I recently received a request for some Dutch history, and I am always happy to oblige. In all honesty, I know fairly little about Dutch history on its own, with most of what I do know being how the country was used by the French, English, and Spanish for their own gains. One person who did come to mind when I was thinking of what to write about was a woman I came across during my Masters dissertation research, Jacqueline of Hainault. For the use of my dissertation, Jacqueline played a small role, only really being mentioned in regards to the effects she had on one of her husbands (the Duke of Gloucester). However, at the time I couldn’t resist reading more about her, as she certainly had an interesting and tumultuous life, so now I share her life with you.
Jacqueline of Hainault was the only daughter of William II, Duke of Bavaria. Her mother, Margaret, was a daughter of the Duke of Burgundy and Countess of Flanders. When she was not even yet 2 years old she was betrothed to John, Duke of Touraine, the fourth son of Charles VI of France. Due to Jacqueline and John’s early engagement, the pair were brought up together in the Castle of Le Quesnoy in Hainault. John was not ever expected to take the throne of France, being the fourth son, and so it was expected his destiny was to rule Hainault through the right of Jacqueline.
A map showing the medieval location of Hainault, Zeeland, Holland and Brabant, the important places mentioned here.
Finally, when Jacqueline reached the age of 14, she and John were married in The Hague on 6th August 1415. This marriage was also intended to secure Jacqueline’s future – she was the only legitimate daughter of her father, and he was worried that upon his death her rights would be contested by his brother, Bishop John III of Liège, and his nephew, Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy. By marrying her off young, she would have the strength of a husband behind her and, hopefully shortly, the power of an heir of her own.
However, just four months after Jacqueline and John’s wedding, John’s elder brother Louis died, and this meant that John became the heir to the throne of France. This made Jacqueline the future Queen Consort. Then, in April 1417, John died of suspected poisoning. This left Jacqueline a widow at just 16 years old. Two months later, her father William died. The situation William had hoped to protect Jacqueline from had arrived. At just 16 years old, Jacqueline was alone to stake her claims in a male-dominated world.
A portrait of Jacqueline dated c. 1600, WikiCommons.
Jacqueline inherited her lands in Hainault without issue – female succession had long been customary, so the people had no problem with being ruled by a woman. However, Jacqueline should have also inherited Holland and Zeeland, but her succession was not so straight forwards there. The old aristocracy supported Jacqueline’s legitimate claims, but the municipal party supported her uncle John III. Under advise from her mother, Jacqueline initially made John Guardian and Defender of the County of Hainault in a bid to appease his lust for power. This didn’t work out as planned; the German King, Sigismund, had been against Jacqueline’s accession rights since 1416, and now he formally enfeoffed John with the counties of his brother (marrying John to his niece Elisabeth of Görlitz, Duchess of Luxembourg, to boot).
Now Jacqueline needed to remarry to give her much needed support in the fight for her lands, and John IV, Duke of Brabant (and stepson to Elisabeth of Görlitz) was chosen, most likely by Jacqueline’s mother. Just two months after her father’s death, and not even 4 months after her previous husband’s death, Jacqueline was engaged to John of Brabant. Jacqueline and John’s marriage had been granted by Papal Dispensation, as they were closely related, but crucially this dispensation was revoked in January 1418 during the Council of Constance after the workings of Jacqueline’s opponents. This meant that in many people’s eyes, Jacqueline and John were not legally married. Furthermore, John was experiencing financial problems, and he and Jacqueline quickly began to clash. Jacqueline’s second marriage was not shaping up to be successful.
An image of John IV of Brabant, date unknown. WikiCommons.
John III quickly took up arms against Jacqueline. The party who supported the Bishop were known as the Cods, whilst Jacqueline’s supporters were known as the Hooks, leading to the civil war known as the Hook and Cod wars. Whilst Jacqueline won the initial fight at the Battle of Gorkum in 1417, her marital status was still being questioned.
Finally, John III agreed to recognise Jacqueline and John’s marriage as legitimate in order to receive high financial compensation from the government for the next 5 years. Pope Martin V finally intervened and once again granted papal dispensation for the marriage in May 1419, making their marriage legal. Nonetheless, John of Brabant messed things up for Jacqueline by signing the Treaty of St Martinsdyk with John III which gave John III full custody over Holland and Zeeland for the next 12 years. In return, John III gave money to the couple and left the County of Hainault solely in their possession. However, John of Brabant also pledged Hainault in a bid to improve his financial situation, and this was the final straw for Jacqueline. Her husband John had alienated all of her birth-given claims, and so she and her allies began to work for a formal separation from John.
Whilst this was underway, fate once again caused a dramatic swing in the political situation. In September 1419, John the Fearless, Duke of Burgundy, was assassinated. It was widely believed that the French Dauphin Charles (brother of Jacqueline’s first husband) had been involved, and his father agreed to disinherit him under the 1420 Treaty of Troyes with the English. This treaty agreed that after the death of the current King of France, Charles VI, the throne of France would pass to the English King Henry V, who was set to marry Charles’ daughter, Catherine of Valois.
The marriage of Henry V and Catherine of Valois, miniature from 1490. WikiCommons.
In February 1421, Jacqueline issued a statement announcing that she wanted the annulment of her marriage to John. She continued to fight against her uncle, John III until the last city loyal to her, Leiden, was captured. In March the same year, she fled to England to ask Henry V for help in her cause. She was welcomed with open arms to England, and was made an honoured guest at the English court. When Henry’s son, Henry VI, was born, Jacqueline was made one of his godparents.
Henry V suddenly died in 1422, and then some very fishy events arose. Jacqueline obtained a dubious annulment from John IV, the legitimacy of which was only accepted in England, and she suddenly married Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, the brother of Henry V and Regent of England due to the minority of Henry VI. This shocked everybody both in England and on the Continent. Their marriage was announced in October 1423, and it was rumoured that Jacqueline was pregnant with Gloucester’s child. However, Jacqueline knew that her annulment would not hold up in her homelands, and so she sought to get a formal annulment from her marriage with John of Brabant from the Pope. She even asked for one from the Antipope in Avignon (this being during the time of the Great Schism). However, once again John III was at her heel, and he prevented the annulment from being procured – it would be dangerous for his position if Jacqueline’s marriage to Gloucester was accepted, as the English were at the height of their power.
Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, fifteenth century drawing. WikiCommons.
Nonetheless, Jacqueline and Gloucester were undeterred. Jacqueline was desperate to reclaim her lands, and Gloucester had vaulting ambition. He practically salivated at the idea of gaining all of Jacqueline’s lands for himself (as her husband, he would be able to exert right over the lands). Her lands would give him his own foothold on the continent, once Henry VI came of age to claim the French lands for himself, and give him much wanted money and further prestige.
So, in Autumn 1424, Jacqueline and Gloucester landed in Calais to begin their offensive. On 5th December in Mons, Gloucester was officially recognised as the sovereign Count of Hainault. By January 1425 he was already signing documents using the title, and he also declared himself Count of Holland and Zeeland. Things seemed to be going in Jacqueline’s favour; not only did she have one of the most powerful men in Europe’s support, but on 6th January 1425 her uncle, John III, died of poisoning. Her biggest obstacle seemed dealt with.
Nonetheless, John of Brabant was not happy to fade into the background and let the woman he still considered his wife take all of his lands with her new husband. He continued to claim his rights over Holland, Zeeland, and Hainault, and he made Jacqueline’s cousin, Philip of Burgundy, regent of Holland and Zeeland to give himself extra firepower. Meanwhile, Jacqueline’s husband, Gloucester, was not proving as useful as she had hoped.
By rushing to the Continent to exert his claims over his new wife’s lands, Gloucester had endangered England’s alliance with the Duke of Burgundy, as Burgundy wished to keep his new claims to Holland and Zeeland. Burgundy was one of the key French dukes who was helping to maintain England’s tenuous hold on their conquered French territories, lands that were starting to slip after the death of Henry V. The English could not risk alienating Burgundy just because Gloucester wanted some extra lands, and he was ordered to stand down. Leaving Jacqueline in Hainault, he returned to England in 1425 where he took a mistress, Eleanor Cobham (who I wrote about here), who had been one of Jacqueline’s attendants. Meanwhile, Jacqueline was left to fend for herself on the Continent, which wasn’t going well for her.
Jacqueline, a 16th century copy of a 1435 original. WikiCommons.
To make matters even worse, in 1428 Pope Martin V finally ruled that Jacqueline and John of Brabant had always been married, and declared null and void any other marriage she may have contracted (aka her one with Gloucester). Since John of Brabant had died in 1427, if they had wished, Gloucester and Jacqueline could now marry legally. However, Gloucester took the opportunity of his freedom from Jacqueline to marry his mistress Eleanor. Once again, Jacqueline was alone.
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Now up against the Duke of Burgundy, Jacqueline was forced to agree to a peace treaty. This allowed Jacqueline to keep her titles of Countess of Holland, Zeeland, and Hainault, but the administration of the territories was given to Philip, who was also appointed as her heir if she died childless. She was also not allowed to marry without the permission of her mother, the Duke of Burgundy, and all three counties. This meant that whilst Jacqueline held the titles, she had almost no actual power, and Burgundy would be able to ensure the lands went to him by refusing to ever let her remarry. Burgundy was not content to stop here, however, and continued to alienate her from her allies until in 1433 she was forced to “voluntarily” give him all of her lands and titles. In return, she was allowed the income of several estates that were mostly in Zeeland, money which was much needed.
Now that Jacqueline had finally given up on the battle she had been fighting all her life, she retired quietly to her land in Zeeland. There she married a local powerful nobleman, Francis Lord of Borssele, in spring 1434. Finally, her fourth marriage was made out of love. However, in 1436 she became ill with tuberculosis which eventually killed her in October of that year.
Francis Lord of Borssele, 1473. WikiCommons.
It is easy to feel sorry for Jacqueline – she was up against very powerful men almost from the get-go, and fought for almost her entire life, only to end up with almost nothing. However, I think Jacqueline is a real testament to powerful women of her time. She didn’t give up until there was no hope left, and tried time and again to reclaim what was hers. She could have easily given up long before she did, married a rich nobleman, and lived a life of relative comfort more usual for women of her time. Jacqueline was a fighter though, and was determined not to be stepped all over by the men in her life.
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There are various writings on Jacqueline, but some books I used for my dissertation research that talk about Jacqueline’s plight (particularly relating to England) include:
Enguerrand de Monstrelet, The Chronicles of Enguerrand de Monstrelet, Volume 1, trans. Thomas Johnes (London: George Routledge and Sons, 1867).
H. Vickers, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester: A Biography (London: Archibald Constable and Company Limited, 1907).
Joseph Stevenson, Letters and papers illustrative of the wars of the English in France during the reign of Henry the Sixth, King of England, vol. 2 part 2 (London: Longman, Green, Longman, and Roberts, 1861).
Alessandra Petrina, Cultural Politics in Fifteenth Century England: The Case of Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester (Brill: Brill Academic Publishers, 2004).