We’ve touched on Jacqueline of Hainaut briefly when discussing her third husband, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, and his second marriage to Eleanor Cobham. But that was two years ago now and frankly Jacqueline is the more interesting wife, one who played a mischievous role in the royal families of France and England, not to mention going up against the duchy of Burgundy in its heyday.
Jacqueline was born in The Hague in the summer of 1401, the same year her more famous sister-in-law, Katherine of Valois, was born in Paris. Her father was William II, Duke of Bavaria, while her mother was Margaret of Burgundy, daughter of Philip II, Duke of Burgundy and sister of John, Duke of Burgundy. As such, Jacqueline was essentially Dutch and French for our purposes, but in the 15th century she was in fact living in more of a satellite state, albeit a very wealthy and important one.
William and Margaret were married 16 years before the arrival of their daughter, and the dynamics of their relationship must have permeated Jacqueline’s sense of what was normal and expected of her. Margaret’s position as the Duke of Burgundy’s daughter gave her significant clout, while Burgundy’s close familial ties to the French Royal Family (Margaret’s father, Philip, was a son of King John II of France) were useful to her husband. William ruled over Holland, Zeeland and Hainaut, but his focus remained almost entirely on Holland and Zeeland. Hainaut was thus left to Margaret to manage and she took to assuming that much authority like a duck to water.
In 1404, Margaret’s father died and her brother, John, became the new duke of Burgundy. Like his father before him, he quickly involved himself in the political machinations in Paris, spending significant quantities of time in France. King Charles VI of France suffered repeated bouts of insanity that necessitated a regent, a role battled over by the dukes of Burgundy and Charles’s younger brother, Louis, Duke of Orleans. Once John succeeded his father, the feud between Burgundy and Orleans became even tenser and it eventually culminated in John ordering Orleans’s assassination in November 1407.
John’s saving grace was his popularity with the people of Paris and his reputation for fiscal management. Orleans, on the other hand, was perceived as squandering the French treasury. His death left behind an adolescent son as his heir, and thus however much it pained the Valois, they had little choice but to forgive Orleans’s murder and allow John back into Paris with control of the government and the dauphin.
John’s connection to the French would benefit his sister and niece immensely as the Valois sought to appease him. In 1403 the infant Jacqueline was betrothed to one of Charles VI’s younger sons, Jean, Duke of Touraine, a union again cemented in 1406. Against the wishes of the boy’s mother, Isabeau of Bavaria, the boy was sent to William and Margaret’s court to be raised alongside his future bride. The match was one of many in which the Valois offspring were married into the families of Burgundy and Orleans – Isabelle of Valois was married to Louis of Orleans’s son, Charles; Michelle of Valois was married to John of Burgundy’s son, Philip; and Louis, the dauphin was married to John of Burgundy’s daughter, Margaret.
Though not the dauphin, marriage to one of the French king’s younger sons was a smart move for William and Margaret. With Jacqueline as their only child, she stood to inherit her father’s titles and lands, but she would need a husband to rule alongside her and help protect them. With Jean growing up in their household, he would grow up knowing Holland, Zeeland and Hainaut and in turn being a known entity to their people.
The two children were raised in Le Quesnoy, while their marriage was granted a dispensation by the Pope in 1411. Finally, in the summer of 1415, the two were married in The Hague, just as the English were beginning their conquest of France. Harfleur was swiftly captured followed by the French’s defeat at the Battle of Agincourt that October. With Jean having been separated from his family for so many years, those troubles may well have seemed far off to the young couple, but they were certainly dictating the actions of Jacqueline’s uncle as his faction and that of the Orleanists danced around the threat of using the English as leverage against the other.
Finally, in December 1415, Jean’s older brother, Louis, the dauphin, fell ill and died at the age of 18. Suddenly, Jean was the dauphin and the next king of France in the middle of a foreign invasion and civil war. Custody of him was thus paramount, but so long as he remained under the protection of his father-in-law, he was essentially in the hands of Burgundy. Almost immediately Queen Isabeau requested that her son be sent to her, while the French government had good reason to want the future king positioned in the capital. William and Margaret staunchly refused, instead taking pains to hide Jean in their own dominions.
At one point, Margaret and Jacqueline arranged a meeting with Isabeau (at which Jean wasn’t present) to negotiate the couple’s movement to Paris. Here Jacqueline would likely have met her sister-in-law, Katherine, for the first time.
But William and Margaret’s first concern was less the future of France and more the future of their own estate. They used the younger couple’s ascent as the dauphin and dauphine to negotiate the acknowledgement that Jacqueline would succeed her father as Countess, but the needed support from the future Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund of Luxembourg wasn’t forthcoming. An aborted meeting with him and Henry V of England in the spring of 1416 ended with William returning home in a fury.
In the end, the drama was for naught. Jean died on April 15, 1417 in Compiegne at the age of 18. Jacqueline went from the future queen of France to only her father’s potential heir – and one desperately in need of a new, influential husband. That need would only become more of a crisis on May 31 when William unexpectedly died of a dog bite. Just shy of her 16th birthday, Jacqueline was pushed forth on the chessboard of European politics.
The idea of female rule was widely accepted in Hainaut – hence Margaret’s own success in managing the land for her husband. On William’s passing, they accepted Jacqueline as their own. Holland and Zeeland, on the other hand, turned to William’s brother, John, a man who had once been intended for the church but quickly moved away from it at the first scent of secular power. Jacqueline, on her mother’s advice, tried to make nice with her uncle in the hopes that he could be brought to heel, but John earned the support of Sigismund who swiftly arranged his marriage to his niece.
Margaret and John of Burgundy leapt into action and found Jacqueline her second husband in the form of John IV, Duke of Brabant (yes, I know, it’s a lot of Johns). Two years younger than Jacqueline, less intelligent and politically weak, it would prove a disastrous choice. The two were betrothed in July 1417, just three months after Jean’s death, and married in March 1418 in The Hague. In the midst of this, Jacqueline and her uncle fought their first military battle, but thought it ended in victory for Jacqueline, she was forced to part with the trading hub of Dordrecht.
Unfortunately, Jacqueline was beholden to her incompetent and cash-strapped husband. Desperate for money, he entered into arrangements against her wishes and interests that essentially pawned off land in exchange for financial compensation. One such move was with Jacqueline’s cousin, Philip of Burgundy, while the other was with her uncle, John of Bavaria, himself. To the latter he pledged Holland and Zeeland and then, eventually, Hainaut. And so, Jacqueline left her husband.
In the background of this, John of Burgundy was still heavily embroiled in the French situation. England launched another invasion in 1417 and began sweeping through Normandy and western France with alarming ease. Burgundy and the Orleanists remained hopelessly divided, while John of Burgundy was growing increasingly anxious about the new dauphin, Charles, who was a committed Orleanist and staunchly opposed to falling under the influence of John or his mother, Queen Isabeau. Married to the Duke of Anjou’s sister and under the protection of his mother-in-law, Yolande of Aragon, Queen of Sicily, he in fact had the ability to operate independently of his blood family.
In 1419 the situation grew dire as Rouen fell to England. A negotiation was put on the table that would sign over Normandy to the English, while marrying Henry V to Katherine of Valois. Before anything was signed, a last ditch effort to unite Burgundy and Orleans under one French banner was tried. The dauphin Charles and John of Burgundy met in a carefully orchestated peace ceremony, but just as the two came face-to-face a pre-planned assassination was carried out by Charles’s men. John of Burgundy was killed and his son, Philip, had little interest in helping the Valois. Burgundy aligned itself with England, forcing the hand of King Charles and Queen Isabeau, who disinherited their last remaining son. The Treaty of Troyes was signed in June 1420 in which Henry V was named King Charles’s heir and Henry and Katherine were married.
Eight months later, Jacqueline issued a public statement that she wanted her marriage to John of Brabant annulled, but as the war with her uncle waged on her side was crumbling. In March 1421, without consulting her mother or cousin, she sought refuge in England, throwing herself on the mercy of Henry V who thought her a potentially very useful pawn and waved her in. Henry was back in France when Jacqueline arrived and so it was his younger brother, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, who met her ship on England’s shores and physically carried her to land.
Jacqueline was treated as an honored guest at Henry’s court and spent considerable time with her former sister-in-law, Queen Katherine. In December 1421, when the future Henry VI was born, Jacqueline was named as one of his godmothers. That spring, Katherine, accompanied by Henry’s other brother, John, Duke of Bedford, left to join Henry in France and Humphrey and Jacqueline were left alone at court together. It’s unclear whether an actual romance unfolded, but certainly the two got to know one another without oversight from anyone else in the family.
In August, Henry V was struck down with illness and died – the throne passed to the infant Henry VI while his uncles and allies were cast into chaos over how to manage their empire. Two months later, King Charles died and the crown of France was caught by two men – legally by the infant King Henry and by blood right by the disinherited dauphin Charles (now Charles VII).
Humphrey and John of Bedford both vied for supremacy in England, with the former expecting to gain control per their brother’s will so that the latter could focus on their French domains. Instead, Humphrey’s power in England was checked – instead of ruling as the Lord Protector, there was a protectorate council, and when John of Bedford stepped foot in England (which was rare) he automatically trumped his younger brother. Humphrey was livid, but in the early weeks of January 1423 he had his revenge – he married Jacqueline.
While all of this was going on, Jacqueline was finally granted her divorce from John of Brabant by the Avignon Pope. Taking on a third husband was critical and Humphrey, who had experience fighting in France and potentially had the backing of England, must have seemed an elegant solution. As for Humphrey, since he wouldn’t have absolute power in England, the idea of conquering his own lands must have seemed appealing. Even more, Humphrey had always hated Philip of Burgundy and willfully marrying Philip’s cousin without his permission and potentially to his detriment must have been the cherry on top of a very vengeful sundae.
The couple didn’t leave England until the autumn of 1424 – it’s unclear why there was such a delay beyond the obvious need to get ducks in a row, but there is a possibility that Jacqueline was pregnant within that window, and that she delivered a stillborn son. Regardless, the next several months of their European sojourn were an unmitigated disaster.
The couple landed in Calais in November. On December 5, Humphrey was acknowledged as Count of Holland, Zeeland and Hainaut. A month later, Jacqueline’s uncle suddenly passed away, theoretically clearing the way for her. Unfortunately, John of Brabant was very much alive and he didn’t acknowledge that his marriage to Jacqueline was annulled. As such, he considered himself the rightful Count and he turned to Philip, smarting over Jacqueline’s secret nuptials, and signed over the lands.
And so it was that Jacqueline and Humphrey found themselves at war with the duke of Burgundy. The rather large problem was that Burgundy was England’s alliance in the ongoing conquest of France – as such, Humphrey’s actions jeopardized the strength of their position in maintaining their hard-won territory and earned him the justified ire of John of Bedford and the English Parliament.
If that wasn’t enough, Humphrey didn’t prove a successful general against Philip’s forces and the couple continued to lose ground. In April 1425 he returned to England without his wife…but with one of her ladies-in-waiting, Eleanor Cobham. As he sought to ingratiate himself back with his nephew’s council and embarked on a public affair with Eleanor, Jacqueline was left alone on the continent to fight Burgundy by herself. She sent a series of plaintive letters to Humphrey and Parliament over the next two years asking for help, either in the form of money or the return of her husband. All such missives were ignored. At one point she was captured by Philip’s men and held at Ghent, but she managed an escape by slipping out of the castle dressed as a man.
John of Brabant died suddenly on April 17, 1727, again potentially removing a thorn in Jacqueline’s side. But Philip of Burgundy was quick to point out – to all who would listen – that the sudden deaths of Jacqueline’s irksome uncle and second husband were both a little too convenient. In other words, a whisper campaign began that Jacqueline had ordered both men poisoned, doing nothing to better her reputation with her people or allies.
Last but not least, Jacqueline’s annulment from John came from the Avignon Pope – not Rome. In 1428, Pope Martin V finally weighed in on the matter by decreeing Jacqueline’s second marriage valid. As such, her third marriage to Humphrey was illegal and never existed in the eyes of the Catholic Church. Thus severed any right she had to plead her case to the English and absolved Humphrey of any legal responsibility. Defeated, in July 1428 she finally signed the Reconciliation of Delft and gave in to Philip. Though she kept her titles, control of Holland, Zeeland and Hainaut was handed over. A further tenet barred her from remarrying without the permission of Philip, her mother or her three counties.
For the next five years, Jacqueline floated among her domains growing increasingly impoverished. Finally, in 1433, she turned over her titles to Philip in exchange for annuities from estates in Zeeland. She moved there and promptly fell in love, taking her fourth and final husband in the form of Francis, Lord of Borssele in 1434. True to form, she embarked on the marriage without procuring the necessary consent. It proved short-lived – Jacqueline passed away on October 8, 1436 at the age of 35. Without any children, and having already signed away her inheritance, Holland, Zeeland and Hainaut were absorbed in Philip’s lands of Burgundy and Flanders.
Her mother, Margaret, lived another five years, dying in the same castle in which Jacqueline was raised: Le Quesnoy.