Philip the Good

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Philip the Good

Philip the Good (1396-1467) was Duke of Burgundy from 1419 to 1467. His brilliant and sumptuous court was the most celebrated in Europe, and Burgundian power and cultural life flowered under his patronage.

Born at Dijon on July 31, 1396, Philip the Good was the son of Duke John the Fearless and Margaret of Bavaria. At first created Count of Charolais—the traditional title of the heir apparent of Burgundy—he became the third Valois Duke of Burgundy upon the assassination of his father in 1419.

Contemporary portraits and descriptions depict Philip as tall, with broad shoulders and keen eyes. He was brave, intelligent, and fond of the ostentation that characterized the life of the high aristocracy of the 15th century. "His appearance alone proclaimed him Emperor, and his natural graces made him worthy of a Crown, " a contemporary wrote at a point in Philip's career when he may have been thinking of acquiring both an empire and a crown. Philip's rule coincided with the great flowering of Burgundian art, music, and literature, of which he was the most spectacular patron, and his reign is recorded in several lively contemporary chronicles, some expressly commissioned by Philip.

Early 15th-century Burgundy was a collection of territories assembled by Philip's predecessors, Philip the Bold and John the Fearless, based upon the duchy of Burgundy in southeastern France. The first two Valois dukes had added to this core, however, and constructed a series of territories to the north and west of France, and Philip the Good completed the process of acquisition by gaining Alsace, Holland, Hainaut, Friesland, and Brabant. The Duke of Burgundy was thus the most powerful subject of the king of France, and Philip's influence was of the greatest importance in determining the outcome of the Hundred Years War between France and England.

At the time of his accession, Philip's personal and political sympathies lay with the English, as had his father's, and they were intensified by his (and others') suspicions that Charles VI's son (later, Charles VII) had had a hand in the assassination of John the Fearless. After signing the Treaty of Troyes in 1420, Philip entered Paris in triumph with Henry V of England, witnessed Charles VI's designation of Henry as his legal successor to the throne of France, and completed the formal condemnation of those guilty of his father's murder.

Upon the sudden deaths of both Henry V and Charles VI in 1422, Philip stood aside, and the Duke of Bedford was named regent for the young Henry VI, now ruler of both England and France. In 1423 the alliance between England and Burgundy was cemented by Bedford's marriage to Philip's sister Anne. For the next decade Philip concentrated upon the policy of acquiring lands to round out his extensive holdings in the north of France. The great French successes under Joan of Arc in 1429-1430 may have begun to turn Philip toward an alliance with Charles VII of France. Between 1431 and 1435 Philip was undecided, finally settling his differences with the king of France in the Treaty of Arras in 1435, although he lent the King little real support. From 1435 on, Philip turned his attention to the Low Countries, remaining apart from the French offensive of 1450-1453, which drove the English out of France.

Philip's interests, however, were not confined to the Low Countries and the Anglo-French conflict. He had been born a few months before his father had led the disastrous Crusade of Nicopolis in 1396, and the memory of his father's endeavor coupled with the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks in 1453 spurred Philip to take the crusaders' vow himself. At a famous banquet held at Lille in 1454, he took the "Vow of the Pheasant, " an elaborate crusading pledge that he never fulfilled.

Never entirely welcome or entirely trusted in France, Philip offered asylum to the Dauphin Louis (later Louis XI) from 1456 until the death of Charles VII in 1461. In that year he entered Paris in triumph with Louis XI. Trusted no more by his former protoégé than by Charles VII, Philip soon returned to Burgundy, and his domains fell into the hands of the Croy family.

At the height of his power, Philip was the most influential man in Europe. His control extended into France, the Low Countries, Germany, and Italy. He was regarded as the most noble prince of his day, and he may have considered accepting from the Emperor a royal crown, which would thus have turned Burgundy into a kingdom. Philip died at Bruges on June 15, 1467, leaving his son Charles the Bold to inherit the Great Duchy of the West.

Further Reading

The standard work is now Richard Vaughan, Philip the Good (1970), a clearly written and scholarly study; it is the third volume of a projected four-volume study of the rise and fall of Valois Burgundy. Philip's reign is well treated in Joseph Calmette, The Golden Age of Burgundy (1963). A picture of the rich court life of Burgundy is drawn in Otto Cartellieri, The Court of Burgundy (1926; trans. 1929); and the range of Burgundian culture is described in the brilliant work of J. H. Huizinga, The Waning of the Middle Ages (1924). □

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Philip the Good

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