Charlotte-Brabantine d'Orange-Nassau

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Entry by Sonja Kmec, 2003

Charlotte-Brabantine de Nassau was born on September 27 , 1580, in Antwerp. She was the fifth daughter of William of Orange, Prince of Nassau, and Charlotte de Bourbon-Montpensier, his third wife. She was orphaned at age four when her father was assassinated on July 10, 1584, in Delft, her mother having died two years earlier. Charlotte-Brabantine was brought up by her stepmother Louise de Coligny, who took her to Paris in 1594. During their stay, her elder sister, Elisabeth de Nassau, was promised in marriage to Henri de La Tour, whose wife, Charlotte de La Marck, heiress to the duchy of Bouillon, had died some months earlier. Three years later, on July 20, 1597, Henri de La Tour arranged a marriage between Charlotte-Brabantine and his cousin and companion in arms, Claude de La Trémoille, Duke of Thouars. The marriage contract was signed on March 11, 1598, at Châtellerault, where the Protestant assembly met. The couple had four children Henri (1598-1674), Charlotte, later Countess of Derby (1599-1664), Elisabeth (1601-1604), and Frédéric (1602-1642). Thanks to her links to the houses of Orange and Bouillon, Charlotte-Brabantine soon came to play a major role in French protestant diplomacy. In 1602, she persuaded her husband not to join the Biron conspiracy, urging him to swear allegiance to the king instead. After Claude de La Trémoille died in October 1604, Charlotte-Brabantine, henceforth the dowager duchess, took over the reins of the family estates, which doubled in size in 1605 due to the inheritance of vast domains in Brittany after the death of the Count of Laval. On February 17, 1606, she swore fealty and homage for these domains in her son's name, and on February 24 that same year, Henri IV sent her letters patent gifting her the usual acquisition costs. However, the inheritance was contested by the dowager countess of Laval, the Marquise of Mirebeau, and, on behalf of their sons, by the Duchess of Elbeuf and the Princess of Condé. Charlotte-Brabantine was confirmed as rightful heiress and was thus able to maintain the considerable influence of the La Trémoille family in Brittany. In 1615, she strengthened her family's political position by reaching an agreement with the dowager duchess of Rohan to share between their sons the presidency of the order of nobility in the Estates-General of Brittany. She also played a diplomatic role on a national level, when Marie de Médicis requested she take part in peace talks held in Loudun in 1616. Charlotte-Brabantine, along with Philippe de Duplessis-Mornay, was one of the most convincing advocates of reconciliation, influencing the king and the Protestant party. In 1617, Louis XIII authorized her to hold the twenty-second national synod in Vitré, where she was then living. In 1620, she obtained a royal pardon for her son, who took up arms on behalf of the queen mother, and in 1621 she encouraged him to support Duplessis-Mornay's efforts to dissolve the assembly in La Rochelle. On May 17, 1621, she welcomed Louis XIII to Thouars, and in the following years devoted much effort to reclaiming the strongholds of Vitré and Taillebourg, which the king had occupied as a precautionary measure. In 1625, she took her daughter Charlotte to The Hague to marry James Stanley, the future Count of Derby. Charlotte-Brabantine traveled with the young couple to England in 1626. There she was appointed lady-in-waiting to Queen Henrietta Maria. On her return to France, she accepted with pragmatism the recantation of her son in July 1628, although she continued to protect the Huguenot inhabitants of Thouars and Vitré. She traveled to England a second time in 1630-31, and her arrival in Chester was greeted with great pomp. She fell ill and returned to the Château of La Mothe in Châteaurenard, where she died on August 19, 1631. Her sister, the Duchess of Landsberg, and the Maréchale of Châtillon were by her bedside.

Historians of Protestantism have long ignored the part played by Charlotte-Brabantine, perhaps because she does not correspond to the image of heroic resistance traditionally associated with the Huguenot minority. In the 1870s, Paul Marchegay and Hugues Imbert published the letters she received from Louise de Coligny, Elisabeth and Flandrine de Nassau, Catherine de Parthenay, and her daughters Henriette and Anne de Rohan. Jean-Luc Tulot is currently working on transcriptions of the vast numbers of still unpublished letters which she herself wrote.

(translated by Susan Pickford)

Selected bibliography

- Imbert, Hugues. Histoire de Thouars. Niort, 1871.
- Licques, David. Histoire de la vie de Messire Philippe de Mornay, seigneur du Plessis-Marly. Leyde, 1647.
- La Trémoïlle, Louis, duc de. Les La Trémoïlle pendant cinq siècles. T.4: 1566-1709. Nantes, Grimaud, 1895.
- Tulot, Jean-Luc. "Les La Trémoïlle et le Protestantisme au XVIe et XVIIe siècle", in Cahiers du Centre de Généalogie Protestante (à paraître).
- Weary, William. "The House of La Trémoïlle Fifteenth through Eighteenth Centuries: Change and Adaptations in a French Noble Family". Journal of Modern History, 40, 1977 («on demand supplement»).


- "Cette femme altière faisait tout trembler autour d'elle (...). Elle persécuta les catholiques, et surtout les prêtres et les moines" (P.V.J. Berthre de Bourniseaux, Histoire de Thouars, Niort, 1824, p.185).

Charlotte-Brabantine d'Orange-Nassau
Title(s) Duchesse de Thouars
Spouses Claude de La Trémoille, duc de Thouars
Birth date 1580
Death 1631
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