Johanna of Flanders (c. 1200–1244)

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Johanna of Flanders (c. 1200–1244)

Countess of Flanders and Hainault, as daughter and heir of Baldwin IX. Name variations: Joan of Constantinople; Joan of Flanders; Joanna of Flanders or Jeanne of Flanders; Joanna, Countess of Belgium. Born around 1200; died on December 5, 1244 (some sources cite 1245); daughter of Baudouin also known as Baldwin IX, count of Flanders and Hainault (crowned Baldwin I of Constantinople), and Marie of Champagne (c. 1180–1203); sister of Margaret of Flanders (1202–1280); married Ferdinand of Portugal (1188–1233), on January 1, 1212; married Thomas of Savoy; children: (first marriage) Marie (1224–1236).

Departure of Fourth Crusade (1202); death of Marie of Champagne (1203); death of Baldwin IX (1205); battle of Bouvines (July 27, 1214); death of Philip Augustus (1223); revolt of the "False Baldwin" (1225); release from captivity of Ferdinand (1226); death of Louis VIII (1233); death of Ferdinand (1233); death of Johanna's daughter Marie (1236).

The first child of Baldwin IX, count of Flanders, and Marie of Champagne , Johanna of Flanders was probably born in 1200; when her father departed on the Fourth Crusade in April 1202, she was reportedly two years old. Johanna's mother left to join Baldwin the following year, but died from an epidemic upon arrival in Acre. Crowned the first Latin emperor of Constantinople on May 9, 1204, Baldwin died a captive of the Bulgars in 1205.

These events not only orphaned Johanna and her sister Margaret of Flanders (1202–1280), but made Johanna heir to her father's feudal domain, Flanders and Hainault. For several years, the sisters remained under the tutelage of the bishop of Liège, Hugh II of Pierrepont. Meanwhile, Baldwin's brother, Philip of Namur, temporarily governed for Johanna. When his lands were threatened by the duke of Brabant, he sought the protection of his father-in-law, Philip II Augustus, king of France. (Philip of Namur's wife, Marie of France [1198–c. 1223], was the French king's daughter.) In 1208, Philip of Namur turned Johanna and Margaret over to Philip Augustus' protection.

Ever shrewd and ambitious, the king had less interest in Johanna and Margaret's welfare than he did in controlling Flanders and Hainault, which he had unsuccessfully tried to conquer. To this end, he had Johanna married in January 1212 to Ferdinand of Portugal (1188–1233), who had fled his homeland due to his brother Alphonso II's authoritarian and violent actions. Ferdinand was the nephew of Johanna's tutor, who apparently pressed Philip Augustus to make the union. But the king favored it primarily because he thought it enabled him to control Flanders more easily. Fortuitously possessed of a young bride, the title of count, and the rich county of Flanders, Ferdinand swore fealty to Philip Augustus. In 1213, however, Ferdinand joined forces with the Duke of Brabant and King John I Lackland of England against Philip. The alliance suffered a disastrous defeat in the battle of Bouvines on July 27, 1214, and Ferdinand fell captive to the French.

Philip Augustus allowed Countess Johanna to retain her fiefs, on condition that her fortifications be destroyed and no others built. The king refused, however, to allow Johanna to pay ransom in return for her husband. Ferdinand and Johanna had no children, and Philip Augustus' own daughter, Marie of France, stood to inherit Flanders and Hainault if the countess died childless. The king thus intended to let Ferdinand perish in prison. Meanwhile, Countess Johanna governed an increasingly restive Flanders. The lower classes resented the urban oligarchs who oppressed the cities. Alienation exploded in 1225, when the discontented rallied to the banner of the "False Baldwin," an impostor who claimed to be Johanna's father finally returned from the crusade. Countess Johanna fled for refuge to Tournai, appealing to the new king of France, Louis VIII, for assistance. But the democratic revolt failed, and the countess clung to power.

Even though Philip Augustus had died in 1223, Ferdinand still languished in prison. The Duke of Brittany proposed that Johanna marry him if they could secure from the papacy an annulment of her marriage. This would have strengthened Brittany and Flanders. Consequently Louis VIII agreed to free Ferdinand, upon Johanna's payment of 50,000 livres in ransom. After 12 years, Johanna and Ferdinand were reunited in 1226. His ordeal left him submissive and broken. Before Ferdinand died in 1233, Johanna gave birth to a daughter Marie who was betrothed to Robert d'Artois, brother of Louis IX, but died in 1236. Countess Johanna took a second husband, Thomas, the son of Thomas I of Savoy. No children were born of the new union, and Johanna died on December 5, 1244. Her sister Margaret then became countess of Flanders.


Pirenna, Henri. Histoire de Belgique des origines à nos jours. 4 vols. Brussels: La Renaissance du Livre, 1948.

Kendall W. Brown , Professor of History, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah

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Johanna of Flanders (c. 1200–1244)

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