Brabant under Burgundian rule – 1400 – 1450

Succession to Burgundy

Partly because of her lavish lifestyle and partly because if the high cists of the ongoing war with Gelre, the Duchy started to run out of money. The administration system of the day was also questionable with added further to the problems.

It was therefore that Duchess Johanna of Brabant secretly in 1390 arranged with the Burgundian Duke Philip the Bold the succession of Brabant to Burgundy. In 1397 she ceded the incomes of Limburg to Philip. The eventual acceptance of Burgundy as the new rulers was also favoured by the States-General of the cities in Brabant. This happened when Johanna died in 1406 and in 1407 Brabant became a part of Burgundy.

The succession was not accepted by Sigismund of Luxembourg who in 1410 had become Holy Roman Emperor. This in turn led to decades of political interference, diplomatic missions and sometimes even wars. However, despite all of this Brabant ultimately fell under Burgundian rule. The marriage of Philip the Good’s granddaughter Maria with Maximilian of Austria led to yet another twist in the ruling of this part of Europe when it finally, under the Habsburg emperor Charles V, became part of the Habsburg-Australian dynasty.

Unlike other successions within the expanding Burgundian empire, Brabant retained its capital status with  Brussels being the capital of the realm, firsts of all of the Burgundian lands and later of the Netherlands Hapsburg territory known as the Burgundian Kreis  – a separate unit within the Hapsburg Empire, this however this changed in 1572 after the Dutch Republic failed to take control over both the northern and southern provinces and eventually continued independently and as such became separated from the southern Netherlands. The boarder did split Brabant in two, the northern part  became a generality land, directly ruled by the Dutch Sates-General without any independent representation. The southern part became known as the Spanish Habsburg pocessions and Brussels remained the capital of these lands.

The Antonites

Philip the Bold cleverly recognised the independence required by Brabant and the political subtleties with the Emperor and rather than putting Brabant directly under his control he appointed his younger son Anton as the new duke of Brabant.

So, on Johanna’s death, by agreement the Duchy passed to her great-nephew Antoine de Valois, the second son of her sister’s daughter Margaret de Dampierre, Countess of Flanders, who had married Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy.

Duke Anton of Burgundy was accepted as a natural ruler (because of the link with Margaret of Brabant), he underwrote the Blijde Inkomst on December 18, 1406. He became the first Brabantine ruler of the House of Valois.

In the years preceding Johanna’s death Anton had already become heavily involved in the affairs ofhis aunt. In 1401 Anton received the title of Duke of Limburg and in 1405 he became regent of Antwerp, thus after a period of nearly 50 years, reuniting the city with Brabant again.

He married Johanna of Saint-Pol (Luxembourg). For the following few decades Burgundy was unable to take full control of Brabant, they were forced to install separate dukes in Brabant.

Duke Anton of Brabant (Burgundy)

Born: August 1384
Father: Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy (1342-1404)
Mother:Margaret III of Dampierre of Flanders (1350 – 1405) Married: 1369Margaret was the daughter of Louis of Dampierre of Flanders (1330-1383) and Margaret II of Brabant (1323-1368)
Accession: Duke of Brabant and Limburg and Margrave of Antwerp – 1406
Died: October 25, 1415, in the battle of Agincourt/AzincourtHe arrived late this battle, and in his eagerness to reach the field, he dressed in improvised armour and wore a surcoat made from a trumpeter’s flag. He fought valiantly but was captured. He was killed at the massacre of the prisoners ordered by Henry V of England, the English being unaware of his high status and ransom value.
Marriages Children

Jeanne de St. PolDaughter of Waleran III of Luxembourg, Count of Ligny and Saint-Pol.

Married at Arras on February 21, 1402


John IV, Duke of Brabant (1403–1427)
Philippe Count de Ligny and St. Pol (1404–1430), Duke of Brabant
Elisabeth of Görlitz, duchess of Luxembourg (November 1390 – August 8, 1451)Daughter of John, Duke of GörlitzMarried at Brussels on July 16, 1409 William (June 2, 1410 – July 10, 1410, Brussels)
unknown (1412)
unknown Two illegitimate daughters

During this period it also is interesting to see the strong regional ties that were forged by Philip between Burgundy, Flanders, Hainault, Holland, Zeeland and Brabant; which now were all under his influence. A family alliance was signed in 1406. Anton was in charge of Brabant and his brother-in-law William VI was the count of Hainault, Holland-Zeeland.

These alliances would proof to be critical in the future developments of what would become the Netherlands, Some 140 years later, in 1548, the Burgundian Circle (Kreis) was formed under the Spanish Habsburg emperor Charles V, and at that time 17 provinces were united in a semi-autonomous region built on the work of those earlier dukes of Burgundy.

Both of Anton’s marriages aligned him with the House of Luxembourg. As a result of this he received in 1411 the title of Duke of Luxembourg. This was contested by the nobility of Luxembourg and it did cost him three campaigns (1412 – 1414) before he could enforce his position.

Within the family coalition Anton assisted his uncle John the Fearless in his attempt to increase his powers in France. This battle went horribly wrong and Anton was pivotal in the peace treaty that was signed between France and Burgundy in Atrecht on 4th September 1414. Since that time he pledged allegiance to the King of France.

In one of the battles of the Hundred Years’ War Anton died in Agincourt in 1415, he left two underage boys behind, 12-year old John and 11 year old Philip of Saint-Pol.

Several of these battles took place in atrocious weather conditions, the battlefield of Agincourt for example was one big mud bath. This period saw a severe bout of the climate change patterns that were part of the Little Ice Age.

Under Anton’s reign the Burgundisation of Brabant took place, bringing administrative, financial and legal systems in line with those who were already developed in Burgundy. Key developments here are the Audit Office, the Council-Chamber and the appointment of a chancellor for Brabant. Initially these activities were opposed by the cities, because they undermined the privileges of the Blijde Inkomst. But Anton’s continued support for Brabant against the age-old link of the region with the German Emperor did win them over.

Duke John IV of Brabant (Burgundy)

Born: Atrecht June 11, 1403
Father: Antoine, Duke of Brabant (1384 – 1415)
Mother: Jeanne de St. Pol. Married:
Accession: Duke of Brabant and Limburg and Margrave of Antwerp – 1415
Died: April 17th, 1427, Brussels
Buried: Brussels
Marriages: Jacoba of Bavaria, Countess of Hainaut (1401 – 1436).  Married 1418

Brabant caught between Burgundy and the Emperor

John the Fearless, Duke of Burgundy,  tried to use the sudden death of Anton to take over full control over Brabant; The Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund however, vigorously opposed this move. The States of Brabant were able to use the stalemate and made Anton’s 12-year old  John the new duke under their supervision. John IV married, at the age of 15, Jacoba of Bavaria, the heiress to Hainault, Holland-Zeeland.

The powerful Royal House of Bavaria (Wittlesbach), closely linked the Holy Roman Empire, had been in control of most of Hainault and Holland–Zeeland since 1345. Similar to the fact that Burgundy owed most of its wealth to Flanders, Bavaria owed most of its wealth to Holland-Zealand. At that time Bavaria also held the imperial crown of the Holly Roman Empire. Elisabeth of Bavaria, the cousin of William VI was queen of France.

William of Bavaria died in 1417 with his daughter Jacoba his only heiress. She saw in John IV of Brabant a protector against the claims of her uncle John III of Bavaria the elected bishop of Liège and brother of Willem, because he was the oldest surviving male in the family.

Initially it looked like John of Bavaria would play along and was pivotal in arranging Jacoba’s marriage. Secretly however, he also promised Sigismund the fiefdom of this territory. At the same time he would marry Elizabeth of Gorlitz, Anton of Brabant’s widow, and for these services he would receive Luxembourg.

Sigismund visited Brabant in 1417 and restored the privileges of the cities and the provinces s [1. Sanderson Beck, Low Countries under Burgundy 1400-1453 –].

John of Bavaria didn’t wait long and marched with his troops into the region subduing many cities under his control. With the assassination of John the Fearless of Burgundy in 1419 and the consequent power vacuum, he was able to increase his position in the region.

This resulted in a civil war that lasted for a decade and resulted in financial ruin for, the until that time, still more or less independent territories of Holland, Zeeland and Brabant.

On top of all of this however, the marriage between John and Jacoba proved to be  unhappy. She left John IV in 1420 as he had treated her with “neglect and insult”.

John IV of Brabant signed several, for his dukedom unfavourable treaties, with John of Bavaria. He was accused of malfeasance. His wife Jacoba didn’t agree with him and also the new Burgundian duke Philip the Good became increasingly worried about this situation. In all of this the States of Brabant became an ally of Philip the Good and John IV was temporarily disposed of and his younger brother Philip of Sint-Pol became regent (Ruwaard) of Brabant. This title provided him with responsibilities similar to the Stadtholders in other provinces. However, Brabant was now directly governed under the Duke and as such the States of Brabant held relatively more power than the States in other provinces.

Together with Philip the Good, Jacoba of Bavaria tried to reconquer lost territories in Holland-Zeeland, from her uncle John of Bavaria. At the same time John IV of Brabant, unhappy with his disposal entered with his troops several cities in Brabant. However, he was made prisoner by the guilds of Brussels. John IV admitted his mistakes and was reinstated in 1421.  In order to please the guilds he beheaded some of the nobles of Brabant, including Willem van Mons,  and expelled nobles from Holland.

But this didn’t improve the situation. By expanding the Blijde Inkomst privileges of the cities through the so called “Nieuw Regiment” in 1422 John further undermined the position of Jacoba (and that of Burgundy) by providing extra privileges to the cities. He also joined the party of the Cods (Hoekse en Kabeljouwse Twisten) in order to incite broader opposition against his former wife.

Slowly but steadily Burgundy increased its control over the region, Brabant was secured in their camp and also John of Bavaria was forced to join Burgundy, as he was running out of money to continue his campaign.

With the tables turned this time in favour of John IV, Jacoba had to flee Brabant, went to England, married Humphrey of Gloucester and tried unsuccessfully to invade Hainault in 1424.

This second resurgence of the Hook and Cod wars pitted Jacoba, her third husband Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, and the party of the Hooks, against the Cods, represented by a coalition of John IV, his cousin Philip the Good, and John III of Hainaut. The death of John III of Hainault in 1425 allowed John IV of Brabant to make good his claims to Jacoba’s territories (she being then a prisoner in Burgundian hands in Ghent), but the real power and the title of ruwaard of Brabant went to Duke Philip. At his death, John was succeeded by his brother Philip, who later on also received the title of ruwaard.

After the death of John of Bavaria in 1425, Holland and Zeeland went to John IV, who at least officially was still the legitimate husband of Jacoba.

In 1425 John IV, founded – with the support of Pope Martin V – the Catholic University of Leuven, the fist university in the Netherlands, which we visited in 2005. Interestingly Brussels had rejected the offer to host the university as it was not interested in those tumultuous students [1. Sanderson Beck, Low Countries under Burgundy 1400-1453 –].

The universities of the Middle Ages

The University of Leuven was one of the approx 75 universities that were founded during the Middle Ages. The oldest universities are those of Bologna and Paris. They grew out of existing schools. Others started from scratch, sometimes, as was the case in Leuven as a royal initiative. It is estimated that between 1350 and 1500 some 750,000 (male only) students registered at these 75 universities.

Burgundy takes full control

However, all of these succession wars had costed John IV dearly and in 1425 he handed over the rights to Holland – Zeeland to Philips the Good. Jacoba violently opposed this but eventually this dispute was solved with the peace treaty known as the ‘Kiss of Delft’, signed in this city in 1428. Under the terms of the treaty Jacoba was recognised as the countess, however she was not allowed to marry without Philip’s consent; this virtually meant that she was handing over power to Burgundy.

Meanwhile in Brabant John IV died in 1427 and his younger brother Sint-Pol succeeded him. He genuinely and desperately tried to wrestle back control over Brabant from Burgundy and proofed to be a much stronger ruler than his older brother. Unfortunately he died suddenly in 1430 and this was an opportune moment for Philip the Good to take personal control of Brabant. He made his Joyous Entry in Leuven on 5th October 1430. At that occasion however, he promised the States of Brabant semi-autonomy and did not appoint a Stadtholder, he appointed himself as the Ruwaard of Brabant.

Interesting to note here as well is that in 1428 in Oss, the city where I lived in Brabant, the privileges of the St Sebastiaan Guild where confirmed by  Philips the Good and not by the duke of Brabant Philip of St Pol.

Duke Philip of Sint-Pol of Brabant (Burgundy)

Born: July 25, 1404, Leuven
Father: Antoine, Duke of Brabant (1384 – 1415)
Mother: Jeanne de St. Pol. Married:
Accession: Duke of Brabant and Limburg and Margrave of Antwerp – 1427. He received Saint-Pol and Ligny as an appanage on the death of his grandfather Waleran III in 1415.
Died: Leuven, August 14, 1430
Buried: Tervueren
Mistress: Barbara Fierens – they had five illegitimate children

Philip of Sint-Pol commanded the Burgundian forces occupying Paris in 1419, but he returned to Brabant in 1420, where the populace complained of his brother’s maladministration. As mentioned before he was declared ruwaard (regent) of Brabant, the highest function under the Duke. In 1421, he was reconciled with his brother, and resigned the regency. The citizens were pacified by John’s fore mentioned  “Nieuw Regiment” in 1422.

During his own reign, Philip was forced to grant concessions to the nobility in 1428. Wary of the rise of his cousin and heir Philip the Good in the Hook and Cod wars, he sought a marital alliance with  II of Anjou against Burgundy. He was betrothed to ‘ daughter Yolande, but his sudden death in 1430 undid his plans and placed Brabant in the hands of Philip the Good. Saint-Pol and Ligny went to his great-aunt Jeanne, by proximity of blood.

This ended the more than 300 years independence of one of the most important and successful duchies of the Low Countries. With it went the Brabantine Court and all of its courtiers, most of whom faded away in anonymity. In its heydays it employed some 250 people, while many were part of the household, it also included the staff and management of the administration, finances and jurisdiction. With its many functions, events and festivities it also was an economic engine for many of the people in town.

Apart from the end of the heredity line, it was also the end of financial line. Financial mismanagement had taken hold during the reign of Duchess Johanna and had only gone worse since that time. Even during the period of decline after Joanna’s death, her successors kept on spending as if there was no tomorrow. During the nine years of his reign Antoon organised 26 feats and banquettes as well as 22 tournament. Jan IV organised 42 feats and banquettes during his 12 years as well as 15 tournaments and finally Philip St Pol in three years was able to organise 34 feats and 11 tournaments.

This all despite the fact the the States of Brabant after the death of Joanna warned and complained about her financial mismanagement and about the massive devastation her reign has led too.

It is estimated that the court in these years consumed perhaps as much as 50% of the total income of the duchy. In the end however, it was more so the enormous debt caused by the many wars that resulted in the financial disaster.

Brabant Wars 1350-1430

Years Against
1356-1357 Flanders
1364-1365 Valkenburg
1366-1368 Gelre
1370-1371 Gelre-Gulik
1375 St Truiden
1378-1379 Liege
1385-1390 Gelre
1397-1399 Gelre
1412-1413 Luxembourg
1418 Holland
1420 Holland
1424-1425 Hainault

(Source: De Hertogen en zijn Staten, Robert Stein, page 91)

The financial saviour was Philip the Good who took over the reigns on the day after the funeral of Philip of Sint-Pol. Old administrative, financial and legal structures disappeared, were radically changed or became  incorporated into new larger Burgundian structure.

Brabant under Burgundian rule, became part of a very powerful regional territory (roughly covering the current states of the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg).

Brabant remained a vibrant region, in particular its cities Brussels, Antwerp, Leuven and ‘s-Hertogenbosch, with Mechelen as an enclave also firmly under

OLV van Den Bosch

the influence of Brabant. A clear reminder of the wealth of this land is its architecture of this period, known as Brabantine Gothic (1350 -1550), with cathedrals and town halls which are famous around the globe. During various visits we have visited many of these splendid building, including our very beloved Saint Jan cathedral (video clip)  in ‘s-Hertogenbosch which I have been visiting ever since my childhood and hardly a visit to the Netherlands will pass without a visit to Our Lady of Den Bosch. Other highlights of Brabantine Gothic include: St Peter in Leuven, St Rombouts in Mechelen and St Gudula in Brussels. As well as the town halls and merchant houses around many a splendid square.

While all of the Brabantine Gothic buildings are exceptional, the church of Our Lady in Antwerp (Onze Lieve Vrouwe Kerk) is certainly ranking amongst the top. In 2005 we spend there several hours wandering and listing to the stories from one of those incredible knowledgeable local guides, what a privilege to walk into such a person.

[1] H. Obreen, De eerste jaren na den dood van Floris V, 1915