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For a Long Century of Burgundy: The Court, Female Power and Ideology

For a Long Century of Burgundy: The Court, Female Power and Ideology

By Graeme Small

Low Countries History Review, Vol. 126:1 (2011)

Abstract: On the evidence of the recent publications under discussion here, historians are beginning to break free from the constraints of the traditional chronological boundaries applied to Burgundian history, and are finding new and valuable ways of exploring political culture either side of the divide that was once thought to have been created by the events of 1477. But progress remains uneven: we know more about the court, the centre of political life, before 1477 than we do for the period that came after; with honourable exceptions, we know more about female political agency and power after 1477 than we do about the period before; and we know too little, still, about political ideologies, a burgeoning area of interest which has much to yield.

The field of Burgundian studies has witnessed a shift in emphasis over the past generation from overviews which were biographical and dynastic in emphasis, such as Richard Vaughan’s volumes on the four Valois dukes, to studies of the Burgundian ‘state’ and the regions it ruled over, exemplified in the work of Walter Prevenier, Wim Blockmans and, more recently, Bertrand Schnerb. Within this last strand, two sub-themes are especially prominent. A great deal of attention has been paid to the ducal court, partly due to the rich record survival which makes study of the topic so rewarding. But this emphasis is justified in other ways too – by the fact that the court’s political influence was felt over a greater area than that of any other single organ of government, or the seemingly widespread nature of the court’s cultural influence across space and time. The second theme in studies of the Burgundian state concerns the towns and cities of the densely urbanised Low Countries. Economic developments have not been neglected, but it is above all the political history of municipalities which stands out, producing major studies of communities like Ghent, Lille or Leiden. Conflict between the court-dominated state and the powerful cities of the Burgundian lands have a special place in narratives of Burgundian state formation, but there is now a growing interest in more peaceable – although no less interesting – forms of interaction between the courtly and civic sphere, facilitated by such things as membership of elite groups like shooting confraternities and rhetoricians’ guilds, or participation in civic processions and religious confraternities which brought city and court together, sometimes in unexpected ways. Into this unfolding landscape of Burgundian historiography the eight new studies listed below have emerged. Together they reveal a marked willingness to extend the chronological scope of the Burgundian period into the sixteenth century, and in important respects they develop our understanding of the court, female power and ideology.

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