Infanta Isabel, Duchess of Burgundy

:"Other people with the same name include Isabella of Portugal (1503-1539)."Infobox Portuguese Royalty|infanta|consort
name =Isabella of Portugal
title =Duchess consort of Burgundy, Brabant, Limburg, Lothier and Luxembourg, Margravine of Namur; Countess consort of Artois, Flanders, Hainault, Holland and Zeeland

caption =Isabella of Portugal, by Rogier van der Weyden.
reign =7 January, 143015 July, 1467
spouse =Philip the Good
issue =Charles the Bold
royal house =House of Valois-Burgundy
House of Aviz
father =John I of Portugal
mother =Philippa of Lancaster
date of birth =21 February, 1397
place of birth =Évora, Portugal
date of death = death date and age|1471|12|17|1397|2|21
place of death =Dijon, Burgundy|

The Infanta Isabel (pron. IPA2|izɐbɛɫ) (February 21 1397 – December 17 1471) was a Portuguese "infanta" of the House of Aviz, the only surviving daughter of king John I of Portugal and his wife Philippa of Lancaster. She was the sister, amongst others, of Henry the Navigator, Pedro, Duke of Coimbra and king Edward of Portugal. She was the third wife of Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, in right of which she was Duchess consort of Burgundy; her son by Philip was Charles the Bold.

Early life

Isabel was born in Évora and spent her youth in the Portuguese court in Lisbon. The only surviving daughter amongst five sons, she was brought up according to her mother's strict notions of etiquette and formality, but also indulged and protected. She, like her brothers, was given a good education by her parents, who desired their children to be not only healthy but intelligent: the Infanta was thus taught several languages, given a good grounding in mathematics, and allowed to experiment in the sciences. Her father, the romantic but sensible John I, ensured that she was given a good understanding of politics, allowing her to share with her brothers their instructions in affairs of state; her mother, the conservative and pragmatic Philippa, demonstrated an example of commitment to duty, firm discipline, and religious faith that would later prove very important to Isabel, as well as instilling in the Portuguese infanta a favourable view of England based as much on pragmatic recognition of the advantages to any nation allied with that kingdom as on sentiment. With her brothers she would ride and hunt, and she became skilled in Latin, French, English and Italian through her studies with the princes.

Two events of importance happened to Isabel in 1415. The first was an offer of marriage by her cousin, Henry V of England, who desired to form closer links between England and Portugal against France. The marriage negotiations led nowhere; Isabel, despite being, at 18 years old, already slightly old to be a first time bride, was apparently not particularly disappointed. She would not receive another offer for another 13 years. More importantly for her, in that year, came the death of her mother, Philippa, who died on 19 June 1415. Isabel, who had been very close to her mother, briefly withdrew from court life in grief, taking refuge in her chambers with her ladies in waiting, and practicing her skills in needlework and singing.

The Duke of Burgundy, Philip the Good, had already been married twice by 1428: first to his second cousin, Michele of Valois, who had, like many of her family, gone mad, being prompted into a cycle of melancholy by the murder of her father-in-law, John the Fearless, and secondly to Bonne of Artois, widow of his uncle, who had died in 1425, less than a year after the marriage. Neither marriage leaving surviving issue, his second widowhood had left him looking for a third wife, preferably from England, or a nation allied to England (his first two wives had been French; now, however, he was firmly allied with England, and wanted to secure that alliance with a suitable marriage). By 1428, Isabel – despite being, at age 31, far beyond the common age of marriage for women – appeared attractive to him as a potential consort: shrewd, proud and skilful, she was perfectly capable of both maintaining diplomatic silences and giving good advice; herself healthy, her mother had borne six surviving children and came from a similarly fertile family; and she possessed the emotional, intellectual and ideological strength necessary to benefit any future husband's governance. Her country was allied to England; not only that, but the merchants of Flanders and Portugal enjoyed profitable trading that he wished to reinforce.

Philip thus sent a delegation, led by his chief counsellor, the Seigneur de Roubaix, from Sluys on 19 October 1428 which, after calling at Sandwich until 2 December and acquiring two more ships, arrived at Lisbon on 16 December. The delegation waited a further month, whilst Isabel's father and brothers met at Aviz to discuss the matter; on 19 January, a formal request for the Infanta's hand was made by the Burgundians, and discussions between the two parties began. The Portuguese agreeing to the marriage, messengers were sent on 2 February 1429 to receive the Duke of Burgundy's formal response, which was signed on 5 May and received by the Portuguese on 4 June. After further minor matters, the marriage contract was drawn up, and Isabel, still in Portugal, was married to Philip the Good by proxy – Roubaix acting as groom – on 24 July 1429.

Duchess of Burgundy

Despite her marriage, the new Duchess did not immediately leave Portugal for another 8 weeks; rather, whilst the weather swung between sun and storms, and her father had a fleet and trousseau prepared for his daughter, she enjoyed a continued period of feasts, tournaments, plays, and festivals, all put on by the court and the people in mourning for the loss of their only Infanta, and happiness at her future as Duchess of Burgundy. On 19 October 1429, with a flotilla of around 20 ships prepared, Isabel – accompanied by almost 2000 Portuguese – left Portugal forever. After a rough journey of eleven weeks, which saw the loss of several ships and much of her bridal trousseau, the convoy reached Sluys on 25 December 1429, the Duchess disembarking the following day (having been forced through illness and apprehension to rest for the remainder of Christmas Day). She and Philip celebrated their formal religious marriage two weeks later, on 7 January, and the marriage was consummated shortly afterwards.

Accompanied by her husband, and by the Countess of Namur, Jeanne de Harcourt, Isabel then travelled through the main territories of Burgundy: from Ghent (16 January) to Kortrijk (13 February) to Lille, and then to Brussels, Arras, Peronne, Mechelen and, by mid-March Noyon, where Isabel, now pregnant, chose to rest through that Spring, only leaving when Joan of Arc led a campaign against the nearby Compiegne. For several months afterwards, the Duchess was forced to deal with the rebellions and unrest of her husband's subjects and neighbours, as well as with administrative and financial issues, in all of which she proved equal to the task.

What Isabel was not, at first, equal to was the style and complexity of court life in Burgundy. Although the Portuguese court had been by no means austere in her time, it had not matched up to the heights of fashion and flamboyance seen in Philip's court, one of the richest and most extravagant in Europe; by contrast, the conservatively brought up Portuguese Infanta, described by the Burgundian embassy that had negotiated her marriage as appearing to their eyes as a nun when they had first met, and now dressed in loose clothing and flat over-panels to hide her pregnancy, looked particularly dowdy. More upsetting to Isabel, however, was her husband's behaviour. He had showered gifts on her when she had first arrived, and still more when she had become pregnant; yet, he made it clear that he did not keep, had never kept, and had no intention of keeping, his vows of fidelity and chastity. In contrast to the style typical of nobles and royalty at that time – to keep a succession of honoured favourites or mistresses at their court or home – Philip had no particular mistress with whom to embarrass his wife. Instead, he kept numerous women as his lovers, several at a time, most living away from the court, who would periodically present him with illegitimate children, of whom he had a great deal. In addition to these, he would flirt with the ladies of the court, on occasion placing one on the pummel of his saddle as he rode in ceremonial progresses. His infidelities would give Isabel a certain amount of grief during their marriage.

Isabel gave birth to her first child on 30 December 1430 at Coudenburg, a year after her marriage. The child, Anthony (in French, Antoine), was worryingly puny: tiny at birth, he had a weak cry and a listless appetite, none of which boded well for the child. However, his Christening took place on 16 January 1431, and soon after both parents were once again attending to ducal business. By the autumn of that year, Isabel was once again pregnant with their second son Joseph; more importantly, she had spent a long continuous period of time with her husband, and demonstrated her intelligence and abilities, as well as her commitment to Burgundian independence. Because of this, when Charles VII of France began attacking Burgundy in January 1432, Philip – leaving Coudenburg to defend Dijon – ordered, "You will serve the Duchess in her state and office representing me during my absence". This was obeyed, and Isabel found herself treated with all the respect and deference she might expect as the Duchess of Burgundy.

Antoine and Joseph both died in 1432, but the Duchess then gave birth to the future Charles the Bold on November 10 1433.


Isabel was a very refined and intelligent woman, who liked to be surrounded by artists and poets. She funded numerous scholarships and was a patron of the arts. Also in politics, she had a great influence on her son, but especially on her husband, whom she represented on several diplomatic conferences.By 1457 however, she had withdrawn from court as well as her husband, partly siding with her son in his estrangement with his father, partly due to a desire to live a more devout and quieter life. She died in Dijon in 1471.

Further Reading


Taylor, Aline S. "Isabel of Burgundy : the Duchess who Played Politics in the Age of Joan of Arc, 1397-1471" (Madison Books, 2001)

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