Tuesday, 7 March 2017

A Duchess of Burgundy II

Philip the Good
Offers of Marriage

It was to be another eight years before Isabella was to receive a second offer of marriage. By then her former suitor was long dead[i], leaving a babe in arms, Henry VI, as his successor and one of his brothers, John Duke of Bedford, as his regent overseeing the continuation of the war. Isabella’s second offer came from Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy who was in need of an heir. One of his courtiers, Jehan Gueniot[ii], commented that there was a choice of five suitable ladies;

‘It is said that there are five marriageable young women, hearty and handsome. That is to say Robert of Bar’s daughter[iii]; the two sisters of the King of Navarre[iv]; the king of Portugal’s daughter; and a noble English lady.’[v]

On 18th December 1428 Philip’s offer was placed before King John; his delegation was led by Philip’s chamberlain and chief counsellor, Seigneur de Roubaix. John called his sons to meet him at Aviz[vi] where he held his court. The Governor of Lille, Duke Baudoin de Lannoy, joined Roubaix and the Burgundian ambassador André de Chalonja on 19th January 1429 to present Philip’s proposal to John and his sons.

Baudoin de Lannoy
While the thirty-one year old Isabella was waiting for her fate to be decided she had her face painted in miniature by Philip’s order. The artist was Jan van Eyck[vii], Philip’s official court painter[viii]. Philip’s offer may have been prompted by Prince Peter’s visit to Burgundy in 1494-5; for Philip the marriage would help solidify trade between the merchants of Flanders and Portugal.

Philip also wanted to maintain an equilibrium in his relations with France[ix] and England. This was a reversal of his previous two marriages; his first wives had French connections. A Portuguese bride would help keep Burgundy balanced between the two combatants. The proposal was accepted and on 2nd February four messengers hastened back to Philip with the good news. After casting his eye on van Eyck’s miniature Philip was pleased to confirm the contract which was presented to King John on 11th June.

The Union Between Burgundy and Portugal

The marriage between Isabella and Philip took place by proxy on 24th July, the day after her father signed the contract. Seigneur de Roubaix stood in place of Philip. The following eight weeks were filled with entertainments; feasts, tournaments and morality plays as Portugal prepared to bid adieu to its princess. On 30th September King John and his sons led the flotilla of twenty ships that were to escort Isabella to Burgundy, from Lisbon to Porto where Isabella boarded.

The convoy left Portugal on 19th October heading for Sluys. The journey was made horrendous by terrible weather as the flotilla crossed the Bay of Biscay and then hugged the coastline for the remainder of the journey. Several boats sank and the fleet was dispersed, two ships arriving in Flanders a month before Isabella. Most of Isabella’s trousseau was washed overboard. Some of the fleet took shelter in Southampton before resuming their onward journey to Sluys.

Isabella disembarked on 26th December, with her brother Ferdinand and Seigneur Roubaix in attendance. She was weary after the long and dangerous voyage. Huge crowds, who had come to catch a first glimpse of their new duchess, meant created difficulties for Isabella and her entourage as they made their way to the lodgings provided for her in Sluys. It was not until 7th January at a religious ceremony that she and Philip were wed.

Isabella and Philip
Philip had arranged for four hundred carts[x] to bring raw materials for the feasting from his southern capital of Dijon, along with many more from Lille. The wedding was celebrated at Philip’s northern capital of Bruges at his palace, the Princehof. Bruges was a centre for artists, banking and weaving and spinning and had a population of around 200,000.

Isabella made her formal entrance into Bruges on 8th January and there followed a period of feasting and tournaments. The first banquet interspersed a series of tableaux between courses. At the final banquet where;

‘The pièce de résistance was a huge pie, containing a live sheep dyed blue with gilded horns,’[xi]

After the wedding Philip instituted the Order of the Golden Fleece. This was his attempt to bind his disparate lands together in a chivalric order based on the notions of Arthurian chivalry.

Introducing the New Duchess

Isabella’s new husband had a reputation as a womaniser; Philip had kept a bevy of mistresses while married the first two times. His first wife was Michelle of Valois, daughter of Charles VI of France whose only child died in infancy. When Michelle died in 1422[xii] Philip then married Bonne of Artois[xiii]. Bonne died in 1425 without having given Philip a child.

Over his lifetime Philip had at least twenty-four mistresses[xiv] and at least eighteen illegitimate children of whom his favourites were Corneille and Anthony[xv]. Philip’s licentious lifestyle must have come as a shock to the pious Isabella. After marrying Isabella Philip took as his motto ‘Autre n’auray’[xvi] but it was generally understood to mean no other wife. Nevertheless Philip treated Isabella with all courtesy; according to Philippe Wielant[xvii];

‘Duke Philip always showed considerable affection for my lady, Isabel of Portugal, his wife, and always took her with him everywhere and lodged her near him.’[xviii]

One of Philips’ first actions after the wedding was to take Isabella on a triumphal progress around his domains, to introduce his new wife to his subjects. Jeanne de Harcourt[xix] was the new duchess’s companion, instructing her in the customs and practises of the profligate Burgundian court which was very different from what Isabella had been used to in Portugal.

The first point of call was Ghent where they arrived on 16th January. Travelling through Courtrai they arrived in Lille on 14th February and from thence journeyed on to Brussels, Arras, Peronne, Malines and then Noyon. In March Isabella, who was pregnant, chose to recuperate from her journey in Noyon. She stayed there for most of the spring of 1430.

Charles VII of France was energised by Joan of Arc into fighting for his crown and country; he succeeded in beating back the English. Following the capture of Joan in 1431 by Burgundian forces and her subsequent trial and burning at the stake by the English, Charles VII cancelled the truces arranged with Philip who prepared to lead his soldiers back into battle. In a letter of 19th January 1431, to his council in Ghent, Philip ordered his council in Ghent;

‘You will serve the duchess in her state and office representing me during my absence’[xx]

He appointed Isabella as administrator of his northern territories during the winter of 1430-1. Shortly before this appointment Isabella had proved her worth by negotiating payment of ten thousand guilders[xxi] in reparation for damages done to Namur by the men of Liège.


The Hundred Years War – Alfred Burne, Folio Society 2005

Joan of Arc – Kelly Devries, The History Press 2011

The Maid and the Queen – Nancy Goldstone, Penguin Books 2012

The Reign of Henry VI – RA Griffiths, Sutton Publishing Ltd 1998

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

The Fifteenth Century – EF Jacob, Oxford University Press 1997

Joan of Arc – Edward Lucie-Smith, Penguin Books 2000

Isabel of Burgundy – Aline S Taylor, Madison Books 2001

Philip the Good – Richard Vaughan, Boydell Press 2014


[i] Dying of dysentery in August 1422
[ii] A Maître des Comptes from Dijon
[iii] Robert of Bar appears to have had two daughters unwed at this time; Bonne and Jeanne; it is not clear which one is referred to
[iv] Again it is not possible to ascertain exactly who the author of the letter referred to
[v] Philip the Good - Vaughan
[vi] Near the source of the Sorraia River
[vii] Famed for his painting of the Arnolfini Marriage in the National Gallery London
[viii] His salary was 100 French livres per annum. In 2015 the relative: historic standard of living value of that income or wealth is £70,510.00 labour earnings of that income or wealth is £614,100.00 economic status value of that income or wealth is £2,252,000.00 economic power value of that income or wealth is £39,790,000.00 www.measuringwealth.com
[ix] He was the premier peer of France as well as being the sovereign Duke of Brabant and Limburg, Count of Flanders, Artois and Franche-Compté, Hainault, Holland, Zeeland, Namur (John III of Namur sold his county to Philip in 1429) and Charolais, in addition he was a Marquess of the Holy Roman Empire and Lord of Friesland
[x] Including 100 wagons of Burgundian wine, 15 cartloads of tapestries and 50 carts of furnishings and jewels. There was a further 50 carts of arms and armour to be used in the tournaments
[xi] Philip the Good - Vaughan
[xii] It was believed that she had been poisoned by one of her ladies-in-waiting who had been sent away from court just before Michelle’s death. The woman in question was not charged
[xiii] A widow whose first husband the Count of Nevers died at Agincourt
[xiv] He kept several mistresses at a time, based in various locations for ease of accessibility wherever he was during his travels; there were mistresses in Brussels, Arras, Louvain, Bruges and Lille amongst others
[xv] Corneille was given the title of Le Grand Bâtard du Burgoyne and this title passed to Anthony on Corneille’s death
[xvi] I will have no other
[xvii] A Flemish legal expert and historian, a contemporary of Philip’s
[xviii] Charles the Bold - Vaughan
[xix] Younger daughter of the Count of Harcourt John VII
[xx] Isabel of Burgundy - Taylor
[xxi] In 2015 the relative:historic standard of living value of that income or wealth is £6,883,000.00 labour earnings of that income or wealth is £62,010,000.00 economic status value of that income or wealth is £248,500,000.00 economic power value of that income or wealth is £4,427,000,000.00 www.measuringworth.com

1 comment:

  1. an unimaginably difficult life to the modern woman, arduous journeys and marriage to a stranger who disses you with a troop of whores.