This article was written by Carol.
Margaret of Flanders was born in 1202, the younger daughter of Baldwin IX, Count of Flanders and Hainault, and Marie of Champagne. By 1205 she and her older sister Joan were orphaned. She and her sister were raised at the French court since Philip Augustus, the French King, wanted to control who they married.
In 1212 her older sister Joan was married to Ferrand of Portugal. Margaret was then given as a ward to a 40-year-old nobleman, Bouchard d’Avesnes, who served as the Bailiff of Hainault. Ferrand and Joan were considering arranging a marriage for her with William Longspee, heir to the English Earl of Salisbury when they learned that Bouchard had married the 12-year-old Margaret.
Apparently, Bouchard had convinced young Margaret that she would not like a voyage across the sea to England and that this way she could stay in Hainault. At a ceremony at Le Quesnoy Castle, in front of several Hainault noblemen, Margaret declared she would have no other husband but Bouchard.
From the beginning, Joan objected to this marriage and complained to Philip Augustus and the Pope. In 1215 when Joan’s husband Ferrand was imprisoned after fighting on the losing side against Philip Augustus, Bouchard made his move and demanded some of the inheritance of Baldwin IX which had gone to Joan as the elder daughter. Joan again sought assistance and this time Philip Augustus supported her since Bouchard also had fought against him. Philip informed the Pope that the marriage should be annulled since Bouchard had previously taken holy orders and was ordained as a sub-deacon.
Pope Innocent III duly annulled the marriage, excommunicated Bouchard and demanded that Margaret be returned to Joan. The couple refused however and fled to the protection of Walerin of Luxembourg. Margaret again declared that Bouchard was her rightful husband. They had three sons, Baldwin (b.1217 and died in infancy), John (b.1218) and Baldwin (b.1219).
In 1219 Bouchard was captured and imprisoned by Joan. Eventually, he agreed to give up Margaret in return for his freedom. In 1221 he was released and sent by the Pope on a crusade as his penance. In the meantime, Margaret, who had been living with Joan since his capture, eventually agreed to remarry. In 1223 she married William Dampierre, a nobleman from Champagne. Margaret’s two sons from her first marriage were sent to Auvergne to live with William’s brother.
Bouchard of course never forgave Joan and is believed to have been behind the plot that claimed that Joan and Margaret’s father, Baldwin IX, had returned from the dead ready to regain his lands. Eventually, the claimant was unmasked as a False Baldwin. Bouchard and Margaret’s two sons also were not forgiving. Margaret was branded a “Black Lady” and a bad mother by their supporters.
Margaret and William Dampierre had five children, but the two that come into our story are the two eldest sons: William (b.1224) and Guy (b. 1226). Margaret had a clear preference for the children of her second marriage, and she raised William to be her heir. She did not object however when her sons by Bouchard petitioned the Pope in 1241 to be re-legitimized. After hearing evidence that Margaret had voluntarily entered into the marriage, the Pope granted the request.
In 1244 she succeeded her sister as Countess of Flanders and Hainault. At that point, the trouble really began. Her eldest Avesnes son John, immediately claimed that he was the rightful Count as the eldest legitimate male relative. Margaret turned to the French King. Louis IX played Solomon and declared that Hainault would be inherited by the Avesnes son and Flanders by the Dampierre son. Margaret then had her son William invested as Co-Count of Flanders but held on to Hainault. Eventually, peace was agreed upon, but in 1251 son William was killed at a tournament. It was soon discovered that the Avesnes had been behind the “accident.” Margaret’s second Dampierre son, Guy, then took up the cause to avenge his brother.
After more fighting, Guy was defeated and imprisoned. At this point, Margaret was determined to out-manoeuvre the Avesnes. She offered to sell Hainault to Charles of Anjou, Louis IX’s brother if he would defeat the Avesnes forces. Louis IX when he returned from the Crusades had to intervene again, send Charles packing, negotiate Guy’s freedom and again reiterate that Hainault would go to the Avesnes and Flanders only to the Dampierres. In 1258 Margaret and Guy handed over Hainault. John of Avenes died shortly thereafter. Margaret thus continued to rule Hainault until shortly before her death when she gave it to her grandson John II of Avesnes.
Margaret appears to have somewhat reconciled with her son Baldwin of Avesnes. In 1261 he assisted her in a conflict with Namur, and he attended her funeral when she died in 1280.
Flanders and Hainault were reunited in 1433 when John Avesnes descendant, Jacqueline of Hainault, was forced to give her lands to Philip the Good of Burgundy, the descendant of Guy Dampierre. 1