Charles of Burgundy, known as Charles the Bold or Charles the Hardworking, better known by his posthumous nickname of Charles the Bold in Dijon and who died on January 5, 1477 near Nancy, was, after Philip the Bold, John the Fearless and Philip the Good, the fourth and last Duke of Burgundy of the House of Valois, lord and master of a group of provinces known today as the Burgundian State.
After having distinguished himself in 1465 during the League of the Public Good, a coalition formed against the king of France, Charles the Bold ascended the throne of Burgundy in 1467, upon the death of his father. Considering himself a sovereign by right, his reign was marked by a constant confrontation with his cousin Louis XI, who claimed suzerainty over part of his lands, supposedly under the kingdom of France. At the same time, he became closer to the Emperor Frederick III and the King of England Edward IV of York, whose sister he married. Like his father before him, he was one of the most powerful princes in Christendom, thanks to the wealth of his territories and the prestige of his court.
After having sought, in vain, to obtain the title of “king of the Romans”, he set about the administrative reform of his state, which he consolidated by trying to make it a continuous geographical and political entity, by reuniting its northern and southern possessions (which he did by acquiring Upper Alsace and then annexing Lorraine), in order to eventually set them up as an independent kingdom, resurrecting the ancient Lotharingia.
His excessive ambitions met with a lot of opposition in Europe. At the end of his reign, the Burgundian wars pitted him against the Swiss Confederates, the Lorrains and the Alsatians. This coalition, financially supported by Louis XI, finally got the better of him in the battle of Nancy on January 5, 1477, during which he was killed.
He left behind an only daughter, Marie, who, in order to face the claims of the king of France, married the Archduke Maximilian of Austria, the first step in the century-old rivalry between France and the Habsburgs.
Born on November 10 or 11, 1433 at the Palace of the Dukes of Burgundy in Dijon, Charles was the third son of Duke Philip III of Burgundy (Philip the Good) (1396 – 1467) and his third wife Isabella of Portugal (1397 – 1471), daughter of King John I of Portugal.
Charles received the title of Count of Charolais which, under the Valois dukes of Burgundy, was reserved for the heir of the Burgundian states.
At the age of three weeks, his father made him a knight of the Golden Fleece at the third chapter of the order held in Dijon on November 30, the day of St. Andrew, patron saint of Burgundy. From his first year, he had his own house, which was run by his governess, Madame de Villers La Faye.
Charles was raised in the Burgundian Netherlands, a group of provinces forming the northern part of the Burgundian state and corresponding to the modern countries of Belgium and the Netherlands (as well as the French Nord-Pas-de-Calais). The educators of Charles, then Count of Charolais, were Jean IV d”Auxy, a former soldier in the Hundred Years” War, who taught him the art of war, and Antoine Haneron (nl), who was chosen as his schoolmaster, and taught him power management, English and some Italian and Portuguese. He grew up with his cousins, children of his aunt Marie de Bourgogne (died in 1463), wife of Duke Adolphe de Clèves:
First steps in politics
In 1452, when he was only nineteen years old and still only Count of Charolais, he brutally suppressed the Flemish uprising during the Ghent rebellion in the Burgundian Netherlands and was present at the battle of Rupelmonde (en), and at the battle of Gavere. A great tournament of chivalry is organized in Brussels.
A few years later, in September 1456, an event occurred that would ultimately have disastrous consequences for Charles as well as for the Burgundian state: the Dauphin of France and future Louis XI, fleeing his father”s vindictiveness, sought refuge in Burgundian territory. His cousin Philip the Good, to whom he sought asylum in Brussels, granted him an annual pension of 48,000 pounds. He was also given a residence in the castle of Genappe, south of Brussels in Walloon Brabant.
The dauphin Louis remained there until the death of Charles VII (July 22, 1461). During these almost five years, Genappe became “the seat of a European power”. The dauphin in exile observed the intrigues of the Burgundian court, probed the minds of those who made up the court, tried to seduce those who could be useful to him, and discreetly noted the strengths and weaknesses of a still fragile state.
While an aging Philip the Good reigned over the rich but disparate lands that made up the Burgundian state, his son Charles took the lead of the League of the Public Good that was formed against Louis XI, on the one hand because the latter wanted to limit the independence of his most powerful vassals (Burgundy, Brittany, Bourbon), and on the other hand to claim land (Picardy for the Duke of Burgundy) or money (for King René, Duke of Anjou).
On July 16, 1465, the battle of Montlhéry (between the army commanded by Louis XI and the Burgundian army of the Count of Charolais) turned out to be particularly messy: while the count of Saint-Pol (Burgundian vanguard), who, according to the initial plan, was to retreat in case of an attack by the royal army, refused to do so and was rolled by it, the cavalrymen of the count of Maine (left wing of the royal army) fled all together just before the clash with the army corps personally commanded by Charolais who, seeing himself already victorious, rushes after them so far from the battlefield that he does not really participate in the battle, which turns into a confused melee between the troops of Antoine de Bourgogne (Charolais” half-brother) and those of the king. Louis XI, at one point given up for dead, finally rallied his troops and drove the Burgundians back… before the evening interrupted the fighting.
The day after the day, each side claimed victory: Charolais considered that he had won, because his army remained in control of the battlefield; on the other hand, Louis XI, who had judged it preferable to break camp during the night, brought his army back to Paris safely and was acclaimed as the victor there. After Montlhéry, the Count of Charolais (the future Charles the Bold) becomes, according to Commynes, so convinced that his “victory” is due to his tactical intelligence, that he refuses any advice thereafter.Three days after the battle, the Breton army finally makes its junction with that of the Burgundian one; other league princes (one month later, they besiege Paris. But after a few weeks, the lack of supplies on the League side and the taking of Normandy by the Duke of Bourbon on behalf of Louis XI forced both parties to sign the Treaty of Conflans on October 5, 1465, by which the Duke of Burgundy recovered the cities of the Somme, notably Amiens, Abbeville, Guînes and Saint-Quentin, but also the county of Boulogne, while Normandy was officially ceded by Louis XI as an apanage to his younger brother, Charles, duke of Berry (who was part of the league).
On August 25, 1466, Charles stormed and burned Dinant, on the banks of the Meuse, in revolt against the Burgundian protectorate. He hoped to stifle the desire for independence of the principality of Liège, a Church territory whose control was essential to the unification of the Burgundian Netherlands, but which contested the authority of the person whom Philip the Good had placed on the episcopal throne: the prince-bishop Louis de Bourbon, his nephew. The people of Liege seemed to hear the lesson of Dinant because, as early as September 10, 1466, they recognized the Duke of Burgundy as “hereditary avenger of Liege”, that is to say, as the lay lord in charge of defending the temporal rights of the bishopric, by the treaty of Oleye. Thus what was only a protectorate became, in fact, a real Burgundian seigniory extended over Liege and all the territories of the principality.
Master of the Burgundian State
Philip the Good died on June 15, 1467. Charles inherited the Duchy of Burgundy, as well as all the titles and possessions of his father: Duke of Brabant and Lothier, of Limbourg, of Luxembourg, Count of Flanders, of Artois, of Burgundy Palatine, of Hainaut, of Holland, of Zeeland, of Namur, Marquis of the Holy Roman Empire, Lord of Friesland. He was first, and even twice, peer of France (for Burgundy and for Flanders), but, apart from his campaigns, he resided in Bruges, Brussels and Malines. He supported his power and his claims with a powerful professional army, reinforced by mercenaries from all over Europe, who were not very reliable. Charles of Valois-Burgundy continued the same policy as his predecessors: a desire for sovereign independence of the Burgundian state from the kingdom of France and, to counter the latter, an alliance with the kingdom of England in the Hundred Years War. His most fervent wish was to join his lands in the two Burgundians (or “pays de par-delà”) and his possessions in the north: Picardy, Artois, Boulonnais, Flanders and the other Burgundian Netherlands (or “pays de par-deçà”) into a single kingdom, to recreate a median kingdom between France and the Germanic Empire.
Philip the Good had not been dead for three months when his son was forced to quell a revolt by the people of Liege. He crushed them at the battle of Brustem near Saint-Trond on October 28, 1467.
In October 1468, fearing a resurrection of the league of the Public Good and the landing of an English army to support it, Louis XI came to Péronne, then the residence of the Duke, to discuss a peace agreement. In exchange for this, Charles of Burgundy wanted to obtain confirmation of the line of the Somme and sovereign jurisdiction over his French fiefs. While the negotiations were not far from success, Charles learned with anger that Liège, apparently encouraged by French emissaries, had again revolted. He closed the gates of the castle and the city of Péronne and Louis XI, a de facto captive and fearing for his life, agreed to sign the treaty on Burgundian terms and to accompany Charles on the punitive expedition that he immediately launched against the revolting city.
In spite of the surprise attack of the six hundred Franchimontois and following this one, Charles took Liège without a blow on October 30, 1468 and – in the presence of Louis XI, probable instigator of the revolt – delivered it to the pillage and to the fire, before making it raze (with the aim of sealing thus in only one block the whole of the “countries of beyond”). This sacking raises, from Holland to Alsace, the reprobation of the Rhine cities.
In May 1469, at the treaty of Saint-Omer, the impecunious duke of Austria Sigismund of Habsburg ceded to the duke of Burgundy, for 50,000 Rhine guilders, his domains of Upper Alsace, the country of Breisgau and the margraviate of Baden (more precisely: the landgraviate of Alsace, the earldom of Ferrette, the four Waldstetten or “forest towns”, the earldom of Hauenstein (de) and the town of Brisach).
From the end of October 1469, that is, one year after the peace sworn at the Treaty of Peronne on October 14, 1468, the two signatories of the treaty engaged in a political duel to the death: the reign of the Bold was nothing more than an almost uninterrupted series of wars against the king of France, and his allies, bribed by the king of France. To resist Louis XI, Charles tried to ally himself with the German emperor Frederick III of Habsburg, and with Edward IV of England.
In November 1471, in accordance with the “clause of non-compliance” included in the Treaty of Peronne (which Louis XI had had annulled a year earlier), Charles the Bold declared himself free of the suzerainty of the king of France. Considering himself a sovereign by divine right and working with all his strength to transform his disparate possessions into a unified and centralized state, he represented a permanent challenge to the king of France. The fact that Charles had a gold diadem made for himself, adorned with sapphires, rubies and a yellow velvet form embroidered with pearls, with an enormous ruby set in a gold ornament at the top, testifies to this desire to no longer be the vassal, even theoretically, of the latter or of the Germanic Roman Emperor.
But his obsessive concern to create at all costs (at the expense of his German, Lorraine and Austrian neighbors) the great Rhine kingdom of his dreams was to alienate the sympathy and support of the German Emperor Frederick III and the King of England Edward IV, at the same time as squandering his resources and those of his states. The latter, moreover, were increasingly reluctant to finance his war effort. If the bourgeois (rich merchants or simple craftsmen) of the large cities of Flanders and the other provinces of the Burgundian Netherlands ceased to support him, or supported him less and less, it is because Charles of Burgundy, all steeped in chivalry, had no consideration for them and refused to admit the growing power of these democrats before the letter who resisted his views. This policy will lead him to his loss.
Rise of the perils
In the 1470s, Charles suffered a series of setbacks in which the influence of Louis XI could be felt, inspiring, helping and financing the enemies of the Duke of Burgundy in every possible way.
In 1472, during the summer, Charles launched a military operation during which he massacred the population of Nesle but failed to take Beauvais, valiantly defended by its inhabitants, including Jeanne Hachette, while ravaging Santerre, Beauvaisis and the Pays de Caux.
In 1473, during the conference of Trier between September 30 and November 25, Emperor Frederick III of the Holy Roman Empire refused to help Charles the Bold to be elected “king of the Romans” to make him his successor. However, he agreed to establish an independent kingdom of Burgundy from his possessions in the Empire. The emperor had also agreed to make enter in the sovereignty of this kingdom of Burgundy the duchy of Lorraine, the duchy of Savoy (which included then Piedmont, Bresse, Bugey, the west of the current Switzerland, with Geneva and Lausanne), the duchy of Cleves, the bishoprics of Utrecht, Liège, Toul and Verdun. The Duchess of Savoy (Yolande de France) as well as the Duke of Cleves and the six bishops would have become vassals of the King of Burgundy. Charles also demanded Burgundy”s sovereignty over the Swiss cantons. However, the emperor broke off the talks on the very eve of the coronation and fled at night on horseback and then by boat on the Moselle with his son Maximilian, who was to marry Mary of Burgundy as part of the agreement.
In June 1475, Charles gave up the siege of Neuss – undertaken with the aim of ensuring a Burgundian protectorate over the electorate of Cologne and all the lower part of the Rhine valley – without conclusive success and with an army very weakened by ten months of a tiring and vain siege.
In July 1475, meeting in Bruges, the constituent provinces of the Burgundian Netherlands refused a new financial aid to their sovereign.
In August 1475, Edward IV of England accepted Louis XI”s offers of peace and, for five hundred thousand ecus paid by the latter, signed the Treaty of Picquigny, after which he re-embarked for England with his army (which had landed at Calais two months earlier to join forces with the Burgundian army, which was inexcusably lacking). Charles, who had tried in 1474 to rekindle the Hundred Years” War, by formally allying himself with his brother-in-law the king of England and convincing him to re-invade France, thus lost his last major ally.
Annexation of Gelderland and Lorraine
Despite these setbacks, Charles of Burgundy persisted in seizing every opportunity for territorial expansion of his states. Thus, in July and August 1473, he seized the Duchy of Guelders, located on either side of the Lower Rhine, thus enlarging the Burgundian Netherlands. But his main objective was, of course, to unite the two parts of his state (Burgundy on the one hand, and the Burgundian Netherlands on the other) into a geographical and political whole. This is undoubtedly why, during the summer of 1475, he diverted the army that he had planned to use, in concert with the newly landed army of Edward IV of England, against the king of France and used it instead to conquer Lorraine, after Louis XI had skillfully (at the treaty of Soleuvre, September 13, 1475) given him a free hand in this regard.
After a month-long siege, Charles entered Nancy victoriously on November 30, 1475. On December 18, he announced to the people of Lorraine that he would make this city his capital, implying that it would be the capital of his kingdom. Concerning the conquest of Lorraine, although he denied the rights of the legitimate prince of Lorraine, Charles did not add to his title the title of duke of Lorraine, although he had taken the title of duke of Guelders after the annexation of this duchy. Probably, he considered that the title of duke of Lothier, adopted by his father after taking Brabant into his hands, was an account of his conquest, because the two terms Lothier and Lorraine both derive from Lotharingia, the first designating Lower Lotharingia, the second designating Upper Lotharingia.
The league of his enemies – essentially, the Lower Union of four Empire cities in the Upper Rhine region: Strasbourg, Basel, Colmar and Selestat, Sigismund of Austria, Bern (under the leadership of Niklaus von Diesbach) and the other Swiss Confederates, finally, if not arranging, at least comforting the whole, Louis XI – sealed by the Treaty of Constance (en) (March-April and June 1474), will not give him time to realize the dream of finally being at the head of a kingdom.
Revolts against the Burgundian domination
Alsace rose up against Charles because of the bad management of his bailiff, Pierre von Hagenbach, and also because of his refusal to sell it back to Archduke Sigismund of Austria for a price higher than what he had bought it for. Thus began in the autumn of 1474 what is known as the Burgundy Wars.
Berne, Lucerne and the other members of the Confederation of Swiss Cantons, encouraged and financed by Louis XI, declared war on the Duke of Burgundy on October 25, 1474, and then on his ally Jacques de Savoie (Count of Romont, Baron of Vaud and brother-in-law of Yolande de France, Duchess-Regent of Savoy) on October 14, 1475.
The Swiss Confederates first took a few towns and strongholds (Cerlier in Savoy, Héricourt and Pontarlier in the county of Burgundy), then they invaded the whole country of Vaud. One after the other, Grandson, Orbe, Blamont, Morat, Estavayer and Yverdon fell into their hands.
Double defeat against the Swiss
Charles, in response to the appeal of his allies and vassals, decided to do away with the Confederates and went to war against them. He left Nancy on January 11, 1476, but, too sure of himself, he made the double mistake of underestimating the warrior value of the Swiss and the harmful effect of late payments on the mood of the Italian mercenaries who made up a good part of his forces. He was defeated by the confederates first at Grandson, on March 2 of the same year, where his troops were routed, and then especially at Morat, on the following June 22, where his army was cut to pieces.
Then installed in Lyon, Louis XI savored the Burgundian rout, which had not cost him any of his own troops but a lot of money: according to the chronicler Philippe de Commynes, Louis had, in all, paid nearly a million florins from the Rhine to the Swiss cantons; to appreciate the importance of the sum, it must be compared to the 50,000 florins for which Charles the Bold had obtained the cession of Upper Alsace and the Brisgau.
In October 1476, with a reconstituted army, Charles the Bold, who wanted to save the Lorraine link between Burgundy and his northern states, laid siege to Nancy, a city that had meanwhile been taken over by Duke René II of Lorraine. There, refusing to retreat to his duchy of Luxembourg, he was killed on January 5, 1477 during the battle that took place south of the city.
During this battle, the overwhelming numerical superiority of the coalition of Lorraine and Swiss troops was accentuated by the betrayal of one of the lieutenants of the Bold, Nicolas de Montfort, alias the Count of Campobasso, who had just crossed over to the enemy with his lances and his mercenaries. Also the Burgundian army was quickly submerged. What was left of it retreated to the bridge of Bouxières-aux-Dames which should have allowed it to flee to Metz. But Nicolas de Montfort was waiting for his revenge. Believing that the latter”s horsemen had remained faithful to the Burgundian cause and that they were there to ensure the free passage of the bridge, the Burgundians rushed forward, confident, but Nicolas de Montfort massacred the fugitives and the Swiss who were pursuing them did the same. In addition, a sortie of the garrison of Nancy completed the scattering of the troops of the Bold.
Two days after the battle, the body of Duke Charles was found, naked, on the edge of a marshy pond called “étang Saint-Jean”, on the present site of the Place de la Croix de Bourgogne in Nancy: his skull had been split to the teeth by a blow from a halberd and his cheek had been eaten away by wolves. No one can say with certainty who, among the anonymous soldiers, dealt him the fatal blow, but tradition relates that an obscure soldier named Claude de Bauzémont threw himself on him without recognizing him; Charles is said to have shouted “Save the Duke of Burgundy”, but this cry, understood as “Long live the Duke of Burgundy”, would have led to the immediate killing of Charles by this soldier. A simple cross, in the center of this square, marked the place of his death for a long time (a memory later replaced by a monument built in memory of Duke René II of Lorraine). Brought back to Nancy, the mortal remains of the Bold man are exposed on a parade bed in the house of Georges Marqueix, at no 30 of the Grande-Rue.
Thus ends the great neo-Lotharingian dream: by wanting too much, Charles has lost everything.
Charles of Valois-Burgundy was, according to the will of Duke René, buried in the necropolis of the Dukes of Lorraine. His body was placed in a pine coffin in the floor of the Saint-Sébastien chapel in the collegiate church of Saint-Georges in Nancy (no longer in existence today). This was René de Lorraine”s way of commemorating his victory, but also of preventing the body of the Bold from joining the family necropolis of Champmol, thus depriving the duke of his ancestors and of the dynastic funeral memory. The treaty of Middelburg (1501) provided for the return of his body to the Burgundians, and Christine of Denmark executed this clause in 1550.
The remains were transferred by Antoine de Beaulaincourt, king of arms of the Golden Fleece, to the church of Our Lady of Bruges on September 24, 1550. Since then, she rests in the tomb that Philip II, son of Charles V, had built for his great grandfather in 1558. The tomb of Mary of Burgundy, who died in 1482 five years after her father, is next to it.
On the death of Charles, the last Duke of Valois-Burgundy, King Louis XI, finally rid of his powerful rival – who, from Péronne to Liège, had held him at mercy for some three weeks in October 1468 and whom he himself, in order to free himself from the Treaty of Péronne, had had condemned for felony in December 1470 -, seized Picardy, the County of Boulogne and above all the Duchy of Burgundy during the War of the Burgundian Succession, an annexation confirmed by the King of France, had made condemned for felony in December 1470 -, seizes Picardy, the county of Boulogne and especially the duchy of Burgundy during the war of succession of Burgundy, an annexation confirmed a few years later by a new treaty of Arras, that of December 23, 1482.
In the meantime, Margaret of York, widow of Charles the Bold and protector of the Duchess Mary of Burgundy, pushed the latter (only daughter and heiress of the Bold) to marry the future German emperor Maximilian I of Habsburg (1459-1519). Celebrated in Ghent on August 19, 1477, the marriage caused France to definitively lose the Burgundian Netherlands and, in fact, the entire northern part of the Burgundian states (Belgian, Luxembourg, German or “Roman-Germanic”) over which the French crown had no rights.
In 1493, Charles VIII having decided to give up the daughter of Maximilian I of Habsburg to marry Anne of Brittany, the emperor recovered at the treaty of Senlis: Flanders, Artois, Franche-Comté and Charolais.
The heritage of Charles the Bold was, for several generations, the object of numerous battles between the kings of France and the Habsburg house of Austria and Spain. It was not until two centuries later that the county of Burgundy – known as “Franche-Comté”, because it was an empire land – was wrested from the Habsburgs of Austria and Spain by Louis XIV at the treaty of Nijmegen in 1678 and definitively attached to France.
According to the Flemish chronicler Georges Chastelain, the young Charles of Burgundy was full of qualities: upright, frank, pious, generous with his alms, faithful to his wife, familiar and joyful with his family, always avoiding the slightest insult to anyone. He was in fact a man of exceptional courage. He was also a highly educated man, endowed with a great power of work. He played the harp and composed songs and motets. He was the protector of the Burgundian School, which brought together composers who later formed the famous Franco-Flemish school.
Nevertheless, other traits developed over time. He was violent and impulsive. He readily resorted to force and war to get what he wanted, but he loved it for its own sake. For Louis XI, war was nothing more than a prosaic activity devoid of intrinsic value and destined to serve political ambitions, to which he preferred diplomacy. For Charles, the war exceeded the measure of a mode of conquest to take on an almost sacred character and which was enriched by all the myths collected in the pagan or Christian traditions: one knows his passion for the greatest of the conquerors, Alexander, his enthusiasm for the Crusades and the single combats. For Charles, the battlefield constituted the privileged space of individual prowess by which man transcended himself and learned, at the price of physical or moral suffering, the mastery of his body and his spirit. Philippe de Commynes assures us that the Duke of Burgundy, from 1472 onwards, gave testimonies of ferocity which he had not been accustomed to until then.
Moreover, when he became Duke of Burgundy, he lost little by little the sense of reality and let himself go to a great pride which was denounced by Thomas Basin: “It took to him such a pride that he came to spare, estimate or fear nobody”.
In fact, his bold and enterprising nature is reflected in his motto: “Je l”ay emprins”, that is to say: “I have undertaken it”. He adopted this motto when his wife, Isabelle de Bourbon, begged him to give up his martial plans during the War of the Public Good.
The strong personality of the duke, whom all the chroniclers describe as an austere, virtuous and ruthless character, pious and chaste, animated by an exacerbated sense of honor, incited his contemporaries – of the 15th century – to give him nicknames: they call him “the Worker”, “the Bold” or even “the Terrible” or “the Warrior”, or “the Bold”, because this term is already encountered around 1484 under the pen of the chronicler Thomas Basin, bishop of Lisieux.
However, if they mention these qualifiers, none of the chroniclers of the 15th century uses them in a systematic way and, in their writings, this prince appears mainly under the name of “Charles of Burgundy”.
The addition of a permanent nickname is thus imposed only very slowly:
Charles the Bold was a Burgundian prince and of French royal blood, a fourth generation descendant and direct heir of King John II the Good of France and the Duchy of Burgundy. By his mother, he was proud to be of Portuguese royal blood, the grandson of King John I of Portugal (the hero of Aljubarrota) and the nephew of his sons, the heroic princes of the capture of Ceuta. Finally, through his mother”s mother (in other words, his maternal grandmother) Queen Philippa of Lancaster, he is of Plantagenet blood, a descendant of King Edward III of England, himself a grandson of Philip IV the Fair, King of France.
Charles has had three marriages:
Father of Mary of Burgundy, Charles was the great-grandfather of the Roman-German emperor and king of Spain Charles V (1500-1558), and thus the ancestor of the Habsburgs of Spain. Indeed, Mary of Burgundy passed on her hereditary possessions – in great danger of being conquered by Louis XI – to the House of Habsburg of Austria, through her marriage to the future Roman-German Emperor Maximilian I of Habsburg (and their son Philip the Handsome (1478-1506) married Joan of Aragon, who bore Charles V.
Charles the Bold would have left natural children, but sources are lacking.
All worn from 1467 to 1477 unless otherwise noted.
Cinema and television
Charles the Bold appears in historical and adventure film and television productions.