Episode 37: Mary marries Maxi

The eruption of violence across the Low Countries in March and April of 1477 led to Mary of Burgundy effectively being in the custody of the city of Ghent. Although the rebellious citizens of Ghent had taken lethal retribution for what they saw as the crimes of the previous administration, they had done nothing to solve the most pressing issue facing the Low Countries. This was, en fait, the marauding French army. Despite the signing of the Great Privilege, in the chaos of the invasion and uprisings, some territories, such as Guelders and Liège, proclaimed independence, some had alternative suggestions for succession and it seemed a real possibility that all of the Low Countries might just be eaten up by Louis XI. Everybody knew that it was necessary to get the much-harried Duchess Mary married, but the question was - to whom? Louis XI had offered up his son the dauphin, Charles the Bold and the Emperor had already arranged her betrothal to Maximilian of Habsburg and now the emboldened city of Ghent decided to throw another name in the mix - Adolph, the once again Duke of the once again independent Guelders. But in the end, after much correspondence with Margaret of York and an extremely slow journey down the Rhine, it was to Maximilian of Habsburg, Archduke of Austria, that Mary was eventually married on the 19th of August, 1477. It was an event which would intimately bind the Low Countries to one of Europe’s most long-lasting dynasties.

The wedding of Maximilian and Mary, By Anton Petter, 1813, Public Domain.

The wedding of Maximilian and Mary, By Anton Petter, 1813, Public Domain.

Rumblings in Liege and Guelders

Humbercourt and Hugonet were now dead, beheaded on the 3rd of April, 1477 in Ghent. The immediate cause of their arrest had been a scandalous letter which was delivered to ambassadors from the States General by Louis XI, the contents of which apparently stated that authority in Burgundy lay solely in the hands of the new Duchess, Mary, and asked Louis only to deal with Humbercourt and Hugonet in their peace negotiations. It was signed by Mary of Burgundy, Margaret of York and the Lord of Ravenstein. This letter was a slap in the face for the States General, who had only a few weeks earlier managed to win the long list of concessions from Mary, known collectively as the Great Privilege, and when the ambassadors returned to Ghent and interrupted an assembly of the court which was taking place by theatrically revealing the letter in front of everybody, well, as we saw, all hell had broken loose.

Sketch of the Wild Boar of the Ardennes by Eugene Delacroix, c.1827-29

Sketch of the Wild Boar of the Ardennes by Eugene Delacroix, c.1827-29

Present at this meeting were her step-mother Margaret of York, one of her other closest advisors Adolf of Cleves, the Lord of Ravenstein, Louis of Bourbon, the prince-bishop of Liège and another of the major figures from that principality, William de la Marck. We actually met De la Marck in Episode 33 during the siege of Neuss, but didn’t get right into him properly, instead just referencing his fantastic nickname, ‘the Wild Boar of the Ardennes’. The house of la Marck were one of the most prominent members of the German nobility in the area, being the ruling dynasty in Cleves, as well as having had a few prince-bishops of Liège and archbishops of Cologne in their family tree. William de la Marck had been a part of the uprisings against the Prince-Bishop of Liège in the late 1460s and after the city’s destruction in 1468 he made peace with Charles and then basically kept a low profile on his lands. But, as you probably recall, when Charles was at Neuss, those who chafed under his yoke and who he had antagonised in the past took the opportunity to prod him with their sticks while he was otherwise occupied and William de la Marck was just one such character. He joined forces with the exiled Liegois rebel leader Raes de Lyntre and together they went about raiding parts of Luxembourg and Liège, burning down the Saint-Laurent abbey and killing the vicar general of the prince-bishopric.

Despite this, Louis of Bourbon had been able to successfully defend himself against these attacks and maintain control over Liège. After Charles’ death at Nancy a peace was arranged between the prince-bishop and William de la Marck, upon which Louis of Bourbon began to shower him with gifts and important jobs, such as appointing him his chief bodyguard and making him the chief bailiff of Liège, no doubt in an attempt to keep his friends close and his enemies closer. So it was that the two former rivals now appeared together in front of Mary in order to try and plead their case for concessions from the Duchess towards Liège. After the Liège wars, the territory had been burdened with massive financial and administrative punishments which were pretty much intended to keep the Liégeois obedient and solidly under the Burgundian thumb forever. Louis of Bourbon appeared before Mary to try to get out of the large tribute payment he had been obliged to pay to Charles, as well as to obtain money from Mary to compensate de la Marck for the loss of one of his castles during the wars. To quote Philip de Commynes about this “William de la Marck [was] a fine gentleman and a brave soldier, but of a cruel and malicious temper, and one who favoured the citizens of Liege, and had been always an enemy to the duke of Burgundy’s family, and to the bishop himself. The princess of Burgundy gave this de la Marck 15000 florins, partly on the bishop’s account, and partly to oblige him to espouse her interest”. Mary was not nearly in as strong a position as Charles had been to impose harsh retributive measures on Liège and in the turmoil surrounding the arrests of Humbercourt and Hugonet, on the 19th of March 1477, she renounced her rights over the territory and Liège was, once again, free from Burgundian domination. Louis of Bourbon would now try his best to keep Liège neutral in the conflict between France and Burgundy. Just as a quick aside, it’s interesting to wonder what Louis of Bourbon and William de la Marck must have thought when they saw Humbercourt, who they surely harboured ill feelings towards after his tenure of governance in Liège, face the wrath of mob justice in Ghent.

The final episode of The Bacholerette, 1477 edition

Another topic which was discussed during this assembly of the court was the question of who the Duchess Mary was finally going to marry. As we have seen, the issue of Mary’s marriage and the lands/titles which came along with it and which would effectively become controlled by whoever ended up becoming her husband, was without a doubt the key to ending the conflict with France. You will remember that one of Louis XI’s ambitions when invading the Burgundian lands had been to force Mary to marry his son, the six year old dauphin Charles. Several of Mary’s advisors and relatives, such as Hugonet, Humbercourt and Louis of Bourbon, had been in favour of this proposed match. Others were less convinced, such as the Lady Hallewijn, who Commynes quotes as saying of the dauphin “that there was more need of a man than a boy; that her mistress was capable of bearing a child, which was what her dominions wanted more than anything else?”. It’s a good point. Given that they were in this precarious situation due to the fact that Mary was born with the “wrong” genitalia, it would be odd to then marry her off to a child who presumably wouldn’t be capable of having children of his own for quite a few years yet. As it was, however, a strong anti-French sentiment was aroused by the invasion and occupation of so many of the southern Burgundian lands. On top of that, the appearance of the letter resulted not only in Humbercourt and Hugonet losing their heads, but also in Mary feeling extremely distrustful towards her godfather Louis XI. So support for this match between the dauphin and Mary quickly dried up.

Adolf of Cleves, Lord of Ravenstein. The original uploader was Guy de gand at Dutch Wikipedia., Public domain.

Adolf of Cleves, Lord of Ravenstein. The original uploader was Guy de gand at Dutch Wikipedia., Public domain.

Another possibility was for Mary to marry one of the English nobility, thus bringing England directly into the conflict with France. Philip de Commynes suggests that perhaps Margaret of York attempted to get Mary to marry her brother, George, the Duke of Clarence, though this may have just been a rumour intended to damage Margaret’s reputation. She was, after all, forced to quickly flee after Hugonet and Humbercourt were arrested lest she too should face the mob. Another suggestion is that Edward IV tried to get Mary to marry his wife’s brother, the Earl of Rivers, who could offer Mary basically nothing she needed at that time except a pretty cool sounding title. Whatever the case, the English did not seem very interested in getting mixed up in the goings on with Burgundy and France. The terms of the Treaty of Picquigny, which Edward IV had signed with Louis XI just a couple of years earlier when he agreed not to invade France with Charles the Bold, guaranteed him a nice payment each year from Louis as well as the betrothal of his daughter, Elizabeth, to Louis XI’s son, the dauphin, who yes, is the same person Louis had also been trying to get Mary to marry. King Edward was happy to take that money and stay out of it.

Also at this meeting, the Lord of Ravenstein, Adolf of Cleves, who was the Stadthouder-General of the Low Countries, decided to put a new contender into this very early season of the Bachelorette, by putting the case to Mary that she should marry his son, Philip of Cleves. Philip and Mary knew each other well, having grown up together. Philip’s mother, Anne of Burgundy, was one of Mary’s many aunts, and had been one of the women responsible for educating her after the sudden death of her mother. His family was well respected throughout the Low Countries, which was probably what ensured that his father himself didn’t also get decapitated at the same time as Hugonet and Humbercourt. Mary, however, apparently just didn’t really like the younger Ravenstein and, although this proposal failed to get off the ground, Philip of Cleves is going to play quite an important role in the story in a future episode, so we thought we should just drop his name already.

Surprise contestant! The rise and fall of Adolf of Egmont

The fact that French armies had overrun both the Duchy and County of Burgundy, had taken the Somme towns, and were running through Artois, occupying the capital of Arras and threatening other major towns there was constantly looming over the consideration of these matches . When Louis XI learned of the executions of Humbercourt and Hugonet, he made sure to send letters to their heirs (remember they were major landholders in France). In these, he assured them that their inheritances were safe and he also heavily chastised the people of Ghent for the killings. In the broader picture, this was a mis-step, as it served to tarnish his reputation in the eyes of many in the lower estates within the Low Countries. The whole region was basically there for Louis’ taking and he had just admonished one of the best allies he could have secured. Louis then took to the field, personally leading the siege and capture of the towns of Hesdin and Boulogne. But with the the mood in the Low Countries shifting against him, uprisings started to occur, such as in Arras. Delegates from the rebels in Arras were sent to Mary to try and get help from her, but they were intercepted by Louis’ troops and immediately executed, with their heads put on public display to deter further disobedience. This didn’t quite work, however. In his book about Louis XI, The Universal Spider, historian Paul Murray Kendall writes that the citizens of Arras taunted Louis with rhymes such as “Only when the rats on cats will dine, can the King say “Arras is mine””, and “When in June the enormous sea, is frozen to immobility, the folk of Arras through ice and snow, will leave their city - watch them go!”. Louis was able to reestablish control over Arras at the beginning of May, but not before actually being wounded himself in the fighting. In the period between March and June, 1477, there were other fierce and violent revolts against the French across the occupied territories, in Franche-Comte, Dijon and Charolais, but still by the end of May Louis’ armies began penetrating further into the Low Countries, moving into Hainault, taking towns like Le Quesnoy, Therouanne, Bethune and Abbeville, as well as occupying Tournai. There were continual raids between those on the side of Mary and those on the side of Louis and it must have been a simply awful time to have lived there and found yourself in the middle of this uncontrolled violence. To quote 18th century French historian Charles Pinot-Duclos, when the town of Avesnes was occupied by Louis’ troops after having resisted against him, “As they had fired upon the herald sent to summon them, the king was resolved to make an example of the place. The inhabitants were all put to the sword, the houses pillaged, the walls razed, and the ditches filled up.”

It was during this convulsion of cruelty that a curious minor subplot twist occurred. The people of Flanders decided that they would try to take matters in their own hands and solve the dual problems of the French invasion and Mary’s marriage in one fell swoop. The Flemish people had quite suddenly found themselves in possession of their Duchess, who was basically being forced to stay in Ghent. Having forced away or killed so many of the important figures of the previous administration, the extremist elements now running Ghent found they could take charge of things themselves. It was believed that what they really needed was somebody who would be able to take charge of the military situation, a general who would be able to heroically lead an army against the French. And they happened to have such a person in their possession, a guy who had spent the last six years or so languishing as a prisoner of Charles in the castle of Kortrijk, Adolf, the Duke of Guelders. In the previous episode we mentioned how almost immediately upon hearing the news of Charles the Bold’s death, the States of Guelders, which had only relatively recently been conquered, decided that they had had enough of Burgundian rule and wished to return to their previous ruler, Adolf. Well the people of Flanders, but especially the citizens of Ghent, who made Adolf an honorary citizen, decided that the best thing to do would be to get him out of prison, raise an army, stick him in charge of it and have him go and get the French out of Tournai, where they were causing so many problems. If he was able to do this, then they would make sure he was married to Mary, thus linking Guelders and Burgundy once more and ensuring a native dynasty would rule over the Low Countries. The perfect plan, right? The States of Guelders were wary of the possibility of their new ruler being out of the country for a long time on campaign, so in the mean time had Adolf appoint his sister, Catherine, as regent in Guelders.

Adolf, Duke of Guelders by Sébastien Pinssio - http://www.tripota.uni-trier.de/single_picture.php?signatur=121_port_0019, Public Domain.

Adolf, Duke of Guelders by Sébastien Pinssio - http://www.tripota.uni-trier.de/single_picture.php?signatur=121_port_0019, Public Domain.

This ambitious plan started off promisingly, with the urban militias of Ghent, Ypres and Bruges contributing troops to a joint army of around 12 to 14 thousand men which set off towards Tournai under the command of the Duke of Guelders. Adolf’s mission was to go and burn the outer lying suburbs of Tournai, before eventually seizing the town properly. The fatal flaw in this whole idea, however, was the composition of the army. As we have seen time and again throughout this series, pretty much the only people the Flemish liked to fight against, with the exception of whoever was the current Count or Countess of Flanders, was each other. The cities of Ghent and Bruges in particular were famous for their rivalry and in this moment when cooperation between them would no doubt have been in all of their best interests, they just weren’t able to do it. When a much smaller force of French troops, Commynes says only about 400, came out in the night to counter them, confusion broke out amongst the Flemish troops. To again quote Charles Pinot-Duclos “the dissensions between the Ghentenaars and the citizens of Bruges, who composed his army, occasioned their marching with so little order and caution, that la Sauvagere coming up with only forty lances, broke them at the first charge”. The Duke of Guelders, Adolf, tried his best to stand his ground and protect the retreating troops, but in the fighting was thrown off his horse and killed; his army disintegrated with many hundreds being captured or also killed.

Thus ended the meteoric comeback of Adolf, the Duke of Guelders. He had languished in prison for 6 years only to die almost immediately upon release, fighting on behalf of the daughter of the man who had imprisoned him. Doesn’t sound so glorious when you put it that way. After his death, the position of Duke of Guelders passed on to his son, Charles of Egmond. Unfortunately for the pretensions of Guelderian independence from Burgundy, when Charles the Bold had imprisoned Adolf, he had also taken his young children into custody and had them raised at his court. After Adolf’s death, they now remained in the care of Mary. Adolf’s sister, Catherine continued to rule as regent of Guelders in place of young Charles, but was challenged by her uncle, William of Egmont, who supported a pro-Burgundian faction. Guelders will be in a state of flux throughout the next few years and the anti-Burgundian sentiment there will make it a weak point over the next few decades for anyone attempting to once again unite the Low Countries.

Adolf of Guelders’ death also definitely answered the question of who Mary was going to marry, because the number of potential suitors for her hand had now dwindled down to one. The dauphin was no longer an option, Mary wasn’t interested in marrying Philip of Cleves, the English had no suitable options to offer, and Adolf was dead. Which left just one man standing, the son of the Emperor, Maximilian of Habsburg.

Maximilian to the max

The possibility of Mary marrying Maximilian of Habsburg had been floated around for more than a decade. The Habsburgs had an extensive lineage of nobility that had begun around Lake Constance, now in Switzerland, but eventually had come to rule large parts of the interior of Austria. You will recall Sigismund of Habsburg, the duke of Austria who had allied himself with Charles the Bold against the Swiss, and then switched over and allied himself with the Swiss against Charles the Bold. Sigismund was the cousin of Frederick III, who was the first Habsburg to be chosen as Holy Roman Emperor. He certainly wasn’t the last, however, given that they would monopolise that role for the next 500 odd years. The name Habsburg is going to appear a lot from here on out, because in that age-old game of European family feudalism, they would become the most successful at procreating, marrying their cousins and passing their name on to future generations of rulers. The family is often associated with a Latin saying which translates into English as “Let others wage wars. Thou, happy Austria, marry!”

That is getting way ahead of ourselves, though, because at this point the Habsburgs were still in the early stages of their rise to international dominance. One of the key milestones in getting them there is, arguably, this marriage between Mary and Maximilian. Maximilian will play a pivotal role in shaping wider European politics in the future and will also do an extremely good job at marketing himself. So far we’ve only really spoken about him in passing, so… ladies and gentlemen, meet Maximilian von Habsburg.

Eleanor of Portugal by Hans Burgkmair the Elder - Public Domain,

Eleanor of Portugal by Hans Burgkmair the Elder - Public Domain,

Maximilian was born on the 22nd of March, 1459, growing up in Wiener Neustadt, about 40km south of Vienna. As we have mentioned, his father Frederick III was the Holy Roman Emperor; his mother was Eleanor of Portugal, daughter of King Duarte of Portugal. Maximilian’s parents did not often see eye to eye with each other and were famous for their clashing personalities. Upon his birth, Eleanor wished to name the child Constantine, hoping that this would set the young prince on the path to fighting back against the Ottomans. Frederick, however, insisted on naming him after a saint who had been martyred in the 4th century, who he had dreamed about years earlier and credited with saving his life. Kind of obscure, if you ask me, but the emperor got his way. Maximilian was their third child and the only surviving son. He therefore also carried the same weight of responsibility that we referred to as being Mary’s burden, the heavy expectation of great inheritance.

Much like everywhere else in Europe, Lower Austria was prone to incessant in-fighting between contesting branches of different families. Maximilian got early, first hand experience of this. In 1462, at just age three, he and his parents were put to siege at the Hofburg palace in Vienna by his uncle, Albert IV. The siege lasted long enough for all the inhabitants within to suffer great deprivations, no less the young prince, who is said to have walked around throughout, begging guards and other servants for bits of bread. Sounds like good practice to be the future Holy Roman Emperor. At stages, Maximilian became critically ill, exacerbating a pre-existing but unidentified childhood illness, which with hindsight we diagnose as an acute case of being born in the 1400s. He is said to have had a speech-defect, which greatly disappointed his father and which tempered the rate at which Maximilian was able to learn or develop. Fortunately, he had a loving and spirited mother. Unfortunately, just like his future wife, he would tragically lose his mother at age eight. 

Nonetheless, he was the son of the Emperor, so despite these setbacks, Maximilian was provided with a top-notch education, being an early recipient of the nascent humanist school of thought that had now begun to emerge in Europe. Much like Mary, he was linguistically talented, learning seven different languages in his life, and had a great interest in literature. Maximilian learned history and astrology and was encouraged to get physically involved with things. Probably due to this, he became skilled at craftsmanship, horse-breeding and a host of other athletic activities. He was especially fond of hunting. As a young man he would hunt wolves, wild boar and chamois, being a type of goat, in the mountains of Austria. Of course, he was also trained from a young age in military matters and seemed to have fully embraced and believed in the chivalric ideals which were by this stage starting to wane. This would no doubt justify the mythologised, heroic image of himself that he would later seek to embed in the consciousness of his subjects, especially through a set of poems he would later write called Theuerdank and a another work which he also apparently heavily contributed to, called Der Weisskunig, the White King, which presented a three-part chivalric novel that was basically an exaggerated and fanciful biography of Maximilian. It should not be surprising to learn that for all these reasons he is often referred to as the “last knight”.

The first time the idea of Mary marrying Maximilian was raised was in 1463, when Philip the Good was in discussions with Frederic about the possibility of going a-crusadin’. The idea was brought forth as a way to align two of the most powerful dynasties of Christendom against the Turks. As we know, that planned crusade never eventuated beyond Philip’s fantasies and negotiations for the match between them did not get off the ground. It is quite quirky to think about the relative positions in these negotiations between the Duke of Burgundy and the Holy Roman Emperor. Being the Emperor meant having a great amount of esteem, which costs lots of money to uphold, but without really having that much power to make money. Philip the Bold, on the other hand, despite being technically subordinate to the Emperor, was probably more powerful than him and definitely way more wealthy. As we all know Mary’s was a very tempting prize to dangle in front of the upper-nobility of Europe, so it wasn’t really in the Burgundians’ best interests to settle her future when she was still just a child. The marriage was discussed again at Trier in 1473 as part of a deal which would join Mary and Maximilian, but also turn Burgundy into a kingdom, elevating Charles to an uncomfortably powerful, royal position within the Empire. Frederick, as you may recall, decided instead to literally run away from Charles at the very last minute. Then followed that uncomfortable conflict between Frederick and Charles at Neuss, which must also have thrown a spanner in the works, but nevertheless in 1476 the two men once more agreed that their children should be married. As we saw in Episode 35, when Charles was off fighting in those last months of his life, Mary and Margaret of York began making preparations for Mary’s wedding to Maximilian, which was to be in either Aachen or Cologne.

If you like it then you’d better put a ring on it

Mary of Burgundy, with a ring on it! By Niklas Reiser - Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien, Bilddatenbank. Public Domain.

Mary of Burgundy, with a ring on it! By Niklas Reiser - Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien, Bilddatenbank. Public Domain.

By 1477 the situation had once again dramatically changed. Frederick had outlived both Philip the Good and Charles the Bold and the time was now right for his son Maximilian to go swooping in and claim that Burgundian inheritance, which was up for grabs and quickly being chipped away at by Louis XI. Maximilian wrote to Mary in January ensuring her that he still planned on going through with the wedding. Most historians seem to agree that Margaret of York was the biggest supporter of the Habsburg marriage and Burgundian ambassadors made their way to Austria to finalise the details. At the end of March, shortly after Humbercourt and Hugonet were arrested, Mary wrote to Maximilian, entreating him to come to the Low Countries as soon as possible. In her book ‘Maximilian the Dreamer’, 19th-century historian Marian Andrews, who wrote under the pen name Christopher Hare, quotes Mary as writing “Most dear and friendly lord and brother, from my heart I greet you. You must not doubt that I will agree to the treaty made between us by my lord and father, now in glory, and will be a true wife to you. For I may not doubt you. The bearer knows how I am hemmed in, though I cannot open my mind to him. May God grant us our hearts’ desire. I pray you not to linger, as your coming will bring help and comfort to my lands. But if you come not, my lands can look for no aid. And I may be driven to do that which I would not, by force against my will, if you forsake me”. The implication could not be much clearer. Hurry up and get here, otherwise I might be forced to marry someone else. Margaret of York, who by that stage had removed herself from Ghent and set up in her dowager town of Malines/Mechelen, also wrote to the emperor ensuring him that she supported the match.

Philip de Commynes amusingly relates an account of a group of imperial ambassadors arriving into the Low Countries, ready to conduct the final marriage negotiations. According to Commynes, when the emperor's entourage turned up in Brussels, an order was sent to them to stop there, because delegates from the ducal side were on their way to see them. It turns out that Adolf of Cleves, the Lord of Ravenstein, was still desperately trying his best to get Mary to marry his son, Philip, and was intending on intercepting these ambassadors, turning them down, turning them around and then sending them packing back to Austria without success. But these ambassadors paid no attention to this demand to delay their trip and pressed on for Ghent anyways, because they had already previously received a letter from Margaret of York warning them that something like this was probably going to happen. Well played, Margaret. Commynes says that “Upon this information the ambassadors advanced, and taking no notice of the orders which they had received, went directly for Ghent, at which the duke of Cleves was highly offended; but he knew nothing as yet of the inclination of the court ladies”. The Lord of Ravenstein may have been one of the most highly respected and influential people in the Low Countries, but Margaret and Mary were savvy enough to sidestep his last minute attempts to get what he wanted.

When the ambassadors finally addressed the court, they produced the letter and diamond ring which Mary had sent to Maximilian and asked her to publicly confirm in the court whether they had indeed come from her. When she said that this was, in fact, the case, the ambassadors expressed their delight and a week later, on the 21st of April, Mary and Maximilian were married by proxy. Which is to say they were “married” on paper, but still hadn’t gone through all the ceremonies and rituals properly. Even at this juncture there were still plenty of opportunities for it all to go pear shaped.

Conditions of marriage

Maximilian I, by Peter Paul Rubens - Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien, Bilddatenbank., Public Domain.

Maximilian I, by Peter Paul Rubens - Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien, Bilddatenbank., Public Domain.

One of the terms of the Great Privilege which they had foisted upon her in February was that Mary would not get married without their explicit approval. But, by this stage, the public sentiment had mellowed out somewhat and the war with France was fomenting favourable feelings towards the Habsburg marriage. In early May, the Estates of Brabant decided they would make use of their right to assemble the States General on their own volition and at a meeting in Louvain, they were addressed by the head of the great council, Jan de la Bouverie. He was able to diplomatically smooth over any offence the proxy-marriage may have caused by saying that Mary was just going through with earlier plans that had already been decided upon by her late-father. The States General accepted this reasoning, on the condition that Maximilian agreed to respect all of those privileges which they had won back from Mary.

The marriage contract that was settled on amongst all this negotiation was indicative of the international nature of the marriage in such politically shifting times. Probably the most important part of it was the prenuptial agreement that both parties were effectively written out of each other’s inheritance. Only prospective children which came form the marriage could line up for succession to either the Burgundian or Austrian entitlements. This meant that if Mary died without an heir and before Maximilian, then he, as a foreigner, could neither continue to rule as the Duke of Burgundy, nor pack up all of her property and take it back to Austria with him. Mary also couldn’t do this with any of his property or belongings but, as mentioned before, comparing the wealth of Burgundy and Austria at this time is like comparing a peanut to an orchard. Maybe it was a bit naive of the rich burghers of Flanders, Brabant and Holland to think that this piece of paper would make the son of the German Emperor respect their autonomy, but what else were they supposed to do?

So, with everything arranged, Maximilian and a whole bunch important German nobles began their journey towards the Low Countries. For a guy who had a robust interest in the ideas of chivalry, Maximilian must have been pretty chuffed that now, here he was, a dashing young knight, literally in shining armour, setting off to rescue a princess in distress. And he had plenty of time to soak in the glory of it all, because the trip towards Ghent has been described as one of the slowest journeys into the Rhinelands ever taken, departing Vienna on the last day of May, but not reaching Ghent until the 18th of August. One of the reasons for this sluggishness, according to Philip de Commynes, is that Maximilian, somewhat embarrassingly ran out of money along the way so got stuck in Cologne for a while until Mary sent him enough money to be able to complete the journey. In the meantime, Louis XI was sending out letters to every German noble he could think of, trying his best to stop the marriage and insisting that since, as King of France he was technically her sovereign, she couldn’t marry without his permission. But they were not having any of it.

Mary and Maximilian were married in Ghent on the 19th of August, 1477, in person, in front of an outrageously pompous assembly of the Burgundian and Imperial nobility and clergy. Margaret of York must have breathed a sigh of relief in the knowledge that she had played a pivotal role in securing her step-daughter’s foreseeable future. She had also managed to secure her own position, insisting on getting Maximilian’s approval for her rights to her dower lands and incomes the night before the wedding. It is remarkable to think that, having arrived in Burgundy a decade prior, her main political purpose had been to solidify English and Burgundian relations. Rather, what Margaret had helped achieve was usher a shift in major international influence in the Low Countries. We have long seen how France was an ever-looming threat on the region’s political landscape, while the interests of those running the German empire were only sporadically drawn to it. Now, however, the German Empire was soon going to be in the hands of the eighteen-year old German prince who had arrived amidst his own sense of heroism, to take control of the Low Countries and steer them through this tidal wave of political and social chaos.

Wedding of Mary and Maximilian on 19 August, 1477. Public domain.

Wedding of Mary and Maximilian on 19 August, 1477. Public domain.

Sources used:

Margaret of York: The Diabolical Duchess by Christine Weightman

Magnanimous Dukes and Rising States by Robert Stein

Charles the Bold by Richard Vaughan

Charles the Bold, the Last Duke of Burgundy by Ruth Putnam

The Promised Lands by Wim Blockmans and Walter Prevenier

Monarchies, States Generals and Parliaments by Helmut Koenigsberger

The Historical Memoirs of Philip de Comines, Containing the Transactions of Lewis XI and of Charles VIII of France and of Edward IV and Henry VII of England by Philippe de Commyne

‘The Burgundian Netherlands, 1477–1521’ in The New Cambridge Modern History, chapter by C. A. J. Armstrong

De kus van de ijzeren maagd by Jef Leunissen

Louis XI: The Universal Spider by Paul Murray Kendall

The History of Lewis XI.: King of France by Charles Pinot-Duclos

Catharina van Gelre by Jan Kuys in: Digitaal Vrouwenlexicon van Nederland

Maximilian the Dreamer by Christopher Hare (Marian Andrews)