Women's Biography: Joan of Constantinople, Countess of Flanders
There are letters written to and by Joan of Constantinople, Countess of Flanders.
Joan, Jeanne, was the daughter of Baldwin IX Count of Flanders and Hainaut, first Latin Emperor of Constantinople, and Marie de Champagne (daughter of Henry the Liberal of Champagne and Marie of France). Marie died in 1204, Baldwin in 1205, as a captive in Bulgaria after a military defeat, leaving Joan and her much younger sister Marguerite as his heirs. They were turned over to the custody of the French king, Philip II Augustus by their uncle Philip the Noble of Namur, who ruled as regent in Joan’s name. In 1211/12 Joan was married to Fernand/Ferrand of Portugal, son of King Sancho I. Fernand made concessions of land to the French king, Aire and St. Omer, which Philip’s son Louis had taken, claiming it as part of his mother’s dowry (Isabel of Hainaut). That annoyed the Flemish who refused to recognize Fernand as their count. Turned off from the French by Louis’s aggression, and attracted by the financial benefits of wool trade with England, Fernand made an alliance with John, king of England, Otto IV, and counts of Holland and Boulogne. When France’s intended attack on England was thwarted by the pope removing the interdict against John, Philip Augustus turned his large fleet against Flanders. Flanders was defeated at Bouvines in 1214, Lille was destroyed, Gand, Ypres and Bruges, burned, and Fernand was captured and imprisoned in Paris. He would remain in captivity until 1227, while Joan ruled Flanders and worked to have him released. She was prepared to make many concessions and pay a large ransom for which she borrowed at high rates, but Flemish town councils rejected the terms of release. She also applied to the pope and various bishops to press for Fernand’s release, but Philip Augustus was intransigent. After he died, his son Louis VIII continued to hold Fernand, setting harsh conditions for his release in the treaty in Melun, which Joan agreed to but the Flemish barons and cities rejected. It was only after Louis’s death that his queen, Blanche of Castile, regent for Louis IX, agreed to less stringent terms and half the ransom, and Fernand was finally released in 1227. Joan named powerful nobles as bailiff during Ferrand’s imprisonment, John of Nesle to 1224, Arnold of Oudenaarde from 1224-27, and later Thierry of Beveren from 1233-37. John of Nesle was the choice of the French king, but Joan bought him off in 1224, paying 23,545 parisian pounds for the castellany of Bruges, and he returned to his French lands. Arnold supported her against the man who surfaced in 1225, claiming to be her father Baldwin who stirred up a lot of trouble before he was unmasked by an investigation at the French court. The false Baldwin escaped but was recaptured and executed in 1225, after which Joan granted amnesty to the cities that had believed his story. Frederick II, who had supported France against England and his own rival Otto, confiscated imperial Flanders at a diet in Frankfort, 1218, and granted William count of Holland the parts held from the empire, since Joan had not done homage to the empire for Flanders. But she argued successfully that the roads were too dangerous for a woman to travel while her husband was imprisoned. In 1221, Frederick’s son Henry VII confirmed the countess in possessn of the imperial fiefs and forced the count of Holland to submit and recognize his dependence on Flanders.
Joan’s policy was to increase the municipal powers of the towns to counterbalance the powerful barons, some of whom had fought on the French side at Bouvines. She granted charters encouraging local government, markets, canal construction, and the wool trade, and allowing the installation of aldermen. She also supported religious establishments, among them houses for Cistercian and Dominican women and supported the Beguines, building them a substantial home in Bruges. When Fernand returned to Flanders, he joined Joan in support of municipal power and the establishment of charitable and pious foundations. His release may have been hastened by the proposal of the Duke of Brittany to the pope that he allow Joan to divorce Fernand and marry him, not an appealing prospect for the king of France. Fernand died in 1233 and Joan ruled alone again until 1236, when she married Thomas of Savoy, then 37, uncle of the French queen Marguerite of Provence. Joan had had a daughter with Fernand, but she died in 1234. With the agreement of Joan’s sister and heir, Marguerite, Thomas was granted a life pension of 6000 Artois pounds to be collected from Flanders, if Joan predeceased him childless. Marguerite later redeemed the pension for 60,000 pounds. When Joan and Thomas went to Compiegne to do hommage to Louis in December 1237, the French king insisted that Thomas swear to the treaty of Melun before the hommage, but Thomas said he could act as count of Flanders until he had done hommage and an arbitration panel of three peers found for him. More cities were granted municipal rights between 1239 and 1241, Damme, Caprick (added to Gand, Bruges, Ypres, Lille, Douai, Seclin), all without revolt. Joan spent much of her time in her last years in abbey of Marquette where she was buried next to her first husband Fernand and her daughter. She dictated her will in the presence of Thomas of Savoy, her sister Marguerite, and many others in December 4, 1244, and died the next day.1