The Counts of Champagne

I refer to the work of Henri Erhet for this page, "Passe avant le meilleur" or the history of those Counts who made Champagne, from the Renaissance publications.

At the end of Louis Débonnaire's reign (Charlemagne's son), the Kingdom of France was shared between his three sons, Charles le Chauve "the Bald person", Lothaire, and Louis, by the treaty of Verdun in 843. It was the beginning of "the fragmentation" of the Kingdom, and with the passage of time, royal civil servants took over territories which, one after the other, became independent. Thus at the end of IXth century, Troyes belonged to the Duchy of Burgundy, and was administered over by Richard le Justicier. It was on the death of Gilbert the Duke of Burgundy, Count of Autun and of Chalons, in 956, that the city passed into the hands of the first Count of Champagne, Robert of Meaux, thanks to his friendship with the daughter of the Duke, Adèle Werra. This was the start of a period of more than three centuries during which the Champagne Counts, through their political administrations, gave rise to new expansion of the towns on their lands, and in particular in the "comtale" city of Troyes (a town or city situated in the Counts estate).

Robert, très glorieux Comte de Champagne, 956-970

Although the dowry of Adèle Werra made it possible for Robert to have access to the Grand Duchy of Burgundy, his reign didn't really have much effect on Troyes, already highly religious with its Saint Wolf's abbey and the first Cathedral. However, the quarrel which then took place between the Count and Anségise, the Bishop of Troyes at that time, was the origin of a peculiar situation for this small city: Troyes from then on was in effect managed by lay or civil Counts, and not by the Bishops or Archbishops, as in Chalons or Reims; the Counts were thus the Masters of the currency, and had the power to elect future Bishops.

Sceau de Lothaire, Roi de France, l'an 959. Document conservé au Centre historique des Archives nationales à Paris, Cote SC/B3 (c) ARCHIM
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Hugues Capet

Known as Herbert the Younger, Herbert IV the son of Robert, inherited the Counties of Meaux and of Troyes following the death of his father, and added the lands of Epernay, Virtues and Vitry to his domain. His reign was marked by the support which he gave to King Lothaire, then, in 987, with the accession of Hugues, the first Capetien King. Etienne, his son succeeded him, leaving the construction of a new Roman cathedral by the Bishop Milon as his part in the history of this city. Etienne died without leaving any descendants, and it was his cousin, Count de Blois since 996, who succeeded him in 1019.

Eudes II Le Champenois, 1019-1037

Eudes II reigned over a territory which was already significant when he was given his cousin Etienne's Champagne territories by the King in 1019; he was already, since 996, on the death of his father Eudes I, the Lord of Chartres, of Blois and of Tour, and the Champagne heritage placed him right in the front row of the greatest characters of the Kingdom at that time. He managed throughout his long reign of numerous campaigns to protect or increase his territories, which in turn attracted the displeasure of King Henri I, who felt threatened by this powerful and vassal rebel whose domain represented an area more than three times the size of the royal domain. It was on a battle field not far from Bar le Duc that Eudes lost his life in 1037. His property and titles were shared between his two sons, Etienne the junior who inherited the Counties of Troyes, Meaux and Vitry, and Thibaud who inherited Blois, Tours, Chartres, Provins and Saint Florentin.

Thibaud I, Comte de Blois et de Champagne, 1048-1089

During the first few years of his reign, Thibaud masterminded a rebellion of Barons and Counts, which included his brother Etienne, in order to avenge his father for his royal disgrace. He failed and was taken prisoner, losing much and regaining his freedom in the County of Tours. With the death of Etienne in 1048, Thibaud reunited his father's heritage, and resumed the place of his father amongst the great vassals of the King. Forgetting his initial feelings, he became one of the king's more faithful lords, naming his first son Henri, in homage to the King. He made his nephew Eudes III - who, on reaching majority, should have recovered the Champagne lands of his father Etienne - his vassal. After a first rebellion, Eudes left to fight on the side of William the Conqueror in England, thus leaving the field free for his uncle Thibaud. Throughout his reign Thibaud I gave new support to the clergy. For example, he created Saint Ayoul's (a martyr of the VIIth century) priory, at Provins on the site of the small Saint Médard's chapel. This new priory was economically dependant upon Montier's La Celle's abbey close to Troyes and at the head of which he placed Robert, the future founder of the abbeys of Citeaux and Molesme. He thus helped several abbeys and monasteries, including Cluny and Montier in Der, which put him in the favour of the Vatican. His son, Eudes, later became Pope Urbain II. Thibaud died in 1089, at the age of 70, leaving a prosperous Champagne, and a county of key standing in the Kingdom, as much by its extent as by its political importance.

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Guillaume le Conquérant

Saint Ayoul à Provins - Cliquez pour agrandir
St Ayoul à Provins


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Siège de Nicée, 1097

Etienne Henri, eldest son of Thibaud, succeeded him on his death, without sharing any of his rich heritage with his half brothers, born from the second marriage of Thibaud with Adèle of Bar sur Aube, whom he made his vassals; it was thus that Eudes IV, and then Hugues his younger brother, received the Counties of Troyes, Vitry and Bar sur Aube. Etienne Henri married Adèle of England, daughter of William the Conqueror, and very quickly occupied himself with the concerns which effected the great lords of the Kingdom at that time; the Holy Land crusades. After a first humiliating defeat in 1097 at the siege of Antioche, he died there in 1102, at the gates of Ramla in Palestine in a more glorious way. His son Thibaud II once again took the County of Blois whilst its Champenois territories remained in the hands of Hugues, the Count of Troyes. 

Hugues, Comtes de Champagne, 1093-1125

Hugues was the first of the Counts to live and reign in Troyes, in the tower which stood in the north west of the city, which accommodated at that time the "hot fairs", of Saint Jean, and the "cold fairs" of Saint Rémy. It was the piety of the Count which marked his reign of almost 32 years; unhappy in love - his wife, Constance of France, annulled their marriage - he visited the numerous abbeys in his domain, Molesme, Trois Fontaine, Montiéramey... He spent a few years in the Holy Land from 1104 to 1107 and then from 1114 to 1116. On his return, he supported the extension of the brand new Clairvaux abbey, started by Bernard in 1115, before finally entering in 1126 a new order of Holy soldiers, the Knight Templars, created by his companion of the crusades Hugues de Payns, and recognised by the church at the time of the Council of Troyes in 1127. He thus renounced his capacity as a Count, and after having driven out his second wife and her son of which he didn't believe himself to be the father, he handed down his lands and duties to his nephew Thibaud, the son of Etienne Henri, Count de Blois since 1102.

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Le Saint Sépulcre

Thibaud II Le Grand, 1125-1152

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Sceau de Thibaud II, Document conservé au Centre historique des Archives nationales à Paris, Cotes SC/B12 et B12bis (c) ARCHIM

As such, from 1125 Thibaud found himself as the ruler of a territory comparable with that which his grand father Thibaud had first succeeded in consolidating. After 20 years or so had been spent fighting to defend his County of Blois, it was a wiser Count who took possession of his Champagne territories. It bound his friendship with Bernard de Clairvaux, whom he helped to build not only his abbey, but also the Pontigny church, the Notre Dame de Fontenay abbey and the Trois Fontaines abbey. He intervened in the affairs of his County, at Saint Loup in Troyes, and in Saint Quiriace in Provins. 

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Louis VII

The peaceful intentions of the Count were confirmed when King Louis VII, anxious about the power of his vassal, and on the pretext of the coming of age of Eudes, the son of Hugues, claimed the lands of Champagne on his behalf. Without ever raising an army, but by skilful political alliances, Thibaud protected his domain, intervening as ambassador to the Pope on the subject of excommunication which hung over Louis VII and his impetuous wife, Alienor of Aquitaine.

With this new policy, which prefered negotiation to weapons, Thibaud broke new ground whilst wanting to protect the economic interests of his lands, and more particularly the Champagne fairs, at that time at the height of expansion. Thibaud finished his reign under the always present influence of his friend, Bernard of Clairvaux, and spent his last years visiting the poorest of his subjects, doing charitable deeds, distributing clothing, food and care amongst the most disinherited. By the time of his death in 1152, Champagne was a prosperous land; the countryside was modernised, land clearing was rationalised, and the cities were surrounded by increasingly significant boroughs, creating new economic centres. Thibaud had prepared his succession, and with his death, the destiny of his four sons was already sealed; his elder, Henri, became the Count of Troyes, and inherited the Champagne Counties, Thibaud and Etienne shared the counties of Blois, Chartres, Châteaudun and Sancerre, and Guillaume, the youngest, as was customary headed for a religious career, and became the Archbishop of Reims, under the name of Guillaume with White Hands.

Henri Ier Le Libéral, 1152-1181

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Portrait de Henri Ier
d'après un vitrail du Musée Vauluisant,
(c) G. Grosdoit-Artur

The young Champagne Count was, upon his accession, the most faithful vassal of King Louis VII, with whom he had joined for the second crusade in 1147. He married his daughter, Marie, in 1164, and fought on his side against the King of England Henri Plantagenêt in 1152 and in 1173. When he wasn't battling for his King, Henri built and expanded his towns in Champagne. He supported, like his predecessors, the fairs, and built new buildings as a testament to his glory, as in Troyes with the Hotel Dieu, and of course the new Palace of the Counts and the church Saint Etienne, or still in Provins with Saint Quiriace or the César Tower, and Saint Ayoul which the generosity of the Count made it possible to rebuild after a fire in 1157. He extended and modernised the ramparts of his cities, including from now on the new boroughs which were formed at the gates of the first enclosures. His architectural heritage is unique, and testified to the splendour and the prosperity of his domain. After a last Holy Land journey, Henri died in 1181 at the Palace of the Counts in Troyes. His body was laid in a bronze tomb in Saint Etienne's collegial, and then into the cathedral at the time of the revolution.

Provins, Tour César - Cliquez pour agrandir   Provins, Saint Ayoul - Cliquez pour agrandir   Provins, Saint Quiriace - Cliquez pour agrandir   Provins, Saint Quiriace - Cliquez pour agrandir

Provins, Palais des Comtesses Douairières - Cliquez pour agrandir  Provins, Grange aux Dîmes - Cliquez pour agrandir   Provins, Place du Chatel, lieu des foires - Cliquez pour agrandir

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Sceau de Philippe Auguste

Henri II was 15 years old at the death of his father, and it was his mother, Marie, who maintained the regency from 1181 to 1187. His reign was especially marked by the efforts of this young Count to reinforce, by alliances with the Germanic Empire, his independence from the King of France, Philippe Auguste, whose domain and influence were growing. In 1190, Henri II left for the Holy Land, and became the King of Jerusalem, chosen by his travelling companions for his family ties with the Houses of England (he was the nephew of Richard the Lion Heart) and of France (he was, by his mother, the nephew of King Philippe Auguste). It was in September 1197 that he died after falling from a window of his Acre Palace , in doubtful circumstances which went against the idea of a simple accident. His mother Marie, who maintained the regency of the Champagne County in his absence, followed him by dying a few months later, overwhelmed by sorrow, in February 1198.  


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Portrait de Thibaud III
d'après un vitrail du Musée Vauluisant,
(c) G. Grosdoit-Artur

It was the young brother of Henri, Thibaud III, who succeeded him, for three years only at the head of the County. He was very quickly obliged to enlist on the side of King Philippe Auguste in the war that the latter fought against Richard the Lion Heart, who soon died by a stray arrow in 1199. In the same year, Thibaud married a young Princess of Navarre, Blanche, daughter of Sanche VI "the Wise one". A daughter, Marie, was born in 1200, but Thibaud III, carried away by a fever in May 1201, never knew his son, Thibaud, who was born a few months after his death.

The regency of Blanche de Navarre, 1201-1222

Following the example of her beautiful mother Marie, Blanche maintained the regency for 21 years, until her son came of age. From the beginning of this regency, isolated in a County which she had known for only two years, she sought the support of the King of France at Sens, who granted it to her provided that she did not remarry without his consent, and that her son, Thibaud, was brought up in the court of France. During her regency, Blanche did not cease to protect the County from the numerous coveting attentions that it attracted, by diplomacy and alliance, but also sometimes by force, as when Erard of Brienne decided to marry a daughter of Count Henri II, Philippine, a marriage which would have given him give the right to the County of Champagne; Blanche attempted to stop it, in vain, by launching her armies on his heels; then appealed to the Holy authorities, who prohibited the marriage, but which finally took place in 1215. Blanche, being a skilful strategist, acquired the support of some nobles, including Emperor Frederic II of Hohenstaufen, and some lesser nobles, with the result that these Dukes and Counts declared themselves to be the sworn enemy of Erard de Brienne, who soon gave up all his claims on the County.

Thibaud IV, Le Chansonnier, 1222-1253

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Thibaut rend hommage à St Louis, Ste Madeleine

Thibaud spent the first 15 years of his life in the court of the King of France, cherished by his young aunt, Blanche of Castille, wife of the future Louis VIII. He listened to the troubadours that Blanche introduced into the austere Palace of Paris, and met the trouvere and poet Gace Brulé on Christmas 1212, a meeting which influenced and inspired Thibaud. In 1222, Thibaud received his Knight's sword from the King, and the County of Champagne from his mother. This county was in the state where, 20 years earlier, his father Thibaud III had left it. The first years of his reign, Thibaud proved to be a great loyalist as far as King Louis VIII was concerned, and also, in the Court there was much whispered gossip about his beautiful and young aunt Blanche.  
He fought for the interest of the Kingdom, but also very quickly for those of his County, threatened by the Duke of Burgundy and his allies, who in 1229 invaded his Champagne territory. It was the regent Blanche of Castille's army which put an end to this war; "She was to him a loyal friend - she showed she did not hate him: - with her help they ended the war - and conquered all the land" sang the young Count. ("Elle lui fut loyale amie - Bien montra qu'elle ne le hait mie : - par elle fut finie la guerre - et conquise toute la terre") A few years, later, in 1234, Thibaud was carried shoulder high by the ricos hombres for his coronation as King of Navarre at Pampelune. He inherited this Kingdom from his mother, since her brother Sanche VII "the strong" died without any descendants.

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Blanche de Castille

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Sceau de Thibaud IV, au bas d'une vente de bois à l'Abbaye de Saint Denis, 1247,  Document conservé au Centre historique des Archives nationales à Paris, Cote AE/II/246  (c) ARCHIM

On his return, he found a territory drastically reduced in the west counties - Blois, Sancerre, Chartres and Chateaudun - which King Louis IX had quite simply confiscated from him. Thibaud's anger compelled him to confront the King, and it was only the intervention of the Queen mother, Blanche of Castille, that managed to prevent this headstrong act, thanks to her influence on the Count. In 1239, the Count was chosen by the Holy authorities and numerous barons to lead a new crusade; In 1241 he brought back a piece of the Cross of Christ which he deposited in a church in Provins, renamed Saint Cross. Thibaud then spent the last years of his life in his Champagne lands to eventually die in 1253 in his Navarre Palace, in Estella close to Pampelune.

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A few sights of Pamplona (Iruna), capital of the Kindom of Navarra

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Church Ste Croix de Provins


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Sceau de Thibaud V, 1259,   Document conservé au Centre historique des Archives nationales à Paris, Cote   SC/CH6 (c) ARCHIM

With the death of Thibaud IV, it was his wife Marguerite De Bourbon who maintained the Regency of the County, although she did not wait for her son Thibaud's maturity before crowning him as King of Navarre in 1253. After 3 years of regency, Marguerite returned the County to Thibaud, who become, in 1256, Count Thibaud V. Son-in-law of Saint Louis since his marriage with Isabelle the elder daughter of the King, Thibaud cultivated a close relationship with the King; he was by no means opposed to the loss of certain privileges, when Saint Louis decided notably to take charge of justice and currency in the Champagne lands, thus bringing to an end the celebrated Provinois contributions in 1263.


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Saint Louis

In 1269, Thibaud V and Isabelle decided to follow Saint Louis to Constantinople; it was necessary to find funds to finance the army which would accompany them and Thibaud did not hesitate for this occasion to confiscate all the goods of the Champagne Jews. Their belongings and wealth were quite simply taken on his command! On August 27, 1270, when Saint Louis died of dysentery, close to Carthage, Thibaud V was at his bedside.

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Mort de Saint Louis

On December 4, 1271, it was the turn of our Count to succumb to the fever. His wife, became a widow and an orphan in a few months, and died the following summer, on the return journey.

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Sceau de Philippe le Bel, 1285,   Document conservé au Centre historique des Archives nationales à Paris, Cote SC/B13bis (c) ARCHIM

After the court reigns (3 years) of Thibaud V's brother, Henri III, and the regency of his wife, Blanche of Artois, the lineage of Counts died out: Champagne integrated into the Kingdom of France by the marriage of Jeanne of Navarre (daughter of Blanche and Henri) to the future King Philippe IV "the handsome" in 1284.  

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Sceau de Jeanne de Navarre, Document conservé au Centre historique des Archives nationales à Paris, Cote SC/D157 (c) ARCHIM

By way of conclusion...

This union put an end to more than three centuries of the existence of the Champagne County. The Counts were very much differing from the other vassals of the King of France; the management of their lands was decided not by simple territory quarrels but above all by true political and commercial strategy.

It was initially the development of the Champagne Fairs, famous throughout Europe, which permitted the County, thanks to the four fair towns - Bar sur Aube, Troyes, Sézanne and Provins, on a South-east - North-west line - to organize a succession of fairs throughout the year, and in so doing to collect numerous taxes on the trading, ensuring the prosperity of the region.

It was as well an unparalleled spiritual " development ", that the devotion of certain Counts would support; Count Thibaud I who, in addition to his support of many religious orders, gave his son Eudes (Pope Urbain II) to the papacy - Count Hugues and the creation of the Knights of the Templars - the friendship which bound Thibaud II Le Grand and Bernard of Clairvaux - Henri I the Liberal and the assistance that he gave to the abbeys in the County - the major part the counts took in the Crusades, with the accession of Henri II to the throne of Jerusalem in 1190. The Champagne court was also a privileged place of intellectual and artistic meetings, in particular under the regency of Blanche of Navarre and the reign of her son, Thibaud the Chansonnier "Singer/Poet".

Lastly, political strategy was also carefully managed by the well thought out unions, which made it possible to protect or expand the County - with the marriage between Thibaud III and Blanche of Navarre for example - or to reinforce the links between the Counts and the Kingdom of France - with the marriages of Henri I and Marie, daughter of Louis VII, and Thibaud V and Isabelle, daughter of Saint Louis.

The impression of this splendour and prosperity will stay with the Comtale city of Troyes for a long time, which until XVIth century was one of the grandest cities of the Kingdom - the fifth under the reign of François I.


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