This successful expedition against
Liege carried Charles of Burgundy to the very crest
of his prosperity. His self-esteem was moreover
gratified by the regard shown to him at home and abroad.
A man who could force a royal neighbour into playing
the pitiful rôle enacted by Louis XI. at Peronne was
assuredly a man to be respected if not loved.
And messages of admiration and respect couched in various
terms were despatched from many quarters to the duke
as soon as he was at Brussels to receive them.
Ghent had long since made apologies
for the sorry reception accorded to their incoming
Count of Flanders in 1467, but Charles had postponed
the formal amende until a convenient moment
of leisure. January 15, 1469, was finally appointed
for this ceremony and the occasion was utilised to
show the duke’s grandeur, the city’s humiliation,
to as many people as possible who might spread the
report far and wide.
It was a Sunday. Out in the courtyard
of the palace the snow was thick on the ground where
a group of Ghent burghers cooled their heels for an
hour and a half, awaiting a summons to the ducal presence.
There, too, where every one could see those emblems
of the artisans’ corporate strength, fluttered
fifty-two banners unfurled before the deans of the
Within, the great hall of the palace
showed a splendid setting for a brilliant assembly.
The most famous Burgundian tapestries hung on the
walls. Episodes from the careers of Alexander,
of Hannibal, and of other notable ancients formed
the background for the duke and his nobles, knights
of the Golden Fleece, in festal array. As spectators,
too, there were all the envoys and ambassadors then
present in Brussels from “France, England, Hungary,
Bohemia, Naples, Aragon, Sicily, Cyprus, Norway, Poland,
Denmark, Russia, Livornia, Prussia, Austria, Milan,
Lombardy, and other places.”
Charles himself was installed grandly
on a kind of throne, and to his feet Olivier de la
Marche conducted the civic procession of penitents.
Before this pompous gathering, after a statement of
the city’s sin and sorrow, the precious charter
called the Grand Privilege of Ghent was solemnly read
aloud, and then cut up into little pieces with a pen-knife.
Next followed a recitation of the penalties imposed
upon, and accepted by, the citizens (closing of the
gates, etc)., and then the paternal Count of Flanders,
duly mollified, pronounced the fault forgiven with
the benediction, “By virtue of this submission
and by keeping your promises and being good children,
you shall enjoy our grace and we will be a good prince.”
“May our Saviour Jesus Christ confirm and preserve
this peace to the end of this century,” is the
pious ejaculation with which the Relation closes.
Among the witnesses of the above scene,
when the independent citizens of Ghent meekly posed
as the duke’s children, were envoys from George
Podiebrad, ex-king of Bohemia. Lately deposed
by the pope, he was seeking some favourable ally who
might help him to recover his realm. He had conceived
a plan for a coalition between Bohemia, Poland, Austria,
and Hungary to present a solid rampart against the
Turks, and strong enough to dictate to emperor and
pope. He was ready for intrigue with any power
and had approached Louis XI. and Matthias Corvinus,
King of Hungary, before turning to Charles of Burgundy.
Meantime, the Emperor Frederic tried
to knit links with this same Matthias by suggesting
that he might be the next emperor, assuring him that
he could count on the support of the electors of Mayence,
of Treves, and of Saxony. He himself was world-weary
and was anxious to exchange his imperial cares for
the repose of the Church could he only find a safe
guardian for his son, Maximilian, and a desirable
successor for himself. Would not Matthias consider
the two offices?
Potent arguments like these induced
Matthias not only to turn his back on Podiebrad, but
to accept that deposed monarch’s crown which
the Bohemian nobles offered him May 3, 1469.
Then he proceeded to ally himself with Frederic, elector
palatine, and with the elector of Bavaria.
This was the moment when the ex-king of Bohemia made
renewed offers of friendly alliance to Charles of
Burgundy. In his name the Sire de Stein brought
the draft of a treaty of amity to Charles which contained
the provision that Podiebrad should support the election
of Charles as King of the Romans, in consideration
of the sum of two hundred thousand florins (Rhenish).
This modest sum was to secure not
only Podiebrad’s own vote but his “influence”
with the Archbishop of Mayence, the Elector of Saxony
and the Margrave of Brandenburg. While Podiebrad
thus dangled the ultimate hopes of the imperial crown
before the duke’s eyes, he over-estimated his
credulity. As a matter of fact the royal exile
had no “influence” at all with the first
named elector, and the last, too, showed no disposition
whatsoever to serve his unstable policy. Both
were content to advise Emperor Frederic. The sole
result of the empty overtures was to increase Charles’s
own sense of importance.
Another negotiation which sought him
unasked had, however, a material influence on the
course of events, and must be touched on in some detail.
Sigismund of Austria first duke then archduke, Count
of Tyrol, cousin of the Emperor Frederic, was a member
of the House of Habsburg. In 1449, he had married
Eleanor of Scotland, and became brother-in-law of
Louis during the term of the dauphin’s first
marriage. An indolent, extravagant prince, he
was greatly dominated by his courtiers. His heritage
as Count of Tyrol included certain territories lying
far from his capital, Innsbruck. Certain portions
of Upper Alsace, lands on both sides of the Rhine,
Thurgau, Argau in Switzerland, Breisgau,
and some other seigniories in the Black Forest were
under his sway.
These particular domains were so remote
from Innsbruck that the authority of the hereditary
overlord had long been eluded. The nobles pillaged
the land near their castles very much at their own
sweet will. The harassed burghers appealed to
the Alsatian Decapole, and again to the free Swiss
cantons for protection, and sometimes obtained more
than they wanted.
Mulhouse was seriously affected by
these lawless depredations. To her, Berne promised
aid in a twenty-five years’ alliance signed in
1466, and at Berne’s insistance the cowardly
nobles restrained their license. But when the
city attempted to extend its authority Sigismund interfered.
Having no army, however, he could not recover Waldshut,
which the Swiss claimed a right to annex, except by
offering ten thousand florins for the town’s
ransom. Poor in cash as he was in men, he had,
however, no means to pay this ransom and begged aid
in every direction. Moreover, he feared further
aggressions from the cantons, which were growing more
daring. What man in Europe was better able to
teach them a lesson than Charles, the destroyer of
Liege, the stern curber of undue liberty in Flanders?
Was he not the very person to tame insolent Swiss
In the course of the year 1468, Sigismund
made known to Charles his desire for a bargain, intimating
that in case of the duke’s refusal, he would
carry his wares to Louis XI. At that moment, Charles
was busied with Liege and showed no interest in Sigismund’s
proposition. The latter tried to see Louis XI.
personally in accordance with his imperial cousin’s
advice that an interview might be more effective than
It did not prove a propitious time,
however; Louis was deeply engaged with Burgundy and
he was not disposed to take any steps that might estrange
the Swiss and any espousal of Sigismund’s
interests might alienate them. He did not even
permit an opening to be made, but stopped Sigismund’s
approach to him by a message that he would not for
a moment entertain a suggestion inimical to those dear
friends of his in the cantons a sentiment
that quickly found its way to Switzerland.
Thus stayed in his effort to win Louis’s
ear, Sigismund decided that he would make another
essay towards a Burgundian alliance, this time face
to face with the duke. On to Flanders he journeyed
and found Charles in the midst of the ostentatious
magnificence already described. Ordinary affairs
of life were conducted with a splendour hardly attained
by the emperor in the most pompous functions of his
court. Sigismund was absolutely dazzled by the
evidence of easy prosperity. The fact that a
maiden was the duke’s sole heiress led the Austrian
to conceive the not unnatural idea that this attractive
Burgundian wealth might be turned into the impoverished
imperial coffers by a marriage between Mary of Burgundy
and Maximilian, the emperor’s son.
The visitor not only thought of this
possibility, but he immediately broached it to Charles.
The bait was swallowed. As to the main proposition
which Sigismund had come expressly to make, that, too,
was not rejected. The duke perceived that the
transfer of the Rhenish lands to his jurisdiction
might militate to his advantage. A passage would
be opened towards the south for his troops without
the need of demanding permission from any reluctant
neighbour. The risk of trouble with the Swiss
did not affect him when weighing the advantages of
Sigismund’s proffer, a proffer which he finally
decided to accept. Probably he found his guest
a pleasant party to a bargain, for not only did he
broach the tempting alliance between Mary and Maximilian,
but he, too, seems to have hinted that the title of
“King of the Romans” might be added to
the long list of appellations already signed
by Charles. As Sigismund was richer in kin, if not
in coin, than the feeble Podiebrad, Charles gave serious
heed to the suggestion which fell incidentally from
his guest’s lips, in the course of the long
conversations held at Bruges.
Certain precautions were taken to
protect Charles from being dragged into Swiss complications
against his will, and then in May, 1469, the treaty
of St. Omer was signed, wherein the Duke of Burgundy
accorded his protection to Sigismund of Austria and
received from him all his seigniorial rights within
certain specified territories.
The most important part of this cession
comprised Upper Alsace and the county of Ferrette,
but there were also many other fragments of territory
and rights of seigniory involved, besides lordship
over various Rhenish cities, such as Rheinfelden,
Saeckingen, Lauffenburg, Waldshut and Brisac.
This last named town commanded the route eastward,
as Waldshut that to the southeast, and Thann the
highway through the Vosges region.
Fifty thousand florins was the
price for the property and the claims transferred
from Sigismund to Charles. Ten thousand were to
be paid at once, in order to ransom Waldshut
from the Swiss. The remainder was due on September
24th. On his part, Sigismund specifically recognised
the duke’s right to redeem all domains nominally
his but mortgaged for the time being, certain estates
or seignorial rights having been thus alienated for
This territorial transfer was not
a sale. It was a mortgage, but a mortgage with
possession to the mortgagee and further restricted
by the provision that there could be no redemption
unless the mortgager could repay at Besancon the whole
loan plus all the outlay made by the mortgagee up
to that date. Instalment payments were expressly
ruled out. The entire sum intact was made obligatory.
Therefore the danger of speedy redemption did not
disquiet Charles. He knew the man he had to deal
with. Sigismund’s lack of foresight and
his prodigality were notorious. There was faint
chance that he could ever command the amount in question.
Accordingly, Charles was fairly justified in counting
the mortgaged territory as annexed to Burgundy in perpetuity.
Sigismund pocketed his florins
eagerly. Nothing could have been more welcome
to him. But this relief from the pressure of his
pecuniary embarrassment did not inspire him with love
for the man who held his lost lands. His sentiments
towards Charles were very similar to those of an heir
towards a usurer who has helped him in a temporary
strait by mulcting him of his natural rights.
As for the emperor, when this transfer
of territory was an accomplished fact, he began to
take fright at the consequences. He did not like
this intrusion of a powerful French peer into the imperial
circle. At the same time he was ready to make him
share responsibility in any further difficulties that
might arise between Sigismund and the Swiss.
The least skilful of prophets could
have foreseen difficulties for Charles on his own
account, both foreign and domestic. His own relations
with the Swiss had always been friendly enough, but
he had never before been so near a neighbour, while,
within the Rhine lands, it was an open question whether
the bartered inhabitants were to enjoy or regret their
new tie with Burgundy. The importance of their
sentiments was a matter of as supreme indifference
to Charles as was danger from the Confederation.
Neither conciliation nor diplomacy was in his thoughts.
He had no conception of the intricacies of the situation.
He counted the landgraviate as definitely his by the
treaty of St. Omer as Brabant by heritage or Liege
The need of a kindly policy towards
the little valley towns a policy that might
have won their allegiance never occurred
to him. They were his property and Peter von
Hagenbach was, in course of time, made lieutenant-governor
in his behalf.
Apart from all personal considerations
of enmity and amity of natives and neighbours, the
territory of Upper Alsace and the county of Ferrette,
delivered from needy Austria to rich Burgundy, like
a coat pawned by a poor student, was held under very
complex and singular conditions. The status of
the bargain between Sigismund and Charles was in point
of fact something between pawn and sale, according
to the point of view. Sigismund fully intended
to redeem it, while Charles did not admit that possibility
as remotely contingent. Nor was that the only
peculiarity. The itemised list of the ceded territories
as given in the treaty was far from telling the facts
of the possessions passing to Sigismund’s proxy.
In the first place the Austrian seigniories
were not compact. They were scattered here and
there in the midst of lands ruled by others, as the
Bishop of Strasburg, the Abbe of St. Blaise in the
Black Forest, the count Palatine, the citizens of
Basel and of Mulhouse, and others.
The existent variety in the extent
and nature of Austrian title was extraordinary.
Nearly every possible combination of dismembered prerogative
and actual tenure had resulted from the long series
of ducal compositions. In some localities a toll
or a quit-rent was the sole cession, and again a toll
or a prerogative was almost the only residue remaining
to the ostensible overlord, while all his former property
or transferable birthright privileges were lodged in
various hands on divers tenures. There were cases
in which the mortgagee noble, burgher,
or municipal corporation had taken the
exact place of the Austrian duke and in so doing had
become the vassal of his debtor, stripped of all vested
interest but his sovereignty. For in these bargains
wherein elements of the Roman contract and feudal
customs were curiously blended, two classes of rights
had been invariably reserved by the ducal mortgagers:
(1) Monopolies, regal in nature,
such as assured free circulation on the highways,
the old Roman roads, all jurisdiction of passports
and travellers’ protection.
(2) The suzerainty. This comprised
the power to confer fiefs, of requisition
of military service, of requesting aids and
admission to strongholds, cities, or castles, lé
droit de forteresse jurable et rendable.
In these regards the compact between
Charles and Sigismund differed from all previous covenants
not only in degree, but in kind. The Duke of
Burgundy entered into the sovereign as well
as into the mangled, maimed, and curtailed proprietary
rights of the hereditary over-lord.
In his assumption of this involved
and doubtful property, Charles laid heavy responsibilities
on his shoulders. The actual price of fifty thousand
gold florins paid to Sigismund was a mere fraction
of the pecuniary obligations incurred, while the weight
of care was difficult to gauge. He succeeded
to princes weak, frivolous, prodigal, whose misrule
had long been a curse to the land. The incursions
of the Swiss, the repeated descents of the Rhine nobles
from their crag-lodged strongholds to pillage and
destroy, terrified merchants and plunged peaceful
labourers into misery.
Through hatred of the absentee Austrians,
the neighbouring cities repeatedly became the accomplices
of these brigands, affording them asylums for refitting
and free passage when they were laden with evident
In all departments of finance and
administration disorder prevailed. The chief
officials, castellans and councillors, enjoyed high
salaries for neglected duties. The castles were
in wretched repair and there were insufficient troops
to guard the roads. There was no dependence upon
the receipts nominally to be expected. In the
sub-mortgaged lands, the lords simply levied what
they could, without the slightest responsibility for
the order of the domain; they did not hesitate to
charge their suzerain for repairs never made, confident
that no one would verify their declaration.
In the territories of the immediate
domain, the Austrian dukes and their officials had
no notion of the rigid system maintained in Burgundy.
Only here and there can little memoranda be found and
these are confused and obscure. There is a dearth
of accurate records like those voluminous registers
of outlays kept by Burgundian receivers, registers
so rich in detail that they are more valuable for the
historian than any chronicle.
Exact appraisal of the resources of
these pays de par de la was very difficult.
Between 1469 and 1473 there were three efforts to obtain
reliable information by means of as many successive
commissions despatched to the Rhine valley by the
Duke of Burgundy.
Envoys drew up minutes of their observations
in addition to their official reports and all were
preserved in the archives. As these were written
from testimony gathered on the spot, such as the accounts
of the receivers now lost, etc., there is real
value in the documents.
The first commission in behalf of
Burgundy was composed of two Germans and three Walloons.
One of the former was Peter von Hagenbach, who won
no enviable reputation in the later exercise of his
office as lieutenant-governor of the annexed region,
to which he was shortly afterwards appointed.
This first commission entered into formal possession
in Charles’s name and instituted some desired
reforms immediately, such as policing the highways,
The second commission made its visit
in 1471. It consisted of Jean Pellet, treasurer
of Vesoul, and Jean Poinsot, procureur-general
The third commission (1473) was under
the auspices of Monseigneur Coutault, master of accounts
at Dijon. He carried with him the report of his
predecessors and made his additions thereto.
Charles’s directions to Poinsot
and Pellet (June 13, 1471) were vague and general.
They were “to see the conduct of his affairs”
(voir la conduite de ses affaires). The
important point was to find out how much revenue could
be obtained. As the duke’s plan of expansion
grew larger he had need of all his resources.
The reports were eminently discouraging.
Outlay was needed everywhere income was
small. As the chances of peculation diminished,
the castellans deserted their posts and left the castles
to decay. The Burgundian commission of 1471 found
the difficulties of their exploration increased by
two items. Charles had not advanced an allowance
for their expenses and they were anxious to be back
at Vesoul by Michaelmas, the date of the change in
municipal offices and of appropriations for the year.
It was in hopes of receiving advance moneys that they
delayed in starting, but the approaching election and
coming winter finally decided them to set out, pay
their own expenses, and complete the business as rapidly
as they could in a fortnight.
The summary of this report of 1471
was that there was little present prospect that Charles
would be able to reimburse himself for his necessary
expenses. An undue portion of authority and of
revenue was legally lodged in alien hands. Charles
was possessed of germs of rights rather than of actual
rights. The earlier creditors of Austria held
all the best mortgages with their attendant emoluments.
The immediate profits accruing to the Duke of Burgundy
fell far short of the minimum necessary to disburse
to keep his government, his strongholds, his highways
in repair. Very disturbed were the good treasurer
of Vesoul and the procureur-general of Amont
at this state of affairs, and distressed at the prospect
of the ampler receipts from Burgundy being required
to relieve the pressing necessities of the poor territories
de par de la.
To avoid this contingency, the commissioners
recommended the duke to redeem all the existing mortgages
great and small. It would cost 140,000 florins,
but the revenue would at once increase with the new
security which would immediately follow under firm
Burgundian rule. Sole master, Charles could then
enforce obedience from nobles and cities and better
conditions would be inaugurated.
Evidently this rational advice was
not taken, for it is repeated by Coutault in 1473.
Redemption of the mortgages, “if your affairs
can afford it,” is the counsel given by the
chamber of accounts at Dijon, though this sage board
adds that they were well aware that in the previous
month Monseigneur could not put his hands on a hundred
florins to redeem one wretched little gagerie.
The native coffers of the region did not suffice to
settle the salaries of the officers in charge.
Such then was the new acquisition
of Charles after four years of his administration.
Peter von Hagenbach, his deputy in charge of this
unremunerative territory, is a character painted in
the darkest colours by all historians. It is
more than probable that his unpopular efforts to make
bricks without straw were largely responsible for his
unenviable reputation. Ground between the upper
and lower millstones of Charles’s clamours for
revenues and popular clamours that the people had
nothing wherewith to pay, Hagenbach developed into
a taskmaster of the hardest and most unpitying type,
who made himself thoroughly hated by the people he
was set to rule.
It must be remembered that there was
no cleft in nationality or in language between governor
and governed. He was not a foreigner set over
them. He was one of them raised to a high position.
There was then no French element in Lower Alsace.
It was then German pure and simple.