Monday, 27 March 2017

A Duchess of Burgundy V

Charlotte of Charolais
A Death in the Family

On 13th July 1446, at the age of thirteen, Charles became a widower. Catherine’s death was partly caused by the local climate which was insalubrious[i]; the lowlands being damp and cold which could have affected chest problems. Catherine suffered from fainting fits brought on by coughing. Her health was also affected by the large amounts of travelling required for those following the peripatetic Burgundian court on its journeyings through Philip’s territories.

Charles and Catherine had become friends and when Philip required Charles to attend him in Arras and enter a jousting tourney there in the late spring of 1446 Isabella and her entourage followed. Isabella wanted to protect her enthusiastic son from himself. Charles was to spend his life unable to accept or understand his own limits.

On the day of the joust Catherine had to return to her apartments as she was too ill to sit out in the cold misty air. Charles VII sent two doctors to restore his daughter’s health and Catherine’s husband sat at his wife’s side and played the harp to her, to no avail. Catherine died at about the age of eighteen.

Philip was a soldier and not a diplomat; having been disappointed in his attempts at an alliance with the French he finally gave Isabella free rein to extend the hand of friendship to her English relations. Philip was interested in gaining official confirmation for his imperial lands and seemed unaware of increasing French determination to bring Burgundy completely under French rule. One of Isabella’s aims was to set up a marriage for her son Charles with a member of the English royal family.

The Queen’s Machinations

Richard, Duke of York
Isabella realised that she would have to work with the Duke of York, who was the heir to the throne, in order to achieve a lasting relationship between Burgundy and England. The main thorn in the package was Margaret of Anjou, still violently opposed to all things Burgundian. Her marriage to Henry VI placed her in a position where she could seriously hurt her enemy Philip and she was not afraid to use her influence.

Henry VI was very unlike his father; he’d grown up to become a quiet religious man who wanted nothing more than peace. His wife was a fiery aggressive woman who can have given him no peace at all[ii]. Richard of York, who had governed England in his nephew Henry’s name, was removed from his post as Lieutenant Governor of Normandy and transferred to the wilds of Ireland.

The English court separated into anti and pro-Burgundian factions. Margaret was interested in furthering her father’s prestige at the French court. The queen, along with her allies the Marquess of Suffolk[iii] and the Earl of Somerset[iv], vied for power with the Duke of York[v]. Isabella’s uncle Cardinal Beaufort had retired from the political fray which meant that Isabella needed a new source of gossip and support.

Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester
The queen and her allies were in the ascendant at court, although the marriage was not popular amongst Henry’s subjects as the county of Maine had been negotiated away by Suffolk.

‘And thus the king of England, Henry VI, granted and gave Maine and Anjou at the request of his queen Margaret….and that aforesaid queen of ours begged the King of England that [they] so be given to her father at the urging of William Pole [Suffolk].’[vi]

Margaret’s coterie were soon able to remove another potential rival, the Duke of Gloucester[vii] who was arrested for treason on 20th February 1447 and died mysteriously three days later.

A Burgundian Misstep

The Flemish weavers were dependent on the English merchants selling good quality goods at an acceptable price from the Staple at Calais[viii]. At the moment only inferior grade wool was available for the Burgundians at prices that were far from attractive. Isabella hoped to work with the English merchants to persuade the Crown to change the rules and regulations governing the Staple.

Anthony, Grand Bastard of Burgundy
In August 1446 the Burgundian representatives were able to sign a continuation of the Anglo-Burgundian mercantile agreement extending the treaty until 1458. Isabella spent the autumn in Coudenberg monitoring the factions in the English court. She felt herself to be isolated and sought out the company of Anthony; the Grand Bastard of Burgundy[ix]. Anthony joined with Isabella and Hue de Lannoy preparing plans to persuade Philip to revoke his prohibition against the transportation of English cloth throughout Burgundy.

With Gloucester dead and when her Uncle Beaufort died in April 1447 and with the Duke of York in Ireland, Isabella found herself short on allies and information from the English court. Philip’s imposition of a further 5% tax on English wool coming from Calais only exacerbated the situation.

Burgundian merchants in London were attacked and Henry VI had to place them under his own protection. At the same time, he needed to protect his lands in Normandy from French attack[x],

‘Four armies converged on the duchy from the east, south and west. King Charles attached himself to the eastern one, commanded by Dunois[xi], and directed on the capital [Rouen]….the mob so worked on Somerset that he weakly allowed the archbishop to negotiate for a surrender.’[xii]

War in Burgundy

It took Isabella until the spring of 1451 to persuade the merchants of the Staple to lower their prices and to pay 16,000 gold saluts[xiii] as an indemnity payment in return for an exemption from duty on wool and cloth in Burgundy.

Simon de Lalaing
When Philip amassed his troops outside the walls of Ghent he was infuriated to find the gates of his city closed against him. All his men in the city were executed, runners were sent to neighbouring towns for support and the government was closed down. On 30th March 1452 Philip declared war on one of his own possessions and laid waste to the land thereabouts.

‘Considering the obstinacy and continuing wickedness of the Ghenters….we have summoned some of our noble vassals and loyal subjects from around here….to reduce them to obedience and humility towards us with God’s help.’[xiv]

Isabella’s journey from Brussels to Bruges was across war-torn countryside. Not long after arriving in Bruges Isabella was informed that Oudenaarde, one of Ghent’s allies, had been taken by Simon de Lalaing[xv]. The men of Ghent responded by attacking Oudenaarde and besieged it for two weeks, threatening to kill Lalaing’s two sons. Philip’s armies, one from Seclin and the other from Grammont, raised the siege. Philip attacked Ghent twice in May and other towns allied with Ghent were attacked.

The townspeople of Ghent turned to Charles VII as Philip’s overlord; he was only too happy to interfere in Philips’ affairs. He sent envoys to arrange peace between the two belligerents. One of Charles’ demands was that Philip return of the towns of the Somme valley to France.


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

Margaret of Anjou – Helen E Maurer, Boydell Press 2003

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


[i] She is believed to have died from tuberculosis
[ii] Henry inherited a form of madness (possibly schizophrenia) through his mother, whose father Charles VI of France had suffered bouts of insanity. Their son Edward was born in 1453
[iii] William de la Pole had been upgraded in rank from Earl to Marquess in 1444 as a result of the successful negotiations for the Anglo-French marriage of which he had been the main proponent. He would later be made Duke of Suffolk
[iv] Edmund Beaufort was made Duke of Somerset in 1448
[v] Quondam Lord Protector of England
[vi] Margaret of Anjou - Maurer
[vii] Another of the king’s uncles
[viii] The designated Staple port
[ix] Unlike other courts, in Burgundy the bastard children of the ruler were treated very much as the legitimate children were; the boys had careers and the girls were married off. Isabella was on good terms with many of Charles’ half siblings. Anthony received an official salary of 3,840 crowns per annum worth in 2015 the relative: historic standard of living value of that income or wealth is £2,741,000.00 labour earnings of that income or wealth is £22,610,000.00 economic status value of that income or wealth is £93,890,000.00 economic power value of that income or wealth is £1,748,000,000.00 Anthony went on to serve Charles after their father died.
[x] The French invaded Normandy in early November 1447 and took Rouen on 10th.
[xi] Half-brother of Charles of Orléans
[xii] The Hundred Years Way - Burne
[xiii] On the assumption that a salut was roughly worth the same as a guilder, pound or livre this would be worth in 2015 the relative: historic standard of living value of that income or wealth is £11,710,000.00 labour earnings of that income or wealth is £91,260,000.00 economic status value of that income or wealth is £393,800,000.00 economic power value of that income or wealth is £7,418,000,000.00
[xiv] Philip the Good - Vaughan
[xv] Admiral of Flanders

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