Duchy of Burgundy - John The Good and The Establishment of Valois Burgundy

John The Good and The Establishment of Valois Burgundy

The legal implications of the accession of John the Good are frequently misunderstood. It is not uncommon to read that, upon the death of Philip of Rouvres, "the Duchy of Burgundy, lying within France, therefore escheated to the French crown." This claim is simply untrue; the duchy had been granted to the heirs of Robert I, and were it not for the manner in which the descendants of Duke Robert II married and the circumstances under which Philip of Rouvres died, John II, who made his claim to the duchy as the son of Joan of Burgundy and the grandson of Robert II, rather than as the feudal overlord of all France, would never have inherited it.

The claim, however, that upon his inheritance of the duchy it was merged with the crown is more difficult to refute: for while this in itself certainly was not the case, he immediately attempted to merge the duchy into the crown by means of letters patent. He proclaimed in the relevant document that he was taking possession by virtue of his descent from the dukes and continued that as the duke, he immediately gave the duchy to the French crown, with which it was to be inseparably united (much the same as would be followed in the case of Brittany in 1532). Had this come into effect, Burgundy as an independent duchy would have ceased to exist, and John would no longer have been the duke. As a result, a definitive break in the duchy's history would have occurred.

John, however, failed to grasp the realities of the political situation within the duchy. He had already been smoothly accepted as duke. On 28 December 1361 he received the homage of the Burgundian nobility before he returned to France, leaving the Count of Tancarville as his deputy, but the Burgundian Estates had, in their meeting around the time of the homage-swearing of 28 December, firmly given several pronouncements. They declared that the duchy intended to remain a duchy, that it had no intention of becoming a province of the royal domain, that there would be no administrative changes, and that it was joined to France by virtue of one man's rights and would never be absorbed into it. Most importantly of all, it was firmly stated that there had not been, and never would be, an annexation of Burgundy by France, merely juxtaposition – the king was also the duke, but there would be no deeper link than that.

Set against these declarations of Burgundian autonomy was the decree of John II that Burgundy was absorbed into the French crown. The latter proved of no avail. The Burgundians refused to countenance the terms of the letters patent. The king proved unequal to the task of enforcing his policy, which was far beyond his political capabilities. In the face of a non-violent but firm refusal by the Burgundians to allow the independence of their duchy to be threatened, the king quietly scrapped the letters patent, and instead turned to other means.

The king's youngest son, Philip the Bold, was also his favourite most renowned. Philip had distinguished himself in 1356 at the Battle of Poitiers, when at the age of fourteen he bravely fought alongside his father to the bitter end. It occurred to him to both honour his son and sooth the ruffled feelings of the Burgundians by investing him as Duke of Burgundy. Accordingly, the king appointed Philip governor of Burgundy in late June 1363, following which the Estates of Burgundy – who had consistently opposed the previous governor, Tancarville – loyally granted him subsidies. Finally, in the final months of John the Good's reign, Philip the Bold was established as Duke of Burgundy. The king secretly created him duke on 6 September 1363 (in his dual role as duke giving his own title to his child and as king sanctioning this change in leadership) and, on 2 June 1364, following the death of King John, King Charles V issued a letter patent to publicly establish the fact of Philip's title.

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