1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/John, Duke of Burgundy
JOHN (1371–1419), called the Fearless (Sans Peur), duke of Burgundy, son of Philip the Bold, duke of Burgundy, and Margaret of Flanders, was born at Dijon on the 28th of May 1371. On the death of his maternal grandfather in 1384 he received the title of count of Nevers, which he bore until his father’s death. Though originally destined to be the husband of Catherine, sister of Charles VI. of France, he married in 1385 Margaret, daughter of Duke Albert of Bavaria, an alliance which consolidated his position in the Netherlands. In the spring of 1396 he took arms for Hungary against the Turks and on the 28th of September was taken prisoner by the Sultan Bayezid I. at the bloody battle of Nicopolis, where he earned his surname of “the Fearless.” He did not recover his liberty until 1397, and then only by paying an enormous ransom. He succeeded his father in 1404, and immediately found himself in conflict with Louis of Orleans, the young brother of Charles VI. The history of the following years is filled with the struggles between these two princes and with their attempts to seize the authority in the name of the demented king. John endeavoured to strengthen his position by marrying his daughter Margaret to the dauphin Louis, and by betrothing his son Philip to a daughter of Charles VI. Like his father, he looked for support to the popular party, to the tradesmen, particularly the powerful gild of the butchers, and also to the university of Paris. In 1405 he opposed in the royal council a scheme of taxation proposed by the duke of Orleans, which was nevertheless adopted. Louis retaliated by refusing to sanction the duke of Burgundy’s projected expedition against Calais, whereupon John quitted the court in chagrin on the pretext of taking up his mother’s heritage. He was, however, called back to the council to find that the duke of Orleans and the queen had carried off the dauphin. John succeeded in bringing back the dauphin to Paris, and open war seemed imminent between the two princes. But an arrangement was effected in October 1405, and in 1406 John was made by royal decree guardian of the dauphin and the king’s children.
The struggle, however, soon revived with increased force. Hostilities had been resumed with England; the duke of Orleans had squandered the money raised for John’s expedition against Calais; and the two rivals broke out into open threats. On the 20th of November 1407 their uncle, the duke of Berry, brought about a solemn reconciliation, but three days later Louis was assassinated by John’s orders in the Rue Barbette, Paris. John at first sought to conceal his share in the murder, but ultimately decided to confess to his uncles, and abruptly left Paris. His vassals, however, showed themselves determined to support him in his struggle against the avengers of the duke of Orleans. The court decided to negotiate, and called upon the duke to return. John entered Paris in triumph, and instructed the Franciscan theologian Jean Petit (d. 1411) to pronounce an apology for the murder. But he was soon called back to his estates by a rising of the people of Liége against his brother-in-law, the bishop of that town. The queen and the Orleans party took every advantage of his absence and had Petit’s discourse solemnly refuted. John’s victory over the Liégeois at Hasbain on the 23rd of September 1408, enabled him to return to Paris, where he was reinstated in his ancient privileges. By the peace of Chartres (March 9, 1409) the king absolved him from the crime, and Valentina Visconti, the widow of the murdered duke, and her children pledged themselves to a reconciliation; while an edict of the 27th of December 1409 gave John the guardianship of the dauphin. Nevertheless, a new league was formed against the duke of Burgundy in the following year, principally at the instance of Bernard, count of Armagnac, from whom the party opposed to the Burgundians took its name. The peace of Bicêtre (Nov. 2, 1410) prevented the outbreak of hostilities, inasmuch as the parties were enjoined by its terms to return to their estates; but in 1411, in consequence of ravages committed by the Armagnacs in the environs of Paris, the duke of Burgundy was called back to Paris. He relied more than ever on the support of the popular party, which then obtained the reforming Ordonnance Cabochienne (so called from Simon Caboche, a prominent member of the gild of the butchers). But the bloodthirsty excesses of the populace brought a change. John was forced to withdraw to Burgundy (August 1413), and the university of Paris and John Gerson once more censured Petit’s propositions, which, but for the lavish bribes of money and wines offered by John to the prelates, would have been solemnly condemned at the council of Constance. John’s attitude was undecided; he negotiated with the court and also with the English, who had just renewed hostilities with France. Although he talked of helping his sovereign, his troops took no part in the battle of Agincourt (1415), where, however, two of his brothers, Anthony, duke of Brabant, and Philip, count of Nevers, fell fighting for France.
In 1417 John made an attack on Paris, which failed through his loitering at Lagny; but on the 30th of May 1418 a traitor, one Perrinet Leclerc, opened the gates of Paris to the Burgundian captain, Villiers de l’Isle Adam. The dauphin, afterwards King Charles VI., fled from the town, and John betook himself to the king, who promised to forget the past. John, however, did nothing to prevent the surrender of Rouen, which had been besieged by the English, and on which the fate of the kingdom seemed to depend; and the town was taken in 1419. The dauphin then decided on a reconciliation, and on the 11th of July the two princes swore peace on the bridge of Pouilly, near Melun. On the ground that peace was not sufficiently assured by the Pouilly meeting, a fresh interview was proposed by the dauphin and took place on the 10th of September 1419 on the bridge of Montereau, when the duke of Burgundy was felled with an axe by Tanneguy du Chastel, one of the dauphin’s companions, and done to death by the other members of the dauphin’s escort. His body was first buried at Montereau and afterwards removed to the Chartreuse of Dijon and placed in a magnificent tomb sculptured by Juan de la Huerta; the tomb was afterwards transferred to the museum in the hôtel de ville.
By his wife, Margaret of Bavaria, he had one son, Philip the Good, who succeeded him; and seven daughters—Margaret, who married in 1404 Louis, son of Charles VI., and in 1423 Arthur, earl of Richmond and afterwards duke of Brittany; Mary, wife of Adolph of Cleves; Catherine, promised in 1410 to a son of Louis of Anjou; Isabella, wife of Olivier de Châtillon, count of Penthièvre; Joanna, who died young; Anne, who married John, duke of Bedford, in 1423; and Agnes, who married Charles I., duke of Bourbon, in 1425.
See A. G. P. Baron de Barante, Histoire des ducs de Bourgogne, (Brussels, 1835–1836); B. Zeller, Louis de France et Jean sans Peur (Paris, 1886); and E. Petit, Itinéraire de Philippe le Hardi et de Jean sans Peur (Paris, 1888).
- This incident earned for him among the Parisians the contemptuous nickname of “John of Lagny, who does not hurry.”