In earlier medieval times, the area of Burgundy had been a kingdom. It was reduced to ducal status in 1004 and was given to the House of Burgundy in 1032. In the fourteenth century, Philip the Bold, the fourth son of King John II of France was the founder of the Burgundian branch of the House of Valois. The immense collection of territories that formed the duchy made Philip the Bold the undeniable premier peer of the kingdom of France. Philip the Bold and his successors were formidable rivals of the kings of France.
With the death of Philip the Bold in 1404, his son John succeeded him. He would come to be known as John the Fearless. It wasn’t long before John entered into a conflict with Louis, Duke of Orléans, the younger brother of King Charles VI. King Charles suffered from intermittent bouts of insanity, leaving a power vacuum in the government which both John of Burgundy and Charles of Orléans tried to fill creating political instability. The Duke of Orléans was assassinated on the orders of John on November 23, 1407.
Louis, Duke of Orléans was succeeded by his fourteen year old son Charles who continued the rivalry his father had with John the Fearless. At a very young age, Charles was married to Isabella, the eldest daughter of King Charles VI. Isabella died after giving birth to a daughter Joan in 1409. Charles would later marry Bonne, the daughter of the Count of Armagnac. The rivalry between him and the Duke of Burgundy would increase and later came to be known as the Armagnac-Burgundian Civil War. Just when things couldn’t get any worse, the Peace of Chartres was brokered.
There was an elaborate ceremony for the signing of the agreement in Chartres on March 9, 1409 which contained twenty-one articles. The most important article for our story was the confession of John the Fearless, Duke of Burgundy to the murder of Louis, Duke of Orléans by his will and by his orders, for the good of the kingdom. Another article called for the apology of the Duke of Burgundy to Louis’ children. During the reconciliation ceremony, Charles of Orléans and his brother Philippe were in tears as they granted the pardon to John the Fearless, the murderer of their father. All the parties then swore an oath on the Gospels to respect the peace.
Yet another article of the peace agreement called for a double wedding. John the Fearless’ son Philip was to marry Michelle de Valois, a younger daughter of King Charles VI. And the Dauphin Louis, King Charles VI’s eldest son and heir was to marry John’s daughter Margaret.
Michelle de Valois
Michelle de Valois was born on either January 11 or 12, 1395 at the Hôtel de Saint-Pol in Paris. She was the daughter of Charles VI and his queen Isabeau of Bavaria. She was named after Saint Michael, one of the patron saints of France. Her father had recently visited the shrine of Mont-Saint-Michel on pilgrimage just before she was born.
Michelle was given the education of a woman of her status. Due to her father’s mental illness, she may have experienced some instability in her early life. But her mother was very close to her children and bought them many toys, clothes and gifts. When she wasn’t with her children, Isabeau wrote them letters and when plague broke out, she ensured they were sent to safety in the countryside, away from the contagion.
In June of 1409, Michelle and Philip the Good were married. She would hold the titles of Duchess of Burgundy, Countess of Artois and Flanders, Countess Palatine of Burgundy and Countess of Charolais. We know little of the marriage or how the couple got along. Michelle did give birth to a daughter named Agnes that died in infancy.
An event of huge significance for the history of France and for Michelle occurred on September 10, 1419. Michelle’s father-in-law, John the Fearless was assassinated upon the orders of Michelle’s brother, the Dauphin Charles, the future King Charles VII. Apparently, Michelle was never the same after this horrifying turn of events. She fell ill in 1422 while her husband was away preparing for the Battle of Cone and died on July 8 in Ghent. Her death was grieved by many people there as she was greatly loved. She was buried in the monastery of St. Bavon and a fragment of her tomb still exists.
During his reign as Duke of Burgundy, Philip the Good managed to double the size of his duchy. By various methods such as inheritance, treaty, conquest and purchase, he acquired the territories of Hainaut, Holland, Zeeland, Friesland, Brabant, Limburg, Namur, Luxembourg, Liège, Cambrai and other numerous cities and feudal dependencies. It would be two more years before Philip married again.
Bonne of Artois
This time it was another political alliance and his bride was Bonne of Artois who was born c. 1396. Her father was Philip of Artois, Count of Eu and Constable of France. Her mother was Marie de Berry, Duchess of Auvergne and the great grand-daughter of King John II of France. Marie’s mother Joan was from the Armagnac family. Bonne’s father died in Anatolia in 1397, a prisoner of the Turks after the Battle of Nicopolis. In 1400, her mother Marie married John I, Duke of Bourbon with whom she had four children, including Charles, the future Duke of Bourbon and Louis, Count of Montpensier.
Bonne’s first husband was Philip II, Count of Nevers and Rethel, the son of Philip the Bold and Margaret III, Countess of Flanders. Their wedding was celebrated in the castle of Beaumont-en-Artois on June 20, 1413. This marriage between the younger brother of John the Fearless and the grand-daughter of John, Duke of Berry and Joan of Armagnac was considered the culmination of a fragile reconciliation between the Armagnacs and the Burgundians in an attempt to end the civil war.
Bonne gave birth to two sons, Charles, Count of Nevers who was born in 1414 and Jean, Count of Étampes. Jean was born just a few days before the death of his father at the Battle of Agincourt on October 24, 1415. Charles succeeded his father as Count of Nevers but due to his young age, Bonne acted as regent for her son until 1424. Between 1419 and 1423, Bonne founded a monastery of the Poor Clares in the castle of the counts of Nevers in Decize. A poet described Bonne as beautiful and blessed with gentility. He also praised her for not wearing outlandish clothes such as long sleeves and tassels, for not being a gourmand and for not drinking her wine laced with spices.
On November 30, 1424, in Moulins-Engilbert, Bonne married the nephew of her late husband, Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy. But the marriage was short-lived as Bonne died in Dijon on September 17, 1425. She was buried in the monastery of Champmol in Dijon, the acropolis of the Dukes of the House of Valois and their families.
Isabel of Portugal
Finally on January 7, 1430, Philip made his most brilliant and politically significant marriage to Isabel of Portugal. Isabel was the daughter of King John I of Portugal and Queen Philippa of Lancaster. Her family was known as the Illustrious Generation in Portugal. Isabel was in her thirties when she married Philip and proved to be an important asset to him in governing his territories. And she gave him an heir, a son named Charles who would come to be known as Charles the Bold. Charles himself would have an interesting marital history.
For more on the life of Isabel, click here. As you can see, the Habsburgs weren’t the only royalty that kept their marriages in the family. There is also an intriguing footnote to this tangled family history. Toward the end of the life of Philip the Good, Bonne of Artois’ eldest son Charles, Count of Nevers was suspected of practicing witchcraft in an attempt to displace Charles the Bold as Philip’s heir. Nevers fled to France and died soon after in May of 1464.
Further reading: “The Life and Afterlife of Isabeau of Bavaria” by Tracy Adams, “Philip the Good: Apogee of Burgundy” by Richard Vaughan, “The Sister Queens: Isabella & Catherine de Valois” by Mary McGrigor, “Isabel of Burgundy: The Duchess Who Played Politics in the Age of Joan of Arc, 1397-1471” by Aline S. Taylor