Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy had married two women who both died before they had any children. His Estates and subjects were clamoring for him to marry again and have children. Eventually he sent an ambassadorial delegation to Portugal to broker a marriage with King John I’s only daughter Isabel. She was thirty-two years old and had received an impeccable education due to her forward-thinking parents. The ambassadors were successful and an equitable marriage treaty was signed and ratified.
With great fanfare, Isabel sailed from Portugal on October 19, 1429 with many ships full of people, clothing and material goods. Unfortunately, the weather was atrocious and the majority of the ships were lost at sea. Two ships made it to Flanders two months before Isabel. Isabel herself had to seek haven at Southampton in England and didn’t arrive at the port of Sluis until Christmas Day. Philip stayed in his castle of Princehof, worried and pacing as he anxiously awaited her arrival.
Philip had made enormous preparations for the wedding and celebrations. A four hundred man escort accompanied carts of supplies as they rumbled from Dijon in Burgundy in the south to Lille and then to Flanders in the north. These included fifteen carts of rich tapestries, one hundred wagons of fine Burgundian wine, fifteen cart-loads of arms and armor specially made in Besançon for the subsequent tournaments and fifty loads of furnishings and jewels. Bruges had been working hard to prepare for the new Duchess’ arrival since November.
Isabel stayed on her ship for one day to rest. As she disembarked to the sound of trumpets, the crowd was so thick it was difficult for her to make her way along the red carpeted street. Philip and Isabel were wedded in a small formal religious ceremony on January 7 in Sluis. The next day, Isabel made her Joyeuse entrée into Bruges riding in a gold litter carried by two white chargers. The Seigneur de Roubaix and Isabel’s younger brother Fernando rode on each side of the litter holding the reins of the horses. Many lords and ladies from the nobility of Flanders and from Portugal trailed behind her on foot. They were followed by knights in armor, trumpeters, heralds and minstrels playing music. It took Isabel two hours to make her way to the Duke through the streets which were draped with opulent red Flemish cloth.
The Duke never missed an opportunity to put on a fabulous show. Indeed, the court of the Duke of Burgundy was renowned for its elaborate and sumptuous displays and celebrations. The ducal palace of Bruges had been ornately and splendidly decorated according to the Duke’s personal orders. The entire courtyard of the castle was filled with temporary wooden structures that housed kitchens, larders and a magnificent banquet hall. Each of the three kitchens had a huge oven. Six storehouses contained soups, boiled meats, jellies, roast meats, pastries and fruit.
The banqueting hall was one hundred and fifty feet long and stood in the middle of the courtyard. The people who had not been invited to dine during the feast were allowed to drink wine which flowed from the paw of an elaborately painted statue of a lion outside the exterior façade of the palace. Those who were invited and entered the courtyard for the ceremonies drank spicy hippocras wine and rose water which poured from a similar device. In the gallery above the banqueting hall there were sixty heralds, minstrels, trumpeters and other musicians who entertained the guests. In one corner of the hall there was a golden tree whose branches were covered with the coats of arms of all the Duke’s lands and his gentry.
The banquet took place on January 8 and consisted of a parade of tableaux for the appearance of each dish. One dish was accompanied by several women guiding “unicorns” (goats fitted with a single horn) and holding triangular banners displaying the ducal arms. Another dish came in the hall with men dressed as soothsayers, angels, spirits, savages and wild beasts. Another scene had men made up to look like wild animals “riding” in on roasted pigs. Beside one dish was a castle with a ‘wild man’ in the main tower holding a ducal banner and in each corner of the castle a woman held a pennon displaying the arms of one of the ducal territories. The most elaborate tableau consisted of a huge pie containing a man dressed as a savage and a live sheep which had been dyed blue and had gilded horns.
For several days after this banquet, there were more festivities and tournaments held in the marketplace of Bruges. The culmination, on January 10, was a celebration for the inauguration of Philip’s new chivalric society of knighthood, the Order of the Golden Fleece. This Order was patterned after the English Order of the Garter and was meant to outdo or even surpass it. It would become one of the most prestigious orders in Europe.
When the festivities ended, Philip and Isabel went on a progress through the ducal territories. They visited Courtrai, Lille, Brussels, Arras, Peronne, Malines and Noyon. In each town, the parade of nobility entered the streets which were lined with rich tapestries riding on caparisoned horses to the fanfare of resounding trumpets. By the time they reached Noyon in mid-March, Isabel was pregnant and chose to remain there through the rest of the spring.
Further reading: “Isabel of Burgundy” by Aline Taylor, “Philip the Good: The Apogee of Burgundy” by Richard Vaughan