The fame of the dukes of Burgundy has inspired numerous exhibitions, conferences, and monographs over the last century, yet the last of their line has only just begun to receive her due. While there have been some exhibits that highlighted Mary of Burgundy, like Bruges à Beaune at Beaune in 2000, and others commemorating the death of her spouse, Maximilian of Habsburg, Mary has been the least visible of the Burgundians until fairly recently. This has a lot to do with the difficulty of studying her truncated reign, which left scattered documentation and many hostile witnesses.
This volume publishes many of the papers presented at a conference dedicated to Mary of Burgundy held in Brussels and Bruges in 2015, along with a few additional papers. (In the spirit of full disclosure, I report that I participated in the conference, though was unable to contribute to these proceedings.) The conference organizers were also the editors of this publication; they did a splendid job with both. This impressive anthology offers valuable insights not only into the life and legacy of the last duchess of Burgundy, but also into the culture and history of the Burgundian state in the late fifteenth century and beyond. Many of the authors will be familiar to students of Burgundian history, while some are younger scholars whose work demonstrates the continuing vitality of the field.
The volume’s 22 essays, in both French and English, are prefaced by an excellent introduction by the editors that explains and contextualizes the three sections into which the papers are placed, dedicated to the concepts of agency, government, and memory. Many of the contributions here are worthy of book-length studies, some present new archival material or syntheses, and a few are summaries or extracts of larger projects underway or completed. Across all the essays, some key questions reverberate: What do we know about the life of Mary of Burgundy? Was she the meek character described in sources? How much agency did she exert? How severe was the threat to the survival of Burgundian institutions caused by her sudden accession? How did the treatment of Mary’s figure both by her contemporaries and by later histories impact our understanding of her and her significance for European history? And what did Mary’s gender have to do with these questions?
The first section, “Building the Authority and Legitimacy of a Natural Princess,” includes nine papers encompassing literature, history, and art history. The first four begin from texts that date to Mary’s lifetime: poems, legal treatises, and chronicles. In these sources we hear contemporary voices arguing about her right to inherit and to rule. Jean Devaux investigates occasional poetry or “poésies de circonstance,” works both of courtiers and of urban rederijkers written during the wars that followed the death of her father, Charles the Bold. Jonathan Dumont and Élodie Lecuppre-Desjardin review the legal and political claims put forth by the Burgundian faction for Mary’s right to inherit her father’s lands, while Kathleen Daly examines the French position, that she could not, as expressed in a manuscript from the period authored by Louis XI’s procureur général, Guillaume Cousinot. The voice of the citizens of Bruges is heard in the contribution by Lisa Demets, which focuses on manuscripts of the Excellente Chronike van Vlaenderen, especially those produced in the city during Mary’s reign and immediately thereafter.
The remaining five contributions in this section concern the visual arts and Mary of Burgundy, both as patron and subject, in media ranging from tableaux vivants to books of hours. Olga Karaskova analyses the imagery staged by the city of Bruges for Mary’s Joyous Entry in April 1477. To welcome their unmarried new sovereign, the “City of the Virgin” used imagery of virgins as models for her, the most impressive being Penthesilea, Queen of the Amazons, an apposite figure for Mary as a ruler. Penthesilea also figures in the essay by Andrea Pearson, on Mary’s use of seals and the process of sealing. The duchess’s seals use some of the same equestrian imagery associated with the Amazonian queen, but Pearson complicates the reading of seals by drawing attention to the audiences for such imagery (at court, among urban elites, etc.) and how they might see differing messages within them.
Mary’s efforts as a patron of funerary monuments are the subject of Ann J. Adams’s contribution. She focuses on the tombs of Mary’s mother, Isabella of Bourbon, and Isabella’s brother, Jacques. The former is well known from the mourner statuettes in the Rijksmuseum and the effigy in Antwerp Cathedral; the latter was destroyed with the Church of Saint Donatian of Bruges following the French Revolution. Adams explores the timing, locations, and imagery of these projects, as well as the genealogical choices that informed their design and iconography.
The two following contributions concern the celebrated Hours of Mary of Burgundy in Vienna (ÖNB Cod. 1857) and propose different approaches to the imagery and functions of this lavish manuscript. Sherry C.M. Lindquist rereads the Hours with regard not only to the famous miniatures, but also the copious marginal imagery, which she sees in dialogue with the larger images. Erica O’Brien’s essay addresses the recurring debate about the identity of the woman kneeling before the Virgin in the well-known miniature of the lady reading by an oratory window (fol. 14v). O’Brien makes a convincing case for the candidate she proposes: Mary’s mother, whom Mary was memorializing with the tomb underway in Antwerp.
Section Two of the volume is dominated by historians and is dedicated to discussions of the court, the economy, and the institutions that Mary inherited. The papers here present sometimes detailed glimpses into the chaos of the period, and the efforts taken by individuals and institutions to rebuild the Burgundian state. In his essay, Jean-Marie Cauchies proposes an idealized version of a council of government for Mary, who was famously bereft of counsel at the start of her reign. Valérie Bessey discusses the organization of the duchess’s hôtel – its personnel, structure, costs, and size – to examine the challenge of creating such an institution for a duchess regnant. Michael Depreter’s essay considers how the political, financial, and ideological issues surrounding the Burgundian military after the debacle of Nancy were directly impacted by Mary’s gender. Jean-Marie Yante tracks the economic situation of the Burgundian Lowlands in the last quarter of the century. Sonja Dünnebeil traces the many marriage candidates Charles the Bold proposed for Mary, their potential as consorts, and their prospective payoff for her father. Mary seems to have learned some lessons about diplomacy in her young life, despite her overbearing parent. Focusing on the relationship between the dukes of Burgundy and the Croÿ family, Violet Soen demonstrates that Mary showed great skill at keeping her nobles in line and connected to her court. The final two essays in this section draw attention to relations between Burgundy and Italy. Federica Veratelli demonstrates that the colony of Italian merchants remained in the northern cities to provide services to the court throughout the period. Giovanni Ricci considers a different dimension to these relations, identifying connections and drawing parallels between the courts of Burgundy and Ferrara.
The final section of the volume, dedicated to the memory and legacy of Mary of Burgundy, comprises five case studies that explore how Mary was remembered and represented after her death, both in the short and the long term. The essay co-authored by Alain Marchandisse, Christophe Masson, and Bertrand Schnerb considers whether Mary’s funeral service was conceptualized as a ritual for a wife or a ruler. The whole ceremony, orchestrated by Maximilian, is interpreted as expressing a political message: Mary’s death marks the end of her reign and inaugurates the reign of her successor. As part of this ritual, Mary’s heart was buried in Antwerp in her mother’s tomb. It rested there until 1796 when three individuals were arrested for the theft of remains from this tomb. Emmanuel Berger studies this microhistory to highlight the ambiguity about whose remains the thieves thought they were stealing (apparently, they believed they stole Mary’s body), to whom the remains actually belonged, and their potential to cause political turmoil in a revolutionary atmosphere. Dominique Le Page examines the “Memory of Mary in Burgundy,” reviewing the attitudes of historians within the duchy of Burgundy from the early modern era through the twentieth century. Pierre-Gilles Girault looks at the memory of Mary in the commissions of her daughter, Margaret of Austria. Beyond Margaret’s collections at Mechelen, he argues that her larger commissions, such as stained-glass windows and her funerary chapel at Brou, commemorate her mother and therefore her lineage. Finally, Gilles Docquier’s essay reviews Belgian historiography and popular culture in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to highlight how gendered attitudes of later periods affected the interpretation of Mary’s life.
The volume concludes with an insightful evaluation of the papers by Éric Bousmar and Jelle Haemers. Their comments should inspire rethinking about Mary’s place in early modern history, even as they point to different questions inspired by these essays. The variety of topics and approaches addressed in this volume demonstrates the value of bringing experts from many disciplines to bear on one historical subject. Numerous avenues for future resource will be accelerated by the careful sourcing and editing of all of these contributions.
Lake Forest College