Robert De Flanders III 37
- Born: 1249, Flandres, France 37
- Died: 17 Sep 1322, Ypern aged 73 37
Robert III of Flanders (1249-1322), also called Robert of Bethune and nicknamed The Lion of Flanders was Count of Nevers 1273-1322 and Count of Flanders 1305-1322.
Robert was the oldest son of Guy of Dampierre from his first marriage with Mathilda of Bethune. His father essentially gave up the rule of Flanders to him in November 1299, during his war with Philip IV of France. Both father and son were taken into captivity in May 1300, and Robert was not released until 1305.
Robert married twice. His first wife was Blanche (d. 1269), daughter of Charles I of Sicily and Beatrice of Provence, in 1265. They had one son, Charles, who died young. His second wife was Yolande (d. June 11, 1280), Countess of Nevers, daughter of Eudes of Burgundy, in c. 1271. They had five children:
- Louis (d. July 24, 1322, Paris), Count of Nevers, married December 1290 Jeanne of Rethel (d. aft. March 12, 1328), Countess of Rethel
- Robert (d. 1331), Count of Marle, married c. 1323 Jean of Brittany (1296-March 24, 1363), Lady of Nogent-le-Rotrou.
- Jeanne (d. October 15, 1333), married 1288 Enguerrand IV de Coucy (d. 1310), Viscount of Meaux
- Yolande (d. 1313), married c. 1287 Walter II of Enghien (d. 1309)
- Matilda, married c. 1314 Matthias of Lorraine (d. c. 1330), Lord of Warsberg
Robert of Bethune gained military fame in Italy, when he fought at the side of his father in law, Charles I of Sicily (1265-1268) against the last Hohenstaufens, Manfred and Conradin. Together with his father he took part in 1270 in the Eighth Crusade, led by Saint Louis. After his return form the Crusade he continued to be a loyal aid for his father, politically and military, in the fight against the attempts of the French King Philip IV the Fair to add Flanders to the French crown lands.
Guy of Dampierre broke all feudal bonds with the French king (January 20, 1297) mainly under his influence. When the resistance seemed hopeless Robert allowed himself to be taken prisoner, together with his father and his brother William of Crèvecoeur, and taken to the French King (May 1300). Shortly before that he had become the de facto ruler of Flanders. He was locked in the castle of Chinon. Contrary to popular belief, and the romantic portrayal by Hendrik Conscience in his novel about these events (The Lion of Flanders), he did not take part in the Battle of the Golden Spurs.
In July 1305, after his father had died in captivity, he was allowed to return to his county. The execution of the Treaty of Athis-sur-Orge would mark the rule of Count Robert. Initially he achieved some success in moving the countryside and the cities to fulfill their duties. However, in April 1310 he started to radically resist the French, with support of his subjects and his family. Both diplomatically and military he managed to make a stance against the French King. When he marched to Lille in 1319 the militia from Ghent refused to cross the Leie with him. When his grandson Louis I of Nevers pressured him as well, Robert gave up the battle and went to Paris in 1320 to restore feudal bonds with the French King.
But even after that, he would hamper the execution of the Treaty of Athis-sur-Orge. Robert died in 1322 and was succeeded by his grandson, Louis, Count of Nevers and Rethel.
He was buried in Flanders in the Sint-Martin's Cathedral in Ieper, as was his explicit wish. His body was only allowed to be transferred to the abby of Flines (near Dowaai) when Lille and Dowaai were again part of the County of Flanders. His first wife and his father were also buried in this abby.
 A symbol of Flemish nationalism
During the 19th century, numerous nationalist-minded writers, poets and artists in various European countries were busily taking up heroic characters from their countries' respective histories and myths, and making them into romantic symbols of national feeling and pride. The prominent Flemish writer Hendrik Conscience did that very effectively with the character of Robert of Bethune, and his book "The Lion of Flanders" ("De Leeuw van Vlaanderen") is still considered a masterpiece of Flemish literature.
As noted, hisotorians have accused Conscience of some historical inaccuracies such as depicting his hero as having taken part in the Battle of the Golden Spurs, contrary to historical fact. It was also pointed out that in reality The Lion of Flanders probably did not even speak Dutch. Certainly, he could not have been in any way a Flemish nationalist, having lived in the feudal era, centuries before the very concept of nationalism appeared. The same could, however, be said of numerous other ancient heroes made into the symbols of various national movements - and such criticism never stopped nationalists from continuing to revere such heroes.
Thus, within Flemish minded circles Robert of Bethune, alias The Lion of Flandres, is up to the present seen as a symbol of Flemish pride and freedom. This is in particular due to the romantic, albeit somewhat incorrect, portrayal of him by Hendrik Conscience.
During the Second World War, Nazi Germany undertook the policy of calling the Waffen-SS units raised among various occupied countries and peoples by the names of respective national heroes, so as to mask the fact that those joining these units were in fact collaborators with a foreign occupier. As part of that policy, the Flemish Waffen-SS unit was called Lions of Flanders.
Conscience's portaryal of the count also inspired De Vlaamse Leeuw (Flemish: "The Flemish Lion"), long the unofficial anthem of Flemish nationalists and in recent decades officially recognised as the national anthem of Flanders.