Brunissende of Foix

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Brunissende of Foix
Countess of Périgord
Died September 1324
Montagnac d'Auberoche
Buried Convent of the Friars Minor, Périgueux
Spouse(s) Elias VII, Count of Périgord
Cardinal Hélie de Talleyrand-Périgord
Agnes, Duchess of Durazzo
Archambaud IV, Count of Périgord
Roger-Bernard, Count of Périgord
Rosemburge de Lavie
Father Roger-Bernard III, Count of Foix
Mother Margaret, Viscountess of Béarn

Brunissende of Foix (died September 1324) was a daughter of Roger-Bernard III, Count of Foix by his wife Margaret, Viscountess of Béarn. By marriage, she became Countess of Périgord, her husband was Count Elias VII. According to several sources, Brunissende had influence in the politics of the newly formed Avignon Papacy due to her close relationship with Pope Clement V. This arrangement supposedly enabled Brunissende to ensure a clerical career for her son, Hélie, who would go on to have an influential career as a cardinal.



Brunissende's date of birth is unknown, the marriage contract of her parents is dated 14 October 1252 and she herself married in 1298.[1] Her three sisters also married during the 1290s.[2] Considering that both of her parents were children of around nine years old when the contract was signed, it is most likely that Brunissende was born over a decade later. Viscountess Margaret was a typical example of a medieval woman being betrothed at a young age and it is of little doubt that Brunissende and her sisters were the same. It was certainly a common trend in Toulouse and other parts of southern France for a bride to be between her late teens and early twenties.[3] With this context in mind, it is likely that Brunissende was born no earlier than 1275.

Brunissende came from a family of politically influential women, her mother and grandmother being two good examples. Viscountess Margaret was involved in succession disputes with her sisters over the County of Bigorre and the inheritance of Béarn. The situation transpired in Philip IV of France summoning the women to his court in 1302 for a hearing over the matter.[4] The situation had been inherited from their mother Martha, Viscountess of Marsan, whom had entered into the dispute with her own relatives, a complicated legacy of Petronilla, Countess of Bigorre.


As previously mentioned, the marriage between Elias and Brunissende took place in 1298. For the groom, this was his second marriage due to the death of his first wife, Philippa, Viscountess of Lomagne, in 1286. Brunissende's family provided her with a dowry of 6,000 livres.[5] Over the course of the marriage, Elias and Brunissende had several children, including the aforementioned Hélie as well as Archambaud and Roger-Bernard, both of whom succeeded as Count of Périgord. Amongst her daughters were Rosemburge and Agnes.[6]

When Hélie was only six years old, at the request of his father, he received Pope Clement V's permission to receive the clerical tonsure from any bishop whatever, and thus enjoy the right to hold ecclesiastical benefices. A few months later, again at the bidding of his father, Hélie received permission to receive the fruits of his prebend in the Church of St. Caprais in the diocese of Agen, where he had been made a canon, for three years, without taking up residence. In the next few years other grants quickly followed, some of considerable value.[7] Whilst it may appear on paper that Count Elias was behind his son's good fortune with the Papacy, others have put this down to Brunissende. According to Eustance Kitts, she had become the Pope's lover and used this position to gain influence over him. To quote Kitts: "those who wanted rich benefices in the time of Clement the Fifth laid their petitions on the white bosom of the beautiful Brunissende of Foix".[8] According to Thomas Campbell, it was the charms of Brunissende which kept the Pope detained in France following his election, a time when he should have moved to Rome.[9] However, it is more likely that the Avignon Papacy came about due to the political manipulations of King Philip IV, which resulted in Clement's election in the first place.[10] Giovanni Villani even confessed that stories he had heard of the relationship between Brunissende and the Pope were only hearsay.[11] With no concrete evidence, the accounts cannot be accepted.

Zacour was certain that the two met as the Pope had visited Périgueux and the Périgords were close allies of the French king, to whom the Pope was in debt to.[12] What is clear from the evidence is that Hélie benefitted from the close political ties that both his parents and the Pope shared with the French king.

Widowhood and death[edit]

In 1311, Brunissende was widowed. Due to Archambaud being underage, she assumed the regency over the County of Périgord. During this period, her ties with the Avignon Papacy strengthened. The favours to Hélie did not stop when her husband died. On January 23, 1314, he was made canon in the Church of Cahors, with reservation of a prebend. This certainly implies some form of communication between the Pope and Brunissende, Zacour claimed that the favour was a result of Brunissende's request; as she was regent at the time, it seems logical to have come from her.[13]

In addition, the marriages of her daughters proved advantageous for Brunissende's family. In 1319, her daughter, Rosemburge was married to Jacques de Lavie, a grandnephew of Clement's successor, Pope John XXII. This marital tie with the Papacy made the Périgord family of greater interest to the European powers. In 1321, King Robert of Naples desired to develop closer ties with Avignon due to his ambitions in Northern Italy. In order to ensure papal support, a marital alliance was necessary. As the Pope was now related to the Périgords through marriage, another one of Brunissende's daughters would be the ideal embodiment of an alliance between the Papacy and Naples.[14] Therefore, Agnes was married to Robert's brother, John, Duke of Durazzo.

Brunissende probably died at Montagnac d'Auberoche, where her last will and testament was drawn up on Sunday, September 30, 1324.[15] Her funeral saw one of the many dramatic episodes in the long, futile struggle of the counts of Perigord with the independent townsmen of Perigueux. Her body was brought to Perigueux for burial in the convent of the Friars Minor, it was accompanied by her three sons, her daughters and a host of noble ladies, barons, and knights, all of whom lodged in the Franciscan convent. It was Archambaud's claim later that the consuls of the town of Puy St. Front, followed by a crowd of bourgeois, planned an attack on him and his company; they had the horn sounded which customarily summoned the towns folk to meeting, and moved on the Franciscan convent in dead of night with the intention of slaying the Count and all his people.[16] In the engagement which followed, six of the Count's archers were killed. Archambaud brought suit in the Parlement of Paris against the consuls of the town, demanding that in recompense he be given that absolute authority over the city and the town which his predecessors had lost many years before. The consuls, however, in reply to his charge, said that the Count, on the pretext of the great number of persons who had come to Perigueux for the funeral, demanded that the municipality cause a patrol to be made around the town, which was granted. But when a patrol had gone out beyond the walls of the town, some of the men in the Count's party began to insult the bourgeois, "calling them hicks and mocking them in other ways"; and then, going into the convent a moment, where the Count was waiting for them, they emerged with their arms and fell on the patrol just as it was re-entering the town, seriously wounding two of the townsmen. The consuls declared unhesitatingly that the Count, "who hated the town and townsmen with a great hate," was privy to the whole affair. The Parlement made no decision, but significantly ordered Archambaud to pay the costs of the action.[17]


  1. ^ Cawley, TOULOUSE - COMMINGES, FOIX, Medieval Lands
  2. ^ Cawley, TOULOUSE - COMMINGES, FOIX, Medieval Lands
  3. ^ Ward, no pagination
  4. ^ Merlet ‘Procès’, Pièces Justificatives, XIV, p. 322
  5. ^ Zacour, Transactions of the American Philosophical Society (1960), p.6
  6. ^ Zacour, Transactions of the American Philosophical Society (1960), pp.6-7
  7. ^ Zacour, Transactions of the American Philosophical Society (1960), p.8
  8. ^ Kitts, In the days of the councils: a sketch of the life and times of Baldassare Cossa, 62
  9. ^ Campbell, Life and Times of Petrarch, p.144
  10. ^ "Clement V", Encyclopaedia Brittanica
  11. ^ Zacour, Transactions of the American Philosophical Society (1960), p.8
  12. ^ Zacour, Transactions of the American Philosophical Society (1960), p.8
  13. ^ Zacour, Transactions of the American Philosophical Society (1960), p.8
  14. ^ Zacour, Transactions of the American Philosophical Society (1960), p.31
  15. ^ Zacour, Transactions of the American Philosophical Society (1960), p.9
  16. ^ Zacour, Transactions of the American Philosophical Society (1960), p.9
  17. ^ Zacour, Transactions of the American Philosophical Society (1960), p.9


  • "Clement V", Encyclopaedia Brittanica
  • Campbell, Thomas, Life and Times of Petrarch: With Notices of Boccacio and His Illustrious Contemporaries, Volume 1 (H. Colburn, 1843)
  • Cawley, Charles, TOULOUSE - COMMINGES, FOIX, Medieval Lands
  • Kitts, Eustace J., In the days of the councils: a sketch of the life and times of Baldassare Cossa (London: A. Constable, 1908)
  • Merlet ‘Procès’, Pièces Justificatives, (XIV, p. 322), quoting Cartulaire de Bigorre, ch. 36
  • Ward, Jennifer, Women in Medieval Europe 1200-1500 (London: Routledge, 2016)
  • Zacour, Norman P., 'Talleyrand: The Cardinal of Périgord (1301-1364)', Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. 50, No. 7 (1960)