Duchy of Burgundy - The Capetian Dukes

The Capetian Dukes

Robert found that it was largely a theoretical power that he had been granted. Between the reign of Richard the Justiciar and Henry the Venerable, the duchy had fallen into anarchy, a condition heightened by the war of succession between Robert the Pious and Count Otto-William. The dukes had given away most of their lands to secure the loyalty of their vassals; consequently, they lacked power in the duchy without the support and obedience of their vassals.

Robert and his heirs were faced with the task of restoring the ducal demesne and strengthening ducal power. In this, it would be seen, the dukes were well-suited to the task: none were remarkable or outstanding men who swept all opposition away before them; rather, they were persevering, methodical, realistic, able and willing to seize any opportunity presented to them. They used the Law of Escheat to their advantage: Auxois and Duesmois fell into ducal hands through reversion, these feudatories having no heir able to administer them. They purchased both land and vassalage, which built up both the ducal demesne and the number of vassals dependent upon the dukes. They made an income for themselves by demanding cash payments in exchange for recognition of a lord's feudal rights within the duchy, by skillful management of loans from Jewish and Lombard bankers, by the careful administration of feudal dues and by the ready sale of immunities and justice.

The Duchy itself benefited from the rule of the Capetians. As time passed, the state was built up and stabilised; a miniature court in imitation of the royal court at Paris grew around the dukes; the Jours Generaux, a replica of the Parlement of Paris sat at Beaune; bailiffs were imposed over the provosts and lords of the manor responsible for local government, while the duchy was divided into five bailiwicks.

Under the competent leadership of Robert II (r. 1271-1306), one of the more notable dukes of the Capetian period, Burgundy reached new levels of political and economic prominence. Previously, the development of the duchy had been impeded by the bestowal of minor lands and titles on younger sons and daughters, diminishing the ducal fisc. Robert firmly ended this practice, stating in his will that he left to his eldest son and heir, Hugh, and after Hugh to his heir, "all the fiefs, former fiefs, seigneuries and revenue…belonging to the duchy". The younger children of Robert would receive only annuities; since these annuities derived from property held by Hugh, these younger children would need to owe liege homage to ensure their income.

Hugh V died in 1315; his brother Odo IV succeeded. Himself the grandson of King Louis IX of France by his mother, Agnes of France, he would also be the brother-in-law of two French kings – Louis X, married to his sister Marguerite, and Philip VI, married to his sister Joan – and the son-in-law of a third, Philip V, whose daughter Joan III, Countess of Burgundy, he married. Previous attempts to gain territory through marriage – Hugh III and the Dauphiné, Odo III and Nivernais, Hugh IV and the Bourbonnais – had failed; Odo IV's wife Joan, however, was sovereign Countess of Burgundy and Artois, and the marriage reunited the Burgundys again.

They were not, however, reunited for long. The marriage of Duke Odo and Countess Joan in 1318 produced only one surviving child, Philip; he married another Joan, the heiress of Auvergne and Boulogne, but they again only produced a single surviving child, Philip I, Duke of Burgundy, also known as Philip of Rouvres. The elder Philip predeceased both of his parents in an accident with a horse in 1346; Countess Joan III followed him to the grave a year later, and the death of Odo IV in 1349 left the survival of the duchy dependent upon the survival of the young duke, a young child of two-and-a-half, and the last of the direct line of descent from Duke Robert I.

By inheritance, Philip of Rouvres was Duke of Burgundy from 1349. He had already been Count of Burgundy and Artois since the death of his grandmother, the Countess Joan of Burgundy and Artois, in 1347. In practice, though, the duke his grandfather had continued to rule over these counties as he had done since his marriage to Countess Joan, Philip of Rouvres being only a baby. With the old duke's death, the duchy and its associated territories were governed by the young duke's mother, Joan I, Countess of Auvergne and Boulogne, and by her second husband, King John the Good of France.

Richer promises were made to the young duke. He could expect to inherit Auvergne and Boulogne on his mother's death, and a marriage was arranged between himself and the young heiress of Flanders, Margaret of Dampierre, who could promise to bring Flanders and Brabant to her husband eventually. By 1361, aged 17, he appeared to be on track to continue the duchy's steady rise to greatness.

It was not to be, however. Philip became ill with the plague, a disease that all but inevitably promised a swift and agonising death. Fully expecting to die, the young duke made his last will and testament on 11 November 1361; ten days later, he was dead, and with him, his dynasty.

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