Tuesday, 14 March 2017

A Duchess of Burgundy III

Coudenberg (1659)
Isabella gave birth to her first child on 30th December 1430 at Coudenberg. The child, named Antoine was christened on 16th January 1431. He was a sickly child who was left alone by his parents who focussed on matters pertaining to Philip’s domains. Philip and Isabella were seldom apart during the spring and summer and Isabella was pregnant again by the autumn of that year with her second son Joseph.

While she was away in Ghent during January 1432 Isabella despatched someone to ensure that Antoine was well looked after. A short time later she also sent a member of the Ghent council. The council member returned to say that Antoine was feverish, his lungs were congested and he was eating very little. He was also irritable in the care of his wet nurse. Isabella despatched a further member of the court who returned with the sad news that Antoine had died alone in his nursery on February 5th.

Isabella blamed herself for leaving her son during his first major illness, although she was but obeying her husband’s orders, directing affairs in Ghent. On 11th February Isabella was presented with the Great Seal of Ghent which authorised her to conduct business in Philip’s absence. Isabella was assisted by Jean de Thoisy, Bishop of Liège.

With spring Isabella was able to travel and moved between Ghent and Brussels. Coudenberg Castle was filled with soldiers wounded fighting the French; Isabella had the oversight of the men’s treatment and as well as responsibility for the court at Ten Waele.

Joseph was born on April 24th 1432 at Ten Waele. Joseph was weak and listless and not very interested in feeding and was gradually growing weaker. He was baptised on 6th May and died when he was about four months old. Joseph was buried in the Abbey of St Michael in Ghent. His parents conducted pilgrimages to the Abbey of Ponthier and the shrines of St Anthony and St Josse. They returned to Ghent, a city in turmoil, in early August.

Nicolas Rolin (L)
The winter of 1432-3 saw Isabella and Philip spend most of their time while keeping an eye on the, for now quiet, Ghent. Isabella was pregnant again. But Philips’ southern territories were under French military pressure and Philip’s chancellor Nicolas Rolin[i] had been the potential victim of a kidnapping plot masterminded by Georges de la Trémoille[ii],

In mid-June 1433 Isabella joined Philip to travel to the southern half of Philip’s lands. Philip ordered that Isabella was to take over the administration of Dijon while he was in the field against the French. The ducal couple travelled in convoy until they reached Châtillon-sur-Seine. Isabella told Nicolas Rolin;

‘Be aware that your lady duchess demands that you always be in attendance to her advising her in the affairs of your lord. Further, in all the affairs of my lord and his lands, you will consult and advise me because I desire to use all my ability in the employ [of my lord] and to accomplish all the good I can.’[iii]

She was to find the men, supplies and money for Philip’s army.

It was not to be an easy task as Dijon’s economy was dictated by the needs of the great merchant families settled there. The French were continuously attacking the duchy, which impeded Isabella’s progress in dealing with the mayor, guilds and merchant families who controlled Dijon.


Isabella was able to obtain a loan from Odet Molain, who was Philip’s official salt merchant. She then called a meeting of the Estates of Dijon who grudgingly agreed to pay 4,000 francs[iv] to repair the city’s fortresses. Isabella ordered cannon from Ghent to place on the earthen ramparts that guarded Dijon.

Isabella managed to scrounge 1/20th of the city’s financial contributions towards Philip’s army from the controller of the mint. The town of Dôle gave her 23,000 francs[v] while Mâcon threatened to refuse her request. In return she threatened them with her personal attention. By the autumn Isabella had rallied the city’s defences.

Chartreuse de Champmol (1686)
Isabella had her last child Charles on 10th November 1433, he was born in Dijon. Within days, fearful that she would lose this third son of hers, Isabella had Charles consecrated to the Blessed Sacrament. Philip arrived in Dijon later in the month to attend his son’s baptism; the boy’s godfather was Charles of Nevers[vi]. Philip made his son Count of Charolais and inducted him into the Order of the Golden Fleece.

Isabella’s natural devotion to the church was intensified by her fear of losing Charles, lavishing gifts on the Chartreuse de Champmol. In the spring of 1434, when Philip returned to his campaigning, Isabella and Charles took refuge from the plague in the fortress of Talant. To avoid entering the plague-ridden city of Dijon to raise money to support Philip’s army, Isabella sold off many of the gifts she had been endowed with by the towns and cities of Philip’s domains.  

Journeying North

By early 1435 the danger of plague had passed and in April Isabella convoked the Dijon Estates to inform them that she and Charles were joining her husband in the north. Philip’s 1434 campaigning season had been a success and now he was meeting with the French king at Nevers.

Isabella left Dijon to the news that both English and French representatives were to join Philip at Arras for a congress between the warring parties Isabella and Charles arrived in Arras on 5th May. They did not stay there long as the party travelled on, arriving at Coudenberg on June 4th.

Arthur de Richemont
Isabella and her party returned to Arras on August 3rd where Isabella’s English uncle Cardinal Henry Beaufort, the Bishop of Winchester, was to represent the English in negotiations. The two main French representatives were two of Philip’s brother-in-law’s; Arthur Count of Richemont and Charles Duke of Bourbon.

Philip wanted his wife to act as a behind the scenes lobbyist for Burgundian interests at the congress. There were about 5,000 visitors in the town[vii]. The English and the French spent most of their time denouncing one another[viii], refusing to meet in the same room or attend divine service at the same time. Eventually the English flounced out of town on 6th September, it having become clear to them that the French were only interested in detaching the Burgundians from their English allies.

Negotiating for Peace

In the summer of 1436 Flanders burst out into rebellion against her overlord. The civic militia were demanding payment for their services in Calais. Isabella was forced to find 2,400 livres[ix] to fund the defence of the Flemish coast against English attacks. Isabella found herself meeting with the members of the Four Estates of Flanders without her husband.

Isabella (R)
Philip placed Isabella on the Financial Review Commission for all his territories on 25th October 1437. Philip was not interested in the administrative side of ruling; he preferred campaigning and enjoying the life of the super-rich. With the assistance of Hue de Lannoy Isabella was to become adept at winkling out the abuses within the duchy’s financial administration.

On 8th May 1438 Isabella attended a ceremony in Bruges to forgive those who had revolted against their overlord. Philip had refused to return to Bruges unless he was in the company of a greater prince than himself, difficult as Philip was the foremost noble in the region.

Isabella enjoyed her new duties, but she was perceived as ‘moody; overbearing and unreasonably jealous’ by the court where Isabella had tried so hard to fit in. When she first arrived Isabella’s clothes had been considered provincial and ugly; now her wardrobe glittered with the rich costumes fashionable in Burgundy.

Isabella had become suspicious of Philip’s dalliances with women, normal for a man of his position at the time. Every time Isabella treated Philip to a tirade, accusing him of manifest iniquities he loaded her with more responsibilities, thus increasing the divide between the two.

Isabella found herself increasingly isolated from her husband’s court and dependent on the advice of Hue de Lannoy and upon the love of her son. From 1437 Isabella increased her contributions to church foundations, including the Poor Clares.


The Hundred Years War – Alfred Burne, Folio Society 2005

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

Prince Henry – Peter Russell, Yale University Press 2000

Isabel of Burgundy – Aline S Taylor, Madison Books 2001

Philip the Good – Richard Vaughan, Boydell Press 2014

Charles the Bold – Richard Vaughan, Boydell Press 2002


[ii] Charles VII’s Grand Chamberlain
[iii] Isabel of Burgundy - Taylor
[iv] In 2015 the relative: labour cost of that project is £24,050,000.00 economic cost of that project is £1,491,000,000.00 www.measuringworth.com
[v] In 2015 the relative: labour cost of that project is £138,300,000.00 economic cost of that project is £8,570,000,000.00 www.measuringworth.com
[vi] Later accused of witchcraft in an attempt to supplant Charles as Philip’s heir
[vii] France alone sent 28 heralds and poursuivants while Bishop Beaufort had 800 horse in his train and he was only one of the English representatives
[viii] They were fighting for the control of Paris
[ix] In 2015 the relative: labour cost of that project is £14,810,000.00 economic cost of that project is £1,160,000,000.00 www.measuringworth.com

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