Marie d’Harcourt, or as she is better known in the Netherlands, Mary of Guelders, is the subject of this exhibition in Nijmegen, I, Mary of Guelders. Her prayerbook has survived the times and has been painstakingly restored to go on display.
Marie was born on 24 February 1380 as the daughter of John VI, Count of Harcourt and Aumale and Catherine of Bourbon. Her mother was a sister of Joanna of Bourbon, wife of King Charles V of France, and of Blanche of Bourbon, wife of King Peter of Castile. She was thus a first cousin of Charles VI of France. Sometime before 1396, Marie became a lady-in-waiting of Valentina Visconti, who was married to Charles VI’s brother, Louis I, Duke of Orléans. At the French court, Marie would have come into contact with many intellectuals, and she is known to have received an excellent education.
Her marriage in 1405 to Reginald IV, Duke of Guelders and Jülich was part of a political alliance between France and Jülich-Guelders. She learned to speak the local language quickly and possibly played a part in governing the duchy. The 15th-century court of Guelders travelled to several cities, and although Marie would often stay in one place longer than other, she too lived in several places. Marie would never travel on foot, and she would never travel alone. For a pilgrimage to Renkum, she travelled on a horse and crossed the river on a pond.
She and Reginald did not have any children, leading to (yet another) succession crisis in the duchy. When Reinald died in 1423, Marie was no longer welcome. Shortly after his death, Marie arrived at the city of Grave, where she had been many times before but was refused entry into the city. She would go on to marry again in 1426, to Rupert of Jülich-Berg, who used her connection to Guelders to press his own claim. He was 20 years younger than her. They too had no children.
The following years, Marie would slowly disappear from the pages of history, and we don’t even know for sure when she died and where she was buried. The last sign of life dates from October 1428. On 6 February 1429 one of her lands was granted to another woman, a sign that she was most likely dead by then.
The exhibition in Nijmegen has a fairytale magic to it and builds up to the room with the restored pages of the prayerbook. There are currently 10 pages on display and halfway through the exhibition, 10 other pages will go on display. Magnifying glasses are provided for those who wish to take a closer look at the pages but even without them, you can see the long hours of work that have gone into creating this amazing book. Besides the pages of the prayerbook, they also have a jewellery box that used to belong to Mechteld (Mathilde) of Guelders (Marie’s aunt by marriage), a daughter of Reginald II, Duke of Guelders and the marriage contract of Marie and Reginald IV, among other items. The final touch of the lifelike Marie at the end is a really great touch.
In addition to the book Sporen in het landschap (Traces in the landscape), which is only available in Dutch, the catalogue of this exhibition comes in German and Dutch. If you are in the area, I would highly recommend visiting the Valkhof Museum.