Mary of Burgundy: The Basics

by Heather R. Darsie, JD

Marie de Valois, Hereditary Duchess of Burgundy, was born on 13 February 1457. She was born at Coudenburg Palace in Brussels, which existed since at least the 12th century. Known commonly as Mary of Burgundy, her parents were Charles Martin, known as the Bold, and Isabelle of Bourbon. Isabelle was Charles’ second wife. He was wed to his first wife, Catherine of Valois, when the two were both quite young. Catherine was five years older than Charles. Catherine suffered from delicate health, and died at the age of 18 in 1446. Charles was 13 at the time of Catherine’s death. Catherine and Charles did not have children.

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Mary of Burgundy, possibly by Michael Pacher

Charles married Isabelle of Bourbon on 30 October 1454. Isabelle was first cousin of Charles Martin; his paternal and her maternal grandparents were John the Fearless of Burgundy and Margaret of Bavaria. Isabelle was roughly a year younger than Charles. Their marriage was the product of a truce between Charles’ father and Isabelle’s father. Despite its inauspicious beginning, the marriage became a love match.

Two-and-a-half years later, on 13 February 1457, Charles’ only child was born. Sadly, Isabelle died on 25 September 1465 in the Abbey of Saint Michael in Antwerp, likely of tuberculosis. Isabelle was roughly twenty-eight when she died.

Isabelle’s death allowed Charles to renew his interest in a marital alliance with England. At the time that Charles married Isabelle of Bourbon, he had been interested in marrying Anne of York. Anne was the eldest sibling of Edward IV of England. Unfortunately, Anne had married the Duke of Exeter in around 1447. Now that Charles was a widower twice-over and with no male heirs, he again sought a York bride.

Margaret of York was born 3 May 1446, making her thirteen years younger than Charles. After staunch opposition from Louis XI of France, Margaret married Charles. She and Charles never had children of their own, but Margaret exerted a great deal of energy and care in the raising of her stepdaughter, Mary.

Things changed dramatically for Mary when her grandfather died in 1467, making her father Charles the Duke of Burgundy, and ten-year-old Mary the presumptive heiress to the vast Burgundian holdings. Little Mary had several suitors during her childhood, including Louis XI of France, and then Louis’s infant son Charles VIII, along with the Duke Nicholas of Lorraine. Nothing was meaningfully negotiated with any of these individuals before Charles VIII’s death in April 1498. And aside from that, whatever plans were in action for young Mary were altered dramatically by the death of her father on 5 January 1477 in Nancy.

Mary, not quite twenty years old, was suddenly struggling to maintain control of Burgundy and find a husband who could help her. Louis XI attempted to force Mary to wed his son so that France could claim the Burgundian territories. This did not come to pass. Mary wed Archduke Maximilian of Austria in August 1477 instead.

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Engagement of Maximilian I and Mary of Burgundy, c. 1500, by Albrecht Duerer

Mary and Maximilian enjoyed a happy marriage, and had three children together. The oldest, named Philip, was born 22 July 1478. Their only daughter, Margaret, was born 10 January 1480. A final child, Francis, was born in September 1481. Sadly, little Francis lived for only three months. Both Philip and Margaret lived to adulthood, with Philip becoming the father of the extremely powerful Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.

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Mary of Burgundy being chased by Death whilst hunting, illuminated manuscript, 15th century

Sadly, Mary died of her injuries after falling from her horse during a falcon hunt in 1482. Adolph of Cleves, a cousin of Mary’s, had organized the hunt and no doubt felt intensely upset at the death of the young woman. Mary died on 27 March 1482. Maximilian wed twice more, but did not have any other legitimate children besides his children with Mary.

You Might Also Like

  1. Margaret of York, Duchess Consort of Burgundy
  2. The Six Fiancées of Charles V
  3. Anna of Cleves’ Early Life and Court Culture
  4. What was the Frauenzimmer?

Love learning about the Early Modern period? Are you interested in Tudor history or Women’s history? Then check out my book, Anna, Duchess of Cleves: The King’s ‘Beloved Sister’, a new biography about Anna of Cleves told from the German perspective!

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Sources & Suggested Reading

  1. Leitner, Thea. Habsburgs Goldene Bräute. Durch Mitgift zur Macht. Munich: Piper (2005).

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