jacqueline, Humphrey's first duchess of Gloucester, had received these robes in 1423!)

Her status as duchess of Gloucester seems also to have been acknowledged later that year when, in May, the duke of Orleans, who had been an English hostage since the battle of Agincourt (1415), was transferred to the custody of Eleanor's father, Reginald Cobham. 

During these years, Gloucester also began to build in Greenwich on a site he had earlier acquired. In 1433, he "laid the foundations" of a "faire building" that he called "his Manor of Plesaunce." An old abbey on the site became known as "Bella Court," and a new tower of "rose-pink brick" was built alongside, intended to hold his library. The duke and duchess of Gloucester seemed to have spent much of their time at this, his "favorite residence," between 1432 and 1437, though Humphrey was called away by business at various times during these years. 

He was on the continent in 1433, for instance, conducting peace negotiations (England was still engaged in the Hundred Years' War). In 1436, he was back on the continent, this time at the head of an army. 

In between his various expeditions to the continent, Gloucester's personal situation changed dramatically--in 1435, after the death of his elder brother, the duke of Bedford, Gloucester became heir to the English throne--if anything were to happen to his fourteen-year-old nephew, Henry VI, the crown would fall to Humphrey, duke of Gloucester.

Rather than increasing Gloucester's popularity and ensuring his security, his status as royal heir aroused the jealousy of his political enemies. Even so, after returning from his foray on the continent in 1436, Gloucester had been greeted by Parliament with a vote of thanks, and in 1437, he and Eleanor received lavish New Year's gifts from the king. In addition to the glittering jewels received by her husband, Eleanor was given a "brooch made in manner of a man garnished with a fair, great ball," the ornament set with five pearls, a diamond, and three "hangers," or pendants, each with rubies and pearls. In June of that year, Eleanor accompanied her husband to the funeral of his step-mother, Joan of Navarre, widow of Henry IV of England, after which the couple returned to Greenwich.

By the end of 1437, the sixteen-year-old Henry VI was considered old enough to no longer need a protectorship, and he had begun his personal rule. For a while, all seemed well enough for Eleanor and her husband. As late as 1439 the young king seemed to welcome his uncle's advice. In 1440, the duchess received another magnificent New Year's gift from the king: "a Garter of Gold, barred through with bars of Gold, and this reason made with Letters of Gold thereupon, hony soit qui mal y pense, and garnished with a flower of Diamonds on the Buckle, and two great Pearls and a Ruby on the Pendant and two great Pearls with twenty-six Pearls on the said Garter" (qtd. by James L. Gillespie, "Ladies of the Fraternity of St. George and of the Society of the Garter"). 

But it is clear that Gloucester's enemies were gaining ground in their attempts to deprive him of power. His stance against any kind of surrender in France weakened his position with the king and his more popular advisers, and by early 1440, Gloucester was losing influence with the king's Council. 

No longer so active at court or in France, Gloucester seems to have lived in a kind of retirement with Eleanor at Plesaunce. There Gloucester devoted himself to the "collection" and "study" of "rare manuscripts," and occupied much of his time with his "books of rare antiquity." (For an overview of Duke Humphrey's library, click here.) Among these books was a "semi-medical, semi-astrological work translated from the original Arabic"--a book that seems to have been given to him by Eleanor.
It is her interest in such a book--and her husband's continued position as heir to the English throne--that combined to propel the couple to a catastrophic end. 

By the time King Henry VI would marry in 1445, Eleanor Cobham had been brutally removed from the scene and Gloucester effectively isolated. By the time Henry's wife, Margaret of Anjou, at last gave birth to a son and heir in 1453, both Eleanor and Glloucester were gone, their deaths hastened by the ruthless actions of their political enemies.

Eleanor's fall was rapid. According to the account of a Latin chronicler, the duchess of Gloucester made a glorious entrance into the city of London on 28 June 1441, splendidly attired. She was welcomed by aldermen and the mayor, who escorted her over London Bridge and into the city. Her pride at this moment came right before her fall. She was, as the chronicler notes, "at the height of her fortune," altogether unmindful of the "fallible and deceptive Wheel of Fortune": "On, how wonderful is this change," he cries out, knowing that "this excellent lady" would soon find herself "destitute of all her worldly glory." 

That very night while at dinner, Eleanor received a message that Roger Bolingbroke, for some years a member of Gloucester's household and her personal clerk, had been arrested.*** With him was another cleric, Thomas Southwell, Eleanor's physician. According to a fifteenth-century chronicle, thee two men had been "taken as conspirators of the king's death," Bolingbroke charged with having attempted "to consume the king's person with necromancy" and Southwell suspected of having "said masses in forbidden and inconvenient places" with "certain instruments" that Bolingbroke, "a great and cunning man" practiced in necromancy, had supplied. A third priest was also accused, John Home, Eleanor's chaplain and the secretary for both Eleanor and her husband. 

Under examination about his activities by the king's Council on 12 July, Bolinbroke implicated the duchess of Gloucester--he confessed that "he wrought the said necromancy at the stirring and procurement of the said Eleanor, to know what should fall of her and to what estate she should come." 

That the duchess might be interested in the succession is not strange--the king, now nineteen years old, did not have a wife, much less a child, his uncle Gloucester was his heir. Eleanor's interest in knowing when and why the king might die was more problematic, especially when horoscopes, magical instrments, and necromancy were involved. The implication of all this was that Eleanor had sought to use witchcraft to bring about the king's death and thus to secure the crown for her husband.

In the mean time, after hearing of the arrests, Eleanor had taken sanctuary in Westminster, an action that only served to increase suspicions of her guilt, at least to contemporary chroniclers. Eleanor was "cited to appear" before "certain bishops of the king"--she could not claim the protection of sanctuary if she were accused of "articles of necromancy, of witchcraft or sorcery, of heresy, and of treason."

And so on 24 July Eleanor. duchess of Gloucester, was brought before the archbishops of Canterbury and York and the bishops of Salisbury "and others." On that day, she was "examined on twenty-eight points of felony and treason," and she asserted her innocence. Afterwards, she was allowed to return to sanctuary. She was called again for further examination on 25 July, when Bolingbroke appeared and reiterated his confession that all he had done had been at her "instance." She was the "cause," he said. 

At this point, the matter was turned over to a lay commission comprised of the mayor of London, aldermen, and commoners, as well as some of the aristocratic men who had participated in the Council's examination. This new examining body began a new set of inquiries, looking into "all manner of treasons, sorcery, and all other things that might in any way touch or concern harmfully the king's person." The danger in handing over the case to a lay power was great, for it could exact a death penalty.

These further explorations of the "plots" involving Bolingbroke, Southwell, Home, and the duchess of Gloucester uncovered the activities of Margery Jourdemayne, "the witch of Eye," a woman who lived near the manor of Eye, belonging to the abbey of Westminster, and whose "sorcery and witchcraft the said Dame Eleanor had long time used." It seems Margery had gotten into trouble for witchcraft ten years earlier, when, from November 1430 until May 1432 she was in royal custody at Windsor for her use of sorcery. She had been released only on the condition that she not involve herself any further in such activities.

The evidence uncovered by the commission indicated that Bolingbroke, Southwell, and Home were all involved in the necromantic treason--they had used the "instruments" of sorcery in order to learn when Henry VI would die. But they had acted on Eleanor's behalf--she was the one who wanted to know when the king would die and, thus, when her husband would become king.

Already examined, Margery Jourdemayne had offered different reasons for Eleanor's interest in the witch's services. She claimed Eleanor had sought love magic--Eleanor wanted potions to bring her Gloucester's love and to ensure that he would marry her. (Various accounts of the examinations of Eleanor and of Margery indicate that they had had dealings for some ten years--if Eleanor had been seeking a love potion from Margery, it must have been before Margery was taken into custody in November 1430, perhaps helping to clarify the datae of Eleanor and Gloucester's marriage.)

A contemporary chronicler claimed that Eleanor pretended to be sick at this point, hoping to be returned to sanctuar. According to this account, Eleanor thought that she would be able to "steal away privily by water" from Westminster Abbey and make her escape. But if she had any such hopes, they were foiled--on 9 August, Henry VI ordered her to appear before the archbishop of Canterbury on 21 October. In the mean time, she was to be held in Leeds Castle.****

Two months later, on 21 October, Eleanor, duchess of Gloucester was back in London, hearing once more the articles of "sorcery, witchcraft, and treason" with which she had been charged. Over the course of her examinations, which continued on 23 October, again facing her accusers, she reiterated her innocence against all accusations of treason, though she did admit to having encouraged Bolingbroke and Southwell and to having consulted Margery Jourdemayne. 

I find her admissions quite touching. When confronted by Bolingbroke and his "instruments," Eleanor "withnayed" (denied) having used them against the king: "it was not so," she said. But she did consult with Margery Jourdemayne: "she did it forto have borne a child by hir lord, the duke of Gloucestre." After being convicted "of the said articles," she was offered the chance to "speak against" those who accused her. Eleanor declined, submitting herself "to the correction of the bishops." 

Those who were charged with her--Bolingbroke, Southwell, Home, and Jourdemayne--were also convicted. Fortunately for him, Thomas Southwell died on 26 October in the Tower before his execution could take place--one chronicler says he died "for sorrow," but he may also have committed suicide.. Margery Jourdemayne was burned as a witch at Smithfield on 27 October. Roger Bolingbroke was hanged, drawn, and quartered at Tyburn on 18 November. John Home was pardoned on the same day--evidently he was judged to have been more of a witness to all the treasonable activity rather than a participant.

As for Eleanor Cobham. On 27 October she "abjured" (renounced) the "articles" with which she had been charged. On 6 November, she was "forcibly divorced" from Humphrey, duke of Gloucester, and three days later, she was judged to be guilty of sorcery and witchcraft but not of heresy and treason. 

The Penance of Eleanor,
E. A. Abbey (1900)
The archbishop of Canterbury delivered her sentence: she was to perform a public penance. On three separate days, "with a meek and demure countenance" and bearing a taper, she was to walk bare-headed through London. On 13 November she was to walk from Temple Bridge to St. Paul's; on 15 November, she was to walk from the Swan Stairs on Thames Street to Christchurch, Aldgate; on 17 November, she was to walk from Queenhithe to St. Michael's in Cornhill. The tapers she carried were to be "offered up" on each church's altar. According to one contemporary account, she performed her penance "meekly," and "the more part of the people had on her great compassion." (The Latin chronicler saw a potent lesson in Eleanor's prescribed penance: she had entered the city of London in pomp and circumstance, only "a short time afterwards" having to suffer humbling "through the streets and streets of the same city."

While witnesses to Eleanor Cobham's acts of penance may have had compassion for her and her great fall, her husband's enemies did not. In addition to her forced divorce and her penance,"she was committed to ward" again "for all her  life after." Her "pride, false covetousness, and lechery were the cause of her confusion," sniffed one chronicler. "Other things might be written of this Dame Eleanor," he added, "the which at reverence of nature and of womanhood shall not be rehearsed."

Whether or not Eleanor Cobham's involvement with sorcery was still regarded as a threat to the king's life, she was a valuable hostage. "As a prisoner, she could still guarantee Duke Humphrey's good behaviour," notes historian Ralph A. Griffiths; "accordingly, elaborate measures were taken to ensure that she remained safely incarcerated for the rest of her life, in the custody of royal Household officials."

Eleanor Cobham, once duchess of Gloucester, was moved from location to location over the course of the next decade: Cheshire Castle, Kenilworth Castle, Peel Castle, on the Isle of Man (perhaps), and Beaumaris Castle, in Wales. 

It's not clear where Eleanor was being held at the time Humphrey, duke of Gloucester, was charged with treason. In February 1447, he was summoned to a meeting of parliament to be held at Bury St. Edmonds--more than one chronicler claimed he had set out with a large but not "extraordinary" retinue for a man of his status, "hoping that he might procure for his imprisoned wife." Instead, he was arrested for treason. Before he could be tried of this crime, he died three days after his arrest, on 23 February 1447. Rumors circulated that he had been murdered, but historians believe he likely died of a stroke.***** 

Even after Gloucester's death, Eleanor Cobham was not released. Instead, on 3 March 1447, Parliament deprived her of any "claim to dowry after the recent death of Duke Humphrey, and she continued to be excluded from general pardons thereafter."

She lived for five more years. Eleanor Cobham, once duchess of Gloucester, died at Beaumaris Castle on 7 July 1452.

As an interesting note, Humphrey, duke of Gloucester, had two illegitimate children. A son, Arthur, was with Gloucester when he was arrested in 1447 and was condemned for treason along with his father, but he was pardoned. Aside from his name and the fact that he was arrested and pardoned in 1447, nothing more is known of him. Gloucester also had a daughter, Antigone, born before 1424. She married twice, had three children, and died c. 1450. (She has descendants today, including Sophie Rhys-Jones, duchess of Edinburgh, wife of Prince Edward.)

There has been much speculation about whether Eleanor Cobham was the mother of these two children, but that is unlikely. While it's not known when Antigone was born, she gave birth to a child in 1436, making 1424 the earliest reasonable date for her own birth. If these two were his children with Eleanor, Gloucester might have had them legitimized after his marriage to their mother (as his grandfather, John of Gaunt, had his children with Katherine Swynford legitimized after their marriage). And if Eleanor had given birth to these two children, why would she having been using a love potion so that she could have conceived Gloucester's child?

*The phrase I've used as the subtitle for this post, "beautiful, intelligent, and ambitious," comes from G. L. Harriss's entry on Eleanor Cobham in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 

**According to G. L. Harriss's ODNB entry, Eleanor Culpepper died in 1422. Genealogical books by Douglas Richardson--Plantagenet Ancestry and Magna Carta Ancestry--also indicate that the year of Eleanor Culpepper's death is 1422, but I cannot find any source for that date. I am relying here on the date of death on the brass rubbing in Lingfield church.

***As Ralph A. Griffiths notes in "The Trial of Eleanor Cobham: An Episode in the Fall of Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester" (1991), "Every fifteenth-century chronicle written in England" covers the events of the extraordinary events, at least one of which containing what must have been an eye-witness account. But their chronology of these accounts is "confused." I've relied here on the chronology offered by Griffiths, though I have considered as well the series of events as dated and told by K. H. Vickers, Duke Humprey's biographer, to which I've linked in this post many times. Jessica Freeman's much more recent essay on Margery Jourdemayne is also extremely detailed on the sequence of events (and far less filled with Griffiths' notable misogyny).

****The place of Eleanor's detention is notable. In 1419, the widowed Joan of Navarre--the second wife of Henry IV of England and thus step-mother to Henry V and to Humphrey, duke of Gloucester--had been accused of witchcraft. Her confessor claimed she had used witchcraft to try to kill the king. Joan was imprisoned, first in Pevensey Castle (from December 1419 to March 1420) before being moved to Leeds Castle, where she remained until July 1422. Although accused, Joan of Navarre was never tried, though her wealth was confiscated--after she was released by Henry V, just weeks before his death, her property was restored to her. She died in 1437--her funeral attended by Gloucester and his wife, who would later be imprisoned in the same castle as Joan of Navarre.

*****Although Gloucester never attempted to break Eleanor out of prison, as was feared by some, and never had a chance to ask for her pardon when summoned to Parliament in 1447, if that was he was hoping, he had not forgotten her. Three years before his death, he arranged for masses to be said not only for his soul but for hers. After his death, it was claimed that he had died intestate, though references to the duke's will had been frequently made--it seems as if the document may have been made to disappear not only so that his great wealth became "plunder which fell to the King on his uncle's death" but also to obviate any claim Eleanor Cobham might make to a dower. This is underscored by Parliament's special act to deprive her of any claim on Gloucester's estate after his death.

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

More Post-Dobbs News on Infant Mortality

When Women Became No Longer Human, Part 14: More Post-Dobbs News

I suppose this is great news for members of the forced-birth crowd, gratified by imposing their benighted views on women and reproduction. Mission accomplished, assholes! You're doing a great job not only in denying women personhood but also in making sure babies die while you're doing it! 

But I'm sure you're not worried about that unfortunate little side effect of your efforts to control women's bodies . . . 

A new study, published on 14 October 2023 in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, reminds readers that "The United States (U.S.) has the highest infant mortality rate among peer countries. Restrictive abortion laws may contribute to poor infant health outcomes. This ecological study investigated the association between county-level infant mortality and state-level abortion access legislation in the U.S. from 2014–2018."

The report--"Abortion Restrictiveness and Infant Mortality: An Ecologic Study, 2014-2018"--is an analysis of pre-Dobbs data. I don't have access to the full report--it's behind a paywall that’s too expensive for me--but the summarized results presented in the abstract make the link between restrictive abortion laws and increased rates of infant mortality undeniable.

As summarized, "increased IMR [infant mortality rate] was seen in states with . . . restrictive laws, with the most restrictive . . . laws having a 16% increased IMR." And, as I have noted here in writing about previous studies, "Black IMR . . . was more than twice that of White infants."

As for the study's conclusions: "State-level abortion law restrictiveness is associated with higher county-level infant mortality rates. The Supreme Court decision on Dobbs v. Jackson and changes in state laws limiting abortion may affect future infant mortality."

Since I don't have access to the full study, you may wish to read more from Jessica Valenti's Abortion Every Day analysis--click here. Valenti's calling-attention to this study is the first I heard of it, which is a goddamn shame.

But, good work, forced birthers. . . . 

Sunday, October 8, 2023

Jacqueline of Bavaria: Heiress, Countess, Duchess, Prisoner, Exile

Jacqueline of Bavaria, countess of Hainaut, duchess of Touraine, dauphine of France,  duchess of Brabant, duchess of Gloucester, lady of Borselen (died 8 October 1436)

In the heading of this post, I have listed the many titles Jacqueline of Bavaria acquired (and lost) through her multiple marriages--I've made the list as a tribute to Ruth Putnam's 1904 biography:
Jacqueline of Bavaria,
16th century copy of a portrait
from about 1435
A Mediaeval Princess, Being a True Record of the Changing Fortunes which Brought Divers Titles to Jacqueline, Countess of Holland . . .
"Divers titles"?  No kidding.

The title "duchess of Bavaria" should be added to this list, but it was a title she gained not through marriage but claimed from her father. Jacqueline of Bavaria (that's the Anglicization of her name in Dutch, Jacoba van Beieren) was the only legitimate child of Willem van Oostervant, who himself had "divers" titles--William II, duke of Bavaria-Straubing; William VI, count of Holland and Zeeland, and, after his marriage to Jacqueline's mother, William IV, count of Hainaut.* With her father's death, Jacqueline inherited the title duchess of Bavaria, but as historian Gerard Nijsten notes, it was "a title that, except prestige, yielded little."

Jacqueline's mother was Margaret of Burgundy, the daughter of Philip II, duke of Burgundy, and his wife, Margaret III, countess of Flanders. She was married to William of Bavaria on 12 April 1385. Theirs was half of a double marriage: on the same day, William's younger sister, Margaret of Bavaria, was married to one of Philip of Burgundy's sons. 

As part of Margaret of Burgundy's marriage settlement, the French king (Charles V, who was Philip II's brother and thus Margaret's uncle) granted her and her new husband the county of Hainaut (now part of France), and throughout the years of her marriage, the new countess resided mainly there, in the castle of Le Quesnoy. 

During the many childless years that followed her marriage, Margaret of Burgundy accumulated land, power, political experience, and independence. Margaret acted in her husband's stead and on his behalf during his frequent, extended absences and, later, his illnesses. On 16 July 1401, sixteen years after Margaret was married to William II, their only child, Jacqueline, was born  in the castle of Le Quesnoy. 

In his biographical essay on Margaret of Burgundy, Antheun Janse indicates that Jacqueline was "reserved" for marriage to a French prince by her father when she was not yet two years old. For Philip of Burgundy, the match he planned for Jacqueline of Bavaria was part of "a fourfold Franco-Burgundian marriage alliance" that he "arranged" just before his own death. According to the complicated set of proposed matches, Jacqueline was to marry Charles, the youngest son of Charles VI of France.

But this "elaborate scheme" was modified, and instead of four marriages, only three were made. And instead of Charles, Jacqueline was betrothed to his slightly older brother, Jean, duke of Touraine, the match celebrated in Paris on 5 May 1403 (when Jacqueline was two years old and Jean was four) and again in Compiègne on 29 June 1406 (when Jacqueline was five years old and Jean was seven). Just after the formalities, the French queen, Isabeau of Bavaria, was "persuaded" to allow her son to be taken to be taken back to Le Quesnoy in order to be brought up in Hainaut with Jacqueline so that he would know the lands and titles he would be expected to govern--as the French king's fourth son, his future was assumed to be in the territories his wife would inherit, not in France.

After the betrothal was celebrated, Jacqueline acquired the title duchess of Touraine. In the mean time, while all these marital alliances were being arranged and then confirmed by the celebrations of the betrothals, a three-year-old Jacqueline had awarded an "official" title, "daughter of Holland," in an effort to secure her place as her father's heir. 

In Le Quesnoy, the two children were raised and educated together. Given their close relationship, a papal dispensation for their marriage was sought and received on 10 May 1411. On 6 August 1415, when Jacqueline was fourteen, she was married to Jean, duke of Touraine, at The Hague. But fortune quickly changed for this newly married pair--just months later, in December, the French dauphin (heir apparent) died, and Jean became the heir to the French throne.** 

A miniature from a
Book of Hours, 
showing Jacqueline kneeling
before the Virgin Mary
Even though his daughter was now married to the heir of the French king, William of Bavaria "showed," in Putnam's words, "a far greater preoccupation about his daughter's inheritance than about that of his son-in-law [the dauphin, Jean]." In 1416, William met with Sigismund, the Holy Roman Emperor, seeking his support for Jaqueline's position as his heir. When the emperor declined to promise his support, William called a meeting at the Hague; there, on 15 August 1416, 
did every noble and each representative of the cities ["Harlaam, Delft, Leyden, Amsterdam, Gouda, Rotterdam, Oudewater, Hoorm, Schiedam, Alkmaar, Dordrecht, and ten smaller places, besides the cities of Zeeland"] stretch out the fingers of one hand and place the other hand on saints' relics while swearing solemnly, each and all, to recognise Jacaqueline as their true sovereign, to aid her against her foes with body and health. . . . 

The same oath was repeated later in Hainaut. William then traveled to Paris to see both the duke of Burgundy (now John I, Philip II's son) and the French king to make his case.

But it was all for naught. On 4 April 1417, Jean, son and heir to the king of France, died, leaving Jacqueline a widow at age sixteen. And two months later, on 31 May, her father, William of Bavaria, died. Jacqueline was recognized as countess of Hainaut on 13 June but her right to inherit was not accepted elsewhere in the territories that had belonged to her father, and the Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund finally made his position clear--he decided the titles and lands belonged not to Jacqueline but to William's younger brother, John, and then he made sure the new duke of Bavaria married Elizabeth of Görlitz, who just so happened to be Sigismund's niece . . .

Another marriage for Jacqueline was quickly arranged--her mother's Burgundian family selected the fourteen-year-old John IV, duke of Brabant (son of Antoine of Burgundy, who was Margaret of Burgundy's brother), a marriage contract agreed to and signed on 1 August 1417. The young man (boy?) who was to be Jacqueline's second husband was her first cousin, and thus so closely related to her that a papal dispensation was once again needed. The match was also, interestingly, further complicated because John of Brabant was also Elizabeth of Görlitz's stepson (her first husband had been Antoine of Burgundy!)--how could Jacqueline's Burgundian family have thought this match was a good idea? 

The rival claimants: 
John III and Jacqueline
(illustration by Hendrick von Hessel,
Chronique des comtes de Hollande,
c. 1415)
Whatever the reasoning of those who decided this match would be an advantageous one, the requisite dispensation was sought and granted in December 1417, but it was revoked the next month, in January 1418, at least in part because of the Emperor Sigismund's objections. Nevertheless, the young widow was married for a second time on 10 March 1418. The emperor ordered that the couple be immediately separated, and as emperor he declared that all of William II's lands, held as a vassal of the Holy Roman Empire, had been rightfully inherited by William's brother, now John.

And so, of course, war broke out, with Jacqueline's uncle, now John III, declaring war on her husband. Although Jacqueline's forces won an initial battle againt her uncle's, she would not prevail in her claim to be her father's legitimate heir. In the years that followed, her husband turned over territories to her uncle, truces were made and then unmade, and the legitimacy of her marriage continued to be questioned.

Her uncle was eventually willing to recognize the marriage when further concessions were made, another papal dispensation issued in 1419. But Jacqueline's position became even more precarious when the duke of Burgundy was assassinated and the French dauphin--the younger brother of Jacqueline's first husband--was disinherited. (By the terms of the May 1421 treaty of Troyes--Jacqueline's story is set against the background of the Hundred Years' War.)

A sixteenth-century print
depicting Jacqueline
In April 1420, in what Ruth Putnam calls her "revolt against marital authority," Jacqueline retreated to Hainaut (which seems to have been the only possession left to her), where she declared her marriage to John of Brabant to be invalid and asked for its annullment. She provided four reasons: she and John of Brabant were first cousins; her first husband was a "blood relation" of her second; her mother was John of Brabant's godmother (meaning she and John were "spiritual" brother and sister); and at the time of their marriage, the papal dispensation allowing their marriage had been revoked. 

Less than a year later, in March 1421, Jacqueline of Bavaria left for England, hoping to find support for her cause there. She was welcomed by Henry V (who had gained the French throne with the signing of the treaty of Troyes). He provided a monthly grant for her support, and she was a godmother for the English king's heir, son of Henry V and Catherine of Valois.

And Jacqueline found more than support at the English court--she found a third husband, even though she would discover that getting rid of her second would a bit of a problem. Her proposed new husband was the king's brother, Humphrey, duke of Gloucester, a scholar, a soldier, and a statesman. She doubtless saw in him a husband who would fight for her claims; he doubtless saw in her a wife who would bring him valuable territories and titles (in Putnam's words, "Jacqueline's heritage was a tempting bait enticing him to the continent.")

While the legality of Jacqueline's marriage to her second husband had been questioned, declared legal and illegal by various parties for their own interests, it was now declared valid by those whose interests were best served by keeping Jacqueline of Bavaria from allying herself to Humphrey, duke of Gloucester. Her uncle, now de facto duke of Bavaria, certainly did not want his niece to marry a powerful man who could defend her claims, her husband (or not-husband) John of Brabant did not want to give up his "wife" and her claims, and the new duke of Burgundy, Philip III, had designs of his own on her territories. And the English king--well, Burgundy was Henry V's ally in the Hundred Years' War. 

As for Jacqueline, she married her third husband anyway. After the unexpected death of Henry V in 1422, Humphrey, duke of Gloucester, became one of the new king's guardians, and at some point in late 1422 or early 1423, he and Jacqueline married--in late October there was a report in Hainaut that Jacqueline had not only married Humphrey of Gloucester but was already pregnant, and a petition to him in March 1423 addressed him as "Duc de Gloucestre, Comte de Hanau, Hollande, and Zeellande." (Although she was pregnant in late 1422, Jacqueline subsequently suffered a miscarriage.)

At first, the two were willing to submit the question of the validity of their marriage and Jacqueline's claims to her inheritance to the judgment of Philip III of Burgundy, her rejected second husband even agreeing to giving up his claims in concession for a life interest in Hainaut. But the many parties ultimately could not come to satisfactory terms. With her husband--and an army--Jacqueline returned to Hainaut in the fall of 1424. In November they were welcomed into Mons, the capital. On 5 December 1424, Humphrey of Gloucester was recognized as count of Hainaut. 

I wish I could say Jacqueline had a happy ending with Humphrey, duke of Gloucester and now count of Hainaut, but she did not. Although her uncle, John III, died on 6 January 1425, Jacqueline's rejected husband, John of Brabant, joined forces with the Philip III of Burgundy. In February, the pope issued a decision on Jacqueline's marriage to Gloucester--it was declared invalid, and the two were ordered to separate. Although they did not do so immediately, Humphrey of Gloucester left for England in early April, leaving his wife (or "wife") behind. 

By June, the city of Mons surrendered after a brief siege. A treaty between the duke of Burgundy and John of Brabant gave Hainaut to Jacqueline's "husband," while Jacqueline herself was handed over to Philip III of Burgundy for her "protection." She was sent to Ghent, where she was held, for her protection of course, in the old fortress of Grafenstein. 

Humphrey of Gloucester didn't quite abandon all hope of gaining Jacqueline's territories, at least not at first. As for Jacqueline, in August she managed to escape from her imprisonment, and by September, Gloucester learned that she was in Gouda. She raised forces from among her supporters, winning a minor skirmish or two in the first part of October. For his part, the duke of Gloucester promised "speedy aid." The duke of Burgundy was on the lookout for the arrival of the rumored English troops--a small fleet of ships eventually made landing, its fighters winning a small victory. The English joined up with Jacqueline's supporters, but they were defeated on 13 January 1426 at the battle of Brouwershaven.

Jacqueline continued to resist the forces of Philip III. When John IV of Brabant, her second husband, died on 17 April 1427--he was just twenty-three years old--his claims to Holland, Zeeland, and Hainaut, as Jacqueline's husband, did not pass to Jacqueline, however. John had made the duke of Burgundy his heir. (Brabant was inherited by his brother.) And even though his death made Jacqueline an unmarried woman, the pope once again ruled that her marriage to Humphrey of Gloucester was invalid. On 9 January 1428 the pope reaffirmed the validity of her marriage to John of Brabant and declared any subsequent marriage "of no force or moment" (nullius roboris vel momenti).

Jacqueline continued to appeal to England, but no aid was forthcoming--and, by this point, Humphrey of Gloucester had taken one of Jacqueline's English waiting women, Eleanor Cobham, as his mistress--he married her after the January 1428 papal decree that his marriage to Jacqueline of Bavaria hadn't really been a marriage.*** By July, Jacqueline was forced into a truce with the duke of Burgundy. She was able to maintain her title of countess of Holland, Zeeland, and Hainaut, but that's it. She had to make Philip III, duke of Burgundy her heir, if she died childless, and any future marriage would be subject to his approval.

Portrait of Jacqueline of Bavaria,
attributed to Jan van Eyck
But that still wasn't enough. On 12 April 1433, her financial situation completely impossible, she was compelled to relinquish her titles and transfer the counties to Burgundy. She was left with a few manors and her father's Oostervant for support. 

Despite all this, Jacqueline of Bavaria married again. In 1434, she married Frank van Borselen, a nobleman from Zeeland who had been charged with managing her counties of Zeeland and Holland. When he had resisted turning over some of Jacqueline's assets to the duke of Burguncy, who had appointed him, Frank van Borselen had been arrested--and his arrest seems to have precipitated Jacqueline's April 1433 renunciation of her rights. 

This seems to have been a match made for love, but it did not last long. Jacqueline of Bavaria--once an heiress, once a countess, once a duchess, once a prisoner, and now something of an exile--died on 8 October 1436 at Teylingen Castle (in Voorhout). All this and she was just thirty-five years old. Her fourth and final husband was with her at the time of her death, as was her mother, Margaret of Burgundy.**** 

Unlike many of the women whose stories I have included in this blog, there is a great deal written about Jacqueline of Bavaria, although much of it is in Dutch. A Google search will lead you to many resources. I've linked you here to the wonderful biography in English by Ruth Putnam, who includes many transcriptions of original documentary sources into her story of Jacqueline's life. In addition, the essays published online by the Huygens Institute to which I've linked here are also excellent and accessible. 

As for me, I first learned about Jacqueline of Bavaria while reading Lauren Johnson's The Shadow King: The Life and Death of Henry VI. (Which I was reading to see her interpretation of Henry VI's wife, Margaret of Anjou.) Johnson paints a very sympathetic portrait of Jacqueline, providing more information about her experienes in England and with Humphrey of Gloucester than I could include here. She regards Jacqueline as determined and courageous but lacking in "political shrewdness," which may well be true. It might be argued, however, that she was politially shrewd but, forced to make choices when all the options were horrible, shrewdness wasn't enough when dealing with so many ambitious, self-interested men who were interested only in their own power . . .  

*Jacqueline was William's only legitimate child, but he had at least three illegitimate children, including two sons.

**As an interesting note, the marriage of the dauphin Louis to Margaret of Nevers (the granddaughter of Philip II of Burgundy and thus the niece of Margaret of Burgundy) was one of those in that "fourfold Franco-Burgundian alliance." Margaret of Nevers had first been betrothed to the dauphin Charles, the eldest son of King Charles VI and Isabeau of Bavaria, but when the dauphin died in 1401, she was then matched with the new dauphin, Louis. When Louis died in 1415, the widowed madame la dauphine returned to Burgundy. She eventually married Arthur III of Richmond (very briefly duke of Brittany), a marriage she resisted because it was a step down (or two or three or more) after having been dauphine of France. But married she was, in 1423. She died, childless, in 1442. Arthur of Richmond went on to marry twice more, but neither of his subsequent wives bore any children.

***Eleanor Cobham came to an unfortunate end. In 1442 she was accused of witchcraft and convicted--as part of her punishment, she was forced to do public penance, divorced from her husband, and sentenced to life imprisonment. She died, still in prison, in 1452. Humphrey of Gloucester "retired" from public life after Cobham was accused of witchcraft, but he was arrested for treason on 20 February 1447--he died three days later. 

****Margaret of Burgundy would die at Le Quesnoy on 8 March 1441. Throughout her daughter's life, she supported her cause

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Joanna of Flanders Becomes "Jeanne la Flamme": "the Heart of a Lion"

Joanna of Flanders, countess of Montfort and duchess of Brittany, sort of (death of her husband at Hennebont Castle, 26 September 1345)

Born late in the thirteenth century, probably about the year 1295, Joanna of Flanders was the daughter of Louis de Dampierre, the "largely unsuccessful count of Nevers," a man who was "a disaster in most of his endeavors." Among those disasters was his "notoriously bad marriage" to Joanna's mother, Jeanne of Rethel, who had become countess of Rethel in her own right as her father's sole heir. 
Jeanne Malivel's
1922 woodcut,
in Jeanne Coroller-Danio's
Histoire de notre Bretagne

Although Joanna's name is almost always given as Joanna (or Jeanne) of Flanders, historian Julie Sharpy notes that the girl spent her childhood in France: "there is no reason to believe that she had ever seen Flanders," much less lived there. She was instead raised in the French county of Nevers, which her father had inherited from his mother, Yolande II, countess of Nevers (with Louis' marriage to Jeanne, countess of Rethel, he had become count of Rethel, also in France). Along with her brother, Joanna also spent time at the French royal court of Philip IV.

In 1311, as conflict broke out between the king of France and Louis' father, Robert III, duke of Flanders, Louis supported his father, and although war was avoided, his support for his father rather than the French king caused Louis of Nevers irreparable damage. 

In the next year, 1312, when Joanna was about fourteen years old, Louis decided to return to Flanders and attempted to take his children with him. But his wife protested, and he was arrested, his two children transferred to the custody of the French king. Louis was imprisoned, escaped, and fled to Flanders, and it seems as if he never saw his wife or children again. 

By the terms of the 1320 peace settlement between France and Flanders, the count of Flanders named his grandson, rather than his son, as his heir. The ties between Flanders and France were further strengthened with with his marriage to Margaret, King Philip V's daughter. In the event, however, Louis of Nevers died in July 1329, just months before his father died, and Joanna's brother succeeded his grandfather as count of Flanders without any dispute about his father's right to do so. 

Having been raised in France--and having never been in Flanders--the new count followed his own pro-French agenda, continuing the very policies that had caused his father so many problems. Meanwhile, Joanna of Flanders disappears from the historical record. She only reappears when she is some thirty years old. 

Jeanne of Flanders and her husband, 
entering Nantes in 1341,
an illustration from Jean Froissart's
 Chroniques (BnF 2643, fol. 87r)
In a ceremony performed at Cathédrale de Notre Dame de Chartres on 14 May 1329, in the presence of the French king (now Philip VI, who began his reign in 1328), Joanna of Flanders is married to John de Montfort, the son of Arthur II, duke of Brittany, and his second wife, Yolande of Dreux. (As an interesting note: Yolande's first husband had been Alexander III of Scotland, so for the eight months she was married before he died, she had been queen of Scotland.)

Joanna's new husband inherited his title, count of Montfort-l'Amaury, from his mother, and his marriage to Joanna seems to have been a way to improve his financial and political situation--she was the sister of the count of Flanders, and her brother had promised him a considerable dowry from the counties of Nevers and Rethel. (For the details of the ceremony and this dowry, click here.)

But the dowry Joanna's brother promised was not paid, and the legal wrangling over the count of Flanders's failure to pay his sister's dowry would last for more than three decades, eventually outlasting all of them--Joanna, her husband, and her brother.

John de Montfort's dispute with Flanders over his wife's unpaid dowry was a decade old by time Joanna gave birth to her first child, a son, named John, in 1339. A second child, this time a daughter, Joan, was born in 1341. 

It was at this point that the couple was plunged into yet another family conflict, now about John de Montfort's inheritance--or potential inheritance--from his father. After the death of Arthur II in 1312, he had been succeeded by his eldest son, John de Montfort's half brother who, confusingly, was also named John. But despite having been married three times, John III, duke of Brittany, died childless on 30 April 1341--and, as historian Sabine Baring-Gould writes, "No sooner was he dead than an explosion ensued."

John III had hated his father's second wife (John de Montfort's mother) and had spent many years trying to have his father's second marriage posthumously annulled and his half siblings rendered illegitimate. His preferred heir was Jeanne de Penthièvre, his niece, the daughter of his younger brother, Guy, who had died in 1331. In 1340, however, John III seems to have accepted the succession of his half brother and named John de Montfort as his heir in his will. 

But the "rights" to succession in Brittany in this instance were unclear. 

The question was whose claim took precedence? Arthur II of Brittany had had three sons by his first wife, but when John III died, the only surviving heir was Guy's daughter, Jeanne de Penthièvre. Yet Arthur II of Brittany had had another son, John de Montfort, by his second wife, as we have seen. So, could a daughter--in this case, Guy's daughter--inherit her father's rights of succession? That is, did John III's younger brother, Guy, have a right of succession that could be passed to his daughter, Jeanne de Penthièvre? Or did the succession belong to the next eldest male heir in the line? That is, did John de Montfort, as the only surviving son of Arthur II, have a right of succession? With John III leaving no direct male heir, who has the better claim: his half brother or his niece? 

The War of the Breton succession,  1341 to 1365, was fought to resolve this question. It became part of a larger conflict, the Hundred Years' War, which also involved rival claimants to an inheritance, in this case the French throne. The rival claimants to the duchy of Brittany were supported by the king of England and the king of France, interested parties in the succession in Brittany. But the claimants they supported in Brittany were at odds with the claims they made in their own dispute over the legitimate succession to the French crown, one of the issues that had precipitated the conflict now known as the Hundred Years' War.

So: the king of England, Edward III, made his claim to the French throne through a female line--but he supported John de Montfort when it came to who should inherit Brittany. And the king of France, Philip VI, who had come to the throne by putting aside the claims of a daughter in favor of those of a younger son--well, he supported Jeanne de Penthièvre.* (For all of this, see Jean-Pierre Leguay and Hervé Martin's Fastes et malheurs de la Bretagne ducale 1213–1532; click here.)

Further complicating an already complicated situation, John de Montfort's grandmother, Beatrice of England, was the daughter of King Henry III of England, making John de Montfort and Edward III cousins. And as for Jeanne de Penthièvre's husband--the mother of Charles of Blois was, as we have seen, Margaret of Valois, the French king's sister. 

All of this is an incredibly long and complicated background to the events of 1341, when Jeanne, or Joanna, of Flanders, became Jeanne, or Joanna, la flamme, "the fire." What transformed her, catapulting her from relative obscurity to notoriety?

At first, John de Montfort's in Brittany succession seemed assured, and the couple entered Nantes, the capital of the duchy, in 1341. As the chronicler Jean Froissart writes, "he was received as their lord, as being the next relation to the duke just departed." Summoning "all the barons and nobles of Brittany" and the "councils of the great towns," John de Montfort invited them to "do their fealty and homage" to him "as their true lord." And, according to Froissart, "it was done." For good measure, Montfort seized the treasury at Limoges. 

To secure his title, Montfort moved quickly: "by violent or gentle means," he aimed to "subdue his enemies." He took Brest, Arras, and Rennes before moving on to the town of Hennebont, where he was advised that he could lay seige to the castle "a whole year" and still not take it "by dint of force"--and so he captured it by means of a ruse, at least according to the version of the story that Froissart tells. Although modern historians have noted that Froissart's geography and chronology are confused, Montfort did take control in Brittany. Or most of it.

"Jeanne la Flamme" defending her castle,
illumination from Jean Froissart's Les Croniques.
((BnF 2663, fol. 87v)

Because not all of Brittany had accepted John de Montfort's claim to the title, and while Montfort sought help from Edward III to enforce his claim, at this point being awarded the title earl of Richmond, Charles of Blois appealed his claim to Brittany, in the right of his wife, to Philip VI, to whom he paid homage. 

In August 1341, the two claimants appeared before the parliament of France to make their case--on 7 September, a decision was rendered in favor of Chales of Blois. But by the time the judgement was issued, John de Montfort had fled back to Brittany.

By September of 1341, Charles of Blois had amassed a large army; in October, he laid seige to a chateau at Champtoceaux. Attempting to come overcome Charles and his besieging forces, John de Montfort was defeated. He fled to Nantes, but he was forced to surrender after fifteen days, on 2 November. In December, he was taken to Paris under safe conduct, but when he refused to give up his claims to Brittany, he was imprisoned in the Louvre. 

Rather than accepting her husband's defeat, Joanna of Flanders assumed the title duchess of Brittany and resumed the fight--she sent for assistance to Edward III in England, and according to the chronicler Jean le Bel, she suggested a marriage between her son and one of the the English king's daughters. Meanwhile, she began preparing to defend herself--and Brittany. 

Charles of Blois captured Rennes in May 1342 and began his march to Hennebont, where Joanna had withdrawn, preparing for the castle's defense. The chronicler Jean le Bel described her actions during the fight: “the valiant countess was armed and rode a great courser from street to street," and while she rode, she was "summoning everyone" to defend the city. Nor was she the only woman to act--she commanded "all the women of the town," regardless of class, to "carry stones and pots full of quicklime to the walls and throw them at their attackers." 

The ramparts of Henebont Castle
And then, "mounting the towers" and surveying the battle below, "the valiant countess" once again mounted her courser; now "fully armed," she  led three hundred men at arms straight into the enemy's camp, where they killed the defenders that had been left behind as guards and set everything on fire.

Seeing no way to safely re-enter the castle, Joanna of Flanders took off, riding to her castle of Brayt, where she was well received. Meanwhile, the besiegers mocked the inhabitants of Hennebont, telling them that their countess was lost and that they wouldn't see her (if my translastion is correct, they actually say that they won't see her again in one piece).

But the besieged inhabitants of Hennebont did see their "valiant countess" again--just five days later, she was back, accompanied by a well-armed force. She managed to re-enter the city, her return saluted by trumpets, drums, "and other instruments." 

After her triumphant return, the situation becomes more dire. "Twelve great siege engines" were brought to lay waste to the city and the castle, and the defenders began to waver in their resistance. The  "valiant countess," however, did not lose heart. She encouraged the town's defenders, "praying, on the honor of Our Lady," that they not do anything rash, asserting her own certainty that help would arrive within three days.

The suffering inhabitants of the besieged city were not so sure. Just as they were about to surrender, submitting themselves to the besieging forces of Charles of Blois, Joanna looked "from out of the castle's windows." "I see the relief that I have coming that I have for so long desired," she cried out. It was an English fleet, sent by Edward III to her aid, arriving in August 1342.

Joanna of Flanders greets the fleet 
sent from Edward III to Hennebont;
image from Jean de Wavrin's fifteenth-century
Anciennes chroniques d'Angleterre 
(BnF 76, fol. 61r)

Still, the War of the Breton Succession continued. During a period of truce, Joanna of Flanders traveled to England, seeking additional aid from Edward III. He provided her with men of arms and archers, but while returning to Brittany, the English ships--with the "valiant countess" on board one of them--were attacked by allies of Charles of Blois. Joanna of Flanders fought back. As Froissart wrote, she had "the courage of a man and the heart of a lion"; "equal to a man," she "combated bravely" with "a rusty sharp sword in her hand." (Although modern historians have questioned whether this sea battle ever occurred, Sharpy writes that, "because of the greatness of Joan of Flanders it was not out of the realm of possibility.")

On landing, her forces re-took Vannes, put the city of Rennes under siege, and attempted the relief of Hennebont. But with the English fighters now in Brittany, Joanna of Flanders's remarkable military leadership was done. 

Ater the death of Charles of Blois, the claims of Joan of Penthièvre to Brittany collapsed, and with neither the French nor the English able to secure a military victory, a truce was concluded. John de Montfort became duke of Brittany. He was finally released from his imprisonment, and seemed to have been under a kind of house arrest. But he escaped to England, paid homage to Edward III, and placed his children's guardianship in the Englisn king's hands on 20 May 1345. He returned to Brittany but died at Hennebont just months later, on 26 September 1345.

Joanna of Flanders, meanwhile, had been removed from the picture. After finalizing the truce with France on 19 January 1343, Edward III had sailed back to England a month later, on 22 February. When he left, he took with him Joanna of Flanders and her two children. 

The crossing was difficult, the king's ship arriving on 2 March. Once in England, Joanna of Flanders was "abruptly pmoved" to Tickhill Castle in south Yorkshire in October 1343 by the king's order. Her children, meanwhile, were removed from her custody in August, ultimately placed into the care of the king's wife, Philippa of Hainault.

A sixteenth-century print of Tickhill Castle,
where Joanna of Flanders spent decades
What had happened to Joanna of Flanders? Why was she made to disappear? Indeed, she remained largely out of sight for the next thirty years, under the guardianship of one man or another, until her death. 

The answer has largely been that she went mad--a false narrative that, as we have seen in many entries in this blog, is a commonplace excuse.. "She's just crazy" has always been a way to eliminate an inconvenient woman. (The most well-known example of this is Juana of Castile, "la loca," but insanity is just one way to get rid of royal and aristocratic women.) Even in the twentieth century, Edward III's biographers have been content with this explanation--in his 1983 King Edward III, Michael Packe declares
that Joanna's "recent energies had swamped her reason." Thirty years later, Ian Mortimer made the same slighting reference to the fate of Joanna of Flanders: Montfort's "lion-hearted wife had gone mad," he says (The Perfect King: The Life of Edward III, Father of the English Nation). In Edward III (2011), W. M. Ormrod is less explicit but seems to come to a similar conclusion, indicating that Joanna of Flanders's lived out the rest of her life "in the obscurity of various provincial royal castles" having been "exhausted by her efforts on behalf of her absent husband."

But as Julie Sarpy argues, first in her 2016 Ph.D. dissertation, "Keeping Rapunzel: The Mysterious Guardianship of Joan of Flanders the Case for Feudal Constraint [sic]" and in her 2019 Joanna of Flanders: Heroine and Exile, origins of the story of her madness can be traced to a nineteenth-century historian, Arthur Le Moyne de La Borderie, and his massive three-volume Histoire de Bretagne. With no contemporary evidence to support his conclusion, he nevertheless proclaimed, “. . . Jeanne de Flandre était devenue folle!”

And so it all began. As Sarpy documents in great detail, there is no evidence at all for the madness of Joanna of Flanders. 

Painstakingly examining all the contemporary records, Sarpy finds that, as late as 1346, Joanna of Flanders is still accounting for the money for her expenses, and she still retained her household. But it is also clear that she is being held inTtickhill "under order" and that her "guardianship was an unlawful action by a king seeking willfully to detain her." Her liberty was "a liability" for him--Edward III "needed her out of the way, and as he was king, no one challenged him."

The English king's motives were financial--control of the finances of Richmond, for example--as well as political and military, part of his "broader foreign policy aims" in France. Rather than having succumbed to madness, Joanna of Flanders was a political prisoner. (Edward III's father, Edward II, and his grandfather, Edward III, had both gotten rid of dangerous women by imprisoning them--click here and scroll down.) 

While the circumstances of her life at Tickhill seem to have been comfortable, befitting her status, Joaana did attempt to "escape" in 1347, though whether she left Tickhill willingly or was abducted isn't clear--she was captured and returned. She was ultimately moved to Chester Castle, where on 16 July 1360, she met with her son, John, now duke of Brittany--it was the first time the two had seen one another for seventeen years. They made a pilgrimage to Walsingham the following summer.

The surviving gatehouse of Tickhill Castle

She seems to have been returned to Tickhill Castle, but by 1371, she was being held in High Peak Castle (Derbyshire).

She is last mentioned in official records on 14 February 1374, when a payment was made to her custodian. Since no other reference is made to her--and no more payments were recorded on her behalf—she likely died soon thereafter. She would have been in her late seventies.

Joanna's son eventually succeeded as John IV, duke of Brittany, first as a minor under the control of Edward III but after 1364, in his own right. He struggled to break free of English influence, however, at one point even forced into exile in England, but for the last decade of his life, he ruled in peace (he died in 1399). He was married in 1361 to Mary of England, Edward III's daughter, but she died just months after their marriage. He was then married to another English bride, Joan Holland, in 1366, but the two had no children before her death in 1384. John's third wife was Joan of Navarre, whom he married in 1386--the couple had a whole bunch of children, including John (b. 1389), who succeeded his father as John V, duke of Brittany, and Arthur, who succeeded two nephews, sons of his elder brother John, as duke of Brittany.  (As Arthur III, he was duke from September 1457 to December 1458.) And, by the way, Joan of Navarre, duchess of Brittany, widowed in 1389, became queen of England in 1403 when she married King Henry IV.

As for Joanna's daughter, Joan, she remained in England. She married Ralph Basset, third baron Basset of Drayton c. 1380, when she was thirty-nine years old, and she was widowed in 1390. She died on 8 November 1402.

If you've read this far, sorry. I got quite involved in the life of Joanna of Flanders! And if you've read this far, you may be interested in the story of Constance, duchess of Brittany and countess of Richmond for a very similar story, played out a hundred hears earlier.

*When Philip IV of France died in 1314, he was followed on the throne by his son, Louis X. When Louis died in 1316, he was survived by a four-year-old daughter, Joan--a son, born posthumously, lived only five days. Rather than Louis' daughter, his brother Philip became king of France as Philip V. In his turn, Philip V had four daughters but no sons--when he died in 1322, his younger brother, Charles, succeeded him. When Charles IV died in 1328, he had one daughter, but no son--a posthumous child was also a girl. And so Charles IV was succeeded on the throne by the son of the younger brother of Philip IV, who became Philip VI. 

For his part, Edward III of England claimed to the French throne through his mother, Isabella of France--she was the youngest surviving child of King Philip IV.