The Wedding of Margaret of York and Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy

Image of Margaret of York before the risen Christ, from Nicolas Finet’s ‘Dialogue de la duchesse de Bourgogne’ illuminated manuscript commissioned by Margaret not long after her marriage in 1468

The following is an eyewitness account of the wedding of Margaret of York and Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, composed by the chronicler Olivier de La Marche:

“Gilles du Mas, maître d’hôtel of the Duke of Brittany – to you I recommend myself. I have collected here roughly according to my stupid understanding what I saw of the said festival, to send it to you, beseeching you as earnestly as I can to advise me of the noble states and high deeds in your quarter…as become two friends of one rank and calling in two fraternal, allied and friendly houses.

My lady [Margaret of York] and her company arrived at l’Écluse on a Saturday, June 25th, and on the morrow Madame the Duchess of Burgundy [Isabel of Portugal], mother of the Duke, Mademoiselle of Burgundy [Charles’ daughter Mary] and various other ladies and demoiselles visited Madame Margaret and only stayed till dinner. The duchess was greatly pleased with her prospective daughter-in-law and could not say enough of her character and her virtues. There remained with Dame Margaret, on the part of the duchess, the Charnys, Messire Jehan de Rubempré and various other ladies and gentlemen to act the hosts to the strange ladies and gentlemen who had crossed from England with the bride. The Count and Countess de Charny met Madame as she disembarked and never budged from her side until she had arrived in Bruges.

The day after the duchess’s visit, Monseigneur of Burgundy [Duke Charles] made his way to l’Écluse with a small escort and entered the chateau at the rear. After supper, accompanied only by six or seven knights of the Order [chivalric Order of the Golden Fleece], he went very secretly to the hôtel of Dame Margaret, who had been warned of his intention, and was attended by the most important members of her suite, such as the Seigneur d’Escalles, the king’s brother.*

At his arrival when they saw each other the greetings were very ceremonious and then the two sat down on one bench and chatted comfortably together for some time. After some conversation, the Bishop of Salisbury, according to a prearranged plan of his own, kneeled before the two and made complimentary speeches. He was followed by M. de Charny, who spoke as follows:

‘Monseigneur, you have found what you desired and since God has brought this noble lady to port in safety and to your desire, it seems to me that you should not depart without proving the affection you bear her, and that you ought to be betrothed now at this moment and give her your troth.’

Monseigneur answered that it did not depend upon him. Then the bishop spoke to Margaret and asked her what she thought. She answered that it was just for this and nothing else that the king of England had sent her over and she was quite ready to fulfil the king’s command. Whereupon the bishop took their hands and betrothed them. Then Monseigneur departed and returned on the morrow to Bruges.

Dame Margaret remained at l’Écluse until the following Saturday and was again visited by Monseigneur. On Saturday the boats were richly decorated to conduct my lady to Damme, where she was received very honorably according to the capacity of that little town. On the morrow, the 3rd of July, Monseigneur   the duke set out with a small escort between four and five o’clock in the morning, and went to Damme where he found Madame quite ready to receive him as all had been prearranged, and Monseigneur wedded her as was suitable, and the nuptial benediction was duly pronounced by the Bishop of Salisbury. After the mass, Charles returned to his hotel in Bruges, and you may believe that during the progress of the other ceremonies he slept as if he were to be on watch the following night.

Immediately after, Adolph of Cleves, John of Luxemburg, John of Nassau, and others returned to Damme and paid their homage to the new duchess, and then my lady entered a horse litter, beautifully draped with cloth of gold. She was clad in white cloth of gold made like a wedding garment as was proper. On her hair rested a crown and her other jewels were appropriate and sumptuous. Her English ladies followed her on thirteen hackneys, two close by her litter and the others behind. Five chariots followed the thirteen hackneys, the Duchess of Norfolk**, the most beautiful woman in England, being in the first. In this array, Madame proceeded to Bruges and entered at the gate called Ste. Croix.

The procession from Ste. Croix to the palace was magnificent, with all the dignitaries in their order. So costly were the dresses of the ducal household that Charles expended more than forty thousand francs for cloth of silk and of wool alone.

Prominent in this stately procession were the nations or foreign merchants in this order: Venetians, Florentines-at the head of the latter marched Thomas Portinari, banker and councilor of the duke at the same time that he was chief of their nation and therefore dressed in their garb; Spaniards; Genoese-these latter showed a mystery, a beautiful girl on horseback guarded by St. George from the dragon. Then came the Osterlings***, 108 on horseback, followed by six pages, all clad in violet.

Gay, too, was Bruges and the streets were all decorated with cloth of gold and silk and tapestries. As to the theatrical representations I can remember at least ten. There were Adam and Eve, Cleopatra married to King Alexander, and various others.

The reception at the palace was very formal. The dowager duchess herself received her daughter-in-law from the litter and escorted her by the hand to her chamber, and for the present we will leave the ladies and knighthood and turn to the arrangement of the hôtel.

In regard to the service, Madame the new duchess was served d’eschançon et d’escuyer trenchant et de pannetier. [Served by the cupbearer, esquires, the carver and the officer of the bread]. All English, all knights and gentlemen of great houses, and the chief steward cried ‘Knights to table’, and then they went to the buffet to get the food, and around the buffet marched all the relations of Monseigneur, all the knights of the Order and of great houses. And for that day Madame the Duchess the mother declined to be served à couvert [at table] but left the honor to her daughter-in-law as was right.

After dinner, the ladies retired to their rooms for a little rest and there were some changes of dress. Then they all mounted their chariots and hackneys and issued forth on the streets in great triumph and wonderful were the jousts of the Tree of Gold. Several days of festivity followed when the usual pantomimes and shows were evident.

Tuesday, the tenth and last day of the fête, the grand salle was arranged in the same state as on the wedding day itself, except the grand buffet which stood in the middle of the hall. This banquet, too, was a grand affair and concluded the festivities.

On the morrow, Wednesday, July 15th, Monseigneur departed for Holland on a pressing piece of business, and he took leave of the Duchess of Norfolk and the other lords and ladies of quality and gave them gifts according to his rank. Thus ends the story of this noble festival, and for the present I know nothing worth writing you except that I am yours.”

*This is Sir Anthony Woodville, Lord Scales, brother-in-law to Margaret of York’s brother King Edward IV of England. He was the brother of Elizabeth Woodville, Queen of England.

**The Duchess of Norfolk was Elizabeth Mowbray, née Talbot, married to John Mowbray, 4th Duke of Norfolk. She was the sister of Eleanor Talbot, the woman King Edward IV allegedly married before he married Elizabeth Woodville. Elizabeth Mowbray’s five year old daughter Anne (d. 1482) married Richard, Duke of York, second son of King Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville and one of the two princes who mysteriously disappeared from the Tower of London in the summer of 1483.

***Easterlings: Hansards or citizens of a town of the Hanseatic League, a medieval commercial and defensive confederation of merchant guilds and market towns in central and northern Europe.


Further reading: “Charles the Bold” by Ruth Putnam, entry on John Mowbray, 4th Duke of Norfolk in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography written by Colin Richmond