Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Philip the Good X

Philip the Good
Philip the Duke

Philip was unimaginably rich; he was probably richest man of his times not to wear a crown. Not only did he have, among other residences, his palace in Brussels, the Prinsenhof in Bruges, the ducal palace in Dijon, the castle at Hesdin in Artois, a residence in Lille, but the family’s Hôtel d’Artois was kept ready for his infrequent visits to Paris.

Philip’s court in Brussels was the repository for much of Philip’s wealth held as jewellery and plate. According to one visitor, Leo of Rozmital, the contents of Philip’s treasure chests would take three days to inspect. The principal items were worth 110,000 crowns[i]. The list included

‘A clasp with King Richard’s device of a stag, ornamented with twenty-two large pearls, two square balais[ii], two saphires on one side and a ruby, with a large square diamond the size of a hazel-nut.’[iii]

Gille Binchois (R)
The treasures were both for general use; Philip daily used a gold goblet with a lid, and for pawning when Philip needed to fund an army. In May 1456 many of the treasures were put on public display in Holland when rumours abounded that Philip could not afford to pay an army to conquer Utrecht.

Philip was a patron of the artists Jan van Eyck, who was his valet de chambre, and Rogier van der Weyden, but preferred tapestries of which he had an inordinate number. One such tapestry still survives in part; ‘the History of Gideon and the Golden Fleece’[iv] by Jehan le Haze. The composer Gille Binchois was Philip’s chaplain and Robert Morton and Guillaime Dufay were also in Philip’s employ. The poet Michault Taillevent was his joueur des farces.

Philip the Man

Philip was not a morning person and often slept in late. He had a papal dispensation to hear mass in the afternoon not the morning. Parisian chronicler Jehan Maupoint commented;

‘It is noteworthy that the duke heard mass every day between two and three o’clock in the afternoon. This was invariably his habit, for he stayed up at night almost till dawn, turning night into day to watch dances, entertainments and other amusements all night long….it was said that he had a dispensation to do this.’[v]

Notre Dame de Boulogne
Philip gave alms to the poor and made pilgrimages much like any other rich noble, visiting Notre Dame de Boulogne at least 12 times. Like others of his station Philip had a mobile chapel designed to be carried on a wagon when he took to the field. Despite the munificence of his table Philip was a moderate eater.

The main activity of the Burgundian court was falconry and hunting. By 1463 Philip employed a master-falconer, three falconers and three assistants. Only the master was fully employed and the others took turns at serving at court; the falcons were based in Philip’s northern territories. The ducal hunt was based in Burgundy and in 1427 the master-huntsman had a budget of £2,000[vi].

Philip owned one of the greatest libraries of illustrated books of the time containing over 1,000 books[vii]. He enjoyed reading romantic literature and farces. He was not a great talker but when he spoke it was to the point; his surviving letters show that he had a sense of humour that he showed to his close relatives. Philip was always polite to women, claiming that they ruled over 39 households out of 40.


Isabella of Burgundy
For most of his life Philip enjoyed good health but in June 1458 Philip fell ill with a fever after playing tennis, losing consciousness for 36 hours. Early in 1462 he again fell ill and his son and heir and his wife were summonsed to his sickbed. They begged him to take sustenance. The flurry of doctors who attended the duke insisted on bloodletting and demanding that Philip have his head shaved to speed on his recovery. He refused to do so until all his courtiers had shaved their heads.

Philip’s life was saved by the Duke of Milan’s doctor, Luca Alessandro who was accompanying a Milanese embassy. Philip began to recover from his illness during the spring, although he was still quarrelling with his son about the de Croy family. Philip’s bouts of illness were becoming worryingly frequent and he required the attendance of his wife when he was ill.

On 22nd July 1462 Philip appointed his son as his representative in Holland. Charles went to visit the state his father had made him responsible for during August and September. He did not stay long as he was concerned that Philip would depart on crusade leaving his lands in the care of someone other than himself, or that he might be disinherited. In 1463 Charles negotiated with the Dutch for his recognition as Philip’s heir in the Netherlands, exacerbating the quarrel between himself and his father.

In an attempt to create harmony between Burgundy and France Philip agreed to sell back the French towns in the Somme that Charles VII had given him in 1435. In 1461 Charles VII’s death meant that Louis was now king of France and Philip had high hopes of his nephew. Louis agreed to pay Philip 400,000 livres[viii] for the return of the lands, a further cause of discontent between Philip and Charles who strongly disagreed with the agreement.

In February 1464 Louis asked Philip to postpone his crusade; if the negotiations with the English to end the war failed Philip would be needed to fight shoulder to shoulder with France. Louis wrote to Philip urging that;

‘It would scarcely be honourable for him to help…..others to recover their kingdoms from the Turks while leaving the kingdom of France open to an attack from the English who have done more harm here than the Turks in the lands they have conquered.’[ix]

Philip had always taken Charles VII and Louis as men of good faith. He failed to understand that their aim was to reinsert the Burgundian lands back into the kingdom of France, with Philip as a vassal rather than an independent prince. Charles did not make that mistake.

Death of a Duke

Charles the Bold
Charles and Philip were reconciled in Lille in June 1464 but it was not until the September that Charles finally gained ascendancy in the Burgundian court when a relative of the de Croy family[x] was arrested for seeking to kill Charles in Gorinchem. On October 7th Philip left Hesdin, where he had spent most of the year, just before Louis was due to arrive. It took Charles a further six months to bring about the downfall of the de Croy family. From then on the policy of Burgundy was increasingly hostile to France.

Charles was in the policy driving seat from this point on, but Philip still ruled his domains. He retained the use of his faculties until shortly before his death in Bruges on 15th June 1467.

‘At two o’clock after midnight a quantity of phlegm gathered in his throat and he was so troubled by this that it seemed he would die then….he was in great difficulty and soon afterwards developed a high temperature which continued from 6.0 am on Saturday until Monday when he gave his soul to God.’[xi]

Philip was much mourned by many of his subjects but they were blinded to his many faults. Philip failed to create an effective state machinery to administer his territories and was content to be advised by men who did not have the best interests of Burgundy at heart. Philip allowed himself to be bullied by the French monarchs and allowed the de Croy family to create a state within the state.


Europe – Norman Davies, Oxford University Press 1996

The Fifteenth Century – EF Jacob, Oxford University Press 1997

Louis XI – Paul Murray Kendall, Sphere Books Ltd 1974

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] In 2015 the relative: historic standard of living value of that income or wealth is £76,070,000.00 labour earnings of that income or wealth is £578,100,000.00 economic status value of that income or wealth is £2,628,000,000.00 economic power value of that income or wealth is £47,370,000,000.00 www.measuringworth.com
[ii] A delicate rose red spinel ruby from the district of Balas in Iran
[iii] Philip the Good - Vaughan
[iv] Now in the Historical Museum in Bern
[v] Philip the Good - Vaughan
[vi] In 2015 the relative: historic standard of living value of that income or wealth is £1,521,000.00 labour earnings of that income or wealth is £12,250,000.00. economic status value of that income or wealth is £43,330,000.00 economic power value of that income or wealth is £767,200,000.00 www.measuringworth.com
[vii] About one quarter still survive in the Royal Library of Belgium
[viii] In 2015 the relative: historic standard of living value of that income or wealth is £312,500,000.00 labour earnings of that income or wealth is £2,498,000,000.00 economic status value of that income or wealth is £10,120,000,000.00 economic power value of that income or wealth is £183,500,000,000.00 www.measuringworth.com
[ix] Isabel of Burgundy - Taylor
[x] Sent by Louis
[xi] Philip the Good - Vaughan

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