Jan I of Brabant is the most famous duke of Brabant. During his short reign, he managed to carve out his place in history, his deeds appealing to both the common folk and scholars. Jan of Brabant was born in 1252 as son of Hendrik IV and Aleidis of Burgundy. At that time, the duchy of Brabant covered part of what is now the south of the Netherlands and the north of Belgium. It was a rich and prosperous region, strategically in the center of Europe.

In 1261, his father died. This power vacuum drew the attention of competitors, such as the duke of Gelre, which is in what is now the east of the Netherlands. His mother decided that Jan should inherit the throne, rather than his retarded older brother Hendrik IV. He received a thorough education in Latin, French, and the art of war. In 1267, he became Duke of Brabant at the young age of 15.

In 1270, he married the daughter of the French king Louis IX, Margaretha. It was a politically motivated marriage, which was all the more clear because she was originally promised to Hendrik IV, his older brother. The marriage did not last long: Margareta died while giving birth in 1271. This left Jan without a heir. Jan, however, would not let this stand in the way of his carnal desires, and he started a rather large number of affairs-even by the standards of those days. He fell truly in love with a simple red-headed peasant girl, Janneke Pijlijser. His mother introduced him to another Margaretha, Margaretha of Flandres, who was the heir of Guy of Flandres, in 1273. This did not stop his extramarital affairs, though.

In 1285, Jan joined the war against Aragon, at the request of his brother in law, the king of France. For his efforts, he was knighted.

His wife died in that same year, making him vow never to remarry. He could not marry his one true love, Janneke Pijlijser. as she was a peasant girl and he a mighty duke. His love for her manifested in the form of many love poems.

Limburg was vulnerable to invasion, as Irmgard died childless in 1283. Jan decided to snatch the opportunity, which brought him in conflict with Reinnoud of Gelre, who also had a claim to Limburg. Both started bringing in their allies, and in 1288, this culminated in a huge battle, with on the one hand Jan, together with the counts of Berg, Gulik and Loon, and on the other sided the archbishop of Köln, Reinnout of Gelre and Henry of Luxembourgh. On the 5th of June, at Worringen, Jan of Brabant rode to victory at the head of his troop, in spite of being vastly outnumbered. This victory is considered his most important achievement.

Jan was a huge fan of the knighlty practice of jousting tournaments. During his reign, he organized 72, winning all but the last. In one of those tournaments, which he organized in England, he won a princess bride for his son Jan II. In the last tournament, he was mortally wounded. He died, at age 42, like a true knight, in 1294

Summarizing his life, there seems to be almost too much Jan to fit in one person. Jousting champion, master of strategy, lover, poet, knight... He is exactly like the knights and nobles portrayed in medieval fantasy. Only this man was all too real.

There are more Dukes named Jan of Brabant, but this one is the most famous by far.

Sources:
http://www.michel-tencate.tmfweb.nl/hertogjan.htm
http://www.vriendenvanhertogjan.nl/
http://henry.vinden.nl/hertogjan/historie.html
http://www.sintermeerten.nl/projecten/woeringen/content-opdracht2.htm
http://members.home.nl/joopbelet/Waar4.htm
http://www.ping.be/~ping0803/Dorpen/historisch.htm

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