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

1 comment:

  1. I know it's flippant, but the picture of John the Fearless appears to be examining the end of his rather long nose in terrified contemplation that it may be growing. Was the painter incompetent, or did John piss him off and that was his revenge, one wonders!