Wednesday, 30 December 2015

The historic French family of Béthune and a present day Count de Béthune


Baudoin I, grand forestier of Flanders carried off Judith (widow of Atelulf, King of the English), daughter of Charles the Bald, King of France in 862, who apparently welcomed the elopement, but was forgiven by his father-in-law who made him Count the next year. Their son Baudoin II married the sister of Alfred the Great, King of the English, and their descendants in the sixth generation included Baudoin VI, his brother and successor as Count Robert I and their sister Mahaud, who married in 1053 William (later William I the Conqueror), Duke of Normandy.  Roberto I’s grandson Baudoin VII died without male heirs in 1119, whereupon the County passed to Charles of Denmark, son of Robert I’s daughter Adele by King Canute (Knud) III of Denmark (she married 2ndly Robert of Hauteville, another Norman raider, Duke of Apulia and Calabria). Charles of Denmark, Count of Flanders, died s.p. in 1127 leaving a widow Marguerite of Clermont –Louis VI the Fat of France arranged that a grandson of William I (the Conqueror and Mahaud of Flanders, William of Normandy (William Clinton) should succeed and helped him defeat his cousin Thierry of Alsace, who also claimed the County, but William died in 1128 after a brief reign. Thierry was a younger son of Thierry I, Duke of Lorraine and Gertrude of Flanders, next younger (to Adele, Queen of Denmark) daughter of Count Robert I, and married his cousin Count Charles’s widow, Marguerite, and was able to take unchallenged possession in 1128. He went on the 2nd crusade with Louis VII and died in 1168 after 40 years as Duke. His eldest surviving son and successor, Philippe, was the first to be a Peer of France (in 1179), but died sp on the 3rd  Crusade at the siege of Acre in 1191.

His sister Marguerite succeeded to the County; she had married Baudouin, Count of Hainaut, but died in 1194 when her eldest son Baudouin IX succeeded. He has become notorious as the man who sacked Constantinople on the fourth Crusade and his name has become anathema to the Greeks. He had in fact been a supporter of the legitimate Emperor Isaac and was outraged first at his blinding and imprisonment in 1203 by his younger brother Alexis and then, after the young Alexis IV (Isacc’s son) was murdered by Alexis Ducas (who proclaimed himself Emperor), he sacked the city and proclaimed himself Emperor (without any right at all, however, other than the support he managed to get from the other Crusader leaders). Needless to say the Greeks were unhappy about the destruction of their city and having a Latin ruler, so rose up against him and helped by the Bulgarians defeated and imprisoned him; he died in 1206. A strange episode happened 20 years later when a hermit, Bertrand de Rains, suddenly appeared claiming to be Count Baudouin, and briefly managed to get a few to support him, but he was handed over to his purported daughter who had him tried, and he was hanged in 1226.

Baudouin’s daughters Jeanne (who died in a convent in 1244, after a series of adventures, had a daughter who predeceased her) and then Marguerite succeeded, the latter in 1244. Marguerite married Guillaume de Dampierre in 1223, which was quite an elevation for this young man (although his father had married well, to Mahaud, Lady and heiress of Bourbon). Their grandson Robert III de Dampierre, Count of Flanders, was known as de Béthune, after his mother Mahaud de Béthune, daughter of Robert VII, Seigneur de Béthune, and it is thus that the confusion arose. Robert of Flanders’ father had died a French prisoner and to insure his succession he had to  make substantial concessions to the French. Even so much of his estates were sequestered and only restored eventually to his grandson, Louis II, who took possession as Count of Flanders in 1320. The latter’s son Louis III was the last Dampierre Counts of Flanders; at his death his only daughter Marguerite succeeded; she had married first the last duke of Burgundy of the old line, and on his death was married off to the new Duke of the second line, uniting Flanders with Burgundy.

The Béthune family was the most important noble family of Artois and owned substantial territories in Flanders. Their earliest recorded ancestor was Robert, who in 932 styled himself “par la grace de Dieu Seigneur de Béthune” in a charter. Robert VII de Béthune was the 2nd and eldest surviving son of Guillaume, Sgr de Béthune etc, and father of Mahaud, wife of the Count of Flanders, had a younger brother Guillaume, who inherited part of Bethune and many other territories and married a rich heiress who brought him the Barony of Pontrohart. He is the ancestor of the later lines of the family. These included the line of Dukes of Sully, who became sovereign princes of Henrichemont (the dukedom of Sully had an extraordinary history with endless law cases between cousins) extinct in 1807; Marquis de Chabris and Béthune, extinct in 1833; and the dukes of Charost (extinct in 1800).

The question that is uncertain is whether the Princes de Béthune-Hesdigneul are even male line Béthunes. They certainly claimed to be, although their real name was Desplanques, or des Planques, but claiming despite this name to be Béthune descendants. Even if they are, they were separated by seven generations from the ancestor of Robert VII de Béthune, whose daughter married the Count of Flanders. There is some justice in the claim that the reason they did not have the name Béthune was because it was the practice for younger sons to take the name of their own seigneurie, and there are several instances where younger sons took secondary names. In fact the second line of Dukes of Sully had taken the name Orval, after their own seigneurie (later erected into a duché en brevet). This family claim that they descend from the second son of the founder of the family, Robert I Seigneur de Béthune in the 10th century, whose name is unknown but was the father of Elbert, Seigneur de Carency, whose grandson Elberft II supposedly had a youngest son Hugues de Carency, Seigneur des Planques, which soon substituted des Planques for the name Carency.

There are various citations of des Planques over the succeeding 2 centuries, and in 1339 Huges, son of Huon des Planques, was using the arms of Béthune. A judgment was obtained in the Arras court to the effect that the des Planques were Béthune descendants in 1461. Michel des Planques (living in the 1520s) made a very opportune marriage to Antoinette des Bours, sister of the Bishop Duke of Laon, and this brought opportunities including the acquisition of the Seigneurie of Hesdigneul. The family now entered the Spanish service and assumed the title of Marquis de Hesdigneul in the mid-17th century. In 1720 Eugene, styled Marquis de Hesdigneul, obtained a judgment affirming his Béthune descent in the Arras Court, but when his son Joseph applied for admission to the carriages of the King (for which 400 years of nobility was required) in 1778, the genealogist Chérin, refused as he could not prove this descent to Chérin’s satisfaction. His son Eugène assumed the name de Béthune, and it was such that he was created by Joseph II (not as Emperor, but as Sovereign of the Netherlands), Prince de Hesdigneul in 1781 (despite this the Netherlands only recognized him as a Count in 1816, and for the son of the latter, in 1848, the title of Marquis, and then in 1888 the King of the Belgians first recognized the title of Prince, and again in 1932 for Count Albert-Ferdinand, a cadet who inherited on the death of his cousin; with the title of Count granted to an uncle of Prince Albert-Ferdinand).  Eugène was made a French Lieutenant-General in 1816 and in 1818 was allowed to establish a majorat as hereditary prince. The 9th Prince de Béthune-Hesdigneul adopted as heir the son of his wife’s first marriage, a M. Petit-Jacques, who assumed the name Béthune-Hesdigneul. The succession to the title, however, passed to a cousin Henry (born 1945) and there are male heirs.

By a strange twist, the widow of the penultimate (mother of the last, who died within weeks of his father) duke of Sully, adopted as her universal heir a cadet of the Béthune-Hesdigneul family, Emile Eugène de Béthune, who was allowed to assume the name Béthune-Sully in 1816. This line became extinct in 1902 when Count Maximilien de Béthune-Sully died of arsenic poisoning (his elder daughter had also died tragically, poisoned by something she ate as a baby).

Meanwhile another Belgian family, also calling itself de Béthune (represented by Félix-Antoine Joseph (de) Béthune, Burgomeister of Courtrai, was ennobled in 1845 and created a Baron in 1855 (extended to all his descendants in 1871). In 1866 this same Félix obtained the Papal title of Count, but this has never been recognized in Belgium. By the device of having himself adopted by shop-girl, a Mlle Gabrielle Sully, Baron Etienne de Béthune was able to add the name Sully. Thus emerged the present Béthune-Sully family, which has no connection at all with the ancient family of that name.

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