Women's Biography: Margaret of Constantinople, Countess of Flanders
There are letters written to and by Margaret of Constantinople, Countess of Flanders.
Margaret/Marguerite was the second 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 two daughters, Joan and her much younger sister Margaret, as his heirs. The sisters 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. When Joan died in December 1244, Margaret became the ruler of Flanders and Hainaut.
Margaret eloped with and married Burchard of Avesnes when she was very young, in 1212, without the permission of her sister, who fought to undo the marriage. She enlisted the support of popes, Innocent III and Honorius III, both of whom excommunicated Bouchard to no effect. The marriage produced two sons, John and Baldwin, but Margaret finally left him. Margaret and Burchard were divorced in 1221, and in 1225 Margaret married William II of Dampierre who died in 1232; that marriage produced three sons and three daughters, whom Margaret favored over her Avesnes sons. The two lines were rivals for the succession. When Margaret went to do hommage to her cousin Louis IX(1) for Flanders and Hainaut, she brought her eldest Dampierre son, William, with her as her heir, but they were challenged by the Avesnes sons who asserted John’s claim as first born. John and Baldwin had been declared illegitimate by Gregory IX in 1236, but recognized by the emperor Frederick II as legitimate heirs of both parents in 1242. William insulted them before the court, calling them sons of an apostate priest. The rivalry extended to the people of their regions, Hainaut supporting the Avesnes, Flanders the Dampierres. With civil war threatening, an agreement was reached by arbitration of the king of France and the papal legate, Cardinal Eudes, giving the succession to Hainaut to the Avesnes and that of Flanders to the Dampierres. Margaret had the Hainaut arms removed from her escutcheon, though she remained its ruler.
John, who was married to Alix/Adela, daughter of Floris/Florence of Holland, continued to press claims to Flemish islands, and made war on his mother with the support of his father-in-law, doing considerable damage. His brother-in-law, William, elected King of the Romans in 1247(by forces opposed to Frederick II), demanded hommage for Flanders from Margaret who would not pay it, and William declared John of Avesnes count of Flanders. In 1249, William of Dampierre, still recognized as count of Flanders by the French king, distinguished himself on crusade with Louis IX, but died in a tourney after his return home. He was succeeded as heir to Flanders by his brother, Guy, married to Mathilda of Bethune. Margaret, suspecting that the Avesnes were in some way responsible for John’s death, retaliated against Hainaut, replacing its administrators with Flemish, and imposing exorbitant taxes and tariffs. There was a rebellion in which many Flemish were killed, and a war against the count of Holland and John of Avesnes. The Flemish were defeated by Floris of Holland, Margaret’s remaining Dampierre sons, Guy and John, were captured and handed over to the anti-king William of Holland. Margaret tried to ransom them but William would not negotiate, accusing her of breaking a treaty. When Louis IX of France intervened on her behalf, William demanded a large ransom and polticial concessions. Margaret refused and offered her cousin Louis the county of Hainaut which he refused; she then made it over for her lifetime to Louis’s brother, Charles of Anjou, who insisted on money to undertake an expedition. In 1253, she paid him, taking out large loans to underwrite the enterprise. Together she and Charles invaded Hainaut but were strongly resisted. William opposed them, Charles eventually gave up any claim to Hainaut in 1256, and peace was made, leaving Hainaut to the Avesnes. William was killed in an encounter with Frisians and John and Baldwin of Avesnes made overtures to their mother which she accepted in order to free her other sons. Florent of Holland, son of William was married to Beatrice, daughter of Guy of Dampierre. When Richard of Cornwall became king of the Romans, Margaret arranged to be invested with Flanders by him while her son Guy was negotiating secretly with the king of Castile in case he prevailed over Richard. Guy bought the county of Namur from the eastern emperor, Baldwin II, in 1261, but Henry of Luxembourg had taken it over; Guy, whose first wife Mathilda had died, married Henry’s daughter Isabel.
Margaret engaged in a trade war with England from 1270-75; she demanded that Henry III make good payments owed (a money fief), for her support during the revolt of Simon de Montfort. Margaret allowed Henry’s queen Eleanor to stay At Damme and recruit mercenary soldiers from the low countries, but since she did not send soldiers at her expense to fight, Henry did not see reason to restore the fief.(2) So she seized the possessions of English merchants in Flanders and Henry and Edward I seized those of Flemish merchants in England, who had been forewarned and had less of value to hand over. Edward stopped exports of English wool to Flanders and townspeole who depended on the textile trade pressured the countess and her son Guy to agree to make restitution to English merchants; henceforth the Flemish no longer dominated the transport of goods between the continent and England.
Before Margaret died, she had her grandson, John of Avesnes, crowned as count of Hainaut, May 1279, and her son Guy of Dampierre proclaimed count of Flanders, September 1279. She died five months later.
Like her sister, Margaret had favored commerce and industry, and encouraged communal independence; she organized a uniform monetary system, founded hospices for the poor and sick, and endowed many of the churches and abbeys in Flanders. In her will of 1273, three hundred religious houses and charitable establishments are named. She also supported students from Flanders and Hainaut at the university of Paris.