Robert III, Count of Flanders

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For the 1838 novel by Hendrik Conscience, see De Leeuw van Vlaanderen (novel).
Robert III, Count of Flanders
Robert III, Count of Flanders
Spouse(s) Blanche of Sicily
Yolande II, Countess of Nevers
Noble family House of Dampierre
Father Guy of Dampierre
Mother Matilda of Béthune
Born 1249
Died 17 September 1322(1322-09-17)

Robert III of Flanders (1249 – September 17, 1322), also called Robert of Béthune and nicknamed The Lion of Flanders (De Leeuw van Vlaanderen), was Count of Nevers 1273–1322 and Count of Flanders 1305–1322.


Robert was the oldest son of Guy of Dampierre from his first marriage with Matilda of Béthune. His father essentially transferred the reign of Flanders to him in November 1299, during his war with Philip IV of France. Both father and son were taken into captivity in May 1300, and Robert was not released until 1305.

Robert of Béthune gained military fame in Italy, when he fought at the side of his father-in-law, Charles I of Sicily (1265–1268) against the last Hohenstaufens, Manfred and Conradin. Together with his father he took part in 1270 in the Eighth Crusade, led by Saint Louis. After his return from the Crusade he continued to be a loyal aid for his father, politically and militarily, in the fight against the attempts of the French King Philip IV the Fair to add Flanders to the French crown lands.

Guy of Dampierre broke all feudal bonds with the French king (on January 20, 1297) mainly under his influence. When the resistance seemed hopeless Robert allowed himself to be taken prisoner, together with his father and his brother William of Crèvecoeur, and taken to the French King (May 1300). Shortly before that he had become the de facto ruler of Flanders. He was locked in the castle of Chinon. Contrary to popular belief, and the romantic portrayal by Hendrik Conscience in his novel about these events (The Lion of Flanders), he did not take part in the Battle of the Golden Spurs.[1]

In July 1305, after his father had died in captivity, he was allowed to return to his county. The execution of the Treaty of Athis-sur-Orge would mark the rule of Count Robert. Initially he achieved some success in moving the countryside and the cities to fulfill their duties. However, in April 1310 he started to radically resist the French, with support of his subjects and his family. Both diplomatically and militarily he managed to make a stand against the French King. When he marched to Lille in 1319 the militia from Ghent refused to cross the Leie with him. When his grandson Louis I of Nevers pressured him as well, Robert gave up the battle and went to Paris in 1320 to restore feudal bonds with the French King.

But even after that, he would hamper the execution of the Treaty of Athis-sur-Orge. Robert died in 1322 and was succeeded by his grandson, Louis, Count of Nevers and Rethel.

He was buried in Flanders in Saint Martin's Cathedral in Ypres, as was his explicit wish to be buried on Flemish soil. His body was only allowed to be transferred to the abbey of Flines (near Douai) when Lille and Douai were again part of the County of Flanders. His first wife and his father were also buried in this abbey.


Robert married twice. His first wife was Blanche (d. 1269), daughter of Charles I of Sicily and Beatrice of Provence, in 1265. They had one son, Charles, who died young.

His second wife was Yolande II, Countess of Nevers (d. June 11, 1280), daughter of Odo, Count of Nevers, in c. 1271. They had five children:

  1. Louis I (b. 1272, d. July 24, 1322, Paris), Count of Nevers, married December 1290 Joan, Countess of Rethel (d. aft. March 12, 1328). Their son was Louis I of Flanders.
  2. Robert (d. 1331), Count of Marle, married c. 1323 Joan of Brittany (1296-March 24, 1363), Lady of Nogent-le-Rotrou, daughter of Arthur II, Duke of Brittany. Their children were: John, Seigneur of Cassel (d. 1332) and Yolande (1331–1395), married Henry IV of Bar.
  3. Joan (d. October 15, 1333), married 1288 Enguerrand IV, Lord of Coucy (d. 1310), Viscount of Meaux.
  4. Yolande (d. 1313), married c. 1287 Walter II of Enghien (d. 1309).
  5. Matilda, married c. 1314 Matthias of Lorraine (d. c. 1330), Lord of Warsberg.


A cultural symbol of Flemish nationalism[edit]

During the 19th century, numerous nationalist-minded writers, poets and artists in various European countries were busily taking up heroic characters from their countries' respective histories and myths, and making them into romantic symbols of national feeling and pride. The prominent Flemish writer Hendrik Conscience did that very effectively with the character of Robert of Béthune, and his book The Lion of Flanders ("De Leeuw van Vlaanderen") is still considered a masterpiece of Flemish literature.

As noted, historians have accused Conscience of some historical inaccuracies such as depicting his hero as having taken part in the Battle of the Golden Spurs, contrary to historical fact. It was also pointed out that in reality The Lion of Flanders probably did not even speak Dutch. Certainly, he could not have been in any way a Flemish nationalist, having lived in the feudal era, centuries before the very concept of nationalism appeared. The same could, however, be said of numerous other ancient heroes made into the symbols of various national movements - and such criticism never stopped nationalists from continuing to revere such heroes.

During the Second World War, Nazi Germany undertook the policy of calling the Waffen-SS units raised among various occupied countries and peoples by the names of respective national heroes, so as to mask the fact that those joining these units were in fact collaborators with a foreign occupier. As part of that policy, the Flemish Waffen-SS unit was called the Lions of Flanders.

Conscience's portrayal of the count also inspired "De Vlaamse Leeuw" (Flemish: "The Flemish Lion"), long the unofficial anthem of Flemish nationalists and in recent decades officially recognised as the national anthem of Flanders.


  1. ^ J.F. Verbruggen, edited by Keely Devries, translated by D.R. Ferguson, The Battle of the Golden Spurs, page 19, 2002, ISBN 0-85115-888-9.

External links[edit]

Robert III, Count of Flanders
Born: 1249 Died: 17 September 1322
Preceded by
Yolande II
Count jure uxoris of Nevers Blason comte fr Nevers.svg
Succeeded by
Louis I
Preceded by
Count of Flanders Blason Comte-de-Flandre.svg
Succeeded by
Louis I