The Weepers of Isabella of Bourbon


A recent visit to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam got me interested in Isabella of Bourbon (1434-1465), the 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.

Images (from top left to bottom right:

  1. Tomb effigy of Isabella de Bourbon

  2. Agnes of Burgundy

  3. Isabella de Bourbon Flemish School

  4. Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy by Rogier van der Weyden 1460

  5. Destruction of the Church of Our Lady in Antwerp, Belgium by Frans Hogenberg Bildersturm 1566

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 an 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 to marry 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.