Wednesday, 10 September 2014

The Assassination of Duke John the Fearless of Burgundy in 1419


10 September 1419, on a bridge at the confluence of the Yonne and the Seine rivers, Duke John the Fearless was murdered during his negotiations with Charles VII, Dauphin of France, by the crown prince’s counsellors and factionists of the Armagnacs, to prevent an alliance between the crown and the mighty Duchy of Burgundy. 


“If I demand before this royal view
What rub or what impediment there is
Why that the naked, poor, and mangled peace,
Dear nurse of arts, plenties, and joyful births,
Should not in this best garden of the world,
Our fertile France, put up her lovely visage?
Alas, she hath from France too long been chased,
And all her husbandry doth lie on heaps,
Corrupting in its own fertility.“ 
(John the Fearless, Duke of Burgundy in Shakespeare’s King Henry V)


The assassination of John the Fearless on the Bridge at Montereau
as seen through the eyes of the Flemish “Master of the Prayer Books”
(around 1500)


Obviously, it was still not enough that the seemingly endless dynastic war between House Plantagenet and House Valois had laid waste to entire regions of France during the first phase of the Hundred Years’ War and the death count amounted to several hundred thousands already. Two lesser factions, Armagnac and Burgundy, played a pivotal role in escalating chaos and destruction in France as well, especially during the years of a momentary lapse of open hostilities between England and France after 1389. And while the Armagnacs tried to be the power behind the throne of mad King Charles VI, Burgundy established more independence from Paris and a political system along the lines of England with its rising middle class and a focus on trade, contrary to the strictly feudal persuasions of Houses Valois and the Armagnacs. Matters came to a head, when John the Fearless, Duke of Burgundy, after having occupied Paris in 1405, ordered the assassination of Louis, Duke of Orleans, leader of the feudal Armagnac party and his successor in receiving the affections of mad Charles’ queen Isabeau. A tyrannicide, as John of Burgundy justified himself. Open war between the two factions broke out in 1407 and both parties began to ravage each others’ countryside, or what was left of it, with a vengeance.



A contemporary portrait of John the Fearless by an unknown artist



Then, in 1415, young King Henry V of England decided to challenge the might of France again and was, to everyone’s surprise, very, very successful. While John the Fearless kept a benign neutrality towards Henry since he made quite a good living from the wool trade between England and his own province of Flanders, the Armagnacs got a thorough trashing at Agincourt in the same year. Two years later, John the Fearless was able to offer Henry the French crown and while he tried to negotiate with the Dauphin, the future King Charles VII, members of the Armagnac party murdered the Burgundian duke, fearing a possible rapprochement of the French crown prince towards John’s modern take on feudality. John’s heir, Philip the Good, consequently allied himself with the English and maybe the world would look different today, if Henry V had not died suddenly of dysentery in 1421 and the game of thrones began anew, ending with a final victory of France at Castillon in 1453.


And more about the assassination of John the Fearless on: