Above: Ducal banner
Below: Cross of Burgundy
The Burgundian State at its greatest extent, under Charles the Bold
|Common languages||Latin, Middle French, Middle Dutch|
|Duke of Burgundy|
|Philip the Bold|
|John the Fearless|
|Philip the Good|
|Charles the Bold|
|Mary of Burgundy|
|Philip the Handsome|
|Legislature||States General of the Netherlands and Estates of Burgundy|
|Historical era||Late Middle Ages|
o Accession to Flanders
|30 January 1384|
|21 September 1435|
|5 January 1477|
o Mary's death
|27 March 1482|
o Creation of the Burgundian Circle
|Today part of|
The Burgundian State is a concept coined by historians to describe the vast complex of territories that is also referred to as Valois Burgundy. It developed in the Late Middle Ages under the rule of the dukes of Burgundy from the French House of Valois and was composed of both French and imperial fiefs (ducal and comital Burgundy and the Burgundian Netherlands). That territorial construction outlasted the properly 'Burgundian' dynasty and the loss of the Duchy of Burgundy itself. As such, it must not be confused with that sole fief.
It is regarded as one of the major powers of the 15th century and the early 16th century. The dukes of Burgundy were among the wealthiest and the most powerful princes in Europe and were sometimes called "Grand Dukes of the West". Including the thriving regions of Flanders and Brabant, the Burgundian State was a major centre of trade and commerce and a focal point of courtly culture that set the fashion for European royal houses and their court. It nearly turned into a kingdom of its own right, but Charles the Bold's early death at the Battle of Nancy put an end to his Lotharingian dream and made his legacy pass to the House of Habsburg through the marriage of his daughter Mary to Maximilian of Austria, while Picardy and the Duchy of Burgundy were conquered by the King of France.
The partition of the Burgundian heritage marked the beginning of the centuries-long French-Habsburg rivalry and played a pivotal role in European politics long after Burgundy had lost its role as an independent political identity. With the abdication of Emperor Charles V in 1555, the Burgundian Netherlands passed to the Spanish Empire of King Philip II. During the Dutch Revolt, or the Eighty Years' War (1568-1648), the northern provinces of the Low Countries gained their independence from Spanish rule and formed the Dutch Republic (now the Netherlands), and the southern provinces remained under Spanish rule until the 18th century and became known as the Spanish Netherlands, or Southern Netherlands (corresponding roughly to present day Belgium, Luxembourg and northern Hauts-de-France).
The notion of a "Burgundian State" was coined in the 19th century by the Belgian historian Henri Pirenne in his Histoire de Belgique to describe what he saw as the precursor of the Belgian State. In his nationalist view, the Dukes of Burgundy were the creators of a Burgundian or Belgian nation. Johan Huizinga reused the concept out of convenience at the beginning of the 20th century. In 1999, Bertrand Schnerb popularised the expression in France with a monography named The Burgundian State.
That use is, however, controversial among historians. Though he used it, Huizinga noted that the "Burgundian State" was a creation of modern historiography and was not a phenomenon that contemporaries recognised. Many historians, especially historians of law, Belgian and Dutch historians, argue that legally speaking, the lands of the dukes formed a collection of princely estates, rather than an actual state. As such, they called those lands "Valois Burgundy", "Burgundian states", "Great Principality of Burgundy", "Burgundian Union" or "Burgundian Commonwealth".
Indeed, the Burgundian State remained a personal union of territories under the remote authority of the duke. The provinces shared no common legislation although the dukes created common institutions. At the time, there was no name to describe the territorial complex otherwise than "the lands and estates of the duke of Burgundy". The last dukes of the Valois dynasty, however, tried to rally the various populations around symbols such as the Cross of Burgundy and the Order of the Golden Fleece. Under Charles the Bold, who wanted to create a kingdom of his own, propaganda insisted on the Belgae being the common ancestors for all of his lands. The Leo Belgicus appeared after that to symbolise the unity of the Low Countries.
Furthermore, for the most part of its history, the Burgundian State was not a sovereign state. The dukes of Burgundy were the vassals of the king of France and the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, even if they acted as sovereigns. The authority of the emperor was highly hypothetical, but in most of their French fiefs, for instance, their judgements could be challenged before the Parliament of Paris. Charles the Bold created the Parliament of Mechelen to avoid it.
Following Johann Huizinga, Marc Boone and Wim Blockmans ironically concluded that a true Burgundian State existed only from the loss of the duchy of Burgundy and the extinction of the Burgundian dynasty to the Dutch Revolt.
After the death of Duke Philip I of Burgundy in 1361, the Duchy was integrated to the royal domain of King John II of France. He later decided to give it as a fief to his last son, known as Philip the Bold, who was officially recognized as Duke of Burgundy and First Peer of France on 2 June 1364.
The same year, Edmund of Langley, son of Edward III of England, got engaged to Margaret of Flanders, daughter of the Count Louis II of Flanders and heiress to Flanders, Artois, Rethel, Nevers and the Free County of Burgundy. King Charles V of France could not let this marriage happen: Edmund and Margaret being cousins, they needed a papal dispensation, which the Pope Urban V refused to give because of lobbying from the King of France. Instead, he wanted to marry Margaret to his younger brother, the Duke of Burgundy. He obtained the papal dispensation and the Count of Flanders, eager for an English alliance, eventually accepted to marry his daughter and heir presumptive to Philip the Bold. They married on 19 June 1369 in Ghent, and from then Philip was nearly associated to the reign of his father-in-law, helping him crush the Flemish at the Battle of Roosebeke. Louis of Flanders died soon after, on 30 January 1384: Philip became Count consort of Flanders, Artois, Rethel, Nevers and Burgundy. Peace is officially restored in Flanders by the Peace of Tournai in 1385. In 1385, the offices of Chancellor of Burgundy and of Chancellor of Flanders were merged, and in 1386 two Chamber of Accounts were created: the first one in Lille for his Northern possessions, the other one in Dijon for his Southern possessions. Those were the first step in the centralization of power.
He carried out an ambitious matrimonial policy turned to the east: his first son John married Margaret of Bavaria, and his daughters Margaret and Catherine of Burgundy married, respectively, William, Count of Hainaut, Holland and Zeeland, and Leopold IV, Duke of Austria. His last son Anthony married Jeanne of Saint-Pol, daughter of Waleran III of Luxembourg.
During the reigns of Philip the Bold and his son John the Fearless, loyalty to the king of France remained strong, and serving the kingdom was a significant duty. During the minority of his nephew, King Charles VI, Philip took part in the "government of the uncles": he was regent alongside his brothers Louis I, Duke of Anjou, and John, Duke of Berry, and Louis II, Duke of Bourbon. Charles VI took power for himself in 1388, aged 19, only to give it back four years later, when he showed his first signs of madness. From then, the King was considered mad and the Duke of Burgundy had the effective power, although Louis I, Duke of Orléans, was gaining more and more power and Philip's influence diminished.
Philip died in 1404 and John the Fearless succeeded him. His main goal was to regain power over the regency by excluding Louis of Orléans. Louis was very unpopular: he wanted to resume war with the English and was rumoured to have an affair with Queen Isabeau. Both men were constantly hampering each other, until John finally decided to kill his enemy: Louis of Orléans was murdered on 23 November 1407 in the streets of Paris. It was the beginning of the Armagnac-Burgundian Civil War. The Duke of Burgundy was the man in power until 1413, when the Armagnacs took Paris. When Henry V of England resumed the war, John of Burgundy remained neutral and avoided the French defeat of Agincourt. He took Paris back in 1418, had control over the King but Charles, the Dauphin of France, an Armagnac partisan, escaped. He later took the lead of the Armagnac party. In 1419, parleys took place: the Armagnac and the Burgundian parties were close to find peace at last, but on 10 September 1419, during a parley between the Duke and the Dauphin on the bridge at Montereau, John the Fearless was murdered in turn.
Seeking revenge, the new duke of Burgundy, Philip, aged 23, agreed to ally with the English. As Regent, he made King Charles sign the Treaty of Troyes, which disinherited his son in favor of Henry V of England, who was to marry Catherine of Valois, uniting the Houses of France and England. But Henry died in August 1422, followed two months later by Charles. Henry VI, King of France and England, was just a baby, and the regency was assumed by John, Duke of Bedford. The Anglo-Burgundian alliance won many major victories, and controlled a large part of France. However, Joan of Arc came and changed the course of the war, allowing Charles VII of France to be crowned in Reims on July 1429. Joan of Arc was later captured by the Burgundians and handed over to the English.
In 1435, the Congress of Arras took place and ended in a reconciliation between Burgundy and France. Duke Philip the Good recognized Charles VII as King of France, and Charles recognized the Burgundian territorial acquisitions. Philip was personally exempted to pledge homage to the King.
Philip managed to considerably expand the Burgundian State in the Low Countries. In 1421, he bought the County of Namur from the impoverished Marquis of Namur, inheriting it outright in 1429. In 1430, he inherited the Margraviate of Antwerp and the Duchies of Brabant, Limburg and Luxembourg, succeeding his cousin Philip, son of Anthony of Burgundy. He also took advantage of a succession crisis to make himself the heir of Jacqueline of Hainaut -- at the time of her death, in 1433, he seized her Counties of Hainaut, Holland and Zeeland. Finally, in 1441 he bought from his aunt Elizabeth of Görlitz the Duchy of Luxembourg. The Low Countries were at last united, becoming the Burgundian Netherlands.
Under his rule, the court of Burgundy found its apex. A great patron, he made it a major artistic center. Burgundian celebrations and banquets enjoyed international reputation. Philip himself was a renowned prince within the Christendom, especially by repeated calls for Crusade, like during the Feast of the Pheasant. In 1430, he created the prestigious Order of the Golden Fleece.
However, the growing centralisation of power under the House of Burgundy did not please the Flemish cities, proud of their autonomy and liberties. Duke Philip had to suppress the Bruges Rebellion of 1436-1438, and then the Revolt of Ghent of 1449-1453. Both times, Burgundian forces had been able to count on the support of the other Flemish towns. After those two events, urban liberties were severely damaged. Burgundian domination only increased.
Another great opposition were the Wars of Liège, a series of three rebellions led by the Principality of Liège, refusing the Burgundian protectorate and Louis de Bourbon, nephew of Philip the Good, as their Prince-Bishop. Three times the rebels were defeated, until Charles the Bold sacked and destroyed the town in 1468.
At the end of Philip's long reign, under the influence of the House of Croÿ, the Duke got closer to King Louis XI of France, which he hosted when he was opposed to his father. Louis bought back the towns of Picardy, which displeased Charles, count of Charolais, the Duke's son and heir. He joined a noble revolt against the King, the League of the Public Weal, whereupon the King returned the towns to Burgundy.
Charles, known as "Charles the Bold",[nb 1] succeeded his father in 1467, after having been his lieutenant for two years. He was ambitious: his wish was to rule over a territorially continuous and independent kingdom, reminiscent of the old Lotharingia, but also of the Kingdoms of Burgundy and of Gallia Belgica.
By the Treaty of Péronne of October 1468, Louis XI of France withdrew the French lands of the Duke of Burgundy from the jurisdiction of the Parliament of Paris. But he later opposed this agreement, only to declare war on the duke in December 1470. According to the noncompliance clause of the treaty, Duke Charles declared himself and his lands forever freed of the French crown.
In the same time, he encouraged a resumption of the Hundred Years' War. A supporter of King Edward IV of York, whose sister he married, he made him land in Calais in the summer of 1475. Presenting himself without a whole army, he failed to convince Edward, who had to deal with the King of France, resulting in the Treaty of Picquigny.
He also got closer to the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick III of Habsburg. At the end of 1473, they negotiated at Trier the marriage of Charles's daughter Marie with Frederick's son Maximilian, in order to get Charles elected as King of the Romans and to be the next Emperor. It failed, but Frederick then proposed to Charles the creation of a new Kingdom of Burgundy, which would have included all the imperial lands of the Duke, plus the Duchies of Lorraine, Savoy and Clèves and the Bishoprics of Utrecht, Liège, Toul and Verdun. But the Emperor abruptly ended the negotiations by fleeing by night with his son.
Charles continued the territorial expansion of the Burgundian State by buying Brisgau and Sundgau from Sigismund, Archduke of Austria in 1469, then conquering the Duchy of Guelders and the County of Zutphen. Finally, in 1475, he successfully conquered the Duchy of Lorraine, ruling at last over a vast continuous territory going from Charolais to Friesland. He proclaimed his wish to make the Lorrainer city of Nancy the capital of his kingdom.
Charles was obsessed with kingship, which could have given his lands the unity they lacked. He would always dress very richly, and, faced to the King of France or the Emperor, present himself as their equal. He made himself a golden hat, of which an Italian observer of the time said that "it seemed like a king's crown".
Valois Burgundy's territorial appetite frightened the Swiss Confederacy, leading to the Burgundian Wars (1474-1477). Charles the Bold's armies suffered two large defeats in 1476, at Grandson and Morat. The Duke of Lorraine took advantage of that and took Nancy back. With a weakened army, Duke Charles persevered and wanted to assiege Nancy as quick as possible. The union of the Swiss and Lorrainer armies defeated the Burgundians during the battle of 5 January 1477, in which Charles the Bold was killed.
After Charles's death, Louis XI didn't wait long to invade Burgundy, Artois and Flanders. To protect herself, Mary, Charles's sole heir, summoned the States General of the Netherlands. Unhappy with the previous duke's actions, she had to grand them the Great Privilege, which suppressed several centralized institutions, reestablished many local and communal rights, and increased the power of the States General. They encouraged her to marry Maximilian of Austria. The marriage eventually took place in Ghent on 19 August 1477. The coming of Maximilian as duke cheered the troops, and it turned the tables on the King of France who had been taking advantage of the death of his opponent. The French were defeated at the Battle of Guinegate in 1479, after what they negotiated a truce. However, the unexpected death of Mary in 1482, from a horse riding accident, weakened Maximilian's position, as he had to cope with difficulties to be accepted as the rightful regent for his son Philip, aged 3.
The Treaty of Arras, signed on December 1482, planned to marry Mary and Maximilian's daughter, Margaret, to the Dauphin Charles, aged 12. The Burgundy-Habsburgs kept Flanders (and the rest of the Netherlands, which was imperial), while France won the Duchy of Burgundy, Artois and Picardy, and soon the County of Burgundy as the dowry of Margaret. But the Dauphin, after having been crowned as Charles VIII, rather married Anne of Brittany, which was already married by proxy to Maximilian. By the Treaty of Senlis of 1493, the French king gave back Artois, Charolais and the County of Burgundy. Later, by the Treaty of Cambrai of 1529, King Francis I of France definitively gave up on the French sovereignty over Artois and Flanders; in return, Emperor Charles V gave up on his claim to the Duchy of Burgundy.
In 1512, the Burgundian Circle was created as an Imperial Circle of the Holy Roman Empire, bringing together Franche-Comté and the Burgundian inheritance in the Low Countries. During the Guelders Wars, the following territories were added to the Burgundian states: Friesland, and Frisia, Utrecht, Overijssel, Groningen, the County of Zutphen, and the Duchy of Guelders. In 1549, Charles V issued the Pragmatic Sanction and organized the Burgundian Low Countries in Seventeen Provinces. Following the Dutch Revolt, those territories were divided between the Spanish Netherlands and the United Provinces. Franche-Comté was ceded by Spain to France in the Treaty of Nijmegen (1678). Following the War of the Spanish succession, the Habsburg Netherlands passed to Austria and remained in Austrian hands until the French conquest of the late 18th century. The Bourbon Restoration did not re-establish the Burgundian state, with the former Burgundian territories remaining divided between France, the Netherlands and, following the Belgian Revolution, modern-day Belgium.
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The Court of Burgundy was itinerant. There was no such thing as a capital, although some towns could have claimed it. Dijon was the traditional capital of the Dukes of Burgundy, and it was there Philip the Bold founded the Palace of the Dukes and the Chartreuse of Champmol, which was meant to be a burial place for the dynasty. But Philip the Good and his successors preferred to stay in the Netherlands, in towns such as Brussels, Ghent, Bruges, Lille, Arras and Hesdin.
Around the Duke was his hôtel, the household having in charge the daily life of the Court, following the French model.
The wealthy Court of Burgundy displayed unprecedented splendor, culminating in the sumptuous wedding of Charles the Bold and Margaret of York, "the wedding of the century", still celebrated in Bruges nowadays every five years.
The Burgundian Court was also a major artistic center. The illustrated manuscripts of the dukes were well renowned, with illuminators such as Jean Miélot, Willem Vrelant, Loyset Liédet or Lieven van Lathem. The Early Netherlandish painting appeared thanks to the patronage of the duke of Burgundy: among the most famous of those "Flemish primitives" were Robert Campin, Jan van Eyck, Rogier van der Weyden and Petrus Christus. In music, the composers of the Burgundian School were the leading composers in the mid-15th century Europe, such as Guillaume Du Fay, Gilles Binchois and Antoine Busnois.
Burgundian territories were roughly divided into two parts: Burgundy (Duchy and County) to the South; and the Netherlands to the North. The States General of the Netherlands were summoned for the first time on 9 January 1464 in Bruges, with representants of the three states from 16 or 17 provinces - giving its name to the Seventeen Provinces.
One institution was gaining power: the Chancery. The chancellor of Burgundy was getting a political role, becoming a chief minister for the dukes. Nicolas Rolin was a well-known figure, a recognized patron and the right-hand man of Philip the Good for more than forty years. Guillaume Hugonet succeeded him, and was a spokesman for Charles the Bold: he would always express the Duke's political views (of himself as an absolute ruler) by addressing the towns or the States General.
Burgundian army assembled soldiers from all the provinces. It relied on feudal duties, until Charles the Bold decided to modernize it by creating compagnies d'ordonnance, i.e. a regular army, based on the French model.
In December 1473, Charles the Bold created a new Parliament in Mechelen, being a sovereign court receiving appeals from subjects from all the Burgundian Netherlands. It was abolished by Mary's Great Privilege of 1477, only to be reestablished by his son Philip the Handsome under the name of "Great Council of Mechelen".
The Chambres des Comptes (Chambers of Accounts) were major elements of the centralization of power and of the modern financial system set up by the dukes. Philip the Bold created Chambers in Lille and Dijon; Philip the Good in Brussels and The Hague. Charles the Bold created in 1474 a unique Chamber for the Burgundian Netherlands, in Mechelen, like the Parliament. Mechelen became the capital of the Northern Burgundian administration. The city had the benefit of being an independent lordship, so neither Flanders, Brabant or Holland would be privileged by this choice.
The taxes were indirect. The towns refused direct taxes, but nonetheless the taxes only increased and were becoming more and more direct. Under Charles the Bold, the military campaigns were expensive and military aids were often demanded, until 1475 and the granting of an aid of 500,000 crowns by the States General of the Netherlands.
|Philip the Bold
(Philippe le Hardi)
(Filips de Stoute)
|15 January 1342||6 September 1363 - 27 April 1404||Younger son of John II of France. Appointed duke of Burgundy in 1363. Married Margaret of Flanders in 1369.|
|John the Fearless
(Jean sans Peur)
(Jan zonder Vrees)
|28 May 1371||27 April 1404 - 10 September 1419||Eldest son of Philip the Bold. Murdered at Montereau in 1419.|
|Philip the Good
(Philippe le Bon)
(Filips de Goede)
|31 July 1396||10 September 1419 - 15 June 1467||Eldest son of John the Fearless.|
|Charles the Bold
(Charles le Téméraire)
(Karel de Stoute)
|21 November 1433||15 June 1467 - 5 January 1477||Only legitimate son of Philip the Good. Killed at the battle of Nancy, leading to the War of the Burgundian Succession.|
|Mary of Burgundy
(Marie de Bourgogne)
(Maria van Bourgondië)
|13 February 1457||5 January 1477 - 27 March 1482||Only child of Charles the Bold. Married Maximilian of Austria in 1477.|
|Philip the Handsome
(Philippe le Beau)
(Filips de Schone)
|22 July 1478||27 March 1482 - 25 September 1506||Eldest son of Duchess Mary. His father Maximilian is regent until 1494 (the regency is disputed in Flanders). Married Joanna of Castille in 1496 and became King consort of Castille.|
|24 February 1500||25 September 1506 - 25 October 1555||Eldest son of Philip the Handsome. His aunt Margaret is regent until 1515, by Emperor Maximilian's will. Elected Emperor of the Romans in 1519. Became King of Germany, of Spain and of Italy.|
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