What is Burgundy? Part three: The Valois Dukes

At the end of part two we were introduced to a noble lady called Margaret of Dampierre. She was the daughter of the Count of Flanders and granddaughter of Margaret, Countess Palatine of Burgundy (Franche-Comté as it was increasingly known).

The coat of arms of Philip the Bold as Duke of Burgundy. The fleur de lys with the red and white border were his arms as a member of the House of Valois, while the blue and gold stripes bordered in red were the old arms of the previous dukes, from whom he was also descended through his grandmother, Joan of Burgundy. It is used today as the flag and coat of arms of the modern French region and appears on many wine bottles.

While still a child of 10 or 11, Margaret had been married to Philip de Rouvres, Duke of Burgundy but the young duke died of either the plague or a fall from his horse before the two ever met or the marriage was consummated.

Nonetheless, as the sole heir of the Count of Flanders, she stood to be heiress to the Duchy of Brabant and counties of Flanders, Artois and Franche-Comté, which made her an extremely valuable “walking title deed”* for any single noblemen out there hungry for land – which was most of them.

In 1369, however, Margaret (now 19) was married to the King of France’s youngest son, Philip the Bold of Valois, the new Duke of Burgundy and part of the new ruling House of Valois who succeeded to the French throne in 1328.

When Philip of Rouvres had died, because he had no heir the Duchy of Burgundy was reclaimed by the crown. King John II’s mother had also been the daughter of Duke Robert of Burgundy and the aunt of Philip of Rouvres.

King John’s son Philip had gained his nickname ‘le Hardi’ (‘the Bold’) after fighting and being captured alongside his father at the Battle of Poitiers in 1356, aged just 14.

Originally Duke of Touraine, when Philip of Rouvres died, Philip of Valois quickly asked his father if he could switch titles and King John agreed. Philip’s marriage to Margaret a few years later was an early sign that Philip was an astute political player and did not intend to let his status as youngest son hold him back in any way.

In 1384, with the death of his father-in-law, the first chunk of additional territory came to him through his wife. As well as Duke of Burgundy, Philip was now Duke of Brabant, Count of Artois, Flanders and Franche-Comté. It was the first time that the Duchy and County of Burgundy had been united under a single figure since the Treaty of Verdun in 843. This is the start of what historians have come to call ‘Valois Burgundy’ and, latterly, the ‘States of Burgundy’.

Philip and Margaret also used their children to shore up dynastic alliances to spread and bolster their power and influence. Their daughters were married off to important heirs; Marguerite to William the Count of Holland and Duke of Bavaria, Catherine to the Duke of Austria and Mary to the Duke of Savoy.

Philip the Bold, the first Valois duke. A keen and shrewd political operator who founded a powerful dynasty but did not banish Gamay to Beaujolais because it was one part of France he did not control.

Their sons meanwhile were set up as nobles in important estates; the eldest John clearly stood to inherit the Burgundian titles as well as those of Flanders and Artois. His younger brother Anthony was made Duke of Brabant and the youngest brother, Philip, Count of Nevers and Rethel. All three boys were in turn attractive marriage prospects for noble daughters of other wealthy houses, union with whom might bring yet more territory into the Burgundian fold.

As part of his diplomatic efforts Philip leaned heavily on not only the prospect of marriage to his children but the wine from his vineyards as well.

When exactly Pinot Noir arrived in Burgundy is hard to determine but by the 14th century it was the dominant red grape and one recognised for its superior quality and Philip actively encouraged its production.

Wine from the vineyards of Beaune and Nuits were dished out as small gifts with a few jugs being given to town notables to whole casks being sent as diplomatic gifts to the King of France, or to the Pope or hosts of other nobles and cardinals whenever Philip needed someone suitably buttered up.

At some point in the mid 14th century, however, another grape variety, Gamay, began to creep into the vineyards of Burgundy which prompted Philip to issue a proclamation for which he is best known in the wine trade today.

His edict of 1395 called for Gamay to be grubbed up, as well as other viticultural practices he deemed injurious to good winemaking to end. The full account of the edict and what it entailed can be read here but it’s important to note that Philip did notbanish’ or otherwise send Gamay to Beaujolais as is sometimes claimed because the territory of Beaujolais was not and never was part of the Valois dukes’ domains.


A short interlude on Beaujolais in the High Middle Ages

The vineyard region north of Lyon we call Beaujolais had once been a part of the old Kingdom of Burgundy we first visited back in Part One.

In the 9th century, as the old kingdom was splintered into three and further sub-divided into duchies and counties and petty lordships, Beaujolais became the property of the Count of Lyon and in turn a lordship which centred around the town of Beaujeu.

From the 10th century, the lords of Beaujeu played a prominent role in French affairs and Edward of Beaujeu even served as Marshal of France and fought at the Battle of Crécy in 1346, while his half-brother, Guichard, was killed at Poitiers.

In 1400, Guichard’s son, Edward II of Beaujeu, died without an heir. In his will he left the territory to his uncle Louis, Duke of Bourbon. Louis would make his youngest son, Louis, the Sieur de Beaujeu and the title would continue through his descendants and eventually back into the royal family but we’ll get back to that.

Suffice to say, the southern territory of the Valois dukes stopped in the Mâconnais so Gamay did not end up in Beaujolais as a result of an angry duke’s proclamation.


Fearless to Rash

The States of Burgundy at their greatest extent under Charles the Rash, the last Valois duke. The orange areas he inherited in 1467, the yellow areas of Zutphen and Guelders were bought in 1472 and the pink areas were conquered in 1475. Striped areas were prince-bishoprics under Burgundian influence, the green areas ruled by a junior branch of the family.

Wine would remain an important contributor to the prestige of the dukes of Burgundy but as their hold on the Low Countries was cemented and spread, so the main source of their wealth in ‘Burgundy’ spread to these, bustling mercantile areas.

Dijon would remain an important ducal palace but as the reign of the Valois dukes progresses it is Ghent, Brussels, Ypres, Amiens, Arras, Lille, Bruges, Antwerp and Hesdin that become much more prominent in the story of the ‘States of Burgundy’ while Dijon, Beaune, Autun and Doubs recede somewhat into the background. Indeed, ‘Burgundy’ and ‘Flanders’ almost become interchangeable in this period.

Furthermore, the dukes’ control over the great commercial centres of the Low Countries brought them into an uneasy relationship with England. The wealth of Flanders was built on its cloth and textile industry and this was reliant on wool exports from England.

The trouble was, short periods of peace aside, the latter half of the 14th century and much of the 15th was dominated by the Hundred Years War and the dukes, as good subjects of the King of France (their kinsman furthermore) were required to be at war with England too. It was a perilous tightrope, therefore, that had to be trod.

As the dukes’ power and ambition increased, so their opponents grew more wary, more jealous.

“Burgundy, as dark with power as with wine…greedy, rich Flanders,” as John Huizinga wrote, melodramatically, in ‘The Autumn of the Middle Ages’, in 1919.

This jealousy and the power struggle it created in the French court would explode into violence in 1407 when Duke John the Fearless had his own cousin and the king’s brother, Louis Duke of Orléans, brutally murdered in the streets of Paris.

The assassination sparked a civil war within France between the pro and anti-Burgundian factions (the latter being led by the Count of Armagnac hence the conflict’s name, the Armagnac-Burgundian War).

This war would rumble on against the wider background of the Hundred Years War. John was likewise assassinated in 1419 forcing his son and successor, Philip the Good, into an alliance with the English, which would last until 1435.

Despite the turmoil of the Hundred Years War and Armagnac-Burgundian war, the States of Burgundy continued to prosper and grow in this period.

Unlike his father and grandfather, Philip the Good did not trouble himself too closely with direct influence or affairs in the French court, focusing more on consolidating and expanding his own territories. In the 1430s the death of his cousin, John of Valois, Duke of Brabant (son of Anthony), brought that land and title as well as those of Limburg and Lothir into his demenses, while the death of another cousin, Jacqueline of Hainault (daughter of Philip’s daughter Marguerite who’d been married to the Count of Holland), brought him the titles of Holland and Hainault as well. Philip the Bold’s long odds in the political marriage game were coming good.

The Flemish master Rogier van der Weyden’s altarpiece for the Hospices de Beaune is one of the great works of the Northern Renaissance of which the Valois dukes were keen patrons.

And as his power and land and prestige grew, so he was able to sustain his own court that was at least the equal if not even more splendid than that of the French king.

By the 1460s, the States of Burgundy covered the greater part of modern Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, as well as Burgundy, the Franche-Comté and Artois in France and were even beginning to creep into the lower Rhinelands. Meanwhile, bastard sons (and Philip the Good had several) and other close relations were planted in powerful clerical positions across important prince-bishoprics such as Utrecht, or temporal ones such as the County of St Pol.

It was an extraordinary agglomeration of French, Flemish and German/Imperial territories and a near resurrection of the old ‘Lotharingia’ of several centuries before. With the whiff of that Carolingian inheritance in their nostrils, it’s also no surprise that Philip the Good began referring to himself as ‘Grand Duke of the West’.

With territorial and financial power also came an artistic flowering. The States of Burgundy were the home of the Northern Renaissance of the mid to late 15th century, with their flourishing of art, music and architecture. Painters such as Jan van Eyck or Rogier van der Weyden and sculptor Claus Sluter were patronised by the dukes and their richest courtiers; such as the chancellor Nicolas Rolin who funded the building of the Hospices de Beaune in 1443, using predominantly Flemish architects and masons and with its famous and splendid altarpiece of the Last Judgement by van der Weyden (see above).

The coat of arms of the last Valois duke, Charles the Rash, showing the main territorial gains since Philip the Bold’s day. The three lions that have been added represent Brabant (the golden lion in the top right quarter), Flanders (the central black lion) and Limburg (the red lion in the lower left quarter).

Meanwhile, Philip the Good also created the knightly Order of the Golden Fleece as part of an outpouring of romantic and chivalric ideals – though this was largely an excuse to hold sumptuous banquets and think about reclaiming the Holy Land while drinking good wine from Beaune. The Order still exists today in Spain and Austria, part of the ‘Burgundian Inheritance’ of both countries but we’ll get to that.

But expansion came at a cost. Not only were subjects in the Low Countries increasingly rebellious as the dukes stripped away old privileges in order to centralise their authority there and they were surreptitiously encouraged by the envious and scheming kings of France, while the Holy Roman Emperors were none too thrilled at this nascent near-kingdom on their western frontier, quietly gobbling up territory through marriage or paying for it in hard cash.

Philip the Good’s son, Charles, was an aggressive expansionist and increasingly keen to flex the muscle of the Burgundian military machine and even stand up to kings.

In the late 1460s he led a rebellion of powerful nobles seeking to curb the centralised power of the King of France, Louis XI, in the War of the Public Weal. In the 1470s, having married Margaret of York in 1468, he supported his brother-in-law Edward IV of England with troops during the Wars of the Roses.

Where his great-grandfather, Philip the Bold, had sent wine, this Charles the Rash (‘le Téméraire‘) sent armies and it made him powerful, deadly enemies.

In the final part we’ll examine the fall of the States of Burgundy, how its division was a flash point in European politics for centuries afterwards and finally answer the question; what is Burgundy?



*As at least one historian originally called another mighty medieval heiress, Eleanor of Aquitaine.


READ MORE: Burgundy in the Middle Ages

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