Women's Biography: Blanche of Navarre, Countess of Champagne
There are letters written to and by Blanche of Navarre, Countess of Champagne.
Blanche of Navarre (c.1181-1229), countess of Champagne was the daughter of Sancho VI el Sabio, king of Navarre and Sancha of Castile; her older sister, Berengaria, had been queen of England as the wife of Richard I. Blanche was also related to the French royal family: her first cousin Alfonso VIII, son of her maternal uncle Sancho of Castile, married Eleanor of England and their daughter Blanche married Louis VIII of France. Thus countess Blanche was the French queen's first cousin once removed. Both Blanches served as regents for their sons and their relation seems to have been close.
Blanche of Navarre was married in 1199 to Thibaut III, a grandson of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Louis VII, and thus a nephew of Louis's successor, Philip Augustus. Thibaut's father, Henry I (the Liberal), had married Marie of France, daughter of Eleanor and Louis; their older son Henry II left for Jerusalem in 1190, leaving Champagne to his younger brother Thibaut III.1 Henry married the queen of Jerusalem with whom he had two daughters; he died in 1197. The king, Philip II, confirmed Thibaut's succession (Thibaut was 18), but Thibaut himself died in 1201, leaving his widow Blanche with a young daughter and pregnant with their son, Thibaut IV. Blanche went to Philip and did homage for her right of wardship and her dower, according to Evergates the first homage ever rendered by a countess.
Blanche was regent for her son from 1201-22.2 Henry's daughter by Isabel of Jerusalem, Philippa, and her husband Erard of Brienne, from an important family in Champagne, challenged the claim of Thibaut and Blanche in 1213. The cardinal legate and several Champagne barons declared for Thibaut; the king, archbishops of Reims and Sens, bishops of Langres, Chalons, and Autun, the duke of Burgundy and the count of Nevers all accepted Thibaut's homage for Champagne lands held from them (Evergates, Feudal Society, 161). Blanche had earlier obtained the king's promise to defer any challenge to the succession and she now succeeded in getting ecclesiastical support, declaring both Henry II's marriage invalid and Erard and Philippa within the prohibited degrees of relation (Evergates, "Aristocratic Women," 83). Philippa was bought off with 5000 L cash and an annual rent of 1,200 L.
The papacy supported Blanche3 and when Erard and his supporters rebelled in 1216 the emperor Fredrick II helped her militarily. The rebels were defeated; Blanche herself led her army to Nancy and burned the town.4 Geoffroy of Villehardouin and Milo Breban (officials of Champagne who were serving the Frankish empire in Constantinople) advised her when she ran into trouble during the regency; she asked them for information about the status of great barons and they suggested she consult the scripta feodorum (lists of fief holders and obligations, not systematic at that point) to learn their obligations. Their response is cited in part in Evergates, Feudal Society, 213, fn.17, from a letter that has not been dated: "Intimamus vobis preterea quod scripta feodorum vestrorum sunt in ecclesia Sancti Stephani Trecarum ... ad tradendum vero scripta feodorum in ecclesia Beati Stephani, ego Milo Brebanus interfui, et comes Henricus secum tulit exemplarium ultra mare." "We make known to you, moreover, that the records of your fiefs are in the church of St. Stephen of Troyes ... I, Milo Brebanus, was present at the handing over of those records in the church of St. Stephen, and count Henry took the copy with him overseas." Evergates comments that "there may have been a conspiracy to keep the countess unaware of the existence or whereabouts of the document." The Feoda, which were referred to when oral testimony was in doubt, began in 1172; four were attempted during Blanche's regency but survive only as fragmentary registers.
Blanche had established her rule early when many barons were away on the Fourth Crusade, and she continued her husband's efforts to expand comital influence, exacting oaths of loyalty, imposing homage on younger sons, installing castles (see Evergates, "Aristocratic Women," 82). With the assent of a baronial assembly she had convened in 1212, she established procedures for daughters, rather than the closest male relative, to inherit castles and fortified residences if their fathers died without a son (Evergates, "Aristocratic Women," 84-85); the agreement is also recorded in Henri d'Arbois de Jubainville, Histoire des Ducs et des Comtes de Champagne, v. 5 (Paris: Aug. Durand, 1863), #814. Arbois de Jubainville, (who gives a detailed summary of Blanche's regency in v.4, 101-97), records and briefly summarizes the contents of 869 documents from the regency of Blanche de Navarre, (1201 to 1220), until Thibaut "left his mother's tutelage" (#1420, p.180), beginning with the promises she made to Philip-Augustus, king of France (#550), his certification of her dower (#551), and acceptance of her hommage (#552), after her husband's death.
There is great variety among the documents: Blanche issues charters to towns and monks and receives hommage for various holdings. (Even towards the end of her regency, people are referred to as "vassals," "liege men" of Blanche and Thibaut, not of Thibaut alone, #1216, 1218.) She makes payments, exchanges serfs, declares, confirms, approves donations and transactions, some concluded in her presence, of various kinds involving religious and/or laymen, e.g. money for rights to woods, sales by churches. She mediates, investigates and settles disputed claims (e.g., has the limits' of an abbey's woods determined and delivers judgment enjoining the abbey to accept those limits, #768); she arbitrates between a convent and an abbey (#1166). In other cases, a bishop adjudicates a dispute she has with an abbey, #778), the duke of Burgundy one she has with a bishop (#807). Pope Honorius charges the prior of Saint-Martin des Champs and canons of Paris to judge a dispute between Blanche of Navarre and the abbey of Cluny on the rights of entry of wines and other matters (#1043), and a dispute between Blanche and the abbey of Pontigny and some priests of dioceses of Sens, Auxerre, and Troyes who claimed Blanche was responsible for beasts that her enemies had carried off (#1056).
The countess authorizes work on a fortress (#1175), the creation of prebends in her chapel (#801); she shares expenses with monks to build mills (#630), oversees loan repayments to "her" Jews (#560), buys the rights to Jews in Ervy (#886). She joins with the bishop of Meaux to make money (#695), redeems a village that had been part of her dower which had been given away by her husband without her consent (#604). She receives income from annual fairs and reparation from nuns for having elected an abbess without her consent (1347). She renounces claims to wood-mote (gruerie) in favor of an abbey.
The regulations she promulgates for the administration of Hotel-Dieu-le-Comte of Troyes are, according to the editor, the oldest known French charter for Champagne (#812).5 Philip Augustus sends new regulations about fighting instruments to Blanche to execute in her realm (#926). She and duke Eudes of Burgundy suspend travel between their lands in 1215 (#928) and make an alliance to conquer Burgundy, agreeing to divide the expenses and the conquered land in 1216 (#1010). When a bishop suspends a prior and various other monks from their offices, he asks the countess to send agents to administer the temporal affairs of the monastery (#957).
In 1222 Blanche retired to Argensolles, a large Cistercian convent with authority to accept 90 women, which she had received special permission to found (Evergates, "Aristocratic Women," 84). Blanche had had good relations with Cluny and the Cistercians; she received the right to participate like a nun in Cluny's spiritual favors (Arbois de Jubainville, #617) and to be treated like a member of the Cistercian order after her death (#974).