Marie d’Harcourt, or as she is better known in the Netherlands, Mary of Guelders, will be the subject of an upcoming exhibition in Nijmegen, I, Mary of Guelders. Her prayerbook has survived the times and has been painstakingly restored to go on display. To accompany the exhibition, a new book Sporen in het landschap (Traces in the landscape) has been released.
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 Reinald 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.
The book Traces in the landscape describes twelve places Marie would have known and perhaps the most famous, and the one of which most remains is Castle Rosendael. The tower is original, but it was a lot taller in Marie’s time. Marie arrived at the castle on 16 August 1405, and she arrived at a newly renovated castle. Many of those present had travelled there specifically to meet their new Duchess. Marie and Reinald would expand the castle over the following years and were not deterred by a fire in 1412. Marie’s prayerbook was created in the convent at Mariendaal by Helmich die Lewe. He probably worked on it for three to four years. It is not known if Marie ever visited Mariendaal.
However, she and Reinald 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. In the city itself, nothing remains that Marie would have known. She probably stayed in the cities of Kaster and Randerath (in present-day Germany) after Reinald’s death. They were part of her dower lands.
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. A contemporary recorded her place of burial as Nideggen, where the fortress had a mausoleum where several of the family were buried. However, her grave was not found there. Perhaps it was intended that she be buried in Monnikenhuizen, where her husband was buried. Perhaps we will never know for sure where she is buried.