A recent visit to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam got me interested in Isabella of Bourbon (1434-1465), second wife of Charles the Bold. While visiting the Special Collections in the museum about the Middle Ages and Renaissance I came across several statues which were taken from Isabella's tomb many years ago.
Isabella of Bourbon was born in 1434 as the second daughter of Charles I, Duke of Bourbon and Agnes of Burgundy, a daughter of John the Fearless. Isabella became her parent's eldest surviving daughter after the death of her older sister Mary in 1448 and as part of a truce Isabella was married to her cousin Charles, Count of Charolais, alias Charles the Bold (her mother Agnes being a sister to Charles's father Phillip the Good. Charles married Isabella at Lille, France on 30 October 1454, as his second wife. Their marriage was reported to be a happy union. Caused by her early death, not much is known about Isabella's life. She died of Tuberculosis in Antwerp on 25 September 1465, aged only 31, leaving behind her husband and their 8-year old daughter Mary.
Isabella was buried in the Church of St. Michael's Abbey in Antwerp and her funeral monument was erected twelve years after her death by the order of her daughter Mary. Originally the monument was decorated by 24 weepers or pleurants with a bronze effigy of Isabella surmounted in the center. The weepers were ancestors and mourning family members, of which only two have been identified as her 14th Century ancestors from the royal house of Wittelsbach, Albrecht of Bavaria (her great-grandfather )and his father Emperor Louis IV of Bavaria (her great-great-grandfather). The weepers were dressed in earlier fashion than the time of Isabella's death because they are copies from two earlier not surviving tombs and they symbolize the importance of the Burgundian dynasty.
During the Iconoclastic Fury in the 16th Century, Isabella's monument was stripped of its decorations and the weepers vanished. Ten of the weepers turned up in Amsterdam and in 1691 the mayor purchased ten of them from a man called Pieter Vos. The weepers are attributed to the Flemish Northern Renaissance sculptors Renier van Thienen and Jan Borman, who are also attributed to have made the tomb effigy of her daughter Mary. Isabella's biggest legacy was her daughter Mary and her offspring. Isabella and Charles the Bold's only child became the heiress of Burgundy at a very young age and went on marrying the future Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I with whom she had two surviving children, Margaret of Austria and Philip the Handsome. Philip became the father of many children who would in the future be kings and queens across Europe, including Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.
Charles the Bold, the last of the great Dukes of Burgundy, died on 5 January 1477 at the Battle of Nancy in his failed attempt to concur the place. His forces had been hopelessly outnumbered by that of Duke Rene II of Loraine (nephew of Margaret of Anjou). Charles’s mutilated body was discovered only two days after an extensive search through the frozen bodies that were littering the battlefield. The body of the 43 year-old duke had been stripped of his clothes and jewels and his face and body were partly eaten by animals. Identification was done by his court physician who could identify the body based on Charles’s earlier scares and long finger nails. It seemed that Charles fell from his horse and received a fatal blow to the head. With him fell the Burgundian state which his great-grandfather Philip the Bold had founded nearly a century before.
Charles was initially buried in Saint Georges Church in Nancy but 53 years after his death, his great-grandson Emperor Charles V ordered his reburial in Bruges, Flanders. It was first sent to the Franciscan Monastery in Luxembourg where his remains found a temporary resting place until 1553 when it was brought to Bruges and interred in the now vanished St. Donatus Cathedral early that year. Several months later Charles’s remains found their final known resting place in Onze-Lieve-Vrouwe Kerk in Bruges next to his daughter Mary of Burgundy (1457-1482).
Charles’s effigy was made by sculpturer Jacob Jonghelinck (1530-1606). During the French Revolution both tombs were securely kept but the crypt was plundered. It was only during the excavations of 1979 that the tomb effigies were restored to their original state from before the French Revolution. Mary’s remains were identified but unfortunately no trace of Charles. Luckily we can still admire the splendid tombs effigies of him and Mary.
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