‘ONE OF THE GREATEST LADIES IN THE WORLD.’
Duchess of Burgundy and of Lotharingia, of Brabant, Limbourg, Luxembourg and Guelders, Countess of Flanders and of Artois, of Burgundy, of Hainault, Holland, Zeeland, Namur and Zutphen, Marchioness of the Holy Roman Empire, Lady of Friesland and of Salins and Malines etc. The list of Margaret’s new titles was a long one.1 These honours represented one of the most extensive and valuable collections of territory in medieval Europe. Not as large as the Empire, nor as consolidated as the kingdoms of England and France, yet the Valois Duchy of Burgundy rivalled and frequently outshone the power and influence of its neighbours. Philip the Good had died one of the greatest princes of his era, and certainly the richest. His personal treasure amounted to 400,000 crowns, a huge amount.2 In size, the Burgundian lands were equivalent to Portugal or England and Wales, but they accommodated a much more diverse collection of peoples, resources and industries. The languages of the duchies ranged from French to German, and the ducal government was conducted in French, Dutch and German. The population was not large when compared with France or England, there were only about two and a half million people in the northern lands between Friesland and Picardy, but the density of population in Flanders and Brabant was the greatest in northern Europe.3
Although Burgundy was the creation of a series of historical chances, and was really only secure when its neighbours were disunited and weak, there were some strong elements of cohesion within the Valois duchy. The Duke’s possessions snaked across the most important trade routes of Europe, from the Zuider Zee to Lake Geneva, a distance of 500 miles. Although the whole of the Rhine-Maas routes were never completely controlled by the Dukes, Burgundian merchants and their associates dominated all its trade from the wines, spices and olives of the south to the wool, fish and furs of the north. The waterways connecting Basle and Strasbourg with Bruges and Antwerp spawned a collection of vigorous and enterprising cities, and it was the same along the overland route from Bruges through Ghent and Brussels, to Cologne and from Dijon and Nancy through Luxembourg to Liège. These trading cities were also famous for their fine craftsmanship and manufactures. The large and beautiful town halls of Bruges, Brussels, Ghent and Louvain, all built or extended within the Burgundian period, still bear witness to the wealth and vigour of these cities under Valois rule.
With almost a third of their population in the towns, the Burgundian Dukes ruled over the largest urban population in Europe. The urbanisation of the Low Countries was only surpassed by some of the Italian cities, but none of these were united within such a large and powerful state. The Burgundian cities often found themselves at odds with their Dukes and defended their independent rights jealously and fiercely. The citizens of Ghent and Bruges complained that they were expected to provide an unlimited resource of men and money to foster ducal ambitions abroad. The Dukes retorted that these cities existed primarily to satisfy the needs of their lord, and that all the ducal policies were designed to preserve the prosperity of the whole of their estates.
Of all the ducal cities, Bruges was unique as the commercial and financial centre of northern Europe. Coming from London to Bruges in the summer of 1468 Margaret must have been immediately struck by the international nature of the ducal city. The lavish and ostentatious merchant participation in her marriage procession brought the new Duchess face to face with the importance of trade and commerce in Burgundy. It was a lesson that would not be lost on the daughter of Richard of York and the sister of Edward IV, who had both appreciated the value of a thriving merchant community. Her disembarkation at Sluis would also have made her aware of the great difference between London and Bruges, as far as shipping was concerned. From her mother’s house at Baynard’s Castle, Margaret would have seen the largest galleys coming and going from their quays. London was directly accessible to trading ships of all sizes. It was only delays caused by tides and currents, and a wish to reduce the time spent on board, that induced passengers like Margaret to embark at Margate rather than London Bridge. On the other hand, Bruges was totally inaccessible to the larger seagoing ships and even Damme, the foreport of Bruges, had failed to keep a deep enough channel open. As a result, Sluis, Veer, Vlissingen, Middelburg and Antwerp were becoming the main ports in the busy Walcheren roads, where shipping arrived from the Baltic, the British Isles, Spain, Portugal and the Mediterranean. The great rivers, the Rhine, Scheldt, Maas and Lys, brought in cargoes from the vast hinterlands of northern Europe to be unloaded and reshipped.
Bruges was no longer the centre of this shipping, but it remained the headquarters of all the merchant traders and the centre of financial exchange. Because of its sovereign position in European trade, all kinds of foreign delicacies were readily available in Bruges so the banquets of the Burgundian court were famous for their lavish and various provisions. Margaret and Charles were both personally abstemious and, unlike her brother Edward, Margaret was never noted for any excesses in food and drink. But she must have been interested by the variety of exotic foods which were now regularly available to her. Pomegranates, oranges, dates, figs, raisins, olives, sugar and spices would have become familiar items at her table. Moreover there were other desirable luxuries on offer in Bruges: silks, velvets, damasks and embroideries, gilded retables, reliquaries of the finest crystal, silver and gold vessels and crosses for her chapel and the most magnificent tapestries and wall-hangings for her chambers. Above all other luxuries, the Duchess found a lasting delight in the magnificent books which were available from the master craftsmen of Bruges, Ghent and Brussels and she became an ardent and discerning collector.4
Bruges was not, however, the capital of the court and government in the same way that London was. Indeed the ducal palace was almost dwarfed by the great civic buildings such as the town hall and the market hall. Margaret would have soon learned that the government was much more widely dispersed across the duchy than was the case in England. As a female member of the English court, Margaret had passed most of her time in a small area between Greenwich, London, Westminster, Windsor and Sheen. As Duchess of Burgundy she would be expected to travel much greater distances, to make regular progresses through Flanders, Brabant, Hainault and Artois, and even to venture north over the great rivers into Holland and Zeeland. The ducal palaces at Brussels, Ghent and Hesdin were all larger than that at Bruges, and in size and opulence they rivalled the royal residences of the Kings of England.
The Duchess was expected to play an active role in the Burgundian court and government, not merely as the focus of the ducal household but also as the Duke’s representative. Traditionally Burgundian Duchesses had complemented and assisted the work of their husbands.5 All Margaret’s predecessors had cooperated in the growth and development of the duchy. The county of Flanders with its various appanages had come to the first Valois Duke, Philip the Bold, through his marriage to the heiress Margaret of Flanders. The first Duchess had continued to govern and administer her provinces, frequently staying in the north while her husband was at Dijon or Paris. The second Duchess, Margaret of Bavaria, maintained the duchy in the crisis caused by the murder of her husband, John the Fearless, and Charles’ own mother the third Duchess, Isabelle of Portugal, had worked closely with Chancellor Rolin in the administration of the duchy. Isabelle had acted as Regent and also played an important diplomatic role heading the Burgundian delegation at the conference of Gravelines in 1438 and at Utrecht in 1453.6 She had never hesitated in putting forward her own policies, urging a Yorkist marriage for her son in spite of her husband’s opposition, and encouraging the Duke to undertake a crusade against the Moors, a proposition dear to her Portuguese heart.
Since no ruler was more industrious than Duke Charles, Margaret was also expected to be incessantly active, and there are no signs of the temporary bursts of indolence which were such a characteristic of her brother Edward. Her function in the government of Burgundy was not as clear as Isabelle’s had been, due probably to the fact that Charles, unlike his father, avoided the company of women and had little appreciation of their usefulness.7 During the first three years of her married life, Margaret’s role in the government of Burgundy appears to have been negligible, but by 1472 she was actively concerned with affairs of state. In the early years she had to familiarise herself with the Burgundian system of government as well as earn the trust of the Duke and his officials. Also, she was expected to concentrate on her first duty and on her primary function, in which she was to be totally unsuccessful.
Charles had recommended Margaret to his subjects as ‘bien taillée pour avoir generation de prince du pays’, (well built for the production of an heir).8 During the first few years of her marriage, Margaret doubtless expected to become pregnant. No contemporary comments, not even from the gossipy Milanese ambassadors, have survived on the question of Margaret’s sterility, though it must have been a source of speculation. Perhaps the tales about her earlier unchastely behaviour and the rumours of Charles’ homosexuality are remnants of the gossip which must have circulated around the courts of Europe as Margaret continued to be childless.9 There were certainly no signs of infertility on the Duke’s side. Apart from his sole legitimate daughter he had at least two illegitimate children, John and Pierson of Burgundy.10
It seems Margaret was anxious about her infertility, as she made several pilgrimages to shrines known to help in such cases, visiting the miraculous Black Virgin of Halle and the shrine at the Val Notre Dame Abbey near Huy.11 From February to March 1473, Margaret stayed at the well-known country hospice of St Josse ten Noode in the forest of Soignes. This delightful lodge close to Brussels, near the source of the River Maelbeek had been specially built by Duke Philip as a health resort and spa. The waters were considered to have curative properties and the wines made in the valley were reserved for the exclusive consumption of the sick, since their medicinal properties were famous.12 But in spite of all her retreats and pilgrimages, Margaret remained childless.
Both the Duke and his Duchess presumably accepted the situation as the will of God. There were no public signs of their anxiety. They seem to have considered that there was plenty of time to secure the dynasty, and Charles could use his lack of a male heir as a factor in his negotiations with the Emperor. The Duke was certainly not any more cautious due to his lack of a male heir and he was to throw his life away at Nancy with all the abandon of a man whose dynastic future was totally secure. Nor are there any signs that Margaret’s failure to produce the expected heir had any detrimental effect on the relationship between her and her husband.13
Margaret’s status at the Burgundian court depended primarily on her relationship with her husband. While the relationships between rulers and their mighty subjects may be quantified in terms of land grants and annuities which arose out of economic and political necessities, simple human preferences and affections also played a large part. Richard, Duke of York’s inability to build up a loyal noble following, and Warwick’s failure to remain on good terms with his cousin Edward, were as much due to aspects of their personalities as to any differences of policy. In Burgundian politics much rested on the character of the Duke, and Charles’ personality was vitally important to the nature of his court and government, and to the position of Margaret, first as his wife and later as his widow.
The era of the Valois Dukes of Burgundy coincided with a great development in portraiture, and detailed descriptions of the appearance and character of Charles have come down to us from the brushes of great masters like Rogier van der Weyden, and from the pens of the court chroniclers such as Chastellain, Molinet, Commynes and La Marche.14 The superb portrait attributed to van der Weyden, which today hangs in Berlin, was painted when Charles was in his mid-twenties. It shows an introspective and serious young man of strong and even obdurate temperament. Charles’ sensitively modelled face indicates vigour and vitality, but it lacks the humour and vivacity which is so apparent in the same artist’s portrait of Philip the Good. The plainness of his costume, adorned only with the emblem of the Golden Fleece, belies the descriptions of the Duke at his wedding as a gaudily bejewelled figure. Privately the Duke dressed as soberly as he lived, and he kept his golden tunics and jewelled hats for occasions which demanded great public display.15 There are several other paintings of Charles, and all reveal a man who took life very seriously and who would govern with great determination. The famous Liège reliquary made by Gerard Loyet of Bruges also shows the same solemn face.16On his great seal, engraved in 1468, Charles is depicted sporting a moustache, but on the effigy on his tomb at Bruges and on the nearly life-size effigy erected by his son-in-law at Innsbruck, Charles is clean shaven.
All the portraits match closely with Chastellain’s description of the Duke as ‘strong, well grown and well knit’.17 In the pen-portrait, which Chastellain wrote in about 1467, Charles’ eyes were described as ‘laughing expressive and angelically bright and when he was thinking his father seemed to come alive in them’ perhaps a discreet courtier’s reference to Charles’ fiery temper.18 Olivier de La Marche who knew Charles throughout his life wrote that he was:
hot blooded, active and irritable and as a child always wanted his own way and resented correction. Nevertheless he was so sensible and understanding that he resisted his natural tendencies and as a young man there was no one more polite and even tempered.19
In a violent age, a ferocious temper was rather admired in a ruler. Indeed Edward IV was criticised for being too affable. Charles drove all his staff and servants hard, he spared no one when he was angry, but neither did he spare himself, and he worked hard at his duties. This is shown by the vast amount of material initialled by him or even written in his own crabbed gothic handwriting.20 He was criticised by his peers in the Order of the Golden Fleece for his undue severity towards his servants, for being over zealous and for failing to curb his impatience when dealing with other rulers. Commynes, who deserted the service of Charles for Louis XI, attributed all Charles’ great endeavours to his lust for fame and glory and his ardent desire to be remembered as a hero. Throughout his life Charles was surrounded with tapestries and books recalling the great heroes of myth and history: Hercules, Jason, Alexander, Pompey, Caesar and Hannibal. In his emulation of these he never showed the slightest signs of fear, which Commynes attributed to the Duke’s overwhelming egotism and arrogance.21
Charles was a talented linguist, a good orator and musician. He was competent in French, Dutch, Italian, Portuguese and German. He knew some Latin, though he preferred to read the classics in translation, and he spoke enough English to address his English mercenaries in their own language, and perhaps also his wife. His eloquence was well-known. In 1468 he addressed the Ghent delegates for two hours and he appreciated the orations of others, such as those of his close friend, the Chancellor Hugonet.22 The ducal chapel included a large choir, orchestra and organist. This was the great age of Burgundian music. Mass was sung every day and Charles took his musicians with him even on his military campaigns. He enjoyed singing himself, having had some excellent teachers, including an Englishman called Robert Morton, but although he had a lot of musical knowledge, his voice was not considered pleasant.23
The Duke’s sense of his own worth was reflected in his close attention to etiquette. This sometimes led to grotesque situations such as at Trier, when he and the Emperor stood in the pouring rain for half an hour, each with his hat in his hand, rather than accept precedence over the other.24 This exaggerated deference to the rules of etiquette was a prerequisite for the whole existence of medieval hierarchies. To uphold their authority over rebellious subjects and to maintain their place in the order of European rulers as second only to the Kings and the Emperor, the Dukes of Burgundy needed all the props which ritual, tradition, ceremony and honour could offer. Margaret, nurtured in the strict ceremonial of Elizabeth Woodville’s court, would have understood the significance of all this and she maintained the authority of both herself and her lord with keen enthusiasm.
The new Duchess would also have appreciated the efficiency and thoroughness of the ducal government. The Duke’s ability to raise larger sums in taxation than any of his predecessors was due to both the efficiency and severity of his administration. His severity often amounted to brutality, as at Dinant and Liège, where the cities were sacked and looted and the citizens butchered. During the sack of Nesle, a town which had dared to stand out against the ducal army, Charles applauded the ferocity of his men, declaring ‘here is a fine spectacle, truly I have good butchers with me’.25 He used terror as a means of demonstrating his power, but his armies were strictly disciplined and were not allowed to loot and pillage at will. In this respect his armies were better restrained than the French or Swiss who massacred and looted after the battles of Grandson and Murten. Charles was, however, often accused by his contemporaries of especial cruelty, because he punished nobles as if they were ordinary criminals, and took such a hard line against the cities such as Liège.
This solemn, hard-working and proud man must have pleased Margaret with his piety and his punctilious regard for the religious festivals. ‘He swore neither by God nor by the saints, he held God in great fear and reverence’26 and he expected his subjects to show the same fear and reverence towards himself. Margaret would also have appreciated his interest in books. Indeed there was little in his character that his wife could not admire. His pride and self-esteem were considered the proper signs of a princely character and she was well endowed with these characteristics herself. After his death, Margaret maintained and upheld his reputation and by remaining unmarried she kept his memory fresh in the public eye. Twenty years after his death she donated a great window portraying the Duke to the Church of St Rombout’s in Malines, and she was no doubt influential in ensuring that the Duke’s eldest grandson, the future Emperor Charles V, was named after him.
But was Charles equally well pleased with the person and character of his latest wife? None of the surviving portraits of Margaret have the same vigour and mastery as the van der Weyden portrait of Charles. The anonymous portrait which belongs to the Louvre was painted about the time of her marriage, perhaps by someone in the studio of Simon Marmion of Tournai.27 The identity of the sitter is made clear by the large necklace of red and white roses which alternate with ‘Cs’ and ‘XXs’ (which seem to be interlocking ‘Ms’) in red and golden enamel. And there are more references to Margaret within the painting, including the small golden marguerite on her dark dress, and a pearl brooch with a golden ‘B’ which hangs from her sober black headcloth. Her dress is rich but discreet, she wears the hennin or steeple headdress covered with a light veil, her sleeves are trimmed with ermine, her dress with a few rows of braid and on her hands she wears two simple rings. Her oval face is painted with little character and shows merely the fashionable high brow, broad-set eyes which are cautious and circumspect, a well shaped nose and mouth and a small chin. Her whole manner is reserved and withdrawn but there is a suggestion of determination and resolve and an air of refined melancholy which matches the mood of the more revealing van der Weyden portrait of Charles. This portrait of Margaret may have been commissioned by the Duke as one half of a travelling diptych. Its small size, it is only about twenty by twelve centimetres, would certainly support this theory. Since she is painted looking towards the right and her hands are clasped in prayer, the other half of the diptych may well have portrayed the Virgin and Child.
Of the other possible portraits of Margaret, the one today in the Robert Lehman Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, is the most lively and direct and the most interesting of all from the point of view of portraiture.28 This young woman with the cool introspective eyes certainly accords well with all the contemporary descriptions that indicate that Margaret was an intelligent and energetic woman, well able to look after her own and her family’s interests. She is portrayed within the arch of a window, which cuts across the top of her brocade hennin and, as in the Louvre painting, she does not look directly out of the picture. Her headcloth of black velvet matches her dress, which is trimmed with ermine. She wears little jewellery, only a simple gold chain and a fine black cord. This portrait has been attributed to Petrus Christus or to a French artist working at the Burgundian court. The woman so soberly portrayed in this picture shows a considerable likeness to the portrait belonging to the Society of Antiquaries in London.
The London portrait shows Margaret fuller faced and older and may be a copy of one which was painted about the time of her visit to England in 1480. All these portrayals have features in common with a further possible representation of Margaret, which can be found in an intriguing painting now in the J. Paul Getty museum, the ‘Deposition’ painted about 1500 by an unknown Flemish artist after the style of the great Rogier van der Weyden. Margaret may be portrayed among the group on the right of the picture. Apart from the white rose and the marguerites at her belt (the implications of this painting are discussed in Chapter 6), the face has the features in common with all the paintings of Margaret, the firm mouth, straight nose, rather full cheeks and recessive chin.
There is a similarity between the other supposed portraits of Margaret and the well-accepted Louvre painting and this also matches the best-known miniatures of the Princess. It is perhaps no coincidence that Marmion was a famous miniaturist and the Louvre portrait is in this style rather than in the freer, more realistic, humanistic style of van der Weyden. Among the miniatures, the most colourful appear in the opulently painted Benois seront les Misèricordieux (Blessed are the Merciful) which came from the workshop of Jean Dreux. In one of these she is accompanied by her patron saint, St Margaret.29 There are indeed many miniatures portraying the Duchess, one of the most beautiful appears in the Douce manuscript in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, where she kneels at prayer accompanied by her ladies.30 There is another in a life of St Colette given to the convent of the Poor Clares at Ghent.31 On the last page of this manuscript there is a dedication in Margaret’s own hand, and her bold open scrawl shows a great contrast to the narrow pinched letters of her husband.
All these portraits and miniatures reveal the sort of image that Margaret chose to project to the world. Her name saint, St Margaret, was a martyr of the early Christian Church and her life was well-known in the medieval world through her prominence in the best selling book on the lives of the saints, the ‘Golden Legend’. St Margaret was one of Joan of Arc’s special voices.32 In most of the miniatures Margaret is shown at prayer, reading or on errands of charity, and her demeanour is always serious and dignified.
However, there are representations which belie this very sombre image. One, showing Charles and Margaret together, is a fragment of a larger tapestry, probably made at Lille in about 1470.33 Here they are enjoying a day’s hunting. Margaret is wearing a blue and white gown and is turning towards the Duke who wears a red coat and a plumed hat. He walks boldly forward bearing a heart on his right hand and carrying a falcon on his left. This scrap of material shows the lighter side of Burgundian court life and is a rare sign that perhaps Margaret, like her stepdaughter, enjoyed hunting and falconry. Another hunting scene, portraying Margaret together with Mary and Mary’s husband Maximilian, is a drawing by Frank van der Beecke entitled ‘The Bear Hunt’. Here Margaret is riding side-saddle, her horse led by a groom. These representations supplement the brief descriptions of Margaret provided by her contemporaries, such as Jean de Haynin and Olivier de La Marche.
Her relationship with her husband cannot have been entirely easy. Wielant commented on a certain amount of misogyny in Charles’ character, probably a reaction against his father’s notorious womanizing. It was said the Duke was resolved to keep his household free from silly female influences. He preferred the company of his councillors, financiers and soldiers, and he made a practice of always lodging the ladies of the court at some distance from his own household.34 However, there is no evidence that Charles deliberately avoided his wife or that he disliked her. Most writers were sure that he had been very fond of Isabelle of Bourbon, although he had spent long periods away from her and he had been too busy to visit her during her long, fatal illness. The separate residences of the Duke and Duchess were chiefly a matter of convenience. Only the very largest castles could accommodate their combined households. Furthermore, the Duke was almost always on the move, while the Duchess made regular progresses around the Low Countries. Considering all these factors, together with the Duke’s very energetic and personal style of government, it is hardly surprising that they spent so little time in each other’s company.
In fact in the first seven years of their marriage Margaret and Charles spent a total of one year together and, after 23 July 1475, they never met again because Charles was continually with his army in the Rhinelands.35 During the first four years they met fairly regularly. They were together for twenty-one days in 1468, ninety-six days in 1469, one hundred and forty-five days in 1470 and fifty-five days in 1471. They celebrated three consecutive Christmases together between 1469 and 1471, but after December 1471 they were together for only thirty-two days. His attention to the Duchess up to 1471 may have been motivated by his wish for an heir, but after her failure to conceive, his attendance may no longer have seemed necessary, and he had other more pressing matters with which to deal. In spite of long periods of absence, the Duke showed every normal consideration to his wife. He was quick to visit her in 1472 after a fire at Maele had frightened her and destroyed much of her property.36 He also made generous provision for her in spite of the fact that her brother Edward failed to fulfil his dowry obligations.
During her first year as Duchess, Margaret became known at court and in the cities and provinces of the Low Countries. A fifteenth century ruler had to be seen by great numbers of their people and Margaret, as an extension of the Duke, represented his power and upheld his glory as she progressed throughout the land. The very nature of the Burgundian state made the mobility of the ducal household an essential feature of government. Unlike the Kings of England and France, the Burgundian Dukes were still itinerant rulers. Margaret’s procession passing through the countryside and cities of the duchy was an important sign of the ducal presence and government.
Immediately after her marriage Margaret, accompanied by Mary, left Bruges and went via Ursel, Ghent, Dendermonde and Asse to Brussels, where she was received on 23 July. The two ladies spent August in the city and its environs, probably enjoying some hunting in the forest of Soignes. They then set off again visiting Aalst, Oudenaarde and Courtrai en route for Aire, where Margaret arrived on 7 September. There she was taken seriously ill, but by the end of the month she was over the worst and convalescing. Was her illness the result of a miscarriage or merely exhaustion caused by her strenuous and exacting new life? In any case she stayed on at Aire until Christmas. Throughout all this time, Charles was fully occupied with affairs of state, first on his visit to the north, then negotiating the treaty of Peronne with Louis XI, and finally subduing the rebellion at Liège with the reluctant King of France still in his entourage.37
As a result, very soon after her marriage Margaret became familiar with the life-style which was expected of the Duchess of Burgundy. During her eight and a half years as Duchess, she was to undertake twenty-eight major journeys. She was always accompanied by a large retinue of soldiers, officials, servants and attendants, and followed or preceded by cartloads of baggage. Each journey covered about 130 kilometres, but was conducted at a gentle pace of 15 to 20 kilometres a day. She passed regularly through the heartlands of the Burgundian Netherlands. On a few occasions she ventured south to Boulogne and to Picardy as far as Le Crotoy at the mouth of the Somme.38 Her visitations were planned with care, each revolving around the ducal palaces of Ghent, Brussels, Aire, Hesdin and Bruges, and were timed to fit in with the major festivals of the Church. Her dower towns were not particularly favoured. Oudenaarde hardly ever saw its Duchess until after Charles died, and Malines fared little better. Dendermonde, however, as a crossroads between Flanders and Brabant, was visited at least six times. The shorter stops between the larger palaces gave Margaret the opportunity to visit all the chief cities. At each of these she was welcomed with presentations of wine of honour and gifts, often bearing the city arms, and pageants, verses and orations by the literary guilds.
The journey of November 1470 was typical of many. Travelling at one of the worst times of year, when the heavy loam of Brabant was sodden due to the autumn rains, she left Brussels where she had spent most of the summer to join Charles at Hesdin for the Christmas celebration. Mary was with her and the two ladies rode out of Brussels on the 13th of the month. They probably went on horseback which, at a rate of only 15 kilometers a day, would be much more comfortable than the unsprung litters which were an alternative transport for ladies. Both Mary and Margaret were often presented with hackneys, quiet horses normally ridden by ladies. It took them sixteen days to reach Hesdin. On the way they visited the shrines at Alsemberg and Halle and Margaret made her first visit to Mons, the most important city in Hainault.39 She was therefore accorded a grand reception and a Joyeuse Entrée. Mons was determined to rival the receptions already given for Margaret at Bruges, Ghent and Brussels and nothing was spared to make it a memorable occasion. Escorted by Lord Ravenstein, who often travelled with the Duchess, the two ladies rode into Mons on a cold November evening. They wore warm black velvet gowns trimmed with fur and their white horses were caparisoned in cloth of gold. A long procession of lords, ladies and soldiers attended them.
The magistrates of Mons offered extravagant gifts of gold plate and enamels, as well as the traditional wines of honour. A ducal visit was an expensive affair for the cities, since they were expected to give suitable gifts to the whole entourage as well as providing a lavish entertainment. But the magistrates hoped their expenditure would win a handsome return for their town in the form of ducal favours, and perhaps even win them the greatest prize of all, the honour and profit of becoming a ducal residence, which would benefit all their citizens. Mons did not neglect to keep in contact with their Duchess; they sent her 600 crowns after the fire at Maele, and a further 800 livres during the civil wars. Their attentions bore fruit. Mary made the city her chief residence from 1471 to 1472 and Margaret continued to visit it regularly throughout her life, giving several donations to religious foundations within the city.
Certainly her first sight of Mons must have been both spectacular and memorable. The dark night was illuminated by torches and candelabra and all the houses on the route of the procession had been draped with green velvet and tapestries. Banners hung in the streets and all along the route there were the customary tableaux and pageants including the familiar tale of Esther and the Queen of Sheba. But Mons had added the story of Judith, the slayer of the tyrant Holofernes, a very popular theme in the art of the Netherlands, but a somewhat ambiguous choice to present to the wife of Duke Charles. The Duchess and her stepdaughter stayed two nights in the city, attending vespers at the church of the Friars Minor and mass in the mighty church of St Waudrin, the patron of the city. Then they continued their journey to Hesdin visiting other ducal and noble castles on the way.
This type of journey was repeated at least three times a year. All her travelling was a means of upholding the ducal authority. This was maintained not only by armies and officials but also by chroniclers, artists, musicians and ceremonial occasions. The supremacy and inviolability of the Duke were proclaimed for all to see as the Duchess’ richly caparisoned cavalcade with glittering knights and bejewelled horses trotted through the countryside and entered the villages and towns. These processions enhanced the reputation of the Duke and Margaret who, with her regal solemnity, attracted respectful attention.
Margaret also travelled for more practical reasons. Some of her journeys were dictated by external events such as the serious outbreak of the plague in Flanders of 1471 to 1472 which kept the ducal ladies away from Bruges and Ghent. Sometimes she had to move because building alterations temporarily rendered one of the castles uninhabitable. The castle of Ten Waele at Ghent underwent major works in the early 1470s, and towards the end of the renovations Margaret spent some time there apparently ensuring that the rooms were to her taste and comfort.40 She also attended the great functions of state, such as the chapter of the Order of the Golden Fleece, which met at Valenciennes in May 1473 and the session of the Great Council at Malines a year later.41 The needs of government obliged her to undertake several journeys and, during the last year of her marriage, most of her travels were concerned with her efforts to raise more money and men for the ducal wars in Lorraine and Alsace. Sometimes it was foreign policy which dictated her movements. In 1475 she had to hurry down to Calais to conciliate her brother Edward who, having finally arrived on the continent with a large army, found that his ally Charles was still far away at the siege of Neuss.
Apart from her active role as a ducal emissary, Margaret also had other responsibilities. It was her duty to give guidance and support to the heiress Mary, a task Margaret entered into with loving enthusiasm. The close relationship which she built up with her stepdaughter was to be of value to them both, especially in 1477. Mary had seen little of her mother who had been ill, probably with tuberculosis, for some time before she died at Antwerp in 1465.42 The girl had a succession of governesses all under the supervision of Anne of Burgundy, her father’s half-sister. Her childhood companions included her cousins, Ravenstein’s son Philip, and John of Cleves. From 1463 to 1468 she had lived mainly at Ten Waele at Ghent, where her chief female attendant was Jeanne de Clito, a cousin of the chronicler Commynes and the wife of the High Steward of Flanders, Jehan of Hallewijn who was an eminent councillor and a ducal chamberlain. The Lady Hallewijn remained Mary’s most constant companion throughout her short life. As befitted the greatest heiress of her age, Mary received a good education and was provided with every delight imaginable, including many pet animals, one of which was a giraffe, as well as the usual birds and dogs. She was a healthy energetic girl, especially fond of outdoor exercise such as hunting and falconry, but she also had a taste for music, chess and art.
From their first meeting at Sluis, Margaret and Mary enjoyed each other’s company. There were only eleven years between them and while Margaret would find Mary a useful companion for improving her French and for learning some Dutch, Mary in her turn seems to have learned some English and to have enjoyed the attention of an older woman. They were together almost continually for the following nine years, apart from the five months of 1471 when Mary was based at Mons. From the middle of 1472, Mary was again with Margaret, chiefly at Ghent and Brussels, though she was often obliged to remain at Ghent as a virtual hostage for her father’s extortionate loans.
Like Margaret, Mary had received a pious upbringing and she took her religious duties very seriously. They went on several pilgrimages together with Mary, showing a special devotion to the cult of St Colette, whose life had been dedicated to the reform of convents in Burgundy and northern France. Margaret also supported the reformed orders, and her donation of the beautifully illuminated ‘Life of St Colette’ to the convent of the Poor Clares at Ghent, was perhaps in honour of Mary.43
As his heiress, Mary was a valuable asset to Duke Charles and it was for this reason that she remained unmarried during his lifetime. From 1461 to 1477 she was offered to a bewildering succession of suitors, some of whom she had probably never even heard. The parade of candidates for the hand of the Burgundian heiress included Ferdinand of Aragon, who later married Isabella of Castile, Nicholas of Lorraine, George, Duke of Clarence, Duke Francis II of Brittany, the Dauphin Charles, Charles Duke of Berry the brother of Louis XI, Philibert of Savoy who had also been considered as a suitor for Margaret, Nicholas of Anjou and Archduke Maximilian, the Habsburg heir.
From time to time Margaret and Mary were drawn into the negotiations, entertaining or writing to the suitor of the moment. In July 1472 Mary wrote to Nicholas of Lorraine expressing her delight at her father’s decision that she should have no other husband but him. Her letter was merely another move in the Duke’s elaborate diplomacy. Nicholas died in the following July.44 Throughout all these long negotiations for Mary’s marriage, the Duchess Margaret, with at least seven years of similar experience, would have been well able to counsel Mary and support her throughout all the diplomatic wrangles. The most frequently recurring candidate was Maximilian. A betrothal between them was suggested as early as 1463, when Duke Philip was considering the advantages of acquiring an imperial crown. Maximilian’s candidature was revived in 1467, in 1469 and again in 1473, but it was not until after the battle of Grandson in 1476 that the betrothal was firmly negotiated, and a marriage was planned to take place at Cologne in November of 1477.45 Even this was not the final settlement, for after her father’s death Mary’s marriage was again the subject of great speculation, and only firm action by Mary, Margaret and their closest advisers finally secured the momentous Burgundian-Habsburg marriage.
Mary was not the only woman at the Burgundian court with whom Margaret was expected to develop a valuable relationship. The Dowager Duchess Isabelle of Portugal had, like Margaret, celebrated her marriage at Bruges with great splendour, and the occasion of her wedding was marked by the creation of the Order of the Golden Fleece. Of her three sons, only Charles had survived and she had had to endure the perpetual infidelities of her husband. With some reason she became, according to her husband, the most jealous woman alive. Her closest supporter at the court had been the able Chancellor Rolin and after his resignation she played a less visible role in politics. After 1468, the Dowager withdrew once more to her finely situated castle at La Motte aux Bois in the forest of Nieppe, southern Flanders, where the Duke and the Duchess visited her on several occasions. We know that Margaret kept her mother-in-law well informed on matters of mutual interest, especially over the dramatic events in England during 1470 to 1471.46Both Margaret and Charles were nearby at Arques when the Dowager died at St Omer on 13 December 1471.
Margaret learned to work closely with both court nobles and important officials. The most important baron in the Low Countries was Adolph, Lord Ravenstein, Charles’ cousin,and also after 1470 his brother-in-law.47 Lord Ravenstein was a prominent member of Margaret’s wedding party in July 1468 and he accompanied her on many of her journeys. Like his brother John, Duke of Cleves, he was a Knight of the Golden Fleece and belonged to the innermost circle at the court. In addition to his income from his large estates he received a ducal annuity of 6,000 francs, making him one of the richest noblemen in Burgundy. As Lieutenant-General of the Low Countries he worked with Margaret to raise troops and gather in money and support for the ducal armies in Lorraine.
Equally eminent at court was Anthony, Count of La Roche.48 Margaret would have met him for the first time at the Smithfield tournament. He played a major role in her wedding ceremonies, especially at the tournament. His resultant injuries had been so long lasting that he was still allowed to sit in the ducal presence as late as January 1469, when the delegates came from Ghent to Brussels to make their formal submission to Duke Charles. Anthony was the first chamberlain of the court. He held the key to the ducal bedchamber and he had custody of the ducal seal. In battle he was in command of the ducal banner and often acted as a Regent for the Duke. As a military commander he fought bravely for Charles on many occasions, losing his best jewels at Beauvais in 1472 and his personal seal at Grandson. He was sent on several diplomatic missions to Italy and England and in this capacity he may have been of some special service to Margaret, helping her to keep in touch with her relatives. However, he showed no loyalty to her personally, nor to his niece Mary. He was taken prisoner at Nancy and with the French conquest of the Duchy of Burgundy, where most of his lands were situated, he transferred his allegiance to Louis XI.
Two other half brothers of Duke Charles were familiar and important members of the ducal court, David, Bishop of Utrecht and John, Bishop of Cambrai.49 Both of these men were very worldly priests, David involved in the politics of the northern provinces and John embroiled with a succession of women. His funeral mass in 1480 was attended by thirty-six of his illegitimate offspring. It was from John of Burgundy that Margaret eventually bought her house in Malines. Clergymen likely to have been more popular with Margaret were Ferry de Clugny, who became the Bishop of Tournai and his brother Guillaume, the Papal Pro-notary in the Low Countries.50 Both men had been involved in the negotiations for her marriage and remained in her confidence after the death of the Duke.
Margaret would also have had regular contact with Lord Louis of Gruuthuyse, Phillippe of Croy the Lord of Chimay, Anthoine Rolin the son of the great Chancellor and the Lord of Aymeries, and Guillaume Bische the Lord of Clary.51 During the last years of Duke Charles’ life these men all worked with Margaret. Louis de Gruuthuyse was also a useful contact with England since he became a close personal friend of Edward IV. The Lord of Chimay knew Charles very well indeed and his description of the Duke at Neuss in late 1474 gives a good idea of this restless man. He described Charles as ‘a flying duke who moves more than a swallow … always on his feet, never resting and managing to be everywhere at once’. Chimay was taken prisoner at Nancy, only returning to Ghent with Maximilian after he had been ransomed. He remained loyal and served both Mary and her heirs. Margaret honoured him by becoming the godmother to one of his sons. Anthoine Rolin was principally occupied in Hainault, and in the crisis of 1477 he cooperated with Margaret in raising troops against the French invasion. Clary was another who stood by Margaret after the disaster of Nancy.
The two most important officials who worked with Margaret were, however, both new men whose careers had been made in Charles’ service: the Chancellor, Guillaume Hugonet, Lord of Saillant, and Guy de Brimeu, Lord Humbercourt.52 The latter came from a wealthy noble family in Picardy and he was both a military man and a clever administrator. Charles used him as a tough trouble-shooter, sending him in succession to Liège, Luxembourg and Guelders to deal with powerful opposition parties and rebellions. As a result of his position, Humbercourt acquired large estates in the Meuse valley and around Maastricht. As one of the most zealous ducal servants he attracted a great deal of hostility, for which he was to pay in 1477. So too did Chancellor Hugonet, who had served Charles for many years before he inherited the duchy. Charles held Hugonet’s erudition and eloquence in great respect. His two-hour-long speeches would be packed with classical and biblical quotations and allusions. They were not so well received by the Flemish Estates, and his hard line in dealing with his opponents inspired a deep hatred of him in Ghent and Bruges.
Tommaso Portinari was the Duke’s most important financial advisor and creditor. By 1477 Charles owed the Medici bank more than £57,000. Portinari lived the life of a great courtier accompanying Charles on the most important occasions of his life. He was at Trier for the famous meeting with the Emperor Frederick III. Another notable who must have cut a dashing figure on that occasion was Olivier de La Marche, in his crimson-violet satin and crimson pourpoints.53 La Marche had a very close association with Margaret from the day of her marriage right up to her death.54 His Memoires provide a valuable but tantalising source for the period. He was interminably long-winded on ceremonials and elusively brief on the subject of the Duchess herself, but the ceremonials were his very raison d’être. Coming from a minor family in Franche Comté he had risen rapidly in the service of Duke Philip to become an army captain and a useful diplomat. In 1477 his close association with Duke Charles nearly cost him his life but he received the protection of Margaret who took him with her when she left Ghent. At her dower town of Malines he became the master of her household and she later passed him on to the service of the Archduke Philip. From his L’estat de la maison du duc Charles de Bourgogne we have a very comprehensive idea of the elaborate household within which Margaret had to function.
The ducal household aimed to reflect a perfect and heavenly order dedicated to the service of God in heaven and to his servant, the Duke. All the ceremonial and the hierarchy reflected this divinity, which gave meaning and importance to every act of court life and regulated the movement of everyone from the great lords to the least important kitchen boy. No one from the court of Louis XIV would have felt out of his depth in the finely organised liturgies of the Burgundian court. On his accession Charles had initiated a total reorganisation of his father’s household bringing in many of his own men. He struck a much more severe note, gone were the ‘dissolute frivolities’55 of his father’s time such as the ‘Feast of Fools’. The emphasis was on a pious and business-like organisation, with close attention to matters of precedence and etiquette. In this Charles was following the customs of his mother. It was one of her ladies, Alienor de Poitiers, who had written the manual on etiquette known as Les Honneurs de la Cour,56 a book doubtless carefully studied by Margaret.
Each department of the ducal household was responsible for one of the functions of the court, and Margaret had a parallel household of her own, which mirrorred the ducal structure on a smaller scale. Foremost among the court institutions was the ducal chapel, supervised by the Bishop of Tournai and staffed by forty priests, chaplains and almoners who administered ducal charity. The chapel music came under the direction of some of the most distinguished musicians in Europe, such as the composer Anthoine Busnoys.57All the choristers and players were carefully selected and a wide range of instruments was used including harps, organs, bagpipes and German horns. The chapel was magnificently equipped with plate, reliquaries, breviaries, music books and vestments.
Within the ducal household were the great departments of state. The Great Council was most important and was headed by the Chancellor Hugonet who had a large staff of lawyers, officials, secretaries, maîtres des requêtes, wardens and constables. They covered all the legal business of the state. Charles was proud of his position as a law-giver, and in peacetime he held public audience twice a week to deal with petitions. On these occasions the whole court was expected to attend. During the Duke’s absence the Chancellor or the Duchess herself might receive the petitions in his place.
The Council for War was another department and a most active one.58 The artillery and infantry were organised according to a series of ordinances issued by Charles personally. Margaret worked closely with this Council in 1476 when she was raising men for the army and she made her own ordinances for the troops which she raised to support Mary after 1477.
The Treasury was under the supervision of the Duke himself who kept a very close eye on the accounts, a practice followed by Margaret in her own dower affairs. The expenditure on the ducal household stood in the region of 400,000 livres a year with the military burden twice that sum.59 This was a huge amount, especially when we remember that a very wealthy baron such as Margaret’s father, Richard, Duke of York, had a gross annual income of about £8,000 sterling.60
A great part of the capital assets of the court was kept in the form of jewels, plate and other treasure. This was under the care of another department, the Garde des Joyaux. The Burgundian jewels were famous and the Swiss who captured the ducal baggage after Grandson, Murten and Nancy were astounded by the excess.61 Apart from all the usual paraphernalia of a military campaign, tents, armour, cannons and banners, Charles had with him the regalia of the ducal chapel. This included a great reliquary of sculptured gold, inlaid with gems, adorned with statues and containing eighty separate relics. In addition there were three or four-hundredweight of silver, gold and silver-gilt as well as chests of tapestries, cloths of gold, silks and satins. The finest pieces, so eagerly carried back to the Swiss towns, were the great sword of state encrusted with diamonds, pearls and rubies, and one of Charles’ famous black velvet hats in which he had mounted one of the largest diamonds in the world.62
As well as these major offices of the court there was the household itself, run by a first chamberlain and a master of the household with five controllers to supervise the large staff.63 There were forty valets de chambres, numerous servers, cup bearers, tasters and vintners, six doctors, two surgeons, two spicers and sixteen squires in constant personal attendance upon the Duke. In addition were the kitchen staff who included twenty-five special cooks as well as all the scullery workers and the provisioners. Another chamberlain supervised the ducal stables where there were sixty squires and pages who served as messengers, as well as blacksmiths, farriers and stable hands. The Master of the Horse and the Chief Falconer were responsible for organising the hunting and were members of the great nobility such as Lord Ravenstein. They were also concerned with jousts and tournaments. Great occasions of state required the cooperation of many departments and the men who served at the head of one office often had a similar role in another, which must have ensured good joint operations. To complete the ducal household there was a bodyguard of a hundred and twenty-six squires and the same number of archers under a captain. There was also the important and splendid office of the heralds, headed by six Kings of Arms who wore crowns studded with sapphires. And a whole army of seamstresses, tailors, launderers and personal servants.
The household set up for Margaret in August 1468 was much more modest. It had a full establishment of a hundred and forty persons though not all of them were expected to be in attendance at the same time. The Duchess’ servants worked in six or three monthly shifts and at any one time only about ninety would be on duty. Her ladies, who included twelve maids-of-honour and three ladies-of-the-bedchamber, were under the surveillance of Marie, Countess of Charny. Marie was one of Duke Philip’s older illegitimate daughters. In 1447 she had married Pierre de Bauffremont, Count of Charny, a councillor for both Philip and his son Charles. Her husband was appointed as captain of Margaret’s knights-of-honour. As a famous jouster, who had won reknown at the tournament of Arras in 1435, he was a figure of seniority at the ducal court. In 1434 he had stood as proxy for Duke Philip at the baptism of Jan van Eyck’s eldest son, and throughout his life he undertook many embassies on behalf of the ducal government.
The rest of her staff were organised under three maîtres d’hôtel, two of whom were always in attendance. They were to supervise the butlerage and kitchen staff, which had a full complement of fifty with a further thirty responsible for provisioning, and twenty-three in the stables. Although the personnel of Margaret’s household would be changed many times during her time as Duchess, the size of her household remained much the same and Margaret continued to require the services of about a hundred persons to supply all her personal needs. She could also draw on the large reservoir of court servants for any special missions.
Within this household and court Margaret’s role was largely undefined. On the one hand she was a mere adornment and, with a partly paid-up dowry of 200,000 crowns, her monetary worth was about the same as the famous ducal mantle smothered with jewels worn at Trier to impress the Emperor.64 On the other hand Margaret was a deputy for the Duke himself. She received ambassadors and it was regarded as a great honour if she acted as a godparent or attended a noble wedding. In February 1470 both Charles and Margaret were present at the celebrations accompanying a double wedding between Jeanne, the daughter of Anthony, Count of La Roche to the Lord of Culembourg, and Jeanne, the daughter of the Lord of Gruuthuyse to the Count of Hoorn.65 These celebrations at Bruges were one of the last great ceremonials of Charles’ reign, and it was an important political event uniting as it did the nobility of Holland, Flanders, Burgundy and Brabant. During the long absences of the Duke on his military campaigns it was left to Margaret to maintain social contact with the major noble families in the north.
In spite of the popular debate over the value and worth of women, which had been triggered off by the controversy surrounding the Roman de la Rose published in the previous century, the Burgundian court still pretended to regard women in the old chivalric terms. Although their realms may be seized, as in the case of Jacqueline, Countess of Holland, Zeeland and Hainault, who had lost all her territories to Duke Philip the Good, they were rarely imprisoned and seldom executed.66 Since women had a wholly subservient role and were legally regarded as not responsible for their lord’s actions, they were not made to suffer if their husbands were condemned as traitors and their dower lands were usually respected. Yet it is also clear from the behaviour of powerful women like Isabelle of Portugal and Margaret herself that women could and did act on their own authority and were expected to assume a wide range of responsibilities. Simply because they were survivors and outlived most of their husbands they accumulated a vast amount of experience enabling them to play an important but often concealed role within government.
During the first years of her marriage, Margaret’s role was restricted by her inexperience, and she passed her time travelling round the country and accompanying her step-daughter. Her life was led within the castles and palaces of the Low Countries. She never visited the Duchy of Burgundy or Franche Comté. The castle within which she passed most of her short married life was Ten Waele at Ghent. If Bruges was the financial and commercial centre of Flanders, Ghent was its political capital and the ‘town most to be reckoned with in Flanders’.67 Ghent had, in spite of harsh ducal repression, continued to be the mainspring of most of the rebellions that broke out in the northern provinces. Together with Bruges and Ypres, it formed the alliance of the three members of a powerful economic and political force in the government of Flanders. The trading interests of Flanders made the county accessible to foreign influences, and more than once English or French interference in the affairs of the duchy had been made possible by the actions of the citizens of Ghent. It was for this reason that the Duke had to maintain a high presence in the city and why Margaret and Mary were obliged to remain there for long periods of time.
The grim exterior of the castle at Ghent reflected the toughness of the city, but inside many improvements had made it a most comfortable palace and, after 1472, the Duchess spent every Christmas there.68 The tapestries which had shone in the hall at Bruges adorned the walls whenever the Duchess was in residence (they usually travelled with the ducal household). During the first year of her marriage, while work was started on her rooms at Ghent, Margaret stayed at Maele, one of the original castles of the Counts of Flanders. In the summer of 1472 she entertained the English ambassador there, an appropriate place for him to visit since the castle chapel was dedicated to St Thomas à Becket. It was shortly after this visit that a serious fire broke out in the Duchess’ rooms. It was considered sufficiently important for the Duke to ride over from Bruges to reassure her and to assess the damage personally.
Margaret claimed that the fire had destroyed her personal property to the value of 50,000 to 60,000 crowns and that she had lost rings, jewels, tapestries, robes and furs and had hardly anything left. The Estates raised aides to replace her losses. Antwerp and Brabant sent an extra 4,000 ridders. This was in addition to their standard levy of 12,000 ridders, payable every year for eight years for the maintenance of the Duchess and her household. Similar arrangements were made with all the provinces, Flanders paid 40,000 ridders over sixteen years and Hainault 28,000 livres over fourteen years. On the occasion of the fire contributions came directly from several cities with Lille, Douai and Orchies finding 2,000 francs and Malines sending 600 crowns.69 The castle of Maele was so badly damaged that the Duchess left it for the more southerly Bellemotte and there is no evidence that she ever returned there.
Only the castles of Ghent, Brussels and Hesdin were large enough to accommodate the households of both the Duke and the Duchess at the same time. At Brussels the palace of Coudenberg had been almost doubled in size during the reign of Philip the Good. The corporation of Brussels was eager to persuade their Dukes to spend more time in their city and they paid for the building of the great hall, vast enough to hold assemblies of the whole ducal court.70 Coudenberg was surrounded by an extensive park, known as the Warende, which was itself part of the enormous hunting forest of Soignes covering much of central Brabant.
Compared to Bruges and Ghent, Brussels was a very loyal city and by 1470 it was one of the largest in the ducal territories. Its town hall had been doubled in size by the addition of the left wing, for which Charles and his first fiancée, Catherine of France, had laid the foundation stone in 1440. The massive Church of St Michael and St Gudule, whose twin towers featured in miniatures of the Duchess Margaret, was used for ducal baptisms and marriages. The Church of Our Lady on the Sablon, close to the ducal palace, was built by the guild of crossbowmen, an important element of the ducal armies. Brussels’ craftsmen were famous for the manufacture of arms, armour and leatherwork and it was also a city of art. Rogier van der Weyden was the chief civic artist and there were several famous book-making studios. However, although she made many visits to the city, Margaret never stayed at Brussels for long periods as she did at Ghent and Hesdin.
Hesdin had also been greatly extended by Philip the Good.71 He held many fêtes there and the palace was certainly designed to appeal to his sense of humour. The River Cauche provided the source for the waterfalls and fountains which adorned the gardens, and its waters were even brought inside the palace to cause amusement by drenching unsuspecting guests and wetting the ladies by spraying water up their skirts. There were statues which spurted paint, a book of poetry that squirted black ink, a staircase which tipped people into bags of feathers, corridors where rain and snow fell from the ceiling and a wooden hermit who spoke when addressed. More prosaic amusements included distorting mirrors, secret trap doors and sacks which burst over the heads of guests. It is difficult to imagine these delights appealing to the sombre Duke Charles or to his unsmiling Duchess. Perhaps its fine park, the gardens and excellent hunting country around were sufficient attraction, together with much of the ducal library which was kept there. Margaret passed her first Christmas in Burgundy at Hesdin, where she was joined by both Mary and the Dowager Isabelle. Charles was detained at Brussels receiving the submission of Ghent. Margaret returned for the Christmas of 1470 when Charles joined her but after this, apart from a brief sojourn in 1471, Hesdin was deserted for Le Crotoy and Arques.
After 1471 Charles was away from the Low Countries more often and Margaret gradually assumed a more prominent role. By 1476 she was playing a very visible part in the ducal administration. The problems arising from the failures of Charles’ foreign policy were the main cause of her increasing activity. The Duke, following the aims and ambitions of his three predecessors, continued to strive to extend and consolidate his feudal territories. The Dukes of Burgundy held their lands from two sovereigns, from the Emperor and from the King of France. Since their various counties and duchies were physically separated by estates belonging to other lords, the Dukes had to ensure that they could move their troops and goods easily from one territory to another. They were frequently involved in disputes over rights of passage and they therefore struggled to join their lands together.
By 1468 the lands which Charles held from the Emperor were very extensive and he was much involved in the politics of the Empire. Some of the German nobles looked to him for support against the Emperor and thought that the energetic Charles would make a better defender against the inroads of the Turks.72 Charles was hopeful that he might achieve some sort of imperial crown as a Vicar of the Empire or even as the King of the Romans. He seems to have had hopes of inserting himself into the imperial succession between the Emperor Frederick III and his son the Archduke Maximilian of Austria, whose marriage to Mary would eventually ensure the union of the Empire and the Low Countries.73 The Habsburg-Valois merger that Charles envisaged would indeed take place but only after his death and not on terms favourable to Burgundy, since it involved the loss of most of the French lands.
In order to safeguard his French possessions while pursuing an expansionist policy within the Empire, Charles needed allies who would hold France in check; hence his alliance with England and his marriage to Margaret. Margaret’s very presence in Burgundy acted as a warning to France. It was this fact which lay behind Louis XI’s personal antagonism towards Margaret and also her own resolute opposition to France after 1477. By the treaty of Peronne in 1468, Charles had achieved all that he wanted with regard to France and thereafter he was only concerned with maintaining the status quo. He was now at liberty to embark on his policy of expansion in the Rhinelands. By May 1469 he had negotiated the treaty of St Omer giving him control over Alsace, and in 1472 he secured power in Lorraine. The betrothal of Mary to Nicholas, Duke of Lorraine, was intended to consolidate his gains. But this was the peak of Charles’ success and after 1472 he found himself forced onto the defensive. His failure to secure Alsace was the result of many factors, not least among them the tactless and belligerent attitude of Peter von Hagenbach the ducal bailiff there. In Lorraine too he was involved in a lengthy war of succession following the death of Nicholas.
Throughout the Rhinelands, Charles found himself facing an enemy whose power and significance he entirely failed to appreciate. The League of Constance was an alliance composed of Swiss and German cities and princes, who were encouraged by Louis XI in their efforts to extricate their territories from Burgundian influence.74 The mainspring of this determined opposition from the cities lay within the Low Countries themselves. The treatment of the cities of Dinant, Ghent and Liège by the Dukes of Burgundy had sent a shiver of horror through all the cities of the Rhine, none of whom wanted to find themselves subjected to the heavy taxation and ruthless punishments that had been meted out to those disobedient cities. Dinant stood as a terrible warning, even before Charles inherited the duchy. Philip had watched while his son’s army had sacked and plundered the city for several days, its leading citizens were tied back-to-back in pairs and hurled from the citadel. Refugees from Dinant, and later from Liège, had found shelter all along the Rhine and in other cities of the Low Countries. Wherever they went they carried with them accounts of the horrors which they had suffered. The assault and destruction of Liège in 1468 added to the stories of Charles’ cruelty. No wonder Ghent had submitted in January 1469 and Tournai paid to be left in peace.75
Margaret played her own small role in the control of the cities. Her visits were the gentler side of ducal influence and the means whereby city officials were kept under careful surveillance. This meant a close supervision of all local appointments. In 1472 she wrote to Dijon urging the appointment of a ducal nominee to the position of procureur, but on this occasion she did not succeed.76 She was later to show a similar firm interest in the administration of her dower towns.
Margaret’s role in foreign affairs was largely confined to the reception of embassies, heralds and foreign rulers. In 1472, throughout the negotiations for the treaty of St Omer, she entertained Duke Sigismund at Hesdin. The Duke of Guelders and his son were both guests, even enforced guests, of the Duchess, and after Charles had seized Guelders for himself the dispossessed son became, for a short time, a permanent resident at Margaret’s court.77 However, Charles did not involve Margaret in his negotiations with the Emperor. She was absent from the important meeting at Trier, though she travelled to Aachen two years later and perhaps it was then that she offered her beautiful votive coronet to the shrine of Our Lady in the cathedral.78 The presentation of a Burgundian crown in Charlemagne’s great basilica would have been a gesture not lost on her contemporaries, who were well aware of Charles’ ambitions.
Margaret’s chief importance in Burgundy derived from the value of the Anglo-Burgundian alliance and it was in the relations between Burgundy and England that she was to play such an active role for thirty-five years. The fact that she remained so respected within Burgundy in spite of the problems in the alliance and her continued childlessness is evidence of her own intelligence and abilities. Charles’ marriage to Margaret was intended to secure a lasting alliance with England, yet within a year the Duke’s confidence in the value of his wife’s connections must have been severely shaken. In the summer of 1468 Edward seemed to be very securely established on the English throne. The deposed King Henry was held in the Tower and Queen Margaret and her son Edward were penniless petitioners at the court of Louis XI, who had shown little inclination to support the Lancastrian cause. But after the rejection of the Anglo-French alliance, Louis became much more sympathetic towards the Lancastrian Queen. Warwick also had not been pleased by Margaret’s marriage to Charles, and it was his alliance with the King of France which was to prove so dangerous for both Edward and Burgundy.
Although Warwick had escorted his cousin on her farewell ride through London he was far from satisfied. In an effort to reconcile Warwick to the Burgundian alliance and to his role as the King’s most important ambassador, Edward sent Warwick to the Low Countries in March 1469. The main purpose of the mission was to offer the Order of the Garter to Charles in response to Charles’ offer of the Golden Fleece to Edward. Warwick was received with great honour first by the Dowager Isabelle and later at Hesdin by Charles and Margaret. There were no signs at these meetings of the ‘deadly hatred’ which was rumoured to exist between Charles and Warwick.79 It is likely, however, that two proud and ruthless men would hardly find each other very sympathetic. Warwick may well have used his visit to Burgundy for his own ends, making contact with the Lancastrian exiles the Dukes of Exeter and Somerset, who were still pensioners of the Burgundian court, and trying to discover whether Charles was likely to intervene to support his brother-in-law.
Warwick may also have warned Margaret of her brother Clarence’s increasing dissatisfaction with his position at court. Clarence had been repeatedly disappointed over his marriage prospects, French and Scottish princesses and the Burgundian heiress had all slipped from his grasp. Nor had he succeeded in securing the hand of an English heiress, all of whom, it seemed, were being married off to the Queen’s numerous relatives. Warwick’s proposal that Clarence should marry his own eldest daughter, the heiress Isabel Neville, had not found favour with the King and once again Clarence felt thwarted. His status as heir-apparent had been lost with the birth of the Princess Elizabeth, and it was surely only a matter of time before a son was born to the Queen, finally removing all his hopes of inheriting the throne. By the time of Warwick’s visit to Burgundy, Clarence had decided to defy his brother and marry Isabel. Even as Warwick was being entertained by the mechanical contrivances at Hesdin, his envoys were busy in Rome obtaining the necessary dispensation for the marriage of such close cousins.80
Had Warwick attempted to ascertain Margaret’s views on these matters, she would surely have counselled patience and loyalty to the King, both of which she always showed in good measure. But patience was not one of the nineteen-year old Clarence’s virtues and, by the end of June, Warwick’s own supporters were informed of the impending marriage and rumours had become widespread. Edward summoned them both to appear before him to establish that they were not ‘of any such disposition towards us as rumour here runneth’.81 Now openly in defiance, Warwick and Clarence left England for Calais and on 11 July, Isabel Neville and George, Duke of Clarence, were married there by the bride’s uncle, George Neville, Archbishop of York. Immediately after the wedding the rebels issued a proclamation denouncing the bad government of England which they blamed on the evil advice of the Queen’s parents, Earl Rivers and Lady Jacquetta, and her eldest brother Anthony Lord Scales. This was a virtual declaration of war and was accompanied by well-orchestrated rebellions in the north, the Midlands and Kent. Throughout this period Margaret kept closely in touch with the events in England. Early in July she received another English embassy at Ghent and she was still there when the news of the rebellion reached her.82
During the summer of 1469 the crisis gathered momentum. Warwick and Clarence took control of London, Edward found himself a virtual prisoner at the hands of Warwick. Earl Rivers, Sir John Woodville, William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, and the Earl of Devon, along with many others, paid with their lives for Edward’s strangely lethargic response to the rebellion. When the Bishop of Rochester arrived to report on Warwick’s coup d’état, Charles was away in Holland.83 The news was a personal embarrassment to the Duchess. Far from being a diplomatic asset to Burgundy she was now the sister of an imprisoned English King. Moreover England now had two imprisoned kings, confirming popular continental opinion that it was a land of anarchy, violence and blasphemy, where consecrated monarchs could be set aside at the whim of the rebellious nobility. Would Warwick create yet another King out of the Duke of Clarence?
The Burgundian court was very concerned and attempts were made to intervene. Sometime during that summer Charles made contact with the corporation and merchants of London promising them his goodwill as long as they remained loyal to King Edward.84The city listened to his advice, especially since the new Anglo-Burgundian accord on exchange rates had just been reached and the merchant community wanted nothing to delay its operation. In September, the city issued a proclamation against all rioters, especially against anyone causing an affray against the new commercial accord. This pressure, together with a Lancastrian rising in favour of Henry VI alarmed Warwick, who was obliged to restore Edward and allow his return to London. A public reconciliation was staged between the King, Clarence and Warwick, but the Queen was not likely to forgive the murder of her father and brother, and it was only a matter of time before the restored King would act to crush his former rebels. The proclamation of Princess Elizabeth as the heir-apparent was an open move against the pretensions of the Duke of Clarence. Duchess Cecily worked hard to achieve a real accord between her sons and as late as March 1470 she called Edward and Clarence together at Baynard’s Castle to arrange a lasting settlement.
Margaret was also kept informed and Edward made an effort to strengthen his relations with Duke Charles. In January 1470 Edward sent another delegation to Ghent bearing a magnificently jewelled Garter which he had commissioned from John Brown of London at a cost of £8, 6s, 8d.85 This was presented to Charles in Margaret’s presence. Among the Duke’s treasures looted by the Swiss at the battle of Grandson was a very fine garter, probably this one. Charles was proud to belong to an order dedicated to St George, to whom he was particularly devoted. He had always observed the saint’s day and St George was portrayed as his patron on the reliquary he had presented to St Lambert’s Cathedral at Liège.
Although Margaret may have hoped that this embassy marked the end of the troubles in England, by February rebellion broke out again. Typically the fighting began in Lincolnshire with a personal quarrel between the son of that ‘lovely lady Willoughby’, who had accompanied Margaret to her wedding, and Sir Thomas Burgh, the Master of the King’s Horse. The disturbances spread, inflamed by the activities of Warwick and Clarence.86 Edward’s victory over the Lincolnshire rebels at Empingham on 12 March served to isolate them and, fearing reprisals, they fled to Calais where Warwick’s old ally, Lord Wenlock, refused them entry. Wenlock was later rewarded by Charles, so closely was Burgundy now involved with the troubles in England.87
Charles was soon to be even more deeply involved in the conflict because Warwick seized ships belonging to merchants from the Low Countries. The Duke protested vigorously to Louis XI when Warwick was allowed to take his pirated ships into the shelter of the French ports in open contravention of the treaty of Peronne. On 15 July, Charles made a threatening statement in front of the whole court saying that, ‘among us Portuguese [an unusual reference to his mother’s native land] it is a custom that when those we had regarded as friends make peace with our enemies we consign them to hell.’88
Louis was not yet ready for a war with Burgundy so he ordered the English lords to leave his lands, although he did offer hospitality to their ladies, sent a bale of silk to Clarence and offered to meet them privately. Charles, well aware of these machinations, retaliated by confiscating the goods of all the French merchants in Bruges, while he kept in close contact with Edward informing him of the movements of the rebels.
Throughout the summer of 1470 the court in Burgundy appeared to be more concerned about the situation in England than Edward was himself. Repeatedly Charles warned Edward of the threats of invasion emanating from France and Margaret wrote to both of her brothers. According to Commynes, her letters reached Clarence even when he was in France, through a lady in his wife Isabel’s entourage.89 Nothing she wrote discouraged Clarence from entering into the alliance now arranged by Warwick and Louis XI. Margaret of Anjou was prevailed upon to make common cause with her old enemies and Louis even persuaded her to allow her son Edward to marry Warwick’s second daughter Anne. Clarence was drawn into the alliance by being named as heir in the event of this marriage having no issue. The rebels promised to restore Henry VI and with the help of France they prepared to invade England. They landed in Devon early in September and rallied more support as they marched towards London.
In spite of all Charles’ warnings, Edward was totally unprepared to meet the invasion. Queen Elizabeth fled with her daughters into the sanctuary of Westminster Abbey and Edward IV, with a few hundred of his closest supporters, fled the country altogether. He left King’s Lynn on 29 September accompanied by his youngest brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester, his brother-in-law Anthony, now Earl Rivers, and his most loyal friend Lord Hastings. The readeption of King Henry VI began on 15 October when the gentle King was brought out of the Tower to the acclaim of the fickle London crowd. In France, Queen Margaret and her son Edward, Prince of Wales, celebrated with a Te Deum and prepared to return to England.
Edward’s small fleet was scattered as it was pursued across the Channel by hostile ships and storms and it eventually landed along a wide stretch of the coast of the Low Countries.90 Gloucester and Rivers arrived at Weilingen in Zeeland and the King with Hastings came ashore on the island of Texel much further to the north. Edward and his party were brought on to Alkmaar and by the middle of October the English refugees had been reassembled at The Hague, where they were received by the Lord of Gruuthuyse on behalf of Duke Charles. The English were heavily dependent on their hosts. They had left England in such haste that they had very little money with them. Gloucester had to borrow from the town bailiff of Veer to pay for his minor expenses and Gruuthuyse sent his men out scouring the countryside to find rabbits to feed the unexpected guests.
Margaret must have heard of Edward’s arrival when she was in Brussels and she sent the messengers on at once to inform Charles, who was at Hesdin. The arrival of his brother-in-law as a penniless exile was an embarrassment to Charles. Far from proving himself a useful ally, Edward was clearly a liability likely to drag Burgundy into a war with both France and England. Charles had already been playing a devious game, allowing the Dukes of Somerset and Exeter to leave his lands and travel to France in support of the Lancastrian cause.91 Now he played for time and Edward was left in the competent hands of Gruuthuyse while Charles congratulated King Henry VI on his readeption. Although money was sent to cover their expenses, the Yorkist exiles were kept in the north far from the court. Margaret made no public contact with her brother but throughout October and November messengers with secret letters moved between the exiles and the Burgundian court.92 By 29 November the Duchess had joined her husband at Hesdin where they remained throughout Christmas.
Charles’ uncertainties over his English policies were soon resolved for him by the actions of Warwick and Louis XI. The latter, secure in a new English alliance and with the promised neutrality of Brittany, was at last confident enough to challenge the treaty of Peronne which he had always regarded as unfavourable to France. By December French intentions towards Burgundy were openly hostile and Louis was rumoured to be behind a plot to kill Charles while he was out hunting near Le Crotoy.93 Charles was denounced for accepting the Order of the Garter, since, as a vassal of the French King, he was not permitted to become a member of a foreign chivalric order and Louis enforced a boycott on Burgundian trade. Finally on 3 December Louis made an open declaration of war, claiming that all Charles possessions were forfeit to the crown of France because he had broken his oath of allegiance. As a result of this aggression, Charles was obliged to give his full backing to the restoration of Edward IV and at last Margaret was allowed to invite her brother to join them in the south.
During the Christmas period, preparations were made to receive the English King and his companions at court. Edward came down to Ostcamp, near Bruges, the country castle of Louis of Gruuthuyse. Charles ordered £20,000 to be made available for an expedition to England and on 2 January the two men met for the first time at the castle of La Motte.94 Three days later Edward rode on to Hesdin to visit his sister. During the next three weeks there were several meetings between Margaret and both of her brothers. Preparations were soon underway for another invasion of England and in addition to the ducal contribution which included three or four ships fitted out at Veer, the merchants and bankers in Flanders, Holland and Zeeland were encouraged to lend money for the venture, and the local Hanseatic traders provided another fourteen ships.
Margaret was now very active, rallying support for her brother and urging the cities to raise money for the expedition. On 24 February five Dutch towns, including Leiden, agreed to make a loan of 6,000 florins to ‘my gracious lady of Burgundy and the King Edward of England, her brother if my gracious lord [Charles] will approve.’95 The Duchess left Hesdin for Lille on 19 January and early in February Gloucester visited his sister and her step-daughter and stayed for a couple of nights. By this time, Charles was with his armies in Picardy and on the Somme. St Quentin was lost to the French and near Calais there were clashes between Burgundian troops and English soldiers loyal to King Henry VI.
Accompanying the military preparations for the invasion of England was a battery of propaganda. Jean Mielot, a poet in Charles’ entourage, compared the Duke of Burgundy to Jason assisting the giant Anticles, a reference to Edward’s great height, to regain his island where wolves were devouring his sheep.96 Once more the Argosy provided a useful source for the analogies. There were many who thought that Edward’s chances of regaining his throne were very fictional indeed. The ambassador of Milan commented that it was ‘difficult to leave by the door and return by the window’ and he thought Edward would ‘leave his skin there’.97
In England the readeption government was facing serious difficulties. The redistribution of land had left many dissatisfied and Clarence was becoming increasingly doubtful about his attachment to a cause which meant that instead of being brother of the King he was merely the brother-in-law of the heir-apparent. Continual pressure on him from the Yorkist ladies was having its effect. The Dowager Duchess Cecily and her two daughters in England, the Duchesses of Exeter and Suffolk, brought their arguments to bear on Edward’s behalf, but their efforts were restrained by their residence in England. Margaret, however, was free to make the most open cause for Edward and in the eyes of her contemporaries it was her ‘great and diligent effort’ with her servants and messengers travelling at all seasons which won Clarence back to his old allegiance.98 Even before Edward finally sailed for England, Clarence had probably made up his mind to change sides.
Edward’s five months in the Low Countries were not entirely preoccupied with the preparations for his return. He was very impressed by the high standards of the Burgundian court and admired the jewels, plate, tapestries, paintings and especially the books and manuscripts which were displayed to him both by Lord Louis of Gruuthuyse and by Margaret at Hesdin.
Gruuthuyse’s collection was one of the finest libraries in Europe, and after his death it was bought by Louis XII of France and became the core of the French royal library.99 Many of his books had been commissioned from the master bookmakers of Bruges and he was a friend of Collard Mansion who ran a workshop in the city. William Caxton had joined the Duchess’ service as a business adviser soon after her marriage. He too was well acquainted with Collard Mansion and the first book ever to be printed in English was made by Caxton on Collard’s press. It was perhaps in 1471 that Caxton made his first contact with Earl Rivers who would later become his patron. As a result of his stay in the Low Countries and his discussions with two such knowledgeable bibliophiles as Margaret and Lord Louis, Edward became seriously interested in building up a royal library. After his restoration Edward began to buy in a large number of books and manuscripts, which were to become the core of the royal library of England. His taste was never as discriminating as his sister’s and he seemed to have preferred quantity to quality.
Edward was also influenced by other aspects of the ‘Burgundian Renaissance’ which was in full flower by the late fifteenth century. The Gruuthuyse Palace at Bruges was a fine example of Flemish architecture and of the decorated brickwork for which Flanders was famous. It was built to a very high standard of comfort and elegance, and inside it was furnished with stained glass windows and tapestries. While Edward was at Bruges, Gruuthuyse was planning an extension which would give the house an oratory overlooking the sanctuary of the Church of Our Lady.100 This oratory was completed in 1474 and is a gem of Flemish Gothic architecture, light, elegant and charming. Several elements of its design would be incorporated into the King’s new chapel of St George at Windsor.
Edward’s palace at Sheen was also rebuilt in the Flemish style, with patterned brickwork and large windows. Indeed many of the features popularly regarded as Tudor date from half a century earlier and have their origin in the architectural styles of the Low Countries. Edward’s exile in Holland, Zeeland and Flanders and his close contact with Margaret served to increase the numbers of Flemish artisans working in England and to promote high standards of craftsmanship and design. Edward and his entourage were impressed by the whole conduct of the Burgundian court and after their return Lord Hastings consulted Olivier de La Marche on the establishment of the ducal household. Perhaps it was hoped that by copying the Burgundian model the Yorkist court could establish itself as an oasis of correct procedures in the uncertain and turbulent world of English politics.101
In spite of his natural anxieties over his future, Edward appears to have enjoyed his time in Bruges. He took his leave with a gesture that was typical of this good humoured man by walking from Bruges to Damme so that he could be seen by as many of the citizens as possible and thank them for all their support.102 By 2 March he was on board the ‘Anthony’, a ship belonging to Henry of Borselem, Gruuthuyse’s brother-in-law and one of the admirals of the duchy. After a delay caused by contrary winds, the fleet of about thirty-six ships set sail. The invading army was not very large and when Edward found his landing at Cromer opposed by the Earl of Oxford, he sailed north and landed at Ravenser on the north bank of the Humber. Assuring everyone that he had come (like Bolingbroke before him) only to claim his rightful duchy, he was permitted to enter the city of York, though his army was obliged to remain outside the walls. From York he made contact with his friends and relatives in England, especially Clarence. Assured that support was widespread he began to march south and by the time he reached the Midlands, Clarence was on his way to meet him.
Margaret, who kept herself closely in touch with all the developments in England, wrote to the Dowager Duchess Isabelle to describe the meeting of the two brothers:
My lord the King and brother coming with all his people one morning and my brother Clarence coming also with great strength towards him they found themselves, by chance, close to each other near a town called Bancbry [Banbury]. Each of them put their people in readiness and Clarence with a small company left his people behind him and approached my lord and brother who saw him coming and Lord Clarence threw himself on his knees so that my lord and brother seeing his humility and hearing his words, lifted him up and embraced him several times and gave him his good cheer and then he [Clarence] cried ‘Long live King Edward.’103
Once the brothers had settled their differences (for the time being at least), Clarence appears to have tried to win over Warwick but he tried in vain. There was nothing that the Lancastrians could do to stop Edward entering London and taking possession of the city. Commynes commented sourly that Edward was welcomed so warmly into London because he owed so much both to the merchants and to their wives.104 But in fact the various anti-Burgundian measures imposed by the readeption government had dislocated trade and the city burgesses were anxious to restore the Anglo-Burgundian trade treaties.
The two Kings’ armies met in the field at Barnet. It was a hard fought battle and marked a decisive victory for the Yorkists. Margaret wrote to Isabelle that her brother had an army of 12,000 men and contemporaries put the casualties at between 1,000 and 4,000, one of whom was Warwick. It was widely rumoured that he had been taken alive and then killed on Edward’s orders. In her letters to Isabelle, Margaret endeavoured to clear her brother of all blame for his cousin’s death.105 She claimed that Warwick had indeed been taken alive and that, as he was being led towards Edward, another group of soldiers arrived on the scene, recognised him and killed him. Edward had arrived too late to rescue his cousin and was full of sorrow. As well as absolving Edward from all responsibility for Warwick’s death, Margaret also had to explain to Isabelle, who was very interested in her Neville cousins, why Edward had the bodies of both Warwick and his younger brother Montague exposed to public gaze at St Paul’s. It was, she wrote:
because my lord the King and brother had heard that nobody in the city believed that Warwick and his brother were dead so he had their bodies brought to St Paul’s where they were laid out and uncovered from the chest upwards in the sight of everybody.106
After the battle of Barnet, Edward once more regained possession of the unhappy King Henry. Margaret’s description of the meeting between the two Kings was also designed to show her brother in the best light possible and would throw doubt on the later rumours that Edward had ordered Henry’s death in the Tower. She told Isabelle that Edward and Henry had come together in the presence of the Archbishop of York and that:
my lord and brother offered him his hand but King Henry came and embraced him saying: ‘my cousin you are very welcome, I know that my life will be in no danger in your hands’ and my lord and brother replied that he should have no worries and should be of good cheer.107
Margaret’s propaganda on behalf of her brother may have served some useful purpose at the Burgundian court but there does seem to be a certain futility in her efforts to purify the actions of her bloodstained brothers.
Immediately after Barnet, Queen Margaret and Edward, Prince of Wales, arrived at Weymouth and made their landing totally unaware of the disaster that awaited them. Although the news of the Lancastrian defeat reached them a day later the Queen must have been persuaded that there was still a good chance of victory or she would not have risked the life of her son, whom she had guarded for so long. She had not allowed him to come over to England with Warwick and Clarence and she had delayed their return until the readeption had seemed secure. However, this time she allowed her son’s life to be fully committed to the cause and on 4 May the two armies met at Tewkesbury. The Lancastrian army proved to be no match for Edward. His brother Gloucester was also gaining a reputation for his military abilities, he had fought bravely at Barnet and was rewarded with the leadership of the vanguard at Tewkesbury. All the Lancastrian leaders, including the Duke of Somerset, were killed and the Queen was taken prisoner. Prince Edward was ‘taken fleinge to the townewards and slayne in the fielde’.
On the victor’s return to London, Henry VI ‘which was a gode, simple and innocent man’ died ‘of pure despleasure and meloncholy’ in the Tower.108 The unfortunate Queen Margaret remained in Edward’s prisons until 1476, when she was finally ransomed by Louis XI and returned to her native land, where she passed the rest of her life in great penury, relieved only by the loyalty of one of her French vassals. At her death her only possessions of any value were her hunting dogs and these were quickly appropriated by Louis XI. The Duke of Exeter survived Tewkesbury and fled into sanctuary but his wife, Anne of York, was allowed to secure the annulment of her marriage to him, and she married her lover Thomas St Leger, keeping the bulk of the Holland estates. Another Lancastrian who also evaded capture and found safety abroad was Jasper Tudor, the Earl of Pembroke, who escaped from Tenby a month after the defeat at Tewkesbury, taking with him his nephew and the new Lancastrian heir, Henry of Richmond, the future Tudor King.
The news of the Yorkist triumph brought great rejoicing to the Burgundian court. Bonfires were lit to pass the news swiftly across the land, and even before the battle of Tewkesbury a large English embassy, including such well-known figures as William Hatcliffe and John Russel, arrived in Bruges. Margaret received them on 6 April and they visited her at Maele where they dined ‘not at her owne table but in a chamber with her chamberleyn’.109 They were also entertained by Count Anthony of La Roche at Bruges and by Gruuthuyse, to whom they brought Edward’s thanks and an invitation to become a Knight of the Garter.
Margaret celebrated with a great banquet at Ghent on 16 June. She was not only pleased at the restoration of her brother, she was also personally relieved to find that she was still the honoured sister of the King of England. Edward rewarded his sister by granting her licences to export a large quantity of English cloth free of all custom dues either into Flanders, or through the ‘strait of Morrok’ (Gibraltar) directly into the Mediterranean in the ‘great ship of Burgundy’, or in other ships.110 This was the first of a series of licences that Edward was to grant to his sister, partly in gratitude and partly, perhaps, as an alternative to paying off the outstanding debt on her dowry which in spite of his many promises remained unpaid.
The consequences of the termination of the main Lancastrian line of English kings were not lost on Charles. He made the point of having the Dowager Duchess Isabelle’s rights of inheritance transferred to himself and he registered his formal claim to the English throne with a notary.111 As a great-grandson of John of Gaunt and Blanche of Lancaster, Charles was now one of the more eligible Lancastrian claimants. However he had no intention of pressing his claim at that time, occupied as he was with the war against France. He spent the summers of 1471 and 1472 with his armies in northern France, while Margaret passed part of the summer close to the frontier at Le Crotoy. Edward despatched Earl Rivers to support an Anglo-Burgundian ally, Duke Francis II of Brittany, and Lord Hastings, the newly appointed Captain of Calais, was also ordered to give support to the Burgundian armies. But Charles had to wait three years before Edward fulfilled his main promise to bring the English armies across the Channel to invade France. As time went by and Edward’s promises remained unfulfilled, it was observed that ‘the English have cheated the Duke promising to send him men everyday while he sent them money’.112
Throughout the campaigns of the seventies, Margaret and Hugonet were kept busy ‘in Flanders and Brabant pressing the people to obtain money, they made a good collection of 140,000 leoni but the people are very discontented’.113 Margaret was also disappointed with her brother, for as late as May 1476 he was still promising to pay off the debt which he owed on her dowry. She became increasingly anxious about this because, in the event of Charles’ death, her whole dower situation depended on the fulfilment of the original marriage contract. She wrote to Charles asking him to clarify the situation and he warned her that she would receive the full settlement only if Edward had paid the whole dowry. However due to ‘his special love and delight (la singulière amour et delection)’ for his ‘very dear and well loved companion the duchess (mon trèschere et tres amée compagne la duchesse)’, he promised that she would receive all which had been paid into the ducal coffers by Edward, even if the rest of the dowry remained unpaid and he further guaranteed her dower income of 40,000 crowns per year.114
The year 1472/3 was the peak of Charles’ achievements. He had restored his brother-in-law to the English throne and he had withstood the French invasion. Alsace, Guelders and Zutphen were in his hands and he was consolidating his position in Lorraine. Throughout the duchy there was peace and prosperity. The household and the army had been reorganised and his government was functioning well. He was regarded as one of the most successful and powerful princes in Europe. Yet it was this very triumph which eventually led to his fall. His reputation and power struck fear into the minds of other princes and especially into those of the magistrates of the cities. Gradually alliances were formed against him and from 1474 onwards he was drawn into ever more costly campaigns and forced to remain almost constantly in the field with his armies. With the Duke’s increased absence, Margaret was obliged to spend more of her time at Ghent, where she could use her influence with the Estates and keep in touch with the mood of the northern provinces. Her authority in Flanders may be judged by the determination with which the opposition sought to get her removed from Bruges and Ghent after Charles’ death.
Throughout 1474, King Edward was urged to undertake his promised invasion of France and he slowly prepared to fulfil his promises. By the following spring he had mustered the largest English army ever assembled for an invasion of France. Edward told the Milanese ambassador that he had 20,000 men. Modern historians have estimated that it was at least 12,000.115 With the King came all the greatest nobles of the realm including both the royal brothers. Their accoutrements and equipment were lavish, Edward would not return to the continent a beggar.
By the time the English army was ready, Charles had transferred his military activity to the Rhinelands where he was occupied with the siege of Neuss. He showed no inclination to leave his armies to meet Edward and Margaret was kept hard at work encouraging Edward to invade. In the Duke’s absence she was also busy meeting ambassadors from Portugal and raising an army to withstand the French assaults on Artois and Hainault. Early in May she sent orders to Jehan, Lord of Dadizele, the ducal bailiff in Flanders, to come with all possible speed, bringing his levies to fight the French in Artois and Hainault.116 In the same month Earl Rivers arrived in Ghent only to be sent on to Neuss to urge Charles to leave the siege and to return to the Channel, but still Charles did not move and it was left to Margaret to oversee the arrangements for the Burgundian ships, which were to bring over the English army.
On 7 June Margaret left Ghent and travelled down to St Omer, arriving there just two days before Edward landed at Calais with all his court. She immediately rode over to greet her three brothers, taking a gift of tapestries and fine Bruges cloth to placate the King. She spent two nights there and returned to St Omer close to the English lines, where the Dukes of Gloucester and Clarence rode over to visit her. Louis XI commented with satisfaction that so far the English had done nothing but dance at the Duchess’ court.117 Charles finally abandoned the siege of Neuss and travelled across to Calais, arriving on 14 July, but he brought no army with him and his proposals that the English should engage the French alone while he drove into France from the east did not appeal to Edward. Nine days later Charles and Margaret again entertained Edward and his entourage at Fauquemberges, a castle on the river Aa not far from St Omer. Immediately after this, Margaret left for Ghent arriving on 1 August. This was the last time that Margaret was to see either Charles or her brother Clarence.
Charles remained in the area for the next three weeks calling on the Estates of Artois and Hainault to raise troops, but he failed to order his cities to open their gates to the English army. By this time, secret negotiations were well underway between Edward and Louis, both of whom preferred diplomatic agreements to military glory. Charles was kept informed and he had the terms of the Anglo-French deal explained to him. Although he was not best pleased, he left them to continue the talks, ordering the Count of Chimay and the Bishop of Tournai to keep an eye on the negotiations.
Louis made every effort to come to terms with Edward. He sent generous presents to the English courtiers and ordered Amiens to open its gates and its taverns freely to the English soldiery. As a result of this and Edward’s resolve to take his army safely back to England before the end of the summer, the two Kings finally met on the bridge at Picquigny. There they agreed on a truce and a treaty. Although it was claimed that Charles was so furious that he could not say what he would do next, within the week the Burgundians were also negotiating with France and they too reached agreement.118
The treaty of Picquigny was very favourable to Edward. In return for withdrawing from France he was given a generous payment of 75,000 crowns, a pension of 55,000 crowns annually and the promise of the betrothal of the Dauphin to the Princess Elizabeth. With the first installment of his ‘danegeld’ in his coffers, Edward began to move his armies out of France. The nearest he came to glory was to spend two nights camping on the field of Agincourt. There were some like Gloucester who were reported to be very displeased with the whole arrangement but most of the protesters were bought off by Louis’ generosity. The royal Dukes were loaded with gifts of horses, plate and wine and Gloucester himself was given some fine pieces of artillery. Nevertheless Edward’s return to England was marred by complaints that the resources of the kingdom had been needlessly consumed.119
By the treaty of Soleuvre, agreed between Burgundy and France early in September, Charles achieved a full restoration of all his lands and a nine years’ truce. The Duke was once more able to concentrate on his affairs in the Rhinelands, where he was further assisted by a contingent of 2,000 English archers who preferred to join the Duke’s armies rather than return empty-handed to England. Charles was not dissatisfied with the outcome and once more Margaret was rewarded too, with more licences permitting her to add wool, tin and lead to her duty-free exports from England.120
If the Duchess had found 1475 a busy year with the French invasion in April followed by the arrival of the English in July, she was to find 1476 even more strenuous. Throughout the year Charles campaigned in Lorraine and Savoy. As the year progressed successive disasters hit the Burgundian armies and they were defeated ignominiously at Grandson in March and at Murten in June. Margaret, Hugonet, Humbercourt and Ravenstein were stretched to the limit, trying to satisfy the ducal demands for troops and they summoned the Estates to obtain their full support. It was not easy to persuade the Flemish Estates to agree to pour more men and money into Lorraine.
When the news of the defeat at Grandson arrived at Ghent, the Estates were summoned to make good the losses. Margaret presided in person at the opening of the assembly and she informed them of the Duke’s demands for men and money, and of his wish that Mary should be sent to join him in Lorraine.121 The Estates vigorously opposed both proposals and Margaret promised to try to persuade the Duke to leave Mary in Ghent. By giving way on this she presumably hoped to carry the day on the issue of troops and money. But the delegates resisted all the demands, especially the ducal order for a further levy of 7,000 troops to be drawn from all the cities of the Low Countries. Chancellor Hugonet met their refusal with anger and he threatened the Estates with the wrath of the Duke if they did not immediately comply with his demands. The session ended in uproar but Margaret continued to work behind the scenes and she managed to ensure more troops were sent to Lorraine.
A contingent of about 8,000 foot soldiers were furnished with two months’ pay and they were sent off in autumn under the Count de Chimay, all of them equipped with uniforms in the Burgundian colours.122 The recruitment had been drawn from Brabant and Flanders and was well supported in the counties of Artois and Hainault, where the threat of war with France was ever present, but the northern provinces opposed both further conscription and extra taxes. The Duchess was forced to disband the Estates and she undertook a series of personal visits, trying to persuade the individual cities and nobles to support the Duke.
Throughout September and October Margaret travelled through Flanders, Brabant and Holland. It was her first trip to the northern province of Holland and she went by the overland route through Malines and Gertrudenberg to Dordrecht and Rotterdam, taking the many river ferries necessary, including the crossing over the wide Hollandse Diep.123 She stayed in The Hague, Leiden, Delft and Gouda and her visit seems to have had a modest success. In all about 4,000 more men were sent to Lorraine.
It was particularly difficult to extract contributions from the Low Countries at that time. Since June 1474, Charles had been trying to collect more money from the Church. He had also imposed a tax on all the lands and property granted to the Church within the last sixty years.124 This levy had been widely opposed and clerical lawyers had drawn up lengthy documents to expose the illegality of this innovative taxation. But the persuasions of the ducal officials prevailed and by the autumn of 1476 much of this tax had been collected. However there was a widespread resentment and there were some in the monasteries and convents who no doubt saw Charles’ defeats as acts of divine punishment for his blasphemous levy on the Church.
The news of the defeat at Murten was received with alarm in the castle of Ghent where, at first, there were fears for Charles’ life, but they were reassured to hear that he was safely in Franche Comté and reports of his speech to the Estates of Burgundy at Salins must have been even more encouraging. His self-confidence was unshaken and he reminded the delegates of the ancient Romans who had been so often defeated by Hannibal but were in the end totally victorious. He was so convincing that the Burgundians agreed to raise another 3,000 men and acquiesced to the ducal order that all the bells should be melted down to make new cannon to replace those seized by the Swiss.125
Margaret returned from Holland in November 1476 and was welcomed back to Ghent by her stepdaughter. Within the month they had at least one piece of good news: Charles had at last decided to complete the arrangements for Mary’s marriage to Maximilian. He asked the Emperor to begin preparations for the celebrations which were to take place either at Aachen or Cologne. On 1 December the necessary papal dispensation was issued at Antwerp by the Papal Legate Cardinal Tolentis.126 The news was greeted with delight throughout the Low Countries because it seemed to promise an end to all the wars in the Rhinelands. Bonfires were lit across the whole land to relay the good tidings and the magistrates of Ghent offered a banquet in honour of the Lady Mary. After all the hard negotiations and all her long journeys trying to raise men and money, Margaret must have been pleased to be able to plan something more pleasant. The Christmas celebrations at Ghent were particularly happy and they could hope that Charles too would soon be successful at the siege of Nancy so bringing to an end the war in Lorraine.