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Marie of France

In this engaging biography, Theodore Evergates offers a rounded view of Countess Marie of France as both a cultural patron and a successful ruler of Champagne, one of the wealthiest and most vibrant principalities in medieval France.

Marie of France
Countess of Champagne, 1145-1198

Theodore Evergates

2019 | 192 pages | Cloth $69.95
History / Biography / Women's Studies/Gender Studies
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Table of Contents


Chapter 1. Marie of France, 1145-1164
Chapter 2. Countess of Troyes, 1165-1181
Chapter 3. Regent Countess, 1181-1187
Chapter 4. Retirement, 1187-1190
Chapter 5. A Condominium Lordship, 1190-1198
Chapter 6. Images of Countess Marie

1. Genealogy: Countess Marie and Her Relatives
2. Tables
3. Chronology

List of Abbreviations

Excerpt [uncorrected, not for citation]


Countess Marie of Champagne is known today primarily as a literary patron, notably of Chrétien de Troyes, who famously announced in his prologue to Lancelot, that since she "wished" him to tell the tale, he complied with her "command." From that and several other mentions by contemporary writers, Marie has been cast as the animator of a "court of Champagne." It is indeed ironic that, with few explicit references to her patronage, Marie is now cited more frequently than her husband, Count Henry the Liberal (1152-81), a commanding figure in his time who made the county of Champagne one of the premier principalities of northern France and whose intellectual interests are amply attested. Marie in fact was more than a cultural patron. She was ruling countess of Champagne for almost two decades in the 1180s and 1190s, initially during Count Henry's absence overseas, then as regent for her son Henry II and as colord with him during the Third Crusade and his subsequent residence in Acre. From the age of thirty-four until her death at fifty-three she ruled almost continuously, presiding at the High Court of Champagne and attending to the many practical matters arising in a vibrant principality of the late twelfth century. She acted with the advice of her court officers but without limitation by either the king or a regency council. If Henry the Liberal's crowning achievement was to create the county of Champagne as a dynamic, prosperous state, Marie's was to preserve it in the face of several existential threats.

Historians of Capetian France have yet to appreciate the frequency and significance of wives acting in the absence of their husbands and during the minority of inheriting sons. That was a common family practice; only in a wife's absence was a guardian or regency council appointed. During Countess Marie's lifetime two royal regencies were necessitated by the absence of a resident queen while the king traveled overseas: when her mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, accompanied Louis VII on the Second Crusade, and when Queen Isabelle died in childbirth shortly before Philip II left on the Third Crusade. In each case the king designated regents as guardians of the realm. Louis appointed Abbot Suger of St-Denis and the seneschal Ralph of Vermandois "for the custody of the realm" (de regni custodia), said Odo of Deuil, while Philip enacted an ordinance (ordinationem) granting his uncle William, archbishop of Reims, and his mother, Adele, the dowager queen, limited authority during his absence. Countess Marie, however, like most wives of princes, barons, and knights, was not burdened by a regency council. Her decisions at court and her letters patent carried the same authority as those of her husband and son, without mention of any provisional standing. Although she often associated her underage son with her in letters patent, she alone exercised the full plenitude of the comital office, even during Count Henry II's extended stay in Palestine, and she sealed in her own name as countess of Troyes (her only title).

Marie's life beyond her role as literary patron and ruling countess encompassed an extensive network of family relationships, for she was connected by birth and marriage to two of the most prominent royal families of twelfth-century Europe. As the daughter of Louis VII and Eleanor of Aquitaine, Marie acquired through their second marriages numerous royal half-siblings whom she regarded as brothers and sisters: Louis's children Margaret of France and King Philip II, and Eleanor's sons Henry, Geoffroy, and Richard. Even more directly important in providing a nexus of personal support for her rule in Champagne were Henry the Liberal's well-placed siblings: the royal seneschal Count Thibaut V of Blois (1154-91), Archbishop William of Sens and Reims (1168-1202), and Queen Adele (1165-79, d. 1206). Marie's seal inscribed her dual identity: "Daughter of the King of the Franks, Countess of Troyes."

We know very little about Marie before her cohabitation with Count Henry, and little thereafter during their sixteen-year marriage. Only during the 1180s and 1190s do we get to know her as regent and co-lord of Champagne, primarily through her letters patent. Beyond those chancery-produced records and brief mentions by chroniclers, prelates, and poets, there is scant documentary evidence for recovering a rounded picture of her life and works. This study is consequentially highly contextual in that it situates Marie within her extended families, regional institutions, and the contingent events that influenced her life from the very beginning. Had Bernard of Clairvaux not objected, she might have been betrothed shortly after her birth to Henry of Anjou. As it was, seven years later her mother, Eleanor, married the young count of Anjou and became queen of England. Although Marie did not cast as great a spell over the political affairs of Western Europe in the second half of the twelfth century, she was by all accounts an active and conscientious ruler of a wealthy and powerful northern French principality in the last two decades of the century.

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