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Marie de St. Pol (1304–1377)

Marie de St. Pol (1304–1377)

Countess of Pembroke and religious founder . Name variations: Marie de St. Paul; Marie of St. Paul; Marie de Saint-Pol; Mary of St. Pol; Maria de Sancto Paulo. Born in 1304 in France; died in 1377 in Pembroke, England; daughter of Guy IV de Châtillon, count of St. Pol, and Mary of Brittany; married Aymer de Valence, earl of Pembroke, around 1320 (d. 1324); children: none.

Marie de St. Pol, a French noblewoman, was the daughter and heir of Count Guy de Chatillon of St. Pol and Mary of Brittany . In 1321, Marie married the powerful and wealthy English count, Aymer de Valence, earl of Pembroke, who was in his 50s at the time. He died only three years later; thus at age 20, Marie had already become a childless widow living in England with great estates both there and in France. It was expected that a young widow of such importance would remarry, but Marie refused to do so. The countess of Pembroke divided her time between castles in England and her house in Paris, trying to maintain a neutral political position between the two constantly warring nations.

She seems to have striven to achieve the medieval ideal of a wealthy noblewoman, for she gave generously to charity and used her resources and time to found both a religious establishment and a hall for the university at Cambridge. Marie de St. Pol was an important patron of the Franciscan order of nuns (called Poor Clares or Minoresses), although she was a somewhat demanding patron. She donated generously to a Franciscan convent at Water-beach in England, but then requested that the convent be moved to Denny, one of her manors. A fight ensued, but Marie finally had her way; she was eventually buried at Denny. She also founded the still-extant Pembroke College at Cambridge in 1347 and endowed it to support 30 students; in the rules she made for the future use of the endowment, Marie specified that French scholars be given priority over English students.

Marie de St. Pol's forceful personality helped her achieve many of her personal goals. She utilized the prestige and power of her rank to influence her superiors; she constantly wrote to the kings of France and England and even to the pope, requesting special favors and privileges for the convent at Denny, for Pembroke College, and for herself, usually successfully. Yet she also seems to have had many close personal friends, particularly Elizabeth de Clare (1295–1360), the wealthy widow of Clare who shared her interests and whom she often visited and entertained. On her death, Elizabeth left Marie two gold rings as a token of her affection. Marie de St. Pol was 73 when she died in 1377.


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

Laura York , Riverside, California

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