Mahaut (c. 1270–1329)

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Mahaut (c. 1270–1329)

Countess of Artois who was influential in the politics and culture of the French court in the early 14th century . Name variations: Matilda of Artois; Mahout or Mahaut Capet; Mahaut of Artois; Mahaut of Burgundy; Mahaut of Flanders. Pronunciation: Mah-o. Born around 1270 in Artois; died in Paris on November 27, 1329, of a sudden illness; daughter of Robert II, count of Artois, and Amicie de Courtenay (d. 1275), both high ranking members of the French nobility; married Othon also known as Otto IV, count palatine of Burgundy, in 1285; children: Jeanne I of Burgundy (c. 1291–1330, queen of France); Blanche of Burgundy (1296–1326, queen of France); Robert (born c. 1299); Jean (born c. 1300, died in infancy).

At her father's death, inherited the county of Artois (1302); became regent for her son as count of Burgundy when her husband died (1303); her eldest daughter Jeanne I of Burgundy married Philip, the second son of King Philip of France (1306 or 1307); the following year, her daughter Blanche of Burgundy married Charles, another son of the French king (1307); her daughters were involved in a scandal of adultery at the French court for which Blanche was imprisoned and Jeanne was acquitted (1314); her son Robert died, leaving Mahaut as sole heir to the county of Artois (September 1317); was cleared by her son-in-law, King Philip V of France, of charges of sorcery and treason (October 1317); Philip V upheld her claims to the county of Artois against counter-claims brought by her nephew, Robert (1318).

Mahaut, countess of Artois, was among the most important women in France during the early 14th century. Her achievements illustrate how a woman of intelligence and determination was able to utilize her social standing to be an active participant in the politics and culture of French courtly society.

Mahaut's accomplishments were founded in her position in the French nobility which resulted from her parentage, her marriage, and her daughters' marriages and allied her closely to the inner circles of the French court. She was born around 1270 to Robert II, count of Artois, and Amicie de Courtenay . The county of Artois was one of the important apanages of the French crown. In the mid-13th century, King Louis IX instituted the apanage system to endow his brothers with territories and thus ally important provinces to the French royal house. Mahaut's grandfather, Robert I, was Louis IX's brother and the first count of Artois. Her father, the second count, was Louis IX's nephew. Mahaut, therefore, was the great-niece of Saint Louis, one of the most famous and revered of the medieval French kings.

Mahaut's mother Amicie de Courtenay died in 1275, when Mahaut was about five years old, and her father then married Agnes of Bourbon . Relations between Mahaut and her stepmother must have been cordial, judging by the care Mahaut later took to provide a tomb monument for Agnes. However, the absence of consistent maternal influence may be one reason why some of Mahaut's formative years were spent at the French court. She developed a close friendship with Marie of Brabant , the young second wife of the reigning French monarch, Philip III (1270–1285). Her friendship with Queen Marie influenced the development of Mahaut's keen interest in the arts, and the two remained friends until Marie's death in 1321.

In 1285, Mahaut married Otto IV, count palatine of Burgundy, who at about 45 years of age was considerably older than his first wife. The marriage probably was arranged to draw the important territory of Burgundy, located on the border between France and the Holy Roman Empire, into closer alliance with France. For the next 18 years, until Otto's death in 1303, Mahaut was primarily occupied with her duties as wife and mother. Between around 1290 and 1300, she had four children; Jean, the youngest, died in infancy, but she raised two daughters, Jeanne I of Burgundy and Blanche of Burgundy , and a son, Robert.

As a young woman in her 20s, Mahaut assumed responsibilities not only for the care of her children, but also for some of the administration of her husband's feudal territory of Burgundy, because Count Otto was frequently absent on military campaigns. Although he was a valiant knight, he was less capable in managing his feudal resources. His accumulation of debts from his military exploits led him to place the county of Burgundy and the education of his children in the hands of Philip IV, king of France, in return for Philip's payment of Otto's debts and provision of income for his family. These arrangements reinforced the close ties among Mahaut, her children, and the French royal family.

Mahaut's situation began to change in 1302 when her father, Count Robert II of Artois, was killed fighting with French forces in campaigns against Flanders, and she inherited the county of Artois. Her husband was killed in battle the following year. Mahaut, now a widow in her early 30s, assumed sole responsibility for raising three young children and added the administration of a second significant feudal territory, Burgundy, to her duties in Artois.

Though young widows at the time tended to remarry, Mahaut remained single and took charge of her own affairs; initially, her children were her primary concern. In 1306 and 1307, both of her daughters married sons of the French king, further strengthening Mahaut's ties to the French royal house. First her eldest, Jeanne I of Burgundy, became the wife of Philip (the future Philip V the Tall, king of France), count of Poitiers, the second son of King Philip IV the Fair in 1306. This marriage fulfilled an agreement made in 1291 between Otto of Burgundy and Philip the Fair by which Jeanne was promised to one of Philip the Fair's sons. The following year, Mahaut's second daughter Blanche of Burgundy married Charles, count of La Marche (the future Charles IV, king of France), the third son of the French king and Mahaut's godson. This second couple appeared to be well matched. Blanche was reportedly very beautiful, and her husband Charles was so handsome that he was also called "the Fair" like his father.

Mahaut's only surviving son Robert, who showed great promise, was brought up in Paris and also traveled through his future lands of Burgundy and Artois. Mahaut made certain that he received the education befitting a future knight and peer of the realm; he learned his letters as well as the knightly pursuits of combat and hunting. He also enjoyed musical entertainment and an early form of tennis. (Around 1314–15, Robert would be with the French forces campaigning in Flanders, though he would not see combat. In 1317, he would assist at the coronation of his brother-in-law Philip V of France.)

While Mahaut was arranging her daughters' marriages and supervising her son's education, she also continued to administer her feudal holdings in Artois and Burgundy. With the assistance of a trusted advisor, Thierry d'Hireçon, she managed these affairs well. She negotiated disputes between the nobility and the bourgeois in various towns of Artois, and also defended her claims to Artois against the counterclaims of her nephew Robert. He first raised these claims in 1307; two years later, Philip the Fair reached a judgment upholding Mahaut's inheritance of the county of Artois. This decision primarily reflected Philip's personal interest in keeping Artois close to the French crown through the alliances established by the recent marriages of Mahaut's daughters to the king's own sons.

Agnes of Bourbon (d. 1287)

Countess of Artois . Died on September 7, 1287; daughter of Archimbaud or Archambaud VII, ruler of Bourbon, and Alix of Burgundy (1146–1192); became second wife of Robert II (1250–1302), count of Artois (r. 1250–1302), in 1277; stepmother of Mahaut (c. 1270–1329).

Blanche of Burgundy (1296–1326)

Princess of Burgundy . Name variations: Blanche Capet. Born in 1296; died in 1326; daughter of Otto IV, count of Burgundy, and Mahaut (c. 1270–1329); sister of Jeanne I of Burgundy (c. 1291–1330); married Charles IV the Fair (c. 1294–1328), king of France (r. 1322–1328), in 1307 (annulled, September 1322). Charles IV was also married to Mary of Luxemburg (1305–1323) and Joan of Evreux (d. 1370).

From 1314, Mahaut experienced several years of personal turmoil, beginning when both of her daughters were involved in an infamous scandal at the French court. King Philip the Fair arrested Blanche as well as her sister-in-law Margaret of Burgundy (1290–1315) for adultery with two knights at the court, Gautier and Philippe d'Aunay. Jeanne was also placed under house arrest at Dourdan for having known of the affair without exposing it. Found innocent, she was reunited with her husband Philip and reigned as queen when he became king of France in 1317. Blanche, however, was not so fortunate. She was initially imprisoned in the famous fortress Château-Gaillard, and while she maintained her innocence, her marriage to the future Charles IV of France was eventually annulled. She is reported to have retired to the abbey of Maubuisson, where she died in 1326. Although it is usually said that Mahaut had no contact with her after the scandal, documents indicate that Mahaut did continue to provide for her disgraced daughter, and that Blanche may have been forcibly retired not to Maubuisson but to the château of Gavray in Normandy.

She stands before us, not the ideal creation of a mediaeval romancer, but a real woman, with her virtues and failings, her joys and sorrows, … a woman trying to grapple with difficulties forced upon her by her position, and by an age when intrigue and cunning were as freely resorted to, and as deftly handled, as the sword and the lance.

—Alice Kemp-Welch

By 1315, Mahaut's nephew Robert had capitalized on the difficulties created for Mahaut by the scandal involving her daughters by renewing his attempt to claim the county of Artois. He provoked rebellion in the county against Mahaut, her advisors, and governmental officials. He also caused Mahaut to be accused of poisoning King Louis X (died June 1315) and his infant son Jean I (died November 1316), and of using sorcery to produce a love potion to effect the reconciliation of Mahaut's daughter Jeanne and her husband, now King Philip V. According to the accusation, these "crimes" were designed to make Jeanne queen of France. While Mahaut was countering these accusations, she was deeply grieved when her only surviving son and heir Robert died suddenly in Paris in September 1317. He was about 18 years of age and shortly was to have been knighted.

Gradually, Mahaut's life became more settled. In October 1317, a judgment proclaimed Mahaut's innocence of the accusations brought by her nephew. With her son-in-law and daughter, Philip and Jeanne, as king and queen of France, Mahaut's influence at court became stronger. Her claim to Artois was confirmed by a judgment of Parlement in 1318, and the county was restored to her when the rebels in Artois finally submitted in March 1319.

The final decade of Mahaut's life allowed her to enjoy more fully the benefits of her position as countess of Artois, peer of the realm, and close relative by birth and marriage to the French royal family. First, she reestablished her authority in Artois. Making a triumphal reentry into her territories in 1319, she reclaimed her residences and repaired and restored the damage done by the rebellion, especially to her favorite château at Hesdin.

Mahaut traveled extensively throughout her life. She spent considerable time at her principal residence (hôtel) in Paris, located by the city wall close to the north road. She had several residences in Artois and was also frequently in Burgundy both during her marriage to Count Otto of Burgundy and as regent after his death; the familial line through her daughter Jeanne eventually assumed the inheritance of the county of Burgundy. Mahaut usually traveled in a carriage, accompanied by an extensive household, and her baggage often included such comforts as a bed or couch, tapestries, books, and silver basins.

An intelligent, cultured woman, Mahaut patronized the arts, music, and letters, and extensive documents preserve records of her expenditures for these luxuries. She was an important patron of books, many of which were richly illuminated, and provided liturgical service books for chapels connected with her residences as well as for churches and abbeys to which she made donations. Her personal library included works of devotion such as books of hours, as well as copies of chronicles of the French kings, various works of romance literature, French translations of religious and philosophical treatises, and an early copy of the travels of Marco Polo. Most likely, she was literate at least in French, because she made provisions for traveling cases for the books and reading lecterns for her residences.

Mahaut was also associated with many types of artistic production. She engaged important sculptors, such as Jean Pepin of Huy, to provide tomb monuments for members of her family. Her own tomb effigy of dark Tournai marble, originally at the abbey of Maubuisson, is now located at Saint-Denis near Paris. Her residences were sumptuously furnished with tapestries, metalwork objects, paintings, and stained-glass windows, and she gave equal attention to personal appearance, providing herself, family members, and friends with beautiful, luxurious garments. She also entertained lavishly at her many residences. Food was ample; musicians sang and played instruments. Her château at Hesdin was famed for its trick water fountains.

With all this, Mahaut never neglected the administration of her feudal holdings, and accounts were presented for her inspection three times a year. She was an important figure at the Parisian court. As one of two women to hold the title of peer of France, she was present at the coronations of her son-in-law Philip V (1317), where she held the crown over his head, of her godson Charles IV (1322), and of Philip VI of Valois (1328). In addition to these visible ceremonial roles, her successful negotiation through numerous legal entanglements suggests that she was adept at political maneuvering. Although a number of important French lawyers assisted her in these cases, she was clearly capable of directing her own defense.

Medicine was another one of her interests, and physicians were in attendance to care for her and members of her family. The most notable of these was Thomas le Myésier, a native of Arras in Artois, who was her personal physician for about 25 years. In Paris, le Myésier was also an intellectual disciple of Ramon Lull, a Spanish philosopher, and wrote several compilations of Lull's philosophical ideas. Mahaut's patronage was a key factor in enabling le Myésier to disseminate Lull's doctrines in Parisian intellectual circles.

As was expected in an age of faith, Mahaut was a pious and charitable woman. She founded hospitals in Artois and Burgundy as well as the hospital at Hesdin, which opened in 1323. She seems to have held St. James in particular veneration, for she sent the devout on pilgrimages to the shrine of St. James at Compostela in Spain with special prayers for her son's recovery from a serious illness in 1304 and on behalf of his soul after his death in 1317. She and her daughter Queen Jeanne made frequent donations to the confraternity of St. Jacques-aux-Pèlerins in Paris, where they helped to lay the cornerstone for its church and hospital in 1319. Its sculptured porch, now destroyed, depicted Mahaut, her daughter Jeanne, and her four granddaughters, including Jeanne II of Burgundy (1308–1347), Margaret of Artois , and Isabelle Capet .

Mahaut was a particular patron of the abbey of Maubuisson, founded by Blanche of Castile (1188–1252), queen of France and mother of Louis IX, and often retired there for prayer and meditation. Several members of her family, including her father Count Robert II and probably her daughter Blanche, were buried there. Appropriately, Mahaut spent time at this abbey just before her death, sleeping there on November 23, 1329, after dining with the French king Philip VI at Poissy. She returned to her residence at Paris but became seriously ill and died on November 27. Her final resting place was at Maubuisson, where she was buried near her father.

Mahaut's life represents in microcosm the activities and interests of a French noblewoman during the late Middle Ages. She was adept at protecting and managing her feudal territories, especially Artois. She also understood, negotiated, and withstood the vicissitudes of political intrigue at the French court. Her patronage demonstrates that she both appreciated and promoted the literary, philosophical, and artistic culture that made France, particularly Paris, the leading exponent of Gothic style. As a woman, she was constantly forced to defend her legal rights to her feudal possessions, and she staunchly rose to the challenge. Her life provides a dramatic illustration of the way an intelligent, capable woman could capitalize on the advantages bestowed upon her by noble birth.


Baron, Françoise. "La gisante en pierre de Tournai de la cathédrale de Saint-Denis," in Bulletin monumental. Vol. 128, 1970, pp. 211–28.

Butler, Pierce. Women of Mediaeval France. Philadelphia, PA: George Barrie and Sons, 1907.

Dehaisnes, Chretien. Historie de l'art dans la Flandre, l'Artois et le Hainaut avant le XVe siècle. Lille: L. Quarre, 1886.

Hillgarth, J.N. Ramon Lull and Lullism in Fourteenth Century France. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971.

Kemp-Welch, Alice. Of Six Mediaeval Women. London: Macmillan, 1913.

Labarge, Margaret Wade. A Small Sound of the Trumpet: Women in Medieval Life. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1986.

Lord, Carla. French Patronage of Art in the Fourteenth Century: An Annotated Bibliography. Boston: G.K. Hall, 1985.

Richard, Jules-Marie. Une petite-nièce de Saint Louis: Mahaut, comtesse d'Artois et de Bourgogne. Paris: H. Champion, 1887.

suggested reading:

Hallam, Elizabeth M. Capetian France, 987–1328. London: Longman, 1980.

Strayer, Joseph R. The Reign of Philip the Fair. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980.


A large collection of documents (about 12,000 items) pertaining to Mahaut's administration of Artois is preserved in the Archives départmentales du Pas-de-Calais in Arras. Some of these documents are printed or summarized in the following works:

Dehaisnes, Chretien. Documents et extraits divers concernant l'histoire de l'art dans la Flandre, l'Artois, et le Hainaut avant le XVe siècle Lille: L. Danel, 1886.

Richard, Jules Marie. Inventaire sommaire des archives départmentales antérieures à 1790, Pas-de Calais, Archives civiles. 2 vols. Series A. 1877–1878.

Karen Gould , independent scholar and expert on medieval art history, Austin, Texas