Unknown Author, historical artefact.—THE RISE AND FALL OF BURGUNDY

This text is copied from ‘The New Illustrated Universal Reference Book [Odhams Press]’ or ‘The Book of a Million Facts’, seemingly published in 1933. (Authors/editors unknown).I will give more precise details of the reference book I am copying from in future parts of this series of posts. And I will try to discover who was involved in  compiling this book I am studying:


The Middle Kingdom.

When, in 843 A.D., the empire was divided among the grandsons of Charlemagne, the eldest of them, Lothair, received the middle strip between the modern France and Germany, stretching from the mouth of the Rhine southwards to Rome. Aggression from both sides wore the kingdom away, until by the fourteenth century nothing of it remained except the much-disputed province of Lorraine.

It was a generous impulse on the part of the French king, followed by a singular chain of coincidences, which led to the revival of this ancient state in the fifteenth century, and very nearly resulted in a powerful and vigorous middle kingdom which must have changed the whole course of European history. In the year 1361 King John of France bestowed on his youngest son, Philip “the Bold,” as a reward for his bravery at Poiters, the Duchy of Burgundy. This fief had fallen to the Crown, and King John little thought that he was founding a state which within three generations would be scheming to overthrow the French monarchy.

Philip married the heiress of Louis de Mâle, Count of Burgundy, and also of Flanders, Nevers, Rethel and Artois, so that on the death of Louis in 1383 the Duchy and County of Burgundy became reunited for the first time since the ninth century, and, added to the important lands in the Netherlands, formed the nucleus of a powerful state. The dukes of Burgundy contrived to annex provinces by marriage and by treaty, among them Holland, Hainault and Brabant. Under Philip “the Good” (1419-1467) the frontiers were extended in many directions, and he made his court the most brilliant in Europe.

Where Philip was cautious and patient, his son Charles “the Rash” was violent and impetuous; the chronicler Philip de Commines aptly described Charles as “le sanglier,” in his “Memoires”; an admirable account of French, English and Burgundian affairs by a shrewd and far-seeing observer.

The wily King Louis XI of France, “the Spider,” who reigned form 1461 to 1483, was more than a match for Charles, and thwarted his ambition to take the title of king. He stirred up strife, too, among Charles’s subjects which the Duke did nothing to allay by his high-handed conduct.

There was great hostility to Burgundian rule in Swabia. and in 1474 war broke out. The Swiss showed again the courage which had won them their independence, and  although Charles fought with great determination, his troops were defeated again and again. At last, Charles himself was killed at the siege of Nancy in 1477, and with him perished the danger which France and Switzerland had both so greatly feared.

The task Charles had set himself had proved too complicated for his abilities, and he had a distressing habit of alienating the sympathies of those whom he most wanted to win. Charles left no son; on his death his dominions passed to his daughter Mary, who married the Hapsburg Emperor Maximilian. France recovered the Duchy of Burgundy, but most of the other lands were transferred to German rule. Thus ended the attempted revival of “the middle kingdom.”

The Ghent Altarpiece, or Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, completed in 1432 by Jan van Eyck.


 The Burgundian Court.

In the days of Philip the good and Charles the Rash, the Court of Burgundy was the home of chivalry and pageantry. In the fifteenth century the tournament reached its height, and began to be hedged about with rules and ceremonial. Jousts and tourneys between mounted knights were held on all important occasions, an exciting and beautiful spectacle for the populace, a thrilling occupation for the nobly born.

These mock fights, or “combats,” were held in all countries and at all times throughout the Middle Ages, but they reached perhaps the peak of their development in the middle years of the fifteenth century. The massed tourneys were less popular than jousts, or single combat with swords or axes. When Charles the Bold married Margaret, sister of the English King Edward IV, in 1468, the occasion was celebrated by the most gorgeous of tournaments, when the very trappings of the horses were of cloth of gold, and bells of pure gold tinkled on their bridles. Many lances were broken in the lists that day, but no serious casualties were reported; possibly all combatants were too anxious to preserve their beautiful raiment.

Feasting, too, was on a lavish scale; the wedding-supper lasting until three the next morning. More than a thousand casks of wine were needed yearly to assuage the thirst of the Duke’s courtiers. Everything was of the most gorgeous; “from prayer book and sword down to children’s toys and toothpicks, everything was overlaid with gold and silver, or sparkled in a blaze of jewels.”** Cartellieri: “The Court of Burgundy,” p.54 … https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=P.54 **

Poets and craftsmen thronged the Court, and some of the greatest artists of the day designed tapestries and painted portraits for the Duke and his family. Hubert and Jan van Eyck painted at this time the wonderful altarpiece which still hangs in Ghent. Albert Durer called it “a most precious painting, full of thought.” Jan van Eyck also painted many portraits; his well known “Giovanni Arnolfini and his wife” may be seen in the National Gallery in London. Rogier van der Weyden, too, painted fine portraits, and he and van Eycks built up the Flemish school of painting. Even the Italian artists were willing to learn from these Netherland painters, and a Milanese was sent by his patron to work for several years in the studio of van der Weyden.

In Burgundy we find the last brilliance of the Middle Ages fading before the splendour of the Renaissance. The love of pageantry and tournaments is common to both periods; there was a recrudescence of it on the occasion of the “Field of the Cloth of Gold” in 1520, when Henry VIII of England and Francis I of France held their famous meeting. Yet it is to Italy and the Italian courts that we must look for the real inspiration of the Renaissance; the brilliance and culture of Burgundy are rather the apotheosis of mediaevalism.


Office clerk.

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