Margaret of Flanders (1202–1280)

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Margaret of Flanders (1202–1280)

Countess of Flanders . Name variations: Black Meg; Margaret of Constantinople; Marguerite of Flanders; Marguerite de Flandre. Born in 1202 in Flanders; died in 1280 in Flanders; daughter of Baudouin also known as Baldwin IX, count of Flanders (and emperor of Constantinople as Baldwin I), and Marie of Champagne (d. 1203); sister of Johanna of Flanders (c. 1200–1244); married Bourchard d'Avesnes of Hainault, in 1212 (annulled around 1215); married William de Dampierre, around 1223 (died before 1245); children: (first marriage) two sons; (second marriage) three sons, including Guy de Dampierre, later count of Flanders, and two daughters (names unknown).

Countess Margaret of Flanders was a religious founder and a great contributor to the commercial growth of the 13th century. Her mother was Marie of Champagne ; her father was Baldwin IX, count of Flanders, who rose to fame after his victories in the Fourth Crusade in 1204 when he helped effect the capture of Byzantium and was made emperor. Unfortunately, Baldwin's glory was short-lived, for he died a young man a few months later. On his death he had only two surviving children, both daughters. Margaret's older sister, Johanna of Flanders , inherited the county. Ruling Flanders was a difficult challenge in that time, for although Flanders was small it had several emerging capitalist regions and was territorially significant, and the French monarch wanted to annex it to his own kingdom.

Margaret married a French noble, Bourchard d'Avesnes, around 1212; they had two sons but their marriage was annulled several years later, ostensibly because Bourchard had been a deacon and thus could never legally marry; in reality, the annulment was probably the work of King Philip II of France, who wanted to increase his influence in Flanders by having Margaret marry one of his own loyal barons. Thus Margaret next married William of Dampierre, around 1223; eventually she had five children with William, three sons and two daughters. Johanna of Flanders was likewise pressured by her powerful neighbor into making marriage alliances beneficial to the French, although she wanted to keep Flanders independent.

Johanna had no surviving children or husband when she died in 1245; the county then passed to Margaret, who was in her 50s. By this time, Margaret of Flanders had also been widowed. Upon her succession as countess, a war broke out between her d'Avesnes sons and her Dampierre sons over which son was her legal heir. The d'Avesnes children were older, but if their mother's marriage to Bourchard was invalid, they were illegitimate and could not legally inherit. Battles ensued, with Flemish and French nobles lending support to one side or the other as seemed reasonable and politically expedient. The mother of these warriors did everything in her power to bring peace to the situation, but it was a difficult legal question, and Margaret's efforts to negotiate without seeming to support one cause over the other put her in an awkward position, especially as she personally favored the rights of her Dampierre children. A compromise was reached after ten years of fighting only with the aid of King Louis IX.

With peace restored, Margaret turned her attention toward the welfare of the towns and people under her rule. She became a respected founder of religious establishments, favoring the Dominicans, for whom she established a house at Ypres and one at Douai. Throughout her life, she gave generously to the support of Dominican nuns and monks as well as to other houses and various charitable causes. She knew the great Dominican leader St. Thomas Aquinas, and corresponded with him on questions of moral rule as it related to commerce and finance, including the sins of usury and simony.

In addition, Margaret became interested in promoting the trade of her region. She started projects to improve the canal system of Flanders and shipping times, and had currency struck that was easily exchanged with German and English coins, for she wanted to increase Flemish trade with merchants of those areas. She also passed legislation which granted special benefits and incentives for merchants of Spain and Poitou to trade in Flanders, helping to bring more commerce and money into her capital trading city of Bruges.

Around 1278, Margaret, now in her late 70s, retired from her active life, and allowed her son Guy de Dampierre to take over as count of Flanders. She died two years later.

sources:

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

Laura York , Riverside, California

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