Nick Name: Mary the Rich
Birthday: February 13, 1457
Nationality: Belgian, French
Died At Age: 25
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Also Known As: Mary, Duchess of Burgundy
Born Country: Belgium
Born in: Brussels, Belgium
Famous as: Duchess
Spouse/Ex-: Holy Roman Emperor (m. 1477), Maximilian I
father: Charles the Bold, Margaret of York
mother: Isabella of Bourbon
children: Duchess of Savoy, Franz von Habsburg, Margaret of Austria, Philip I of Castile
Died on: March 27, 1482
Cause of Death: Accident
City: Brussels, Belgium
Mary of Burgundy ruled over the territories of the Duchy of Burgundy, most of which are in now in modern day France. Her father, Charles the Bold, ruled the extremely wealthy lands consisting of the Duchy of Burgundy, several ‘Low Countries’ and the Free Country of Burgundy. Charles did not have any sons and Mary being his only child, was the natural heir to her father’s legacy. Mary began to administer her father’s lands, after he died on the battlefield in 1477. King Louis XI of France was most eager to occupy the lands for himself, so he proposed Mary’s marriage to his son Charles. Given the fact that Mary was ruling the richest lands, she received many such marriage proposals, but she ended up getting married to Archduke Maximilian of Austria. He later became the Holy Roman Emperor. Under her rule, peace prevailed across her land and she also focused on establishing good relations with all the neighbouring lands. She passed away in 1482, after suffering from injuries during a hunting trip.
Childhood & Early Life
Mary of Burgundy was born on February 13, 1457, in Brussels, Burgundian Netherlands, to Charles the Bold and Isabella of Bourbon. Her father was also known as the Count of Charolais. It was her father’s second marriage; he did not have a child from his first marriage. Mary was the only child of Charles, born to Isabella.
Mary’s birth was hailed as an auspicious event as the court chronicler Georges Chastellainwrote that thunder roared in the sky during her birth even though the sky was clear on that twilight.
Her godfather was Louis XI, who was in exile at that time, following a falling out with his father, Charles VII. Louis named Mary after his mother, Marie of Anjou.
The patriarchal society at that time made her birth an event that invited mixed feelings from family and relatives. Her grandfather Phillip the Good was not happy with her birth as he wanted a male heir to the Duchy. He did not even attend the baptizing ceremony of the baby. However, her grandmother, Isabella of Portugal, was somehow happy with her birth. Mary’s aunt Anne was given the duties to be her governess.
Born as the heir to the richest lands in France and the Low Countries, Mary had a blessed childhood. She spent most of her childhood years at a castle in Ghent. Despite the fact that her father was mostly away from her, she shared a warm relationship with him. He got busier when he became ‘Duke of Burgundy’ and got the charge of ruling and governing the cities under his territory.
Mary’s mother passed away when she was 8 years old and after that she was mainly raised by Lady Halewjin, the wife of her father’s chief steward. Many of her cousins and relatives kept visiting her; it was a very comfortable childhood for her.
She was also educated by the governesses and she could speak fluent French and English. She also read politics and Roman history.
Mary loved outdoor sports, such as hunting and horse-riding. She grew up as a very talented and smart young woman.
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Reigh as Duchess of Burgundy
The territories of the ‘Duchy of Burgundy’ extended to the French, German, and Flemish speaking lands of ‘Low Countries’ and also the lands around the present day border of Germany and France. The trading centres included Ghent, Antwerp and Bruges, which were the richest in the entire Europe.
Following her father’s death on January 5, 1477, she was crowned the ruler of her father’s vast and prosperous lands. Just as she took over the reins, she was made to sign a charter ‘Great Privilege.’ The charter of rights was signed by Mary on February 10, 1477. It provided the states generals of the Netherlands with many privileges. Under the contract, the duchess promised to not declare any war, or make peace or revise the taxations without the advice of all the provinces and towns under her rule. She also had to employ only the native people on the official posts. Thus, they exhibited their hatred for the old regime. It peaked to a level where two of Mary’s father’s councillors were executed when it was found out that they were in touch with France’s king.
Her father got the first marriage proposal for her when she was only 5 years old. It was from the future king Ferdinand II of Aragon. She later received a marriage offer from King Louis XI who wanted to marry her off to his younger brother Charles, the Duke of Berry. Later, King Louis proposed marriage of his son and heir, Charles VIII, to Mary. She was 13 years older than Charles VIII.
Nicholas I, Duke of Lorraine also proposed Mary for marriage, but before he could go further with that, he died in a battle in 1473.
King Louis XI became further more desperate to bring her lands under his control by proposing marriage of his son, Charles VIII, to Mary yet again. When Mary rejected, Louis XI threatened to use arms against her and secure her lands by force.
The trick worked and Mary sent an embassy to the French King to go ahead with the marriage. But King Louis made some outrageous demands, which were not acceptable and hence, the embassy returned empty handed.
In the same year though, Mary found the best suitor for her, the Archduke Maximilian of Austria. He later became the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I. The wedding ceremony took place at Ghent in August 1477 and they both served as co-rulers of the ‘Duchy of Burgundy.’
Despite the fact that the marriage was a joyous occasion, it stirred a century-long rivalry between France and the Habsburgs, as the French king viewed it as an insult. Both the parties fought against each other for the next two centuries and the rivalry finally culminated with the ‘Spanish War of Succession’ in the early 18th century.
Back in the Netherlands, peace was restored as the French King’s contempt was dealt with temporarily.
Mary of Burgundy was a hunting enthusiast, which ended up taking her life. She was hunting with her husband and a few knights in early 1482. Her horse tripped and she fell in a ditch, with the horse landing on top of her. She died a few weeks later on March 27, 1482, from internal injuries.
She had three children: Philip the Handsome, Margaret, and Francis. Out of them, only Francis did not survive infancy. Her son Philip succeeded her.