1902 Encyclopedia > Charles the Bold

Charles the Bold
Duke of Burgundy

CHARLES, the Bold (1433-1477), duke of Bur-gundy, born in 1433, was the son of Philip the Good of Burgundy and Isabella of Portugal, remarkable both for his personal qualities and also for his position as the leader of the last great struggle of the feudal lords against royalty in France, and as the life-long enemy of crafty Louis XL, Charles was the last great figure of the Middle Ages. His physical strength and energy were extraor-dinary. He was full of the most lofty ambition, and ocapable of the most obstinate determination. He never forgot an injury. His passion was terrible and frequent. His boldness amounted to the rashness of fury. He was _careless of luxury, though, in imitation of the ancient con-querors about whom he loved to read, he delighted to surround himself with magnificent display; and he pre-sented an example of conjugal fidelity most remarkable in the society in which he lived.
As Charles rose to manhood, he found his father under the .control of the Croys, whose usurpation of what he regarded as his own rightful function he. deeply resented; and he allowed himself to be banished rather than take one of the family into his household. Soon after—he was at this time count of Charolais—he joined the duke of Brittany in forming a great confederation of the French nobles against King Louis. The confederates, calling themselves the League of the Public Weal, declared that their object was to get rid of bad ministers, to abolish taxes, and relieve the people from oppression. They maintained good discipline, paid for all they consumed, and consequently were opposed neither by the townsmen nor by the country-folk, while the gentry with their dependants flocked to their standard. In 1465 Charles met the royal army in the battle of Montlhery, which was decided by the retreat of the latter during the following night. Paris was besieged; and Louis was forced to surrender Normandy to the duke of Berry, the towns on the Somme and the counties of Boulogne and Guienne to the count of Charolais, and other territory to other of the nobles. Charles's next exploit was the conquest of Liege, which, hitherto ruled democratically under the constitutional control of its bishop, was now struggling against the encroachments of Burgundy. The town of Dinant alone he excepted from the peace which he granted to the rest of the principality ; and a year later he returned to take ven-geance upon it. Its crime was that some of its apprentices had insulted himself and his mother by burning him in effigy as a bastard, and its punishment was an extravagant revenge. It was burned to the ground; of its men numbers were butchered, and the rest remained the unfortunate prisoners of the rude soldiery. The women were spared to be exposed to the extremes of cold and hunger, but were saved from worse treatment by the stern regard for female honour, which was Charles's most admir-able characteristic.

At the age of thirty-four (1467) Charles became duke of Burgundy. Immense changes were at once effected. He permitted none of the gay festivity and wasteful pro-fusion which had been common in his father's time, but the court was directed with a stately and splendid cere-mony, in which the duke took his full share. Everything was arranged, though liberally, yet with strict order and economy ; the state of the finances was carefully examined, and the amount in the treasury was largely increased by unusual demands from the Estates. Every petitioner, however humble, was heard; the duke shirked no details of business, was present at every council, and sharply rebuked or punished with a fine any absence or inattention on the part of the courtiers. A strict system of administering justice was instituted, and the law was carried out impartially even in the case of the most popular of the nobles.

Soon after his accession Charles increased his political influence by taking as his second wife Margaret the sister of Edward IV. of England. It was not long before he required all his power; for soon Louis again took possession of Normandy, and contrived to detach the duke of Brittany from his alliance with Burgundy. But Charles at once made ready for war, and the king in alarm took the daring step of requesting a meeting, and placing himself in the duke's hands at Peronne. Unfortunately for Louis, he had been for some time inciting the people of Liege to rebellion, and they chose this moment for an outbreak. Charles was mad with indignation, and with great difficulty restrained himself from taking vengeance upon the person of the king. After three days of irrepressible passion his wrath was so far spent that he contented himself with requiring Louis to undergo the ignominy of witnessing the punishment of the revolt which he had himself instigated, and with extracting from him a treaty, which, among other most important concessions, confirmed to the duke the possession of the territory which he then held, sanctioned the alliance with England, and took away the right ot appeal from the courts of Flanders to the Parliament of Paris. In case of violation of this compact, the king invoked upon himself the curse of excommunication and the loss of the fealty of Burgundy; and a letter, signed by Louis, was despatched to each of the princes of the blood, requiring them in that event to take up arms against him.
Soon after this Liege was burned, like Dinant, and its inhabitants nearly exterminated, the fighting-men being mostly butchered, and the aged, the women, and the children exposed to the terrible cold ; and the powerful city of Ghent, whose mob had forced from the duke the abolition of the hated cueillote and certain other concessions during his passage through the city before his coronation, was fain to avert his auger by giving up all, and allowing its charter to be annulled.

Charles had now reached the height of his power, but his greatness was unsubstantial. His subjects were becoming much estranged from him. The placid trade-loving Netherlanders found it hard to bear his arbitrary and haughty passion. The courtiers became weary of the stiff ceremonial of the court and the constant toil they were obliged to undergo. Comines (seeing, as he tells us, that his master was madly rushing to destruction, but, as we can perceive, also affected by the promises of Louis) went over to the court of France. The king was now bold enough to reverse his hypocritical policy, and deny the validity of the treaty which he had signed under constraint at Peronne ; and the towns on the Somme, never loyal to Burgundy, were reattached to France. The consequent war was, however, carried on by Charles with his usual success and his usual extravagance of severity.

His ambition and his policy were now changed. He eared no longer to make the lords independent of the king, but aimed at erecting a kingdom with himself as indepen-dent sovereign. Circumstances enabled him to obtain the reversion of Gueldres; and he entered into negotiations with the Emperor Frederick, to whose son he agreed to marry his daughter on condition that he should himself be elected king of the Romans. The emperor proposed instead to crown him king of Burgundy. A meeting, enlivened by a protracted round of gorgeous jousts and feasts, was held at Treves (1473), in order to carry out the latter proposal; but the electors made a protest to Frederick, who was not remarkable for decision, and persuaded him to flee secretly by night.

In 1469 Sigismund, duke of Austria, being in great financial difficulty, had sold Alsaoe to Charles. The governor appointed by the latter was Peter von Hagenbach. His boldness as a soldier, his rough shrewdness, and his capacity for strong government had recommended him ; but horrible stories were told of his brutality, his licence, and his blasphemies, He did indeed terrify the country into order, but his severity at length excited people and nobles alike against him, and he was tortured and condemned to death by a court of deputies, repre-senting the Alsatian towns, with Bern, and one or two others. Charles did not fail to take signal ven-geance, and the country was given up to indiscriminate slaughter and devastation. But he was now surrounded by powerful and determined enemies. He had himself refused to renew the treaty with Louis, who had on his part purchased the alliance of the Swiss. Sigismund of Austria, now desirous of redeeming Alsace, but having no objection to save his money, had been concerned in the rebellion of that province, and afterwards openly joined the French. But, notwithstanding all this, and in spite of the prohibitions and threats of the emperor, Charles pre-pared for the invasion of Cologne, in support of its bishop-ruler, by whose means he expected to bring the city under his own control. As a preliminary he attacked the strong town of Neuss. For eleven months it appeared that nothing could tear him from the siege. The Swiss routed his army, and ravaged Franche-Comte' ; the French army laid waste his territory and pillaged his towns; the emperor opposed him with a large force; the Pope commanded him to desist. At length he came to an understanding with the emperor. Neuss was put under a papal legate, and the fate of Cologne was left in the hands , of the Holy Father (June 1475).

^ Immediately after this the English landed at Calais, but only to sign a treaty of peace with Louis at Picquigny. Yet Charles did not give up heart; and an important acquisition was made in the conquest of Lorraine. Again the Swiss took the aggressive, and possessed them-selves of the Pays de Vaud. Notwithstanding his capture of Grandson, Charles was plainly overmatched ; and, in 1476, he was utterly routed by them at Morat with immense slaughter. Still with no thought of yielding, he devoted himself with all his energy to raise and organize a fresh army. In a few months he was once more ready for war. Ren6 had meanwhile recovered Nancy; but soon, through the cowardice of the Alsatians, he was deserted, and his capital was invested by Charles. But Rene's triumph was at hand, The assistance of the Swiss was gained, and the Burgundians were attacked by an enemy they could not resist. On the 5th of January 1477 the battle took place. The Burgundians were scattered, and next day the massive body of Charles the Bold was found in a ditch, mutilated by several deadly wounds. It was buried at Nancy, but in 1550 his remains were removed to Bruges by Charles V.

See Comines, Mémoires; De Barante, Histoire des ducs de Bourgogne; J. Foster Kirk, Charles the Bold. (T. M. W.)

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