Margaret of Nevers – A pawn in the Hundred Years’ War

Margaret of Nevers
(public domain)

This article was written by Carol.

Margaret was the daughter of Margaret of Bavaria and John of Nevers, who became Duke of Burgundy in 1404 upon the death of his father Philip the Bold. Margaret’s life was played out among the background of the strife between Burgundy, France and England in the early 15th century.

Margaret’s grandfather was the uncle and sometime regent to the mad King of France, Charles VI. He was determined to marry her to King Charles VI’s eldest son so that his descendants might sit on the throne of France. Accordingly, she was betrothed to the Dauphin Charles when she was only two years old. In 1400, the Dauphin Charles died. Philip then proposed that she become affianced to the King’s next son, Louis. However, by this time the King’s brother Louis of Orléans was also a major player and wanted Margaret for his son. The poor mad King would sign a marriage contract with one party one day, and the next day he would sign a different one with a different groom, cancelling out the previous one. Philip of Burgundy’s contract was in force when he died, and his son John of Burgundy wasted no time in getting Margaret and the new Dauphin, Louis, Duke of Guyenne, to the altar in August 1404. Ten-year-old Margaret was then sent to live with her mother-in-law the Queen, Isabeau of Bavaria. The celebrated writer Christine de Pizan dedicated her book the Treasures of the Three Virtues to Margaret as an education on how to be a Queen.

In 1407, the feud between Louis of Orléans and John of Burgundy came to a head when Burgundy had Orléans murdered. Thus began a decade long struggle between their two factions for control of the French monarchy. This worked well for Margaret when the Burgundians were in charge but not so well when the Orléans group was in control. In 1413, the couple were now living together at the Hotel-Neuf, but Paris was on edge. In an effort to consolidate his power over the Dauphin, John of Burgundy had managed to whip up the mob against the Dauphin’s supporters. The Dauphin decided to remove himself and his father to the Loire Valley. Unfortunately, the plan was exposed, and the mob turned against those behind it. After jailing the captain who was to escort Louis out of the city, the mob arrived at the Hotel-Neuf. Louis
leaned out the window to try and placate them. They had a list of people they wanted to be arrested. The mob ended up smashing the glass and breaking in. They started calling out names and dragging individuals away. Poor Margaret tried to hold onto one of Louis’ valet de chambre who was torn from her arms.

The reign of terror got worse before it got better, and in the aftermath, the Burgundians were discredited. John of Burgundy fled Paris in November in fear for his own life. Louis had never been particularly fond of Margaret and may have used the anti-Burgundian sentiment as an excuse to move her aside. By January, Louis and Margaret were no
longer living together. Louis was at the Louvre, and Margaret was at the Hotel St. Pol with the Queen. And Margaret’s father was once again raising an army. To justify his breaking the peace he claimed, among other things, that his daughter was being injured “which is notorious to the whole kingdom, without further going into particulars.” Most likely, the Duke had taken a mistress.

In early 1415, Louis was 18 and tired of the endless warring between his relatives. He denounced them all for having had their hands in the royal treasury and kicked them out of Paris. He also took the opportunity to separate Magaret from his mother. One day he arrived at the Hotel St. Pol and at his side was Arthur, Count of Richmond, his best friend, leading a group of troops. Margaret was forced to move to the Chateau St. Germain en Laye. Later she was moved to the Fortress of Marcoussis. In her place, he installed his mistress. Just a few months later in December 1215, Louis suddenly became ill.

As Margaret’s husband lay dying, her father was camped outside Paris with his army trying to get back in. He sent ambassadors asking that his daughter be allowed to come to her husband’s side. When that was refused, he began to negotiate for her widows’ portion. He was unsuccessful in both goals and in January 1416 a widowed Margaret
was sent back to her parents empty-handed. Her life as Dauphine of France was over.

In 1419, Margaret’s father was killed by orders of the new Dauphin, the future King Charles VII. The Orléans faction had enacted their revenge. The new Duke of Burgundy was now Margaret’s brother Philip. After supporting the Treaty of Troyes, which disinherited the Dauphin Charles and made the King of England the heir to the throne of France, Philip
was working on a treaty with Brittany, Burgundy and England. In this treaty, his sister Margaret would marry the Duke of Brittany’s brother Arthur, Count of Richmond. Margaret immediately baulked. She complained that Arthur still owed his ransom from the Battle of Agincourt to the King of England. She objected to marrying a mere count when she had been a Duchess. Even worse, her sisters were all Duchesses! Perhaps she also remembered who had helped kick her out of the Hotel St. Pol.

Philip sent his ambassador to make the case. He argued that Arthur was “a valiant knight, renowned for his loyalty, prudence and prowess, well-loved and likely to enjoy much influence and authority in France.” Arthur was also made a titular Duke of Touraine and the English forgave his debt. Bowing to pressure, she and the Count of Richmond were married in Dijon in October 1423. Arthur’s biographer insists that this was actually a love match. He claims it was Arthur who first broached the idea of marriage to Philip and that he had been enamoured of Margaret for many years. He also claimed that Margaret was anxious for the marriage to go forward. Her reluctance was just a ploy to negotiate for a better dowry. She did, however, call herself the Duchess of Guyenne for the rest of her life.

However it started; this second marriage seems to have been more successful than the first. Arthur was ambitious, and his career had various ups and downs, but Margaret remained supportive of both her husband and Burgundy. Initially, Arthur was an ally of the English, but he soon became a supporter of King Charles VII. He had a falling out with him, and at one point Margaret was encircled by enemy soldiers at the Chateau of Chinon. King Charles told her she could continue to live
there as long as she did not receive Arthur. Margaret wrote to the King that she had no interest in living somewhere where her husband was not welcome. After a brief stand-off, she was given a safe passage back to Arthur. Eventually, Arthur reconciled with King Charles. Margaret played a role in the negotiations between her former brother-in-law King Charles and her brother the Duke of Burgundy that led to the Treaty of Arras and allowed Charles to take the throne eventually.
Margaret and Arthur returned to Paris in 1436 with King Charles VII when he drove the English out of the city. Charles had a horror of Paris due to his memories of riots in 1418. He chose to live mainly in the Loire Valley. He asked Margaret to live in Paris to represent the royal family. This she did and died there in 1442.

Upon her death, King Charles reclaimed many of the lands she had been given as Dauphine and gave them to his wife and his brother-in-law.1

  1. Sources:
    Monstrelet, The Chronicles of Enguerrand de Monstrelet
    Sumption, The Hundred Years War, Vol 4, The Cursed Kings
    Cosneau, Le Connetable de Richemont, Artur de Bretagne

About Moniek Bloks 2729 Articles
My name is Moniek and I am from the Netherlands. I began this website in 2013 because I wanted to share these women's amazing stories.

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