Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
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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 Burgundy, 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