‘AT KING ARTHUR’S COURT.’
Measured by the sheer bulk of surviving contemporary accounts, the marriage of Margaret of York to Charles, Duke of Burgundy, was without doubt the most important wedding of the century.1 Princes, nobles, clerics and merchants all crowded into Bruges (modern Brugge) to attend in person. On their return they reported at length to their colleagues. Those unable to be present commissioned and collected detailed descriptions from those who had been there, of what had been worn in the wedding processions, eaten at the banquets and achieved in the jousts.
Princes and nobles wanted blow-by-blow accounts of the nine-day tournament of the Golden Tree. Merchants and bankers were more practical; they wanted full details concerning all the fashions and fabrics worn by the magnificent retinues, and the furnishings and food supplied for the banquets. One such report was dispatched to the headquarters of the Hanseatic League at Lübeck, and another sent to Strasbourg included precise figures for the daily consumption of food and drink. Proud and patriotic, Burgundian chroniclers and writers embellished page after page with such elaborate and elevated prose that even Edward Hall, the Tudor chronicler, normally only too willing to embroider a good story, commented that he thought ‘they saye not true in a grete dele.’2Ambitious young men like Simon Mulart turned the whole occasion into a Latin epic and hoped thus to secure lifelong patronage from the great Duke Charles.
Among the English sources, the thirteen pages in the Excerpta Historica provide the fullest account, but the Paston letter of 8 July is the most succinct. For once John Paston was lost for words concluding his letter ‘and by my troth I have no wit nor remembrance to write to you, half the worship that is here.’3 No doubt the Paston family was furnished with much greater detail when he returned home.
Olivier de La Marche, the Burgundian Chamberlain, who was in charge of all the arrangements for the procession, banquets and tournaments, wrote what is probably the most detailed account of the whole proceedings. However, it was to be almost forty years after the event before he found time in his busy life to sit down and compose his memoirs. Moreover, like many writers of the period he was totally indifferent to chronology, even dating the wedding to after the siege of Neuss in 1475. He was also vague and confused concerning the events which took place in the weeks immediately before the wedding. Presumably he had been so preoccupied with all the last minute preparations that he had to rely on others to tell him what was happening at Sluis and Damme. Perhaps too he thought that all this had already been well reported, and his own special interests lay elsewhere. Thus he devoted only one paragraph to the actual wedding ceremony, seven pages to the procession, five pages to the banquets and no less than seventy-two pages to the tournament.
The survival of so many accounts of the wedding is also a consequence of the fact that, within a decade, the marriage of Margaret to Charles would be regarded as the last great scene of Burgundian glory. Indeed the marriage had a sound literary appeal. After the debacle of Nancy and the loss of the duchy to the French, there was a widespread and morbid interest in the ill-fated life of Duke Charles. Legends gathered around the memory of this fierce, energetic man, and the description of his magnificent marriage to a princess from the equally ill-fated House of York provided fascinating material for chroniclers and moralists alike.
In every respect the marriage lived up to what was expected from a great dramatic event. The negotiations had been dogged with interruptions and arguments; there had been cliff-hanging delays over the provision of the papal dispensation and the bride’s dowry. Margaret’s journey across the Channel was suitably hazardous. Her reception was well prepared and beautifully staged, and the ten-day celebrations were both magnificent and exciting. Neither the English King nor the Burgundian Duke omitted anything that could promote and emphasise their own honour and the importance of their new alliance.
King Edward IV, Margaret’s brother, was a great contrast to his predecessor, King Henry VI, and he never missed an occasion to enhance his own glory. As a usurper he was anxious that the new Yorkist court should be recognised throughout Europe as truly regal. He would have been well satisfied to know that Gabriel Tetzel had already judged his court to be ‘the most splendid Court that could be found in all Christendom,’4 and that Tetzel had come to this conclusion immediately after his visit to the Burgundian court, reputed to be the wealthiest and most magnificent in Europe. For her marriage Edward provided his sister with a luxurious trousseau and a noble entourage, which would uphold his own reputation and satisfy her honour.
Duke Charles was equally ambitious. He had succeeded his father in June 1467 and his marriage to Margaret was the first great event of his reign. He was resolved that it should be a celebration without equal in all the annals of Burgundy, outshining the famous feasts of his father’s reign.5 Nothing was spared that was necessary to make the occasion an ostentatious display of the opulence and might of the Burgundian court.
There was also an element of triumph and relief in the final preparations for the wedding. The whole extravaganza came at the end of two years of long and serious negotiations. In May 1467 the diplomatic arguments had reached such an indeterminate point that Sir John Paston thought it worth his while to have a bet on the result.6 He agreed to pay eighty shillings for a horse if the marriage took place within two years but only half as much if it did not. Paston lost his wager but at least he had the satisfaction of attending the wedding. There were many others who had thought or even hoped that the wedding would never take place.
The origin of the many difficulties, which dogged the negotiations for this marriage, lay in the tricky diplomatic situation existing between France and Burgundy. The Valois Dukes of Burgundy were in a very special position in relation to France. Although their title derived from a French duchy founded by John II for his son Philip the Bold, the Dukes of Burgundy had, during a century of war and marriage, acquired many territories lying beyond the jurisdiction of France.7 Duke Charles himself inherited a vast agglomeration of lordships and counties, including the duchy of Burgundy and the counties of Charolais, Artois and Flanders, which lay within French suzerainty. He also held the duchies of Hainault, Holland, Zeeland and Brabant, and the county of Burgundy or Franche Comté, which were all fiefdoms of the Holy Roman Empire.
These extensive possessions in the richest trading and manufacturing area of northern Europe made the Dukes of Burgundy powerful rivals to the Kings of France and England. Throughout the Hundred Years’ War the friendship of Burgundy had been essential to the success of both England and France. Indeed the withdrawal of Duke Philip the Good from his earlier alliance with England had enabled King Charles VII to drive the English out of France in the mid-fifteenth century. As heir-apparent, Charles of Burgundy had opposed his father’s rapprochement with France, and had been especially angered by the return of the Somme towns to King Louis XI in 1463. He feared an Anglo-French alliance would leave Louis free to oppose the consolidation and expansion of Burgundy. It was for this reason that Charles became interested in a marriage with Margaret of York.
The French King was equally anxious to prevent an Anglo-Burgundian alliance. During the early years of Edward IV’s reign it seemed that he might succeed. As the Dauphin, Louis had supported Warwick and Edward against the Lancastrians, even sending a small body of men to fight for the Yorkists at the battle of Towton. It was in Edward’s interest to keep this friendship and stop Louis from giving any real assistance to the exiled Queen of England, Margaret of Anjou and to the Lancastrian cause. So early in his reign Edward began negotiations for an Anglo-French marriage. At first the proposals had concentrated on the person of the eligible Edward himself. He was offered the hand of Louis’ sister-in-law, Bona of Savoy, but Edward’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville brought this and any other proposals to an abrupt halt. In spite of this set-back, Louis and the Earl of Warwick continued to press for an Anglo-French marriage alliance, with the proposals now centred upon Margaret and her brother George, Duke of Clarence.
Burgundian interest in an English marriage began immediately after the death of Charles’ wife, Isabelle of Bourbon, in September 1465.8 Her death left the Count of Charolais, as he then was, an eligible widower and the inheritance of the duchy was dependent upon the lives of Charles himself and his only child, the eight-year-old Mary. Louis lost no time in offering Charles the hand of his eldest daughter, Anne. But since the princess was only four years old, not even the tempting offer of a dowry, which included the counties of Ponthieu and Champagne, could compensate for the fact that it would be many years before the infant princess could provide Burgundy with an heir.
Moreover, by this date relations between France and Burgundy had deteriorated. The old Duke Philip had been forced to abandon his policy of friendship towards France. He fled from his own castle of Hesdin because he feared an assassination attempt inspired by the French King. There was, after all, a precedent for such a murder. Duke Philip’s father had been butchered in 1419 by servants of the Dauphin on the bridge of Montereau. Following the incident at Hesdin, Count Charles’ influence grew more dominant and his policy to ally Burgundy with Brittany and Bourbon in the War of the Public Weal against France was given free rein. At the treaty of Conflans, which finally brought the Franco-Burgundian conflict to an end, Louis was forced to return the Somme towns. Charles was well satisfied with the outcome of this treaty, and to maintain his gains he considered an English marriage.
It was not the first time that a marriage between the Burgundian heir and a Yorkist princess had been contemplated.9 When Charles’ first fiancée, Catherine of France, had died in 1446, the Duchess Isabelle had suggested a marriage between her son and Anne of York. However, her husband Duke Philip had opposed the idea, and Charles remained unmarried until October 1454 when the Duke decided on Isabelle of Bourbon. Charles’ marriage to Isabelle had lasted eleven years and was considered to have been a particularly happy match, although it had produced only one healthy child, the Lady Mary.
Both the contemporary chroniclers, Wrelant and Commynes claimed that a Yorkist alliance was fundamentally abhorrent to Charles because of his mother’s Lancastrian blood and his own sympathies for the deposed King Henry VI. Wrelant even has a story that Charles disliked Margaret so much that he was drunk on his wedding night and was never a good husband to her. But there is no evidence of any strong feelings either for or against the House of York on the part of either Duke Philip or his son Charles. Moreover in spite of her descent from John of Gaunt, the Duchess Isabelle had favoured a Yorkist marriage. She was well aware that the Duchess of York, Cecily Neville was, like herself, a granddaughter of the Duke of Lancaster.10 Burgundy had given shelter to both Yorkist and Lancastrian exiles, maintaining the youngest sons of Richard, Duke of York in 1461 and the Lancastrian Dukes of Exeter and Somerset after the accession of Edward IV.
There were other important considerations, which affected relations between England and Burgundy. Although the rulers may have been primarily interested in their own territorial and dynastic standing, they could not ignore the economic links, which were so vital to the prosperity of both countries.11 Both Edward IV and the Dukes of Burgundy were dependent on the merchant community for loans, and on trade for a substantial part of their income. Economic recessions were liable to make themselves felt in civic riots and rebellions.
Throughout the fifteenth century the Dukes of Burgundy used Anglo-Burgundian trade as a weapon against England, imposing restrictions and boycotts to force the English into negotiations either with them or with France. English Kings retaliated by moving the wool staple from Antwerp to Calais and by imposing reciprocal restrictions on Burgundian manufactures. This type of economic warfare reached a peak between 1462 and 1465 when Duke Philip was trying to force King Edward into a tripartite treaty with Burgundy and France. Burgundy placed restrictions on the export of bullion. These hit the English wool and raw cloth trade, which slumped to its lowest level for the century. English merchants and producers were badly affected but so were the merchants, weavers and cloth-finishers of Holland, Zeeland and Flanders. The English King enacted reciprocal boycotts, and a wholesale economic war ensued with restrictions on credit, fighting at the fishing grounds and increased piracy in the channel. It was a situation which could not be allowed to continue for long without serious internal difficulties in both England and Burgundy.
Commercial interests were closely involved in the marriage negotiations, especially on the Burgundian side. The international commercial community that centred on Bruges eagerly supported any moves which would improve the economic situation. Tommaso Portinari, the Medici agent in Bruges and the economic adviser to Count Charles, was a prominent member of the diplomatic team preparing the wedding. Lord Louis of Gruuthuyse and Lord Jehan of Hallewijn, who were the ducal governors in Holland, Zeeland and Flanders, were also among the Burgundian negotiators and they represented the noble and economic interests of their provinces.
As soon as the negotiations for the marriage were underway, both sides relaxed some of their boycotts and restrictions. Although a final settlement on the rates of exchange was not reached until the 1470s, the export of raw cloth from England increased sharply after the marriage and within ten years it was running at double the rate of 1462 to 1465. The enthusiasm for the marriage that was felt in the merchant community was expressed in the close cooperation among English, Flemish and Italian merchants over the arrangements for the payment of the dowry and in the large merchant delegations in the bridal procession.
When Isabelle of Bourbon died, Margaret of York was betrothed to Don Pedro of Aragon, but even before he died in the following June, an embassy was sent to England to discuss her marriage to Charles.12 Late in 1465 or early in 1466 Guillaume de Clugny, one of Charles closest advisers, arrived in London to propose the marriage. In reply to this proposal, King Edward commissioned a negotiating team in March 1466. It was a very high-powered team with the Earl of Warwick, Lord Hastings and Lord Wenlock in charge. They were instructed to discuss two possible marriages: Margaret with Charles and the Duke of Clarence, Edward’s brother, with Mary of Burgundy, Charles’ daughter. To the disappointment of Clarence, this second marriage soon vanished from the negotiations. 13
In April the English embassy met Charles’ negotiators at St Omer, to discuss not only the marriage but also the economic situation, and to plan a general treaty of friendship. By this time King Edward was still uncommitted to a Burgundian alliance, and Warwick, one of the chief negotiators at St Omer, was actively promoting an alternative alliance with France. Nevertheless, the conference bore some fruit and Edward and Charles signed a secret treaty of friendship. But Warwick left St Omer to negotiate with the French and to renew the Anglo-French truce.14
King Louis put forward various counter-proposals for Margaret’s hand. He could not find a candidate equal in status to Charles but he had assembled no less than four possible candidates: his brother-in-law, Philip Count of Bresse, René Count of Alençon whose sister had been suggested as a bride for Edward in 1455, Philibert of Savoy, the young Prince of Piedmont, who was Louis’ nephew and had been brought up at the French court and Galeazzo Sforza, the new Duke of Milan and, at that time, still Louis’ ally.
The King of England was in a comfortable position. Both France and Burgundy sought his alliance and were offering full treaties encompassing favourable economic and marriage settlements. Edward should have been able to benefit from the situation yet, ultimately, not only did he have to pay a high price for the Burgundian marriage, but it almost cost him his throne.
The problem was that by the end of 1466 Margaret’s marriage had become a focus for the rivalry between the Woodvilles, the family of Edward IV’s wife, and Warwick his most powerful supporter. A new English team was appointed to deal with Burgundy, and this time it was headed by Queen Elizabeth’s eldest brother Anthony Woodville, Lord Scales. In the meantime Warwick continued to deal with the French match. Throughout 1467, the rival embassies were at work. In spring a French embassy was in London and an English embassy was in Bruges. In June Warwick was sent to France at the head of a large delegation of three hundred men, to discuss Louis’ proposals and to draw up a treaty. The Anglo-French conference at La Bouille near Rouen was a very elaborate affair, Louis providing splendid entertainments and showering the English lords with gifts. Warwick received a gold cup encrusted with gems and he was presented with the keys of Honfleur, which he was to use to his advantage in 1470.
A wide-ranging treaty covering dynastic, political and economic matters was discussed and two marriage alliances were proposed: the first between Margaret and Philip of Bresse and the second between Richard, Duke of Gloucester, Edward’s youngest brother, and Jeanne, Louis’ younger daughter. With Jeanne went a secret promise that France would help Richard of Gloucester to obtain Holland, Zeeland and Brabant from the defeated and dismembered Burgundy. This proposal would have reminded the English of the war fought by Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester a generation earlier.15 Louis also undertook to bear all the costs of Margaret’s wedding, even including the provision of the bride’s dowry, and he offered Edward a substantial French pension. Moreover, recognising the urgency of the economic problems which troubled the relations between England and Burgundy, Louis made attractive trading concessions for English merchants in France.
Warwick was well satisfied with these generous terms, and Louis was confident in the outcome of the conference of La Bouille. He had great faith in Warwick’s power in England, and in his influence over Edward, an influence persistently exaggerated by French commentators such as Commynes who wrote that, ‘Warwick was like a father to Edward.’16 Yet even while Warwick was negotiating in France his influence was waning in England. His brother and ally, George Neville, Archbishop of York, was abruptly dismissed from his post as Chancellor. At the same time, the Anglo-Burgundian negotiators were pressing ahead with their treaty both in England and in the Low Countries.
Early in June the Burgundian presence in England was increased on a grand scale by the arrival of Anthony, Count of La Roche. Known as the ‘Grand Bastard of Burgundy’, he was one of the many half-brothers of Count Charles. He came to London as the protagonist in a magnificent tournament which had been arranged at Smithfield. It seemed as if Warwick’s delegation to La Bouille had been engineered to ensure his absence from England, at a time of great honour for the Woodvilles.
The role played by the tournament in the context of the Anglo-Burgundian marriage negotiations is difficult to assess, but it can certainly be seen as a Woodville enterprise.17 Their support for the tournament indicated their strong support for the marriage as well. It was reported that the whole tournament was inspired by the Queen and her ladies (who included Margaret, perhaps taking measures to hasten her marriage settlement). It seems that following a rather wet weekend at Sheen (today’s Richmond on Thames), the royal ladies had composed a chivalrous petition to Anthony, Lord Scales, beseeching him to defend their honour against an unknown knight. In a preface, which he wrote later, Anthony Woodville gave his own reasons for taking part in tournaments:
Tournaments were for the augmentacion of Knyghthode & recommendacion of nobley; also for the gloriouse scool & study of Armes & for the vailliance thereof ... and for to voide slewthfulnes of tyme loste and to obeye & please my feire lady.18
The ‘feire ladyes’ were an integral part of the tournament, which was only truly chivalrous when it was fought in their name and in their presence. There is no evidence that Margaret was at Smithfield, nor that she was particularly interested in jousts and tournaments, but it may not be entirely coincidental that the two greatest tournaments of the period, the Smithfield tournament and the Bruges tournament, were both associated with her marriage. The tournament was, officially at least, quite separate from the marriage negotiations, though the Bishop of Salisbury, one of Edward’s chief diplomats, provided his London house in Fleet Street and his country house in Chelsea, as hotels for the Count of La Roche and his retinue. Popular opinion certainly saw a connection between the marriage and the tournament. Edward Hall, writing almost a century later, claimed that the Count openly contracted with the Lady Margaret and presented her with a rich and costly jewel in the name of his half-brother Charles.19
The tournament was regarded by the court as an opportunity for display. It would impress the City of London and the nobility with the authority and splendour of the Yorkist monarchy. Edward appreciated lavish ceremonial and glorified in military prowess, although unlike Charles, he did not take part in the jousts himself. Indeed the Yorkist propaganda of 1467 was so successful that the Smithfield Tournament became a model for future English tournaments. Its procedures were carefully copied at the jousts honouring the marriage of Richard, Duke of York, Edward’s second son, to the Mowbray heiress in 1477, and also at the great Tudor tournaments in the reigns of Henry VII and Henry VIII.20
Both the leading protagonists of the tournament were regarded as paragons of their age. Anthony, Count of La Roche, held a great position at the Burgundian court and led the ducal armies into battle. Anthony Woodville’s father, Richard, Lord Rivers, had a lasting reputation as a jouster. He had taken part in the 1440 tournament at Smithfield, where he had conducted himself with honour against a knight from Spain. Anthony had followed in his father’s footsteps, and this was his opportunity to shine.
Both the Count of La Roche and Lord Scales were typical of the late fifteenth century aristocracy, a blend of the medieval knight and the renaissance prince. These men saw themselves in the context of a medieval chivalry, loyal to their lords, serving them in peace and war, faithful and obedient sons of the Church, zealous to set forth on crusades, and above all as the honourable knights of fair ladies, prepared to defend their honour against all-comers. But they were also men of the quattrocento, learned and well educated patrons of the arts, shrewd and aggressive politicians, maintaining large estates and followed by a powerful coterie of tenants, officials and annuitants. Equally the noblewomen were both the remote and idealised ladies of the ballads and the practical administrators and managers who ran their estates in the absence of their lords. The late medieval tournament was the perfect theatre for a demonstration of chivalry and political power.
King Edward attended the June tournament in person, and gave a ceremonial banquet at the Mercers’ Guildhall on the second day of the joust. George Duke of Clarence was present bearing one of Anthony Woodville’s great helms in the opening processions. It was not just pomp and show however, the fighting was very fierce, with courage and honour being put to the test. The Count de la Roche’s horse was killed under him, and the fighting on foot in the mêlée was so ferocious that the King had to terminate the struggle by shouting ‘whoa’.21 Though precisely how splendid and magnificent the whole affair really was, is thrown into doubt by Edward Hall’s comment that the ‘Lord Bastard was somewhat dim of sight’.22 The English commentators judged that Lord Scales had the advantage over the Count of La Roche.
All this excitement was dramatically cut short when the news arrived in England that the old Duke Philip had expired at Bruges. With considerable haste all the Burgundian nobles returned home for the funeral. By now it was becoming clear that Edward had decided to marry his sister to Charles, now the Duke of Burgundy and thus an even more eligible match. The French embassy, which arrived in London at the end of June, was shown only the barest essentials of royal courtesy. After receiving them on their arrival, the King withdrew to Windsor, leaving Warwick to entertain them. He only met them again, very briefly, on their departure. The royal gifts to the ambassadors were considered paltry in comparison with those which were given by King Louis at La Bouille and, when the French embassy had departed, Warwick, feeling that his own honour had been slighted, retired to his estates.23
During the late summer of 1467 the commitment towards Burgundy became more and more obvious. Another delegation was sent to Brussels in September under the leadership of Lord Rivers, Lord Scales and the Bishop of Salisbury. The working members of the English team included the King’s private secretary, William Hatcliffe, Thomas Vaughan, Treasurer of the Chamber and three other key officials: Thomas Kent, Henry Sharp and John Russel.24 They were instructed to deal with three treaties, the marriage treaty, a trade treaty and an alliance of friendship. As a gesture of goodwill, the economic statutes of 1464 and 1465, which prohibited the import of Burgundian manufactures into England, were annulled, even though most of the Burgundian protectionist legislation against England remained in force. This situation brought protests from merchants in both London and Burgundy, and the riots in the Low Countries were exacerbated by political agitation over the accession of Duke Charles. On 1 July the new Duke had to flee from rebels in Ghent, barely escaping with his daughter and his treasure.25
These troubles distracted Charles from the English marriage, but he too assembled a powerful team to negotiate on his behalf. Now that he had become the Duke of Burgundy, his demands were more exacting and Edward found himself paying dearly for Margaret’s marriage. It is difficult to understand why he was prepared to pay such a high price and why he discarded all considerations of a French marriage. Ultimately, Edward’s preference for the Burgundian marriage seems to have been grounded in the traditional English hostility towards France. In spite of all the seductions of King Louis XI, the young King Edward still preferred the old anti-French policies. The English alliances of 1467-8, with Castile, with Brittany and earlier with Portugal, were all part of a diplomatic offensive against France. This policy had long been favoured by the Yorkists, and it was now apparently also backed by the Woodvilles.26 It found a wide degree of popular support both in London and in the country at large. Moreover as long as Louis gave any support to the exiled Lancastrian Queen Margaret and her son, no Yorkist usurper was likely to agree to an alliance with France.
In October 1467 Edward made his decision public, and Margaret appeared before the Great Council at Kingston-upon-Thames to give her formal consent to her marriage with Charles.27 Her personal appearance at the council meeting might indicate her active interest in the marriage. Following her declaration of consent, negotiations moved on to the highest level and Charles invited his mother, the Dowager Duchess Isabelle, to take responsibility for the final marriage treaty, which would be based on the treaty between Burgundy and Portugal that had been drawn up for Isabelle’s own marriage to Philip in 1429.
Yet even after this there was to be a further delay of eight months before the wedding. This was partly due to the complicated nature of the negotiations. The new Anglo-Burgundian alliance covered mutual defence, trade, currency exchange, fishing problems, the movement of pilgrims and travellers as well as the marriage itself. Questions concerning the trade in arms and the export of English cloth were left unsolved, to be dealt with at another conference due to meet at Bruges in January 1469. Problems over the exchange rates were also found to be too difficult to be settled quickly, and they too were set aside for the time being. Most of the negotiations took place in Brussels necessitating several adjournments to allow the English envoys time to consult the King. The marriage treaty and the Anglo-Burgundian alliance were finally signed and ratified in Brussels in February 1468, and in London a month later.28
Although the treaty followed the 1429 precedents closely, it was, in several respects, much more favourable to the Burgundians than the earlier treaty between Burgundy and Portugal had been. Margaret’s rights of collateral inheritance in England were preserved. The Yorkists, with their own claim to the throne based on two Mortimer heiresses, could hardly deny Margaret’s rights of inheritance. There were further advantages to Burgundy in the dowry arrangements. If Isabelle had died within a year of her marriage, her whole dowry and all her jewels would have been returned to Portugal. In Margaret’s case only the jewels would be returned, the dowry would be kept by the Burgundian Duke.
The dowry settlement was the most important element in any marriage treaty. It was a question of honour both for the bride and groom. The provision of dowries had first claim on a father’s pocket and, since Margaret was his only unmarried sister, Edward was responsible for her dowry. The dower which the bridegroom settled upon his wife was dependent upon the payment of the dowry, and a dowry payable over several years created a link between the two families, which would guarantee financial and economic cooperation. Edward pledged himself to provide a large dowry of 200,000 crowns. A quarter of this was to be paid before the wedding, a quarter by the first anniversary and the rest by the second anniversary.
The bridal dower which matched this included the cities of Malines (modern Mechelen), Oudenaarde and Dendermonde. The rents and aides from the dower property were estimated to reach 16,000 crowns a year and if they should fall below that level the Duke would make up the difference. Margaret was promised an allowance of 22,000 livres a year for her normal expenses, and an extra 4,000 livres for abnormal expenses. The order for the payment for the first part of the dowry was made by the King at Greenwich on the 11 April 1468, and at about the same time a ring valued at £20 was bought and sent from Margaret to Charles.29 This might offer some substance to Hall’s story that Anthony, Count of La Roche, had presented Margaret with a ring from Charles during the tournament since it was customary for the groom to send the first ring.
Another delay was caused by the length of time it took to obtain a papal dispensation, necessary because Margaret and Charles were cousins of the fourth degree. Charles was responsible for obtaining the papal dispensation and Guillaume de Clugny, the Papal Notary in Flanders, travelled to Rome in October, but he did not succeed in obtaining the dispensation until May of the following year. King Louis was making strong diplomatic efforts to block the dispensation and de Clugny only achieved the desired result after lengthy argument and costly bribery.30 As soon as the dispensation arrived at Westminster, Edward announced in Parliament that his sister Margaret was to marry ‘oon of myghtyest Princes of the world that bereth no crown’.31 At the same time he reminded Parliament of his claims in France and declared his intention of enforcing these claims. He demanded and obtained aides from Parliament for both the marriage of his sister, and the projected invasion of France.
Charles announced his forthcoming marriage to the Estates General of all the Provinces of the Low Countries, and to the Chapter of the Order of the Golden Fleece, both of which met at Bruges in May. He had obviously noted the twenty-two children born to Margaret’s Neville grandfather, as well as the seven healthy children born to her mother, for he promoted the marriage as being in the best interests of the duchy and likely to produce more princes for the realm.32 He ignored the infertility in the York and Mortimer lines, but it was surely these genes, rather than any rumours of bad relations between Margaret and Charles, which would lead to Margaret’s subsequent childlessness.
By May 1468 preparations were well underway to supply the Princess with a suitable trousseau and entourage. Invitations went out to those fortunate enough to have been chosen to accompany the bride to Bruges. John Paston received his summons from the King as early as 18 April.33 All seemed ready for the wedding to take place but there was a final delay while Edward raised the 50,000 crowns to cover the first dowry payment and the money needed to pay for the trousseau and the travelling expenses. The wedding was postponed twice, first to the 24 June and again to the 3 July. Edward did not find it easy to raise the dowry. The Parliamentary aides were not immediately available so he had to raise loans wherever he could. Rumour had it that some of the great nobles including Warwick refused to help. The Parliamentary fifteenths and tenths were assigned to the merchants of the staple, and to prominent citizens of London who furnished a bond of £13,000. In addition the King was obliged to pledge some of the crown jewels to Hugh Brice, a London goldsmith.34
One of those who guaranteed the bond was Sir Thomas Cook, but before Margaret could leave the country, Cook was arrested putting his own financial position and the bond in jeopardy.35 In June Edward’s agents had arrested John Cornelius, the servant of a well-known Lancastrian, Sir Robert Whittingham. Cornelius was found to be carrying a packet of incriminating letters from Lancastrian exiles to their friends in England. When he was tortured, he named many Lancastrian supporters including John Hawkins, one of Lord Wenlock’s servants. Hawkins in his turn accused Sir Thomas Cook, a prominent citizen of London, who had twice served as Lord Mayor. He was well-known at court, where he was a royal supplier of tapestries and fine fabrics. He himself owned some valuable tapestries, one set depicting the ‘Last Judgement’ and the ‘Passion of Our Lord’ and another on the ‘Life of Alexander’. These were valued at nearly £1,000 and were apparently coveted by the Queen’s mother, the formidable Lady Rivers.
The arrest of one so closely associated with the marriage bond provoked a scandal in the city, and promised to cause yet another delay in the marriage arrangements. Margaret intervened personally and appealed to her brother, this time, it would seem, against the interests of the Woodvilles. Cook was released from prison, but his freedom was only temporary for ‘as long as she [Margaret] was within the land’36 and he was eventually to suffer both re-imprisonment and the pillaging of his property by Lord Rivers’ men who carried off the coveted tapestries. Since several others involved in the affair including Cornelius and Hawkins were hung, Cook came off better than most. This sort of crisis hardly smoothed Margaret’s path to her wedding.
A tithe granted by Convocation furnished the costs of Margaret’s own apparel and her travelling expenses which were very generous.37 Her trousseau included £1,000 worth of silks, £160 worth of gold, silver and gilt dishes and £100 worth of bedding, cushions and carpets. She received £900 in cash and a further £200 was paid directly to her steward Sir John Scott for ‘her diet from London to Bruges’. Sir John, Comptroller of the Royal Household, was one of those who had been closely involved in the marriage negotiations.
In all the lists of her provisions there is no mention of the golden coronet, a beautiful example of the jeweller’s crafts, which is today in the treasury of the cathedral at Aachen.38 This seems to have been intended as a votive crown because it is very small, only about 12 centimetres in diameter and equally high. It is trimmed with pearls and decorated with precious stones set into very finely wrought enamelled white roses. Alternating with the jewelled roses are red, green and white enamelled letters which spell out ‘Margaret of York’, but some of the letters are now missing. At the centre front there is a diamond cross with a great pearl above it set into a large white rose. Above the coronet rises a diadem of seven jewelled roses, with smaller roses in between them. Along the lower edge are golden ‘Cs’ and ‘Ms’ entwined with lovers’ knots. The coronet was carried in a fine leather case with the arms of Burgundy and England embossed on the lid. It may have been made earlier at the time of the coronation of Edward IV and certainly the prominence of the white roses would indicate an English provenance. If so, the initials and knots may have been added for this occasion. It is, however, equally possible that Charles presented the coronet to enhance the majesty of his bride. At the wedding Margaret is reported as wearing a coronet above her loosely flowing blonde hair.
Not everyone was pleased with the marriage alliance. Jehan de Waurin recorded that the wedding took place ‘in spite of Louis XI, Warwick and nearly all the people of England’.39 He was certainly right about Louis XI, who did all in his power to prevent the marriage. When he failed to secure his preferred Anglo-French marriage, he tried to prevent the issue of the papal dispensation and then to obstruct the loans being raised to pay for the dowry. He used his financial contacts in Milan to bring pressure on the Florentine bankers, and he spread the word that Edward was a poor man who could not be expected to raise the money in time. He also increased his support for the deposed King Henry VI, and encouraged Jasper Tudor to invade Wales.
When this too failed, Louis spread slanderous stories about Margaret herself, willingly retold by Panicharola, the Milanese ambassador to the French Court. These rumours have been enthusiastically repeated by many more recent historians too.40 Panicharola reported that Duke Charles had himself been told, ‘of what more and more people now know’ that being that Margaret was ‘somewhat attached to love affairs and even, in the opinion of many, has had a son’. He also described Charles’ reaction to the story, which sounds, if anything, rather mild for such a brutal man. Anyone repeating the story within the duchy was to be thrown at once into the nearest river. Aliprando, Panicharola’s successor, repeated the tale in 1472 when he wrote to his master that ‘all was not well between the King of England and the Duke of Burgundy … on account of the Duchess who did not go to her husband a virgin’. These stories seem to have originated in the court of France, and were probably the origin of a lasting personal antagonism between Margaret and King Louis.
There is no evidence that the slanders had any substance. Indeed Margaret would appear to have been the very model of female propriety. Even Edward Hall, who stretched himself to the limit in hunting for unpleasant epithets for the wicked ‘old Lady of Burgundy’ who so plagued the first Tudor King, did not repeat these stories. Indeed in his account of her marriage, Hall described the young Margaret as ‘a fayre virgin of excellent beautie and yet more of womanhode than beautie and more of vertue than womanhode … not to be unworthy to match in matrimony with the greatest prince in the world’.41
On the other hand, it was well-known on the continent that Edward IV was notorious for his amorous adventures and also that Margaret’s sister Anne had taken a lover, Thomas St Leger, while her husband the Duke of Exeter was living in exile. Anne’s marriage was later annulled and she married St Leger. Louis could profitably equate Margaret with her sister and brother. Moreover, at the age of twenty-two, Margaret was considered rather old to be marrying for the first time, and therefore unlikely to still be a virgin.
The French King’s efforts to prevent the marriage did not end with the purveyance of gossip. He may also have ordered French ships to waylay the fleet conveying the Princess from England to Flanders. According to Jean de Haynin, the English crew told him that there was a skirmish at sea, and they showed him a blue and red silk standard seized from the French.42
Apart from Louis’ displeasure, there was dissatisfaction in England too. The Earl of Warwick did not attend the Council at Kingston when Margaret gave her consent, and according to Calmette he refused to assist with the dowry. Margaret’s marriage was regarded by contemporaries as a serious cause of friction between Edward and his ‘Kingmaker’. The King certainly made some visible efforts to conciliate his mighty cousin. At the end of 1467 Warwick was granted the wardship of Francis, Viscount Lovel and at the Great Council of January 1468 the two men appeared together in public, having apparently settled their differences.43 Clarence also had good reasons to be displeased by his sister’s marriage. Nothing had come of the earlier proposals for himself, and within the year the aggrieved Clarence began to conspire to marry Warwick’s elder daughter and heiress.
As to ‘the people of England’, they too were not entirely pleased with the new Anglo-Burgundian treaty. Duke Charles continued to restrict English cloth imports, and when the new exchange rate was finally fixed at Bruges in 1469 it was very unpopular. There were substantial numbers of Flemish immigrants in England who had arrived from Holland and Flanders during the 1440s, and many of these had settled in Southwark. They were attacked in the late summer of 1468 and again in 1469. The first riots involved John Poynings and William Ashford, who had attended Margaret’s wedding in the train of the Duchess of Norfolk. They were accused of making contact with the Lancastrian exiles in Burgundy, and of plotting to attack the Flemings on their return. The riots were partly due to English xenophobia but they were provoked by the high prices charged in Bruges during the marriage ceremonies, which inflamed the English who regarded the Flemish as profiteers. ‘The Burgoners showed no more favour unto the Englishmen than they would to a Jew’.44 How far these feelings were stirred up either by the French King or by Warwick, always very popular in the city of London, is a matter for conjecture.
In spite of the opposition at home and abroad, and after all the delays, Margaret at last set out on her future life, leaving from the Royal Wardrobe on Saturday 18 June.45 Warwick’s approval was made public when Margaret rode behind him on a pillion through the streets of London. At St Paul’s she made an offering ‘with great devotion’ and then progressed along Cheapside where she was greeted by the Lord Mayor and Aldermen, who presented her with a pair of rich silver-gilt bowls, worth £100 in gold. Her procession crossed London Bridge and she spent the night with the court at the Abbey of Stratford on the south side of the Thames.
After attending service on the Sunday, Margaret made her final farewells and then left, accompanied by her two younger brothers and a large retinue, to make a pilgrimage to the shrine of St Thomas à Becket. Edward impetuously decided to accompany Margaret, and the whole royal party spent three days on the journey stopping at Dartford, Rochester and Sittingbourne. On the Thursday morning, accompanied by all her brothers and the Earls of Warwick, Shrewsbury and Northumberland, Margaret made her pilgrimage at Canterbury. The next day she embarked on the ‘New Ellen’ at Margate, and as soon as the wind and tide were favourable, the fleet of about sixteen ships set sail. They included some of the largest English ships, the ‘St John’ of Newcastle and the ‘Mary’ of Salisbury. These large ships were needed not merely to carry over the vast entourage and all their horses and equipment, but were essential to protect the wealthy passengers and their luxurious cargo from the threat of both the French and the pirates who infested the Channel.
Margaret’s chief presenter was Anthony, Lord Scales.46 With his own deep piety and interest in books and manuscripts, he may well have been a pleasing personal choice for Margaret, but his presence there together with his youngest brother, Sir Edward Woodville, affirmed the Queen’s strong commitment to this marriage. Lord Scales was also travelling to Bruges to answer Count Anthony’s challenge and he would play a leading role in the wedding tournament of the Golden Tree. Margaret’s chamberlain was Lord Dacre, a close friend of Edward IV, who together with William Hatcliffe, another member of the wedding party, would visit Margaret on several future occasions as emissaries between the English King and his sister.
Lord Wenlock was another leading member of the wedding party. No official notice had been taken of his servant’s accusations that he was in touch with the Lancastrian exiles and his presence on board was an indication of Warwick’s approval, since Wenlock was one of the Earl’s closest allies. The bridal retinue was augmented by many diplomats including Sir John Howard, John Russel, Sir Thomas Montgomery and Henry Sharp, all of whom had been involved in the negotiations and were now present to see the completion of the contracts.
The bride’s ladies were headed by the beautiful Elizabeth Talbot, Duchess of Norfolk, who brought her own large retinue.47 Among the other ladies was Lady Willoughby, ‘a lovely widow’, whose husband had died fighting against Edward at the battle of Towton and whose son and grandson, Sir Richard and Sir Robert Welles, would be executed for treason in 1470. There were more reliable Yorkists including the Lady Scrope, wife of Lord Scrope of Bolton, and a Neville relative, the Lady Clifford. Welcome additions to this highly political party were two of the royal jesters, John Lesaige and Richard l’Amoureux.48
The sea crossing took one and a half days, and although it may not be true that they were attacked by the French, it is still most likely that Margaret and her ladies knelt on the deck in relief, when they saw the church towers of Aardenburg and Sluis, and knew that their journey was nearly over. The Channel had a fearful reputation for storms, shipwrecks, delays and piracy. The English fleet made port at Sluis at six o’clock on the evening of Saturday 25 June. It was an auspicious day for the arrival of an English princess, since it was the anniversary of the English victory at Sluis over the French fleet in 1340.49 Simon de Lalaing, one of the ducal chamberlains and the Bailiff of Sluis, went out on a barge to greet Margaret.50 With him went musicians playing trumpets and clarions.
The whole of her reception had been very carefully prepared, and from the moment of her arrival everything was done to honour and please the new Duchess. While Margaret had been making her farewells in England, Duke Charles was personally checking all the arrangements at Bruges, Sluis and Damme. He was in the area from 16 June and actually at Sluis on the day of her arrival. He then remained either at Sluis or Bruges for a further two weeks, an unusually static period in the life of such an active ruler, who seldom remained in any one place, except when he was with his armies, for more than a few days.
Although he was in the vicinity, the Duke did not meet Margaret on her arrival, since this would have broken all the rules of court etiquette. He had deputed the Bishop of Utrecht and the Countess of Charny to meet Margaret on his behalf. The Countess and the Bishop were Charles’ half-sister and half-brother, more of the old Duke Philip’s many bastards. They were both politically important at the Burgundian court. David, the Bishop of Utrecht, had previously made contact with the House of York when he entertained Margaret’s brothers, Richard and George, after the death of their father at Wakefield. He was one of the most important bishops in the Burgundian Church, and a key figure in the Burgundian control of the northern Netherlands.
The whole of the small port of Sluis was en fête to welcome the English Princess. By the time Margaret came ashore it was already dark and the householders had been ordered to stand at their doors bearing flaming torches to light her way through the town. She was met at the Watergate by the chief burghers, who presented her with a purse containing twelve gold marks. Wearing a crimson dress with a long train trimmed in black (a compliment to her new country since these were Burgundian colours) she made her way through carpeted streets to the Market Place where the town house of the wealthy merchant, Guy van Baenst, had been appointed for her residence.
Opposite the house a platform had been built and throughout the week she stayed at Sluis pageants were performed daily for her entertainment. There were more pageants at Damme and during her procession into Bruges. Every theme and detail of these displays had been carefully chosen for its symbolism and significance. For the most part, they portrayed scenes of appropriate marriages selected from biblical, classical and historical sources such as the weddings of Ahasuerus, Paris and Clovis. The symbolism of these subjects would not have been lost on Margaret nor on any of her contemporaries. The Jewish Esther had married King Ahasuerus, and because of her influence over the King she was able to save the chosen people from destruction.51 She was regarded as one of the most noble women in the Old Testament and in Margaret’s case there was a further analogy in that Margaret, like Esther, was a foreign bride. Since the story of Esther stressed the bride’s responsibilities both to her husband and to her own people, scenes from her history were often performed at great state weddings. They would be seen again in Burgundy when Joanna of Castile married Philip the Fair, Duke Charles’ grandson, and in England when her sister Catherine of Aragon married Prince Arthur half a century later.52 Margaret certainly never forgot her dual loyalties to her family and her husband. She would have justified her later actions against the Tudors in terms of her moral obligation to her own people.
The same medieval mixture of religion, myth and politics was seen in references to the legend of Troy, and would also be regarded as particularly relevant to the marriage of Margaret of York. According to medieval historians, Brutus, the grandson of Aeneas, had finally reached Albion, which had been renamed Britain after him. He had founded a new city of Troy on the banks of the Thames but the name of this city had been changed later during the rule of a chieftain called Lud who fought against Julius Caesar.53Thus Margaret came from the ‘New Troy’ or London, crossing the Channel on the ‘New Ellen’, arriving with her fleet at Sluis. The Duke’s great set of Brutus or Troy tapestries included the beautiful ‘Ships tapestry’ showing the Greek fleet in the waters outside Troy looking not unlike the English wedding fleet waiting in the harbour of Sluis.54 Both Margaret and Charles exhibited a lasting interest in the story of Troy. In 1472 the magistracy of Bruges gave the Duke another set of Troy tapestries commissioned from Pasquier Grenier, a gift intended both to delight their ruler and to recall his marriage celebrations in their city. At about the same time, the first book ever to be printed in English was made at Bruges by the command of Margaret. It was a collection of the tales of Troy diplomatically chosen by William Caxton to catch her eye.55
The legend of Jason was another example of the medieval talent for synthesising religious and classical stories, and it was also particularly appropriate to the Burgundian court. Jason, the hero of the Argosy, had become merged with Gideon, the shepherd hero of the Book of Judges.56 Since the foundation of the Order of the Golden Fleece in 1430, the legend of the argonauts had been especially important in Burgundy. The Order of the Golden Fleece rivalled the English Order of the Garter, and enhanced the prestige and status of the Dukes themselves. Other rulers were offered membership of the Order as signs of friendship and alliance. In 1467 Charles had invited Edward to join the Order. The chain of the Order, decorated by a pendant in the form of a golden fleece, hung around the necks of all the greatest men in the ducal domain, and these knights in their brilliant robes escorted the bride into Bruges on her wedding day.
Some of the wedding pageants may have been chosen to echo the themes of the magnificent ducal tapestries, which were on display in the palace at Bruges throughout the wedding.57 The story of Esther, the legend of Jason and the Golden Fleece, and the legend of Troy, were particularly prominent in the marriage celebrations, and there were tapestries on each of these subjects in the ducal collection. The wedding pageants mirrored the tapestries and the tapestries in their turn mirrored the wedding. On the Esther tapestries, there was a scene of a wedding feast which was a replica of that being so busily prepared at Bruges while Margaret was entertained at Sluis.58
The day after her arrival Margaret received the two most important ladies of Burgundy, the Dowager Duchess Isabelle and the Lady Mary, Charles’ eleven-year-old heiress. The old Dowager would have been reminded of her own arrival from Portugal nearly forty years earlier. Isabelle had endured a much worse journey than Margaret. On the long voyage the fleet had been scattered by storms and some of the ships had taken refuge in English ports. Two of them reached Sluis a full month before the ship bearing Isabelle herself, which arrived on Christmas Day 1429. As the sister of Henry the Navigator, Isabelle was, no doubt, well informed as to the hazards of sea travel, but she still needed to rest for two weeks before her triumphal entry into Bruges.
Throughout her forty years as Duchess, Isabelle played a significant role in Burgundian politics, although in the last years of Philip’s reign she had been in semi-retirement. This was hardly surprising since, by 1468, Isabelle was almost seventy-years-old, but she remained very active, well able to take charge of the marriage negotiations and to receive important diplomatic embassies on behalf of her son. She was clearly pleased that her frequent suggestions for Charles to marry one of the daughters of Richard, Duke of York, had at last been fulfilled.
The first meeting of the Dowager and Margaret was carefully planned.59 Isabelle and Mary arrived with Lord Ravenstein, Charles’ cousin, and Jacques, Count of St Pol, one of the English Queen’s uncles. Margaret met Isabelle at the door of the house and they both knelt to each other for a long time, observing the full solemnity of the court etiquette in which Margaret had been well drilled by the Queen of England. They embraced and ‘stood still in communication for a tract of time’. The Dowager then took Margaret ‘very moderly with grett revrance’ and led her into the house. The ladies dined in private and the Dowager was well pleased with ‘the sight of this lovely lady and pleased with her manners and virtues’.
With the Dowager came the Lady Mary, Charles’ only child and the greatest heiress in western Europe. Her baptism in 1457 had been a splendid affair, ‘the greatest magnificence ever seen for a girl’.60 Louis, then the Dauphin, had been godfather to the child. Most of Mary’s childhood was spent at the castle of Ten Waele in Ghent under the care of the Lady Hallewijn, a cousin of the chronicler Commynes. Anne of Burgundy, who later became the wife of Lord Ravenstein, was responsible for her education, and the little girl was entertained by a private menagerie of monkeys and parrots which were sent to her by her grandmother, the Duchess Isabelle. At Brussels Mary enjoyed the Warende, a great deer park which surrounded the ducal palace, and she grew up with a keen interest in animals, hunting and outdoor sports. Mary’s meeting with her step-mother and her reactions to Margaret were not recorded, but judging by their lasting affection for each other, it seems that Mary was just as delighted with her new step-mother as the Dowager was with her new daughter-in-law.
Although she is rarely described as a beauty, Margaret was a good looking and intelligent young woman. Only Jean de Haynin included a description of the bride in his account of the wedding.61 He noted especially that she was tall ‘like her brother Edward’, and since he was six foot three inches, Margaret may well have been very tall for a woman. Charles on the contrary was below average in height, even shorter than his father. Margaret was slim with a very straight carriage, her face was oval with dark grey eyes and, added de Haynin, she had ‘an air of intelligence and will’. Charles, thirteen years older than his bride, was ‘stout, well grown and well knit with a clear dark complexion and a dark beard and hair’.62 His contemporary sobriquet was le Travaillant for ‘no other ruler worked as hard as he did’. His other soubriquets such as Charles le Téméraire and Charles le Hardie, and in English, Charles the Rash or the Bold were attributions by later chroniclers and historians. They are comments on his fearlessness on the battlefield, and his lack of judgement in a crisis.
Margaret met her future husband for the first time two days after her arrival. There are no reports of any earlier meetings and glimpses, usually so popular among fifteenth century chroniclers. Such tales would have been quite out of character for there was nothing frivolous or informal about the Duke. However on the Monday after her arrival Duke Charles visited Margaret ‘with twenty persons secretly’.63 They exchanged ‘reverent obeissance’ and the Duke then took her in his arms ‘and he kissed her in open sight of all the people of both nations’. Foreigners frequently commented that the English ladies kissed freely and often, but on this occasion Duke Charles impressed even the English commentators. Each time he visited her while she was in Sluis, he repeated the process and he also kissed all the other noble ladies and gentlewomen present. Their formal betrothal took place in the garden of the house of van Baenst. There was presumably no room in the house large enough to have contained all the company who had to witness this important event. The Duke stated his intention to marry ‘this noble lady’ and Margaret declared that she ‘had come for this cause and for no other’. Their hands were joined by the Bishop of Salisbury, attended by the Bishops of Tournai and Utrecht, and Margaret was then acclaimed as the Duchess of Burgundy.64
The new Duchess remained in Sluis until the following Saturday and throughout her stay, there were firework displays, ‘castles of fire’, pageants and music. Isabelle, Mary and Charles made several more visits and Lord Scales and the Bishop of Salisbury made at least one visit to the castle at Bruges to meet the ducal staff. Time was needed for the transfer of the dowry and the final wedding preparations. The first instalment of the dowry was handed over to Charles’ four receivers at Bruges on the morning of the marriage day. Chief of the receivers was Tommaso Portinari, who had also raised 41,000 crowns to cover the Duke’s own expenses for the wedding.65 The delay also gave time for Lancastrian exiles, the Dukes of Exeter and Somerset and their followers (who were ducal pensioners) to leave Bruges. They moved out on the day before Margaret’s own entry into the city.66
A week after her arrival at Sluis, the Duchess was taken by barge up the river to Damme, the outport of Bruges.67 Damme, like Bruges, had passed its peak as a trading port. The river was gradually silting up, and already the larger ships had to unload their cargoes at Sluis. But the quays were still busy with luxury goods for Bruges, and the town had some very large merchant houses including the house of Eustace Weyts, the ducal steward, which had been prepared for Margaret’s visit, and was where the Dowager Isabelle waited to welcome her. At Damme there were more gifts and presentations, and the citizens gave her a rich cope for her chapel. Once more she processed through carpeted streets and was entertained by tableaux vivants, and the evening was passed with more fireworks and pageants.
The next morning, between five and six o’clock, Charles arrived at Damme, and they were married in a private ceremony in a room in the house of Weyts, though tradition has it that they were married in the Church of Our Lady, where they attended high mass afterwards. Immediately after mass, the Duke left for Bruges, leaving for his new Duchess the full honours of a Joyeuse Entrée into the city. This was the ceremonial entry accorded by all the cities and provinces of the Low Countries to their new rulers, and there was a considerable rivalry among the cities to entertain and impress. On this occasion the corporation of Bruges and the ducal household had excelled themselves in preparing a stupendous reception for the English Princess, and Margaret and her entourage were equally magnificently arrayed.68
The bride arrived at the gates of Bruges in a gilded litter draped with crimson cloth of gold and drawn by richly caparisoned, matching white horses. She wore a gown of white cloth of gold, trimmed with white ermine and a cloak of crimson. On her head was a golden coronet and her hair was worn loose but ‘honnourablement’ wrote de La Marche, since it was normally considered very improper for a lady to show her hair in public. All the English lords, the great lords of Burgundy including the Knights of the Golden Fleece, and the heralds and kings of arms escorted her. Trumpeters, clarion and tambourine players and minstrels walked beside the bridal litter and alongside those carrying the other English ladies such as the Duchess of Norfolk. Archers and armed knights escorted the whole procession.
The new Duchess was met at the gate of the Holy Cross by four more processions, which welcomed her into the city and led her through the streets to the ducal palace. First came the procession of the city of Bruges itself, the Mayor, the city magistrates and burghers, all in sober black damask and followed by more musicians, minstrels and pages. They presented Margaret with a gold vase filled with gold pieces and with an enamelled statue of St Margaret as well as the traditional gifts of candles and wine. The second procession represented the Burgundian Church, and included ‘eight score Bishops and Abbots’. Six fine processional crosses soared over this entourage, and the procession probably included the Papal Legate, Onofric, who had been invited to the Low Countries earlier that year by Charles to help him to settle his long-standing dispute with the city of Liège.
The third and most magnificent procession was that of the merchants. There were so many of them and they were so colourful that the commentators became confused. An English writer identified seven groups apart from the English: Florentines, Venetians, Genoese, Luccans, Esterlings (Hansards), Spanish and Scots, adding that ‘all were on horseback saving the Scots which were all on foot’. Waurin, however, found only four groups: the Florentines, Lombards (who may have included the Genoese and the Luccans), Hansards and Spanish. De Haynin thought there were Genoese present but admitted that he was not sure and thought that they might have been English. La Marche, writing much later, seems to have simply collected all the earlier lists together and made a synthesis of them. The Florentines were certainly present, at least a hundred of them, dressed in the Florentine colours of red and green and led by the Medici agent, Tommaso Portinari. They gave Margaret four white coursers, harnessed and saddled in blue and white. There were at least two other groups of Italian merchants demonstrating their continuing dominance of the trade of northern Europe.
All the merchants were magnificent advertisements for their fine draperies, clad in silks, brocades, damasks and velvets, plain, figured and embroidered. The well-mounted English merchants wore violet livery. William Caxton, the Dean of the Merchant Adventurers at Bruges, and soon to become Margaret’s financial adviser, translator and printer probably headed this group. The Spanish and Portuguese wore liveries of crimson, violet and black. There were at least 500 merchants present, and they were all accompanied by their own retinues of pages, musicians and singers.
The last procession to join in was the delegation from the ducal household. Olivier de La Marche had his place here along with all the chamberlains, councillors, gentlemen of the court and ducal servants, all dressed in the Burgundian court liveries of purple and crimson and black.
The whole cortège, now numbering about 1,500, wound its way through the streets of Bruges, which were decked with carpets and hung with banners and tapestries. The windows were garlanded with flowers and crammed with spectators, who had paid up to a crown for a seat to watch the processional entry into the city. All the way from the city gate to the palace there was a series of pageants, ‘the best I ever saw’ wrote John Paston, and ‘marvellously well done’ added another. And so they should have been, since more than seventy-five talented artists from all over the Low Countries were employed to prepare these and all the other decorations and displays for the ducal palace, for the banquets and for the tournament.
The themes of the ten pageants were mostly biblical: as well as Esther and Ahasuerus there were Adam and Eve, the Song of Solomon, the Psalms, Tobias and the Angel, the marriage of Moses and Thorbis and the marriage at Cana. Classical confusions included the marriage of Alexander and Cleopatra and feats of Hercules. The arms of England and Burgundy were displayed everywhere: the lion, the lily and the leopard and the devices ‘Je l’ay emprins’, (‘I have undertaken it’) for the Duke and ‘bien en aviengne’(‘may good ensue’) which had been chosen for the Duchess.
The whole of the decorations had been arranged by a committee headed by Olivier de La Marche and Jacques de Villiers, the ducal cup-bearer. La Marche had a considerable reputation for this type of work. He had first attracted attention by his spirited performance as a young girl at the great feast of the Pheasant at Lille in 1454. By 1468 he was considered to be the impresario for great court occasions. Under him he had a huge team of artists and officials. Craftsmen were brought in from all over the duchy. The Bruges team was headed by the artist Jacques Daret, who had also worked on the Pheasant banquet. He had years of experience preparing displays for the meetings of the Order of the Golden Fleece. The highest paid was Daniel de Rijke who, with the most famous painter present, Hugo van der Goes, had arrived with the team from Ghent. There were other groups from Antwerp, Ypres, Brussels and Tournai including painters, sculptors, carvers in wax, fine leather workers and jewelsmiths. Mechanical devices were displayed at the palace and during the banquets and these were masterpieces of ingenuity. They included a forty-one foot tower inhabited by monkeys, wolves and bears which danced. Huizinga loftily condemned these entertainments as ‘incredibly bad taste’69but they certainly provided ducal patronage for a wide range of craftsmen and artists.
Margaret’s arrival in Bruges was so splendid that it has passed into folklore and is still re-enacted for tourists today, but in none of its re-enactments does it achieve anything approaching its original ostentatious pomp. However, the original procession was marred by one factor upon which all the commentators were agreed. It poured with rain all day. Storm clouds and heavy showers blew into Bruges from the North Sea. An English chronicler, more honest than some and doubtless with some patriotic satisfaction that such things happened abroad, wrote ‘than the storme of the rayne came soo faste, I might nott wryght the certyne of the p’sentacions’.70 Regardless of the weather, the procession wound its way solemnly through the streets.
In spite of the rain, Bruges provided one of the most elegant settings possible for such a royal reception. There were according to Rozmital:
many canals in the town and some 525 bridges over them. At least it is so reported, but I did not count all of them. It is also the custom in Flanders for noblemen and well born persons to live in the towns where there are many diversions and delights.
It was ‘a large and beautiful city rich in merchandise’ where the great merchants resided in ‘princely houses in which are many vaulted rooms’.71
In 1468 Bruges was still the greatest cloth market, commercial exchange and banking centre north of the Alps. The proud splendour of the merchant delegations which greeted Margaret on that wet July day showed the pre-eminence of business and trade in the city, which was a centre for all sorts of manufactories. Armourers, leatherworkers, goldsmiths, jewellers and bookmakers all had their workshops in Bruges. Hans Memlinc and Petrus Christus were among the many famous artists working in the city. Their studios continued the vigorous tradition of great Flemish art which had reached a peak with Jan and Hubert van Eyck in the 1440s. Since it was one of the principal ducal residences, the surrounding countryside was full of the castles and hunting grounds of wealthy Flemish and Burgundian nobility. As a centre of the court it was famous throughout Europe for its high standard of living, elegant style and fine taste.
Escorted by this great procession and led by the Lords Scales and Ravenstein, Margaret reached the ducal palace entering through a decorated gateway, where red and white wine flowed freely from the bows of sculpted archers.72 In the courtyard, sweet ippocras, a mixture of honey and mead, spurted from the breast of a golden pelican, perched on an artificial tree. Inside the castle Margaret attended a private mass and rested until dinner. Her rooms had been specially painted with marguerites and hung with tapestries.
The Bruges palace had been built and rebuilt many times during the four hundred years that it had been in use, first by the Counts of Flanders and later by the Dukes of Burgundy. For the Chapter of the Order of the Golden Fleece, which had assembled there in May, a large wooden hall had been erected in the courtyard and this was refurbished for the wedding. Parts of it were made in Brussels and brought by water to Bruges. It was a large construction, 140 feet long and 70 feet wide and it included two upper galleries, turrets and glass windows with gilded shutters.
This was the golden age of gothic tapestries and for the wedding ceremonies the magnificent Gideon and Clovis tapestries gleamed on the walls. Above the dais there were dazzling verdure tapestries displaying the arms of Burgundy and within the palace thirty-two rooms were decorated with more sets of tapestries. Made chiefly in Tournai, these great hangings were among the most treasured possessions of the Burgundian Dukes. They were woven of silk and wool, with gold and silver threads and were incredibly costly. One set alone might cost the equivalent of the total annual income of a noble landowner,73 so that apart from kings and great dukes, few noblemen owned more than two or three pieces. The Burgundian collection was the richest in Europe as can be seen from the fragments which still survive scattered in art galleries and museums all over the world. In July 1468 the entire collection was concentrated at Bruges, a symbol of almost fabulous wealth and a magical experience for those fortunate enough to walk through the candlelit rooms of the palace.
For the banquets, the roof of the wooden hall had been draped in blue and white and the high table was splendid in purple, black and gold. Illumination was by an elaborate system of candelabra and mirrors, arranged by the lighting expert Jean Scalkin. The ducal plate of gold, silver and copper dishes shone on elevated cupboards made specially for this occasion and decorated with pinnacles, each of them crowned with a ‘unicorn’s horn’. No wonder Edward Hall doubted the veracity of these reports. The Duchess dined in state with the Dowager and Mary, attended by all the most important members of the English entourage and of the Burgundian court. The remaining ladies were served in one of the galleries and musicians played in the other.
The arrival of the Duchess at the first banquet was the signal for the beginning of nine days of continuous festivities. On every day there was a great feast.74 Gilded and silvered swans, peacocks, unicorns bearing baskets of comfits, harts carrying panniers of oranges and roasts laid out on thirty vessels, each one representing one of the Duke’s lordships were the sort of elaborate dishes set before the ducal guests. The entremets (between the courses) included mechanical surprises, plays and more pageants. The Lady Mary’s dwarf, Madame de Beaugrand, rode in on a gilded lion, a pedlar pretended to sleep while monkeys stole his wares and gave out purses, brooches, laces and beads to the company, and a dromedary in Saracen style was ridden in by a wild man who threw coloured balls among the guests. As well as unicorns (which were, it seems, readily available in Burgundy) there were giants and ogres, dragons and griffons to delight and astound the court. There were classical mimes of the deeds of Hercules and historical ones of the marriage of Clovis and, after each of the banquets, there was dancing and more music. No wonder a tone of exhaustion crept into John Paston’s letter home:
As for the Duke’s Court as of ladies and gentlewomen, knights, squires and gentlemen I heard never of none like to it save King Arthur’s court … for of such gear and gold and pearl and stones they of the Duke’s Court, neither gentlemen or gentlewomen they want none; for without that they have it by wishes, by my troth, I heard never of so great plenty as there is.
After dinner the Duke made his first appearance in public on his wedding day, joining his wife to attend the opening ceremonies for the tournament of the Golden Tree. This was held in the Market Place beneath the famous tower of the Bruges’ Halle, the market hall.75 For this occasion the Duke wore robes which were more the work of a goldsmith than a tailor. His golden gown was encrusted with diamonds, pearls and great jewels, ‘and on his hede a blake hate one that hat a ballas called the ballas of Flanders, a marvellous riche jewell’. The English writer had never seen ‘so great richez in soo littel a space’. His horse too was richly caparisoned and hung with golden bells. For this celebration the sober Duke was transformed into a veritable knight of medieval tapestry and legend.76
The tournament of the Golden Tree arranged by Anthony, Count of La Roche, as a rejoinder to the Smithfield tournament, provided that mingling of chivalry and honour, courage and brutality which satisfied the desires of the court for entertainment, display and sport.77 The presence of a ‘Great Lady’ made it an even more important occasion, and it was Margaret who was now the centre of all attention as the first lady of the Burgundian court.
The action of the tournament was woven around a fantasy composed specially for the occasion. The legend centred on the standard figures of medieval romance and included enslaved knights, evil dwarfs, ogres and mysterious strangers who inhabited gloomy forests. The tournament was at the bidding of the ‘lady of the Hidden Ile’, who asked the Count of La Roche to undertake three great tasks on her behalf: to break one hundred and one spears or to have them broken, to make or to suffer one hundred and one sword-cuts and to decorate a Golden Tree with the arms of illustrious champions. The Golden Tree had been erected at the entry to the lists and as each knight entered his coat of arms was mounted on the tree.
The costumes of all the participants were colourful and elaborate and the horses were covered in cloth of gold, with gold and silver harnesses and feathered plumes. Some of the noblemen entered the lists disguised as legendary heroes, as Black Knights or as Ancient Knights. Some arrived concealed within decorated pavilions, such as Anthony of Luxembourg who entered chained within a black castle, from which he could only be released with a golden key when the ladies gave their approval. The pages wore harlequin costumes, and carried shields of green and gold, crimson and silver. It was a great theatrical entertainment and the Market Place of Bruges was a kaleidoscope of colour and drama.
In spite of all the pageantry, when the fighting began it was truly fierce and dangerous, and Duke Charles did not hesitate to participate himself. The unfortunate Count of La Roche broke a leg, and was still receiving treatment from the doctor six months later. There were many great ‘buffets’ and the cries of wounded knights filled the air. Margaret was apparently greatly alarmed and she waved her handkerchief to persuade Charles, who was in the thick of the fighting, to unhelm and stop the fray.
The jousts, banquets and entertainments continued unabated for nine days. Each day there were more fantasies and the events were attended by the Duke and Duchess. Sir Edward Woodville was declared the Prince of the Tournay and the Lord d’Argueil, a brother of the Prince of Orange, was judged to be the Prince of the Joust, a diplomatic selection which would have pleased the English Queen and satisfied the honour of both Burgundy and England. The festivities finally came to an end on 13 July when Charles left for Zeeland and Holland. The English guests took their leave and the Burgundian nobles and clerics returned home. Among the latter was Jean de Haynin, who hurried back to his castle at Bavay and five days later sat down to write his account of the wedding, which is certainly the liveliest and freshest of all the reports which have survived.78
Margaret was now the Duchess of the mightiest and richest Duchy in Europe. Her marriage celebrations had shown the opulence of the court and the imagination of the artists. It was a situation to please even the most ambitious child of Richard, Duke of York. With her intelligence and experience she had acquired during her eight years at her brother’s court, she was well fitted to play an effective role in Burgundian affairs. As Duchess of Burgundy, Margaret would find ample scope to develop her political and administrative talents. When the Duke left Bruges, she set forth on a series of journeys around the Low Countries to enable her to get to know her new homeland.
However, Charles had not married Margaret because he sought a partner in government, far from it. The main significance of the wedding for him was the procurement of an English alliance against France. Louis XI had not been able to prevent the marriage, but he was to be more successful in neutralising its threat to France. During the next nine years, Margaret received an education in European politics which went far beyond the insular feuds of the English court.