Joan, Countess of Flanders
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Joan's mother died in August 1204, and her father died the next year, leaving her a five-year-old orphan under the guardianship of Philip of Namur. He continued as regent as well, ruling in her name rather than her father's. Philip soon put his nieces in a difficult position. He became betrothed to a daughter of King Philip II of France, and gave the king custody of the two girls. During their time in France they became familiar with the Cisterian Order, probably under influence of Blanche of Castile, the future Queen consort of France.
Philip II in turn agreed to sell their custody to Enguerrand de Coucy, who probably planned to marry Joan when she came of age. But these plans fell through, and in the end she married Ferdinand, prince of Portugal in Paris in January 1212. He was the nephew of Joan's great-aunt-by-marriage Matilda of Portugal.
While on their way to Flanders the newlyweds were captured by Joan's first cousin Louis (the future Louis VIII of France), eldest son of Philip Augustus and his first wife, Joan's aunt Elizabeth of Flanders, otherwise known as Isabelle of Hainaut. Louis' aim was to acquire his dead mother's dowry, a large piece of Flemish territory including Artois, which Joan's father had taken back by force after Elizabeth's death.
Released after this concession, Joan and Ferdinand soon joined the old allies of her father, King John of England (her uncle), and Emperor Otto IV, in an alliance against France. They were decisively defeated at Bouvines in July 1214, where Ferdinand was taken prisoner.
Ferdinand was to remain in French hands for the next twelve years, while Joan ruled alone. During this period Joan ended up at odds with her younger sister Margaret over the latter's inheritance, a matter complicated by the questionable validity of both of Margaret's marriages. A war between the sisters broke out, which only added to difficulties caused by famine. She exempted certain groups from taxes to encourage industry. An example is that of settlers in Kortrijk, who did not have to pay property tax, to promote woolen weaving in the town.
In 1225 a man appeared who claimed to be Joan's father Baldwin, returned after twenty years. He soon became the focus of a popular revolt. He was congratulated with his release from captivity by Henry III of England, but when he met Louis VIII, he failed to answer several questions posed to him. Clergymen recognized him as a Burgundian named Bertrand of Ray. He fled, was captured by Louis, sent to Joan and executed in 1226.
In 1226, Joan signed the Treaty of Melun with Louis VIII of France, according to which she had to pay 50,000 livres for her husband's freedom. Ferdinand was released at the beginning of the next year by Blanche of Castile, whose young son Louis IX had just succeeded, in an attempt to create more support for France's new minority rule.
In 1212 she married Ferdinand of Portugal. After he died, Simon de Montfort tried to gain her hand in marriage. Since Simon was still loyal to Henry III of England at this point, this did not sit well with the French crown. Blanche of Castile, now Queen mother in France, put pressure on Joan to marry Thomas II of Savoy instead. They wed in 1237, but this marriage was childless.
Countess Joan promoted and established several monasteries, abbeys and Béguinages around Flanders. There are statues of her in the béguinage of Kortrijk and the Old Saint Elisabeth in Ghent. She also supported hospitals and leper colonies.
|Countess of Flanders and Hainaut
with Ferdinand of Portugal
with Thomas of Savoy
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