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23.10.05 Santamaria, Marguerite de France, comtesse de Flandre, d’Artois et de Bourgogne, 1312-1382

23.10.05 Santamaria, Marguerite de France, comtesse de Flandre, d’Artois et de Bourgogne, 1312-1382

Marguerite de France (1312-82) is one of the longest-lived but (until now) least studied of the late Capetian princesses who link the last days of les rois maudits to the era of the Hundred Years’ War, the Great Plague, and the Great Schism. [1] Jean-Baptiste Santamaria’s meticulous study of this fille de roy de France is divided into two parts: the first traces a chronological narrative of the main familial and political events of Marguerite’s career; the second considers its titular “art of being a princess” (L’art d’être princesse) by studying Marguerite’s itinerary; her “ways of occupying space” (manières d’occuper l’espace, chapter 12 subtitle) in castles and towns; her favored forms of entertainment; her patronage of the arts; her piety; and her self-presentation in titles, seals, and armorial designs. This weighty tome of more than 500 pages represents only half of the author’s 2020 mémoire inédit for his Université de Lille Habilitation à diriger les recherches (publication of the second half, dedicated aux pratiques de gouvernement et aux contours de l’entourage de la comtesse [21n34], is promised). The analysis is rooted in an impressive command of abundant but widely dispersed records, bringing together unpublished evidence from four French municipal archives, six French departmental archives, and the French and Belgian national libraries and national archives. A document held at Columbia University even makes an appearance. If at times the accumulated weight of this data threatens to overwhelm the reader with an avalanche of dates and places, it is hard to imagine that a more thorough study of this fascinating royal woman will ever be written.

Part One reveals Marguerite de France as a tenacious survivor who endured the twists and turns of a tumultuous age to reach the apex of her influence in the last twenty years of her life. Marguerite was the daughter of the future Philip V (r. 1316-22) and Jeanne of Burgundy (herself daughter of Count Otto IV of Burgundy and Countess Mahaut of Artois). Her birth preceded by two years the infamous scandal of the brus du roi, in which two of Philip IV’s daughters-in-law were accused of adultery and Jeanne of Burgundy was charged with complicity in their clandestine affairs. Following Philip IV’s death (1314), Jeanne of Burgundy’s rehabilitation, and the short reign of Louis X (1314-16), Philip V became king of France by pushing aside Louis’s daughter. When Philip V himself died in 1322, the claims of Marguerite’s older sister were in turn dismissed in favor of Philip IV’s youngest son Charles IV. In the midst of all this turmoil, the eight-year-old Marguerite was married to Louis of Nevers in 1320, and the young couple became count and countess of Flanders and Nevers in 1322. Charles IV’s death in 1328 brought the direct Capetian line to an end, but Marguerite would outlive the Valois kings Philip VI (d. 1350), John II (d. 1364) and Charles V (d. 1380). Charles VI (d.1422) was thus the eighth king of France Marguerite had known. Moreover, Marguerite buried not only her grandmother Mahaut of Artois (d. 1329) and her mother Jeanne of Burgundy (d. 1330), but her two older sisters Jeanne (married Duke Eudes IV of Burgundy; d. 1347) and Isabelle (m. Guigues VIII Dauphin of Vienne; d. 1348) and even her younger sister Blanche (nun at Longchamp; d. 1358). It was this long lifespan that eventually allowed Marguerite to acquire titles and authority that probably would have seemed far out of reach at the time of her marriage. Although her husband Louis of Nevers was a largely unimpressive figure, Marguerite secured her position by giving him an heir, Louis of Male (1330-84). By the time of her husband’s death at Crécy in 1346, Louis of Male’s marriage (to Marguerite of Brabant) in 1347, and the birth of a granddaughter (Marguerite of Male) in 1350, Marguerite de France had emerged as a political force in her own right. As dowager countess of Flanders, she remained a strong influence on her young son, the new count. It was she who arranged her granddaughter Marguerite’s marriage to her great nephew (grandson of her older sister Jeanne) Philip of Rouvres (duke of Burgundy, count of Artois, and count of Burgundy). But when Philip died at age fifteen in 1361, Marguerite de France herself inherited the counties of Artois and Burgundy; and Marguerite of Male’s second marriage in 1369, to Duke Philip the Bold (son of King John II), brought the Duchy of Burgundy within her orbit as well. This marriage produced Duke John the Fearless (1371-1419), and in retrospect Marguerite de France stands as a kind of godmother to the emerging Burgundian state.

Jean-Baptiste Santamaria recounts this history in minute detail, often by means of following Marguerite’s movements and deducing from them her likely political calculations. If this methodology can at times produce a rather dry brand of analysis, more revealing glimpses of Marguerite’s trials and triumphs do emerge, such as the extended episode in which Louis of Male admitted (in writing, to Mahaut of Artois) around 1327 that he had treated his fifteen-year-old wife harshly and had not yet managed to consummate their marriage (67-68). Marguerite could show a thoughtful side: Around 1349, when the Great Plague had ravaged northern France, she reflected on “the fragility of the human creature, so inclined to death, as we all now know” (la fragilité [de l’]humaine creature, qui est si encline à la mort, comme chascun scet ad present) (124, 396). She could also respond decisively when her political power was threatened. In 1378 a revolt in Arras led to the arrest of one of the ringleaders, a certain Gérard du Moulin d’Or (194-97). Transferred to Ghent, he confessed to the city fathers’ machinations against their countess, and his testimony helped Marguerite to suppress the revolt so ruthlessly that her actions eventually required a letter of royal pardon. As for Gérard, “it was said” that he died in prison “of cold.” In July. Countess Marguerite was evidently not to be trifled with.

Part two puts flesh on these political bones. The initial chapter, which traces Marguerite’s itinerary (with a body of 2555 bits of data placing her in 157 different locales), can feel a bit repetitive, since much of part one has already been rooted in the author’s exhaustive analysis of Marguerite’s movements. Geography is certainly a crucial part of Santamaria’s approach; the full study offers no fewer than fifty-four maps (along with forty-nine figures and thirty-seven tableaux), though only six of the maps are printed in the book and the rest must be consulted at Similarly, at times the ninety-page discussion (chapter two) of Marguerite’s sixty-nine castles and hôtels threatens to become more of a reference list than an analysis. But intriguing patterns do emerge from these pages, such as the fact that Marguerite often found herself in Hesdin near the end of August, presumably because Hesdin held important relics of her ancestor St. Louis, whose feast day fell on August 25. Marguerite enjoyed tournaments and patronized musicians and singers, includingcanteresses (347). If we lack detailed evidence to portray her as a major artistic patron or book collector, we do have Marguerite’s stunning gisant (which the author establishes as the work of Jean de Liège), as well as evidence for her taste in tapestries and jewels. Several devotional books that passed through Marguerite’s hands are also extant. Her volumes containing secular stories are harder to trace, but may have been absorbed into the collections of her son and particularly her granddaughter Marguerite of Male. “In sum, Marguerite knew how to live” (En somme, Marguerite sait vivre) (365). In terms of her piety, Marguerite de France spent considerable time at Longchamp (just west of Paris, where her father Philip V had died and her sister Blanche was a nun), and the author makes the intriguing suggestion (47-49) that a book of saints’ lives stemming from Longchamp’s collection (Paris, Bibliothèque de Mazarine, MS 1716) may once have belonged to her. As these ties to Longchamp indicate (400), Marguerite shows a strong Franciscan predilection in her devotions, as seen in the fact that her confessor was the Franciscan Jean Pinaud (417, 421). She was also a supporter of the beguines of Artois, Béthune, and Saint-Omer (408, 429).

Marguerite de France, then, emerges from Jean-Baptiste Santamaria’s extensive analysis as a complex figure. At times her actions could seem cruel. For instance, in 1365 a “hermit” imprisoned at Saint-Omer was brought before Marguerite at Béthune and then burned at the stake in her presence for his unspecified crimes (157, 435). But she was also capable of showing real sympathy for those she governed. For example, in 1374 she issued a letter of remission to a poor mother who seems to have lost her baby in circumstances that might have suggested criminal carelessness. “Not wanting to increase the pain and suffering of those who are afflicted by such an example of misfortune” Marguerite wrote, “we wish to offer to them our mercy rather than the rigor of justice, in true pity and compassion” (ne voulons pas croistre paine ne douleur a ceulx qui sont tourmentéz par tel cas de meschief; ains leurs voulons nostre misericorde estre preferee a rigeur de justice en vraie pitie et compacion) (432). Her treatment of Jews in the imperial county of Burgundy provides a further example of her all too human inconsistencies. Marguerite issued extensive protections to this community in 1371, promising to safeguard these Jews against all oppression for twelve years in exchange for yearly payments; yet by 1374 she had reneged on her promise and expelled the Jews from Salins (186, 433-36). In spite of these complexities and contradictions, it is certain that Marguerite remained, to the end, “of France.” In her last illness, she contemplated being moved to Paris “to be in our natural environment” (or, perhaps more loosely, “to breathe our native air”; pour ester en nostre air naturel) (207). She insisted on burial at Saint-Denis, passing up the chance to commit her heart or entrails to a favored religious institution in Artois, Flanders, or Burgundy. Marguerite ended her life, as she began it: a French princess.



1. See Anne-Hélène Allirot, Filles de roy de France. Princesses royales, mémoire de saint Louis et conscience dynastique (de 1270 à la fin du XIVe siècle) (Turnhout: Brepols, 2010).