Monday, 24 July 2017

Philip the Good

John the Fearless 
Unto Us a Child is Born

Philip[i] was born on 31st July 1396, the only son of the Count of Nevers, John the Fearless[ii] and his wife Margaret of Bavaria[iii]. The couple already had two daughters, Mary[iv]  born in 1393 and Margaret born in December 1393. They had three daughters who died young; Catherine, Isabella and Joan and then in 1404 came the birth of Anne and in 1407 their last child Agnes[v] was born.

There is no record of Philip’s upbringing, although he must have received a princely education as his father’s only son. He could read and write with great facility, in later life Philip read for pleasure and was known for his letter writing. He would have been taught Latin and undoubtedly spoke French and possibly German[vi]. And from the age of three he had a tutor who taught him to ‘read, write and speak Flemish’ although he does not seem to have made much progression under his masters Pierre Taquelin and Jehan de Rassighem.

Philip also rode and found great pleasure in the hunt. Philip was taught the knightly skills and had some knowledge of military command that he put into use as an adult. He may very well have been shown some of the skills of the armourer as, when he was old, one of his pleasures was mending knives[vii]. As a youth Philip also enjoyed tennis, archery, and jousting.

Margaret of Bavaria
From the very beginning John’s children were seen as assets by both their father and grandfather, who had used his own children similarly. Shortly before his death Philip the Bold planned a Franco-Burgundian four way marriage alliance;

1.        ‘Margaret, John the Fearless’s eldest daughter, to marry the dauphin Louis.

2.       Philip, son of John the Fearless, to marry Michelle of France.

3.       Another daughter of John the Fearless, unnamed, to marry John, Duke of Touraine, younger brother to the dauphin Louis.

4.      Jacqueline of Bavaria, daughter of William of Bavaria and Margaret of Burgundy, to marry Charles, youngest son of Charles VI.’[viii]

Between 1404 and 1407 the alliance began to take shape as Margaret duly married the Dauphin[ix]; but John’s niece Jacqueline married John of Touraine rather than Charles.

At the age of eight, on 28th January 1405 Philip was made Count of Charolais. About the same time Philip was engaged to Michelle. The couple were married in June 1409; Michelle brought with her the promise of a dowry of 120,000 francs[x], not all of which was paid.

Death of the Duke of Orléans

Assassination of Louis d'Orleans
In 1404 John’s father Philip the Bold[xi] died and John inherited the Duchy of Burgundy. He was now the head of the House of Valois-Burgundy, a cadet line of the House of Valois, whose head was the ruler of France[xii]. He passed the Countship of Nevers to his brother Philip. John inherited the Valois family infighting over who was to control France. Charles VI’s minority had been notable for the free-spending of the king’s uncles on their own interests.

In 1388 Charles had taken the reins of government into his own hands, but in 1392 suffered a mental breakdown[xiii], killing four of his knights and almost killing his brother Louis d’Orléans, in the forest of Le Mans. Charles bouts of insanity became more frequent and a battle royal developed between Louis d’Orléans and John the Fearless as to who would control the king and the kingdom[xiv].

In November 1407 John employed a gang of hired killers[xv] to attack and kill Louis on his way home one night. The Paris Parlement recorded;

‘This evening, at about eight o’clock, Messire Louis….was struck down and killed by eight or nine armed men, who had been hidden in a house…for a week or two. They cleaved his head in two with a halberd so that he was knocked from his horse and his brains strewn on the pavement.’[xvi]

John immediately justified the killing by accusing Louis of ‘vice, corruption and sorcery’ accompanied by a long list of public and private villainies. John gained the support of the masses by opposing the latest royal tax. He fled Paris on 26th November narrowly escaping being killed himself. The result of Louis’ murder was a vicious fight to the death between the Orléanists[xvii] and the Burgundians as the new young Duc d’Orléans joined with his father-in-law Bernard, Count of Armagnac to gain justice for his father.

Civil War

Queen Isabeau (L)
John was a member of the council advising Queen Isabeau who was in charge of the country while her husband was indisposed[xviii]. The civil war between the Burgundians and the Armagnacs was of no real account abroad when France’s bitter rivals, the English, were focussed on problems at home. Having recently taken control of his own country and placing himself on the throne, Henry IV did not have the time to take up the reins of the Hundred Years War; he was too busy consolidating his power following the usurpation of Richard II[xix].

By late 1407 John was viewed as the most powerful noble in France; the podestà of Lucca was informed that;

‘You may be quite sure that the Duke of Burgundy will remain the most influential and powerful prince of this kingdom. His power is based on the troops which he can raise in his lands. He can muster so many that he fears no one.’[xx]

John not only used his own men in his war with the Armagnacs, but also persuaded his relatives to loan their soldiers to help fight his battles. He was possessed of some military skills[xxi] and also employed capable captains whose advice he paid attention to.

While John was off fighting his wife and son ruled his Burgundian lands for him. Margaret of Bavaria spent much of her time in the southern Burgundian lands, based in Dijon[xxii]. In 1410 the fifteen year old Philip was made John’s resident personal representative in Flanders. John commissioned his son as;

‘Lieutenant and Governor-General in our absence of our lands of Flanders and Artois.’[xxiii]

He acted as ruler with the assistance of John’s Chancellor Jehan de Saulx. Philip stayed in Ghent, always a trouble spot, with the burgesses and townspeople jealous of their freedoms. Philip was an effective and active head of government acting in collaboration with the town council of Ghent. Philip also had two Flemish nobles attached to his hotel; Guillaume de Halewyn and Jacques de Lichtervelde.

John’s influence extended over the Netherlands and in 1409, 1411 and 1413 summonsed the rulers of the Low Countries to conferences over which he presided. At the 1409 conference John settled a dispute between Anthony of Brabant[xxiv] and William of Bavaria. Philip and Michelle were present at the 1413 conference.


The Fifteenth Century – Margaret Aston, WW Norton and Co 1979

The Hundred Years War – Alfred Burne, Folio Society 2005

Europe: Hierarchy and Revolt 1320-1450 – George Holmes, Fontana 1984

The Fifteenth Century – EF Jacob, Oxford University Press 1997

A Distant Mirror – Barbara Tuchman, Papermac 1989

John the Fearless – Richard Vaughan, Longmans, Green and Co Ltd, 1966

Philip the Bold – Richard Vaughan, Boydell Press 2011

Philip the Good – Richard Vaughan, Boydell Press 2014


[i] Later given the sobriquet ‘the Good’
[ii] Known in French as Jean Sans Peur
[iv] Mary married Adolph, Duke of Cleves
[vi] There is no record of Philip taking a translator when he visited the Holy Roman Emperor’s court as an adult
[vii] Along with, inter alia, mending broken glasses and making clogs; Philip had a mobile room made, where he could indulge in his hobbies; it was taken with him on his peregrinations. His son had it destroyed after Philip’s death
[viii] John the Fearless - Vaughan
[ix] Who died in December 1415; Margaret then married Arthur de Richemont, Duke of Brittany. Louis’ brother John then became Dauphin and he died in 1417, possibly because of an abscess in the head or, as rumour had it, the old medieval standby – poison.
[x] In 2015 the relative: historic standard of living value of that income or wealth is £76,240,000.00 labour earnings of that income or wealth is £770,200,000.00 economic status value of that income or wealth is £2,539,000,000.00 economic power value of that income or wealth is £44,120,000,000.00
[xi] Philip had been one of four of the king’s uncles who ruled France during the minority of Charles VI. The others were John, Duke of Berry, Louis, Duc d’Anjou and Louis, Duke of Bourbon (grandfather of Charles of Bourbon (see note vi above)
[xii] John was the grandson of Jean II of France and thus a Prince of the Blood
[xiii] There was evidence of insanity in his mother and on his maternal uncle Louis of Bourbon’s part
[xiv] There had been rivalry between Philip the Bold and Louis d’Orléans but the rivalry escalated once John took charge of Burgundian policy
[xv] The leader of the gang was pensioned off and lived in John’s capital in Bruges for the rest of his life
[xvi] John the Fearless - Vaughan
[xvii] Often referred to as the Armagnacs as the fight was led by Bernard of Armagnac
[xviii] Pope Pius II claimed that Charles VI believed that he was made of glass
[xix] There were numerous rebellions against his usurpation of power and he was also ill during the last years of his reign
[xx] John the Fearless - Vaughan
[xxi] See John the Fearless pp147-50
[xxii] The capital of the southern part of Burgundy
[xxiii] John the Fearless - Vaughan
[xxiv] One of John’s brothers

Monday, 17 July 2017

Ahuitzotl IV

Ahuitzol's conquests (in yellow)
Ahuitzotl’s Conquests

In the first year of his reign Ahuitzotl visited Malinalco to receive the allegiance of the local chieftains. Ahuitzotl was unable to extend into Tarascan lands as the Tarascans had a series of fortresses built along the border with the Aztec empire. In answer the Aztecs built their own fortresses south of the border at Oztoman, Oztotipac[i], and Alahuistan after a campaign lasting from Nine Flint Knife to Ten House (1488-9). Ahuitzotl had all the adults in these areas massacred and their children were rehomed throughout the empire. Two thousand settlers from central Mexico were resettled in the region.

His armies took Acapulco and then ranged north-westwards for over one hundred miles along the Gulf Coast. After conquering Tepoztlan[ii], near what is now Mexico City, Ahuitzotl had a temple built overlooking the Valley of Morelos and, as frequently happened, a festival of the local deity Mayahuel[iii] was co-opted by the victors and added to the festivities relating to agriculture celebrated in Tenochtitlan.

In the year Twelve Reed (1491) Ahuitzotl’s armies conquered Guerrero on the Pacific coast. Here he was extending Aztec rule, as early as 1414 the Aztecs had started nibbling away at the region piecemeal. He may have been hoping to establish a series of tributary towns in an attempt to outflank the Tarascan forts.

List of Ahuitzol's conquests from Codex Mendoza
Around the year Two Rabbit (1494) Ahuitzotl’s armies conquered the central valleys of Oaxaca. The area was rich in cotton, gold and cochineal. In Five House (1497), building on his capture of the Oaxaca region, Ahuitzotl’s armies conquered Tehuantepec. In either Seven Reed (1499) or Nine House (1501) Ahuitzotl’s armies reached Xoconochco[iv] close to the modern day frontier of Guatemala, he subdued the region adding the cacao growing regions to his empire. Early in the new century Ahuitzotl conquered the Huaxteca[v] peoples

This proved to be furthest that Ahuitzotl could press his armies. Beyond Xoconochco the supply lines became too unwieldy; although the armies usually lived off the land their essential but bulky battle insignia, arms and other items needed transporting, and his warriors refused to proceed further.

By the end of his life Ahuitzotl had regained most of the lands lost during the reign of Tizoc. After each victorious campaigning season great feasts were held and the guests were inundated with gifts, using up much of the booty from the fighting.


Temple at Calixtlahuaca
During his reign Ahuitzotl came to an accommodation with the merchants of Tlatelolco; their rumblings of discontent had been growing throughout the years of Tizoc’s reign. He gave them extensive privileges in Tenochtitlan itself and the Aztec armies fought on their behalf. Ahuitzotl reassigned the city of Calixtlahuaca, conquered during Axayacatl’s reign, for colonisation by residents of the Valley of Mexico to consolidate the Aztec hold on the region.

Ahuitzotl’s consort was Tlilancapatl. His sons were Chimalpilli II[vi] and Cuauhtémoc[vii] and he also had a daughter. Little is known of his personal life save that, unlike his brother Axayacatl, Ahuitzotl was not prone to the poetry writing that characterised many previous Tlatoani and other nobles.

Much to the disgust of his successor, Ahuitzotl used the yardstick of service rather than birth when appointing his officials; Moctezuma II[viii] complained bitterly that Ahuitzotl appointed ‘men of low birth’ to be his advisers.

End Times

Ahuitzotl’s major project, apart from the Templo Mayor. was the construction of a large canal to bring fresh water from Coyoacan to Tenochtitlan. Ahuitzotl and his priests celebrated the completion of the project with the priests dressed in the signature green robes of Chalchiuhtlicue, the water goddess.

‘As the water rushed in they reached down to present incense, ground turquoise, and sacrificial quail to the life-giving element; at the same time they spoke to the water itself as a living object of the offering.’[ix]

Some histories relate that the project got off to a bad start when it brought so much water that it flooded the city. There was a flood in Eight Flint Knife (1500) which destroyed many houses; Ahuitzotl was told by Netzahualpilli, Tlatoani of Texcoco, that the gods must be enraged.

Aztec legends relate tales of the terrible destruction caused by a flood sent by Chalchiuhtlicue and ending what the Aztecs called the fourth world. The ending of the fourth world was followed by the fifth world, courtesy of the death of the gods. The priests and people feared that this new major flooding presaged the ending of the fifth and current world and the possible death of their particular deity, the Hummingbird of the South.

Temple of the Jaguars, Malinalco
Certainly the priests blamed the disaster on the fact that Ahuitzotl had rashly killed the ruler of Coyoacan when he had suggested that the canal construction project was unwise, and that the flood had been caused by Chalchiuhtlicue in revenge. A great reconstruction project was launched and the palaces of Tenochtitlan were rebuilt, dykes strengthened and willows and poplars planted along the canals.

Spanish chroniclers relate that Ahuitzotl and the priests frequently performed obsequious ceremonies to Chalchiuhtlicue to drive back floods which must have been fairly prevalent in their lakeside city.

One of Ahuitzotl’s last projects was to arrange the building of a temple in Malinalco which held historical significance for the Aztecs. The work started in Nine House (1501) using forced labour[x].

Death by Misadventure

Ahuitzotl’s reign came to a mysterious end when he allegedly contracted a strange and fatal wasting disease, From a vigorous adult he gradually became just skin and bone which led to suggestions that he may well have been poisoned, like his predecessor. Ahuitzotl’s death in the year Ten Rabbit (1502) was announced to the city by the cries of his female relatives and other persons hired to cry out on the death of the nobility. Whilst they cried the mourners bowed to the earth and clapped their hands. In another version of events the king died from a blow to the head while he was trying to escape the flood at Tenochtitlan.

Ahuitzotl’s corpse was then dressed in his finest robes by the Tlatoani of Texcoco and tied in a squatting pose and then wrapped in cloth and daubed in pitch. This funerary bundle was then cremated in a lavish ceremony on a funeral pyre atop the Great Temple, in front of the temple of Huitzilopochtli. The war captains in their full regalia along with the notable of the Triple Alliance were also in attendance.

Aztecs were buried with supplies to help them through their journey into the afterlife. The manner of a person’s death decided where they would go after death. Those who died in battle entered the eastern paradise Tonatiuhichan, joining the entourage of the sun god[xi]. They were often accompanied by the corpse of their dog to guide them through the afterlife.

If Ahuitzotl did die in the flood then he would have been bound for the paradise ruled over by Tlaloc. Otherwise he was destined for the underworld whose ruler was the skeletal god Mictlantecuhtli, Lord of the Dead and his wife Mictecachuatl. Those entering the underworld were doomed to;

‘Wander through eight hells for four long years. The way through the hells was strewn with obstacles. In the first the souls of the dead were met with a turbulent and rushing river….then they had to pass between two mountains… the seventh hell wild beasts lay in wait to eat up the dead. The soul finally came to rest in the ninth hell.’[xii]

Moctezuma II
Ahuitzol’s ashes, along with those of his attendants[xiii] who had been sacrificed in order to accompany him on his journey, are believed to be buried beneath a sculpture of Tlaltecuhtli near the Zócalo in Mexico City. Ahuitzotl had chosen his nephew Moctezuma II as his successor and Moctezuma was duly elected to be Tlatoani.

Much of what we know about the Aztecs comes from books such as the Codex Mendoza[xiv] and the Codex Borgia[xv] compiled by the conquering Spanish as reports home explaining the complex culture of the enemy, so very different than at home in Europe.


The Ancient Kingdoms of Mexico – Nigel Davies, Penguin 1985

The New World – Nicholas Hordern, Aldus Books/Jupiter Books 1971

The Ancient American Civilisations – Friedrich Katz, Phoenix Press 2000

Moctezuma and the Aztecs – Elisenda Vila Llonch, the British Museum Press 2009

The Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Aztecs and Maya – Charles Phillips, Hermes House 2010

The Aztecs – Richard F Townsend, Thames & Hudson Ltd 2010

Conquistadors – Michael Wood, BBC Worldwide Ltd 2001


[i] Now Nogales
[ii] According to Aztec legend the birthplace of the god Quetzalcoatl
[iii] Associated with the maguey plant
[iv] Or Soconusco
[v] In modern Veracruz; an offshoot of the Maya
[vi] Who became Tlatoani of the Nahua Ecatepec
[vii] He became Tlatoani of Tenochtitlan after the death of his cousin Cuitlahuac, 11th son of Axayacatl
[viii] The last Tlatoani of the Aztecs, Moctezuma was killed during the Conquest by Hernán Cortés men
[ix] The Aztecs - Townsend
[x] The work was completed during the reign of his successor
[xi] This concept was relatively new and was introduced shortly before the Spanish conquest
[xii] Ancient American Civilisations – Katz
[xiii] On the assurance that in the next life they would be reborn as nobles
[xiv] Created for Charles V it was sent back to Spain but the fleet was attacked by French privateers and eventually the manuscript passed into the hands of the Bodleian Library in the 17th century
[xv] Held in the Vatican