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Clementia of Burgundy, countess of Flanders

Title social-status: 
countess of Flanders

Clementia was a daughter of William I, count of Burgundy and Stephanie/Etienne of Vienne (?)[i] ; two of her brothers became archbishops, one a pope Calixtus II; one brother Raymond married Urraca of Castile, mother of Alfonse of Leon, a sister, Matilda married Duke Eudo of Burgundy, another, Gisela, Count Umberto II of Savoy, whose daughter, Adelaide, married Louis VI of France.[ii]  Clementia was married to Robert II, count of Flanders from 1097 to his death in 1111; she was co-ruler with him and regent for him for the four years  he was on the first crusade. In a letter of 1106 entrusting the direction of St. Bertin to  Hugh of Cluny, Robert states that he had appointed Clementia in his place over his lands and everything under his jurisdiction while he was on crusade, and that she had let him know by letter and voice that she had turned it over to Hugh:  “Quapropter beatitudini vestre esse volumus, quod nobis, post dominica bella Jherusalem digressis, uxor mea nomine Clementia quam terre mee et omnibus quecumque juris mei erant, vice mea dum dicederem prefeceram, inter cetera diligenter intimavit, sese per abbatem Sancti Bertini a bonitate vestra inpetrasse cum litteris, tum viva voce, ut de ordinando ejusdem Sancti monasterio, de religione ibidem per sanctitatis vestre filios constituenda vos intromittere deberetis” (F. Vercauteren, Actes des Comtes de Flandres, 1071-1128 [Brussels:  Palais des Academies 1938], #34.) 

Before he left, in 1096,  Robert restored a part of Harlebeke to the abbey of Saint-Thierry-lez-Reims and ordered his wife to make sure foresters respect the rights of the abbey in a letter now lost:  “Hoc autem feci favore conjugis mee predicti Clementie, cui super hoc litteras sigillo meo corroboratas direxi, ut forestariis prohiberet ne sanctis, vel servis eorum aliquam injustitiam vel violentiam ulterius inferrent” (Vercauteren, Actes, #22).  Vercauteren lists a number of lost charters issued by Robert and Clementia, known from other documents.  In the editor’s preface to act #25,Vercauteren  mentions a charter of Balderic, bishop of Noyon-Tournai, in which he records that during the crusade, while at Antioch, the count had made a vow to construct a monastery in honor of St. Andrew near Bruges, and the countess to fulfill that vow had, with the consent of Baldric, founded a congregation at Bethfurtcherca or Straten-lez-Bruges.  In his obituary paragraph, Simon, (Simonis gesta abbatum Sancti Bertini Sithiensium, MGHS, 13), 659, mentions that she founded two houses of women, Bourbourg and Avesnes. 

During her regency, Clementia minted coins in her own name and put down rebellions in Bruges.  With Anselm of Canterbury, she successfully supported the election of John of Warneton as bishop of Thérouanne, with letters abbot Lambert carried to Rome, letters now lost (Adair, 132).  Her large dower included almost one-third of Flanders, according to Simon, with twelve towns on the coast and in the southwest and though she lost some on the coast in the struggle over the succession, she continued to rule the others until her death, remaining a force in Flanders.  She appeared in over half of Robert’s charters and with him made six grants of property to the abbey of Bourbourg and founded Faumont; she is credited by Simon as founder of Bourburg and Avesnes[iii].  Her name as witness to charters appears after Robert’s and before various bishops.  Clementia supported reform in the church (sometimes modified by her husband), and the introduction of the Cluniacs. She furthered canal-building, reclaiming swampland,  and town development.  She was involved in negotiations between Robert and Henry I of England; the Treaty of Dover, 1110, records the share of money (marcae) to be paid to her by Henry (Vercauteren, #41).[iv] 

Clementia and Robert had at least two sons (Baldwin +1119 and William +1108), perhaps a third who died very early.  A hostile contemporary, Herman of Tournai reported, wrongly, that she had employed some contraceptive means to have no more children in order to prevent fighting among them over the inheritance, and declared it divine vengeance that they all predeceased their mother.  She co-ruled with her son Baldwin VII after Robert died in 1111; she was recognized as regent by Louis VI though Baldwin was eighteen.  Orderic Vitalis said Baldwin ruled Flanders with his mother, “Clementia matre sua per aliquot annos paternum principatum gubernauit” (Eccles Hist, 6.162).  Simon, Gesta of St. Bertin, noted that in a council to reform St. Peter of Ghent, in 1117, reformers approached the boy Baldwin and his mother Clementia, who ruled Flanders: “Adeunt ambo Balduinum puerum et Clementiam matrem qui Flandriis preerant,” cited by Adair, 123.  Clementia is mentioned in several of his charters as working with him, giving consent or requesting action.  They quarreled about her dower and bishop Lambert wrote to Baldwin to strongly support her claims, see Le Registre de Lambert Évêque d’Arras (1093-1115), ed Claire Giordanengo (Paris:  CNRS, 2007), E.124.  After Baldwin died in 1119, she raised an army against her son’s chosen successor, his cousin Karl/Charles of Denmark, in favor of William of Ypres, who was her husband’s illegitimate nephew; she lost her [four] dower lands on the coast to Charles.  She eventually reconciled with Charles and appears in some of his documents; in one, he gives her credit for helping his accession (Vercauteren, Actes, #118).  She married Duke Godfrey of  Lower Lorraine in 1119, perhaps in the hope he would support her choice for Baldwin’s successor.

The material in this biography is based on Karen S. Nicholas, “Countesses as Rulers in Flanders,” Aristocratic Women in Medieval France, ed. Theodore Evergates (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 1999), Penelope Ann Adair, Ego et uxor mea, University of California Sanata Barbara dissertation, 1993, Heinrich Sproemberg, “Clementia, Gräfin von Flandern, Revue belge de philologie et d’histoire 42.4 (1964), 1203-41.



Biographical notes: 

[i] Constance Bouchard, Sword, Miter, and Cloister, argues that Vienne, usually given as the origin of Stephanie, is a mistake, but she offers no substitute for it.

[ii] In a letter from Ivo of Chartres the king, Adelaide is identified only as a niece of Clementia, neptem Flandrensis Comitissae, puellam aetate nubilem, genere nobilem, honestis moribus ut dicitur laudabilem, in uxorem ducere disponatis, HGF 15.161, cited by Adair, p.121, who wonders if Clementia was involved in the arrangement.

[iii] Clementia namque, Roberti iunioris vidua, quae eatenus pene terciam partem Flandriae dotis loco tenuit, defuncta, comiti quaecunque habuit dereliquit.  Quae adhuc vivens duas aecclesias sanctimonialium aedificavit in Broburg et apud Avednes.   

[iv] Adair, 98, quotes a passage suggesting that Clementia promised to do her best to hold the count to the treaty and preserve his friendship and service to the king (Porro comitissa affidavit quod, quantum poterit, comitem in hac conventione tenebit et in amicitia regis et in praedicto servitio fideliter per amorem"), but she cites the treaty, Vercauteren #41, where I could not find it.