Princess Marie de France, Countess de Champagne, passed away on the 11th of March, 1198. She was the first and oldest daughter of King Louis VII of France known as the Young (‘le Jeune’) and his first and legendary consort – Duchess Eleanor of Aquitaine, or Aliénor d’Aquitaine.
According to Bernard de Clairvaux (venerated as Saint Bernard, he was a Burgundian abbot), Marie’s birth was considered a miracle because she was the answer to her parents’ prayers for a child. However, she was not a male heir whom Louis VII needed, and later, her sister, Princess Alix de France, was born in 1151. Eventually, her parents’ marriage was dissolved on the grounds of consanguity, but in reality, Eleanor and Louis were a doomed couple incompatible from the very beginning. The French monarch also needed a male heir, while Eleanor failed to give it to him.
Born in 1145, Marie was a child of two summers when her parents left France and led the Second Crusade to the Holy Land. She was a girl of seven when her parents parted their ways and soon remarried. According to medieval law, the custody of the two Capetian princesses – Marie and Alix – was entrusted to Louis VII. It must have been painful for Marie and Alix to lose their mother so early in their lives. Her father’s next consort was Constance of Castile, or Constance de Castille. Queen Constance must have attempted to play a maternal role in the lives of young Marie and Alix. Constance birthed the king two more daughters – Marguerite de France in 1158 and Adèle de France (Alys of France in English) in 1160 before dying in childbirth with her second daughter.
Marie was 15 years old at the time of Constance’s death, so she must have remembered this event very well. Louis VII was heartbroken as he clearly had affection for his second wife, but the need to secure the succession pushed him to remarry again. His new wife was Adela of Champagne, or Adèle de Champagne, with whom his wedding took place on the 13th of November 1160, according to some sources looking more like a funeral procession because Louis was too gloomy after his second wife’s sudden demise. Queen Adèle eventually succeeded in healing the wounds of Louis’ heart and gave birth to one of the greatest European rulers in history – King Philippe II of France known as Augustus, born in 1165, when Marie was 20. Princess Agnes of France, or Agnès de France, born in 1171, was Louis’ last child and Marie’s youngest paternal half-sibling.
Queen Adèle was a clever, capable, cunning, and strong woman, one who invested most of her time and energy in her own offspring, in particular because she birthed the monarch’s only son. At the same time, a teenaged Marie was already betrothed to Henri I, Count de Champagne, and in 1159-60 she lived with Viscountess Elizabeth of Mareuil-sy-Aÿ and then at the Abbey of Avenay in Champagne for her education. Queen Adèle and Marie must have met rarely, but when they did, these women are likely to have had a distant and courteous relationship with each other.
Marie’s paternal half-brother, Philippe Augustus, was 20 years her junior, and when he was born, Marie was already married to Henri de Champagne and resided in her husband’s estates. She nevertheless could have been recalled to her father’s court to attend the celebrations of the birth of the monarch’s long-awaited male heir. Marie had many half-siblings on both her mother’s and father’s side. Marie de France seems to have had a close and very cordial relationship with her half-brother, King Richard I of England the Lionheart. Richard’s stanza from his illustrious poem ‘J’a nuns hons pris,’ where he laments his captivity in Austria, could have been addressed to Marie.
In French, the Lionheart’s poem is given below:
Jà nus hons pris ne dira sa raison
Adroitement, sé dolentement non ;
Mais, por confort, puet-il faire chanson
Moult ai d’amis, mais povre sont li don ;
Honte en auront, sé por ma réançon
Sui ces deus yvers pris.
Ce savent bien mi home et mi baron,
Englois, Normant, Poitevin et Gascon,
Que je n’avoie si povre compagnon
Que je laissasse, por avoir, en prison.
Je nou lo dis por nule retraiçon,
Mais encor sui-je pris.
Or sai-je bien, de voir certainement,
Que moi ne prisent né amin né parent,
Quant on me laist, por or né por arget.
Moult est de moi, mais plus m’est de ma gent ;
Qu’après ma mort auront reprovier grant,
Sé longement sui pris.
N’est pas merveille sé j’ai lo cuer dolent
Quant mes sires tient ma terre à torment ;
Sé li membroit de nostre sairement
Que nos féismes amdui, communaument,
Bien sai, de voir, que céans longement
Ne seroie pas pris.
Mes compaignons que j’amoie et que j’aim,
Ces de Caeu et ces des Porcherain,
Dis-lor, chanson, que ne sunt pas certain ;
Qu’oncques vers aus n’enoi cuer faus né vain.
S’il me guerroient, il font mout que vilain,
Tant cum je serai pris.
Ce savent bien Angevin et Torain,
Cil bacheler qui or sont riche et sain,
Qu’encombrés sui loin aus, en autrui main ;
Forment m’aidaissent, mais il n’i voient grain ;
De beles armes sont ore vuit cil plain,
Por tant que je sui pris.
Contesse, suer vostre pris souverain,
Vous saut et gart cil à qui je m’enclain,
Et por qui je suis pris ;
Je ne dis pas de cele de Chartain,
La mère Loéis.
In the English language, Richard’s poem is given below:
No prisoner can tell his honest thought
Unless he speaks as one who suffers wrong;
But for his comfort as he may make a song.
My friends are many, but their gifts are naught.
Shame will be theirs, if, for my ransom, here
I lie another year.
They know this well, my barons and my men,
Normandy, England, Gascony, Poitou,
That I had never follower so low
Whom I would leave in prison to my gain.
I say it not for a reproach to them,
But prisoner I am!
The ancient proverb now I know for sure;
Death and a prison know nor kind nor tie,
Since for mere lack of gold they let me lie.
Much for myself I grieve; for them still more.
After my death they will have grievous wrong
If I am a prisoner long.
What marvel that my heart is sad and sore
When my own lord torments my helpless lands!
Well do I know that, if he held his hands,
Remembering the common oath we swore,
I should not here imprisoned with my song,
Remain a prisoner long.
They know this well who now are rich and strong
Young gentlemen of Anjou and Touraine,
That far from them, on hostile bonds I strain.
They loved me much, but have not loved me long.
Their plans will see no more fair lists arrayed
While I lie here betrayed.
Companions whom I love, and still do love,
Geoffroi du Perche and Ansel de Caieux,
Tell them, my song, that they are friends untrue.
Never to them did I false-hearted prove;
But they do villainy if they war on me,
While I lie here, unfree.
Countess sister! Your sovereign fame
May he preserve whose help I claim,
Victim for whom am I!
I say not this of Chartres’ dame,
Mother of Louis!
Marie and her husband had 4 children: they survived into adulthood, but her two sons died young. Marie was a capable, clever, and educated woman, and when Henri de Champagne went on pilgrimage to the Holy Land from 1179 until 1181, she acted as regent in Champagne. Her spouse passed away soon after his return, leaving her again as regent for their young son, also Henri, and raising their other offspring. Her son, Count Theobald III de Champagne, died in 1201, but his son, Count Theobald IV de Champagne, succeeded him as a child. In 1184, a widowed Marie could marry Philip, Count of Flanders, but their betrothal was cancelled for unclear reasons.
Little is known about Marie’s relationship with her mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, after her parents’ separation. Perhaps they were permitted to exchange gifts and letters on rare occasions, but Eleanor must have been preoccupied with her brood of English children. Marie’s relationship with Philippe, who became king upon her father’s death in 1180, was tense at first when he confiscated his mother’s dower lands and married Isabelle of Hainaut, performing his smart maneuver to deprive his mother’s relatives of their power in his domains. Queen Adèle and a group of exasperated nobles, including Marie de France or Marie de Champagne, plotted against Philippe, but unsuccessfully. In the end, everyone was forgiven, and Marie’s relationship with him improved.
As her mother’s daughter and a great-granddaughter of the illustrious troubadour – William IX, Duke of Aquitaine – Marie was an active patroness of the arts. An avid reader and educated in Latin, French, and Occitan, she loved the arts. Her court in Champagne was thronged with writers and artists, among them Andreas Capellanus, or André le Chapelain. This man created a famous treatise commonly known as ‘De amore,’ or ‘About Love.’ Written between 1186 and 1190, this work was intended for the court of King Philippe Augustus. According to Capellanus, courtly love ennobles both the lover and the beloved if certain moral codes of behavior are respected.
Chrétien de Troyes (a French poet and trouvère famous for his writing on Arthurian subjects) credited Marie with the idea of creating the character of his Lancelot. One of Chrétien de Troyes’ Arthurian romances was dedicated to Marie. His 2 famous songs survive: ‘Amor, tençon et bataille’ (Love, Strife, and Battle) and ‘D’amors qui m’a tolu a moi’ (Of Love who took me from myself). Troubadours and trouvères such as Bertran de Born, Gautier d’Arras, Gace Brulé, Bernart de Ventadorn, Guiot de Provins, Huon d’Oisy, Conon de Bétune, and others often appeared at Marie’s court. Huon d’Oisy, Viscount of Meaux, wrote poems about the Third Crusade, as well as ‘A Tournoiement de dames’ (Tournament of Ladies), describing a fictional tournament between real historical ladies of the Île-de-France, Picardy, and Champagne, including Marie.
Each of these first trouvères composed both lyric poetry and didactic or narrative poetry. The lyric forms and vocabulary invented by the troubadours were spreading to the north of modern France, meeting an already existing literary tradition. Old French epics and romances flourished, and the troubadours incarnated the quintessence of the Occitan language in a refined way while also developing and enriching the fabrics of French artistic landscape. Therefore, Marie de France contributed to the cultural development of both Angevin Empire and France in the Middle Ages.
When her oldest son, Henri de Champagne, joined the Third Crusade, she acted as regent in his absence. In Outremer, he married Queen Isabella I of Jerusalem in 1192, so Marie’s regency in Champagne continued. Marie did not see Henri come back from the Holy Land: he passed away there in 1197, leaving two daughters, Alix and Philippa. Henri was succeeded by his younger brother – Theobald III, Count de Champagne – in 1197. Marie was an able administrator and transformed her husband’s county from disintegrated lands into a strong principality, displaying her talent in governance, which makes her similar to her mother in this aspect.
Marie passed away of unknown reasons at the age of 52-53. She did not receive the tragic news of her second son’s death in 1201. Marie was buried in Meaux Cathedral in the town of Meaux, France, which is nowadays situated in the department of Seine-et-Marne, east of Paris. During the religious wars in the 16th century, the rebelling Huguenots destroyed many edifices and tombs in the cathedral, among them the tomb of Marie de Champagne, which was located in the choir.
All images are in the public domain.
Text © 2021 Olivia Longueville