Mary of Burgundy – The Medieval History of the Low Countries

medieval wedding, mary of burgundy, medieval history, low countries
Mary of Burgundy
Mary, Duchess of Burgundy (February 13, 1457 – March 27, 1482), was the only child of Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, and his wife Isabella of Bourbon. Her eldest son, Philip, succeeded to her dominions under the guardianship of his father.

The only child of Charles the Bold, and the heiress of all the rich Burgundian domains. Author and historian John S. C. Abbot tells of Frederic and Maximilian’s visit to Burgundy in his book: The Empire of Austria* :

“They [Frederic and Maximilian] came to the court of the powerful Duke of Burgundy [Charles the Bold]. The dukedom extended over wide realms, populous and opulent, and the duke had the power of a sovereign but not the regal title. He was ambitious of elevating his dukedom into a kingdom and of being crowned king; and he agreed to give his only daughter and heiress, Mary, a beautiful and accomplished girl, to the emperor’s son Maximilian, if Frederic would confer upon his estates the regal dignity and crown him king. The bargain was made, and Maximilian and Mary both were delighted, for they regarded each other with all the warmth of young lovers. Mary, heiress to the dukedom of Burgundy, was a prize that any monarch might covet; and half the princes of Europe were striving for her hand.”

Mary, Duchess of Burgundy, played a pivotal role in bringing the Low Countries into possession of the Hapsburgs. At the time her father Charles, the last Duke of Burgundy, was slain at the battle of Nancy in 1477, she was not yet 20 years of age. King Louis XI of France, her father’s old rival, now saw his chance to secure the duchy of Burgundy as a fiefdom of the French crown by seeing the youthful duchess married off to Dauphin Charles. His first move was to send his well-trained army into Burgundy to seize possession of Mary’s dominions. However Louis soon found the daughter of his old nemesis was not very tractable to his wants.

The Tomb of Mary of Burgundy
In the choir of the Our Lady Church in Brugge are the splendid tombstones of Mary of Burgundy and her father Charles the Bold.

Mary had no trust in the King of France, and a month after her father’s death she sought help from her subjects in the Netherlands. At Ghent she signed a charter of rights, known as “the Great Privilege,” that restored the local and communal rights to the provinces and towns of Flanders, Brabent, Hainaut, and Holland. These rights had been abolished under the decrees of Burgundy, whose dukes had endeavored to centralize control under the French model. Although this measure brought the great approval of her subjects, who hated the old regime, she nonetheless gives up her power to make war or peace, or raise taxes without the approval of the states. The charter also stipulated that only natives be employed in official positions. Two of her father’s prominent councilors were even executed despite her tearful pleas for their lives when they were discovered in to be in correspondence with Louis XI.

Mary now made her choice among many available suitors, taking Archduke Maximilian I of the Hapsburgs for a husband. He of course later became emperor Maximilian I of the Holy Roman Empire. The marriage of Mary and Maximilian in August of 1477 is a union that brought the Low Countries to the Habsburgs, and touched off a long-standing rivalry between France and Austria for their possession.

“Many of her nobles urged the claims of France. But love in the heart of Mary was stronger than political expediency, and more persuasive than the entreaties of her nobles. To relieve herself from importunity, she was hurriedly married, three months after the death of her father, by proxy to Maximilian.” –  THE EMPIRE OF AUSTRIA by JOHN S. C. ABBOTT

Mary, an avid huntress, met her end in a horse accident on March 27th, 1482, her eldest son Philip the Handsome being left her dominions under the guardianship of his father.

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  1. […] of Austria was born in the year 1478 in Bruges; what is now a part of Belgium. His mother was Mary of Burgundy, (Mary the Rich), whose crucial marriage to archduke Maximilian (later to become Holy Roman […]

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