Richard III Society Inc.: Vol. 43 No., 2 June (2012)
In the 15th century, a rich inheritance could be a liability rather than an asset. An unfortunate heiress could be imprisoned by predatory relatives wanting control of her lands. Marriages made for the purpose of enlarging inheritances could become a form of imprisonment. Inheritance conflicts, in or out of court, could drag on or turn violent. England had no monopoly on exploited heiresses, inheritance conflicts, or predatory uncles. A dramatic example was played out in one of Europe’s wealthiest regions. Jacqueline was the only child of Margaret of Burgundy and William, count of Holland, Zeeland, and Hainault. At age 5 she was married to John, duke of Touraine, a younger son of the French king, Charles VI. When she was 14, her husband became dauphin, but her status as France’s next queen lasted only a year and four months.
During her 16th year, both her husband and father died, leaving her the target of two power- and land-hungry uncles. Her paternal uncle was John of Bavaria, unconfirmed bishop of Liege, who dropped his claim to the bishopric in order to disinherit his niece. Her maternal uncle was John the Fearless, duke of Burgundy, who was already trying to bring the 13-year-old duke of Brabant under his control. Burgundy saw Jacqueline’s bereavement as an opportunity to advance his ambitions: by marrying his widowed niece to his orphaned nephew, Burgundy hoped to expand his influence over Holland, Zeeland, Hainault, and Brabant. (1) Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund opposed this expansion by supporting John of Bavaria, who set Jacqueline’s lands “ablaze with civil war.”