December 29, 2003

The Order of the Golden Fleece

Ancestors of Philippe de Lannoy (Delano) take us back into the history of the Low Countries - a region which today very roughly encompasses The Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg - and into an era where the "noblesse" sought to distingush themselves from the "bourgeois" through abstaining in trade, money lending and manual labor.

The article below, prepared by the Art History Department of the University of New York, provides a glimpse into the Low Countries region in the 1400's, at a time (1384-1477) when it was ruled by the dukes of Burgundy and is called 'Valois Burgundy' or the 'Burgundian Netherlands.'

"...Within two generations, extending from Philip the Good's grandfather, Philip the Bold, Valois Burgundy had become a power rivalling the kingdoms of England and France. This "state" was formed through astute marriage alliances, the fortunes of inheritance, purchases, and conquest."

There is a reference to a figure in a painting thought to be "Baudouin de Lannoy, lord of Molembais (c. 1388-1474), as well as mention to many of the place names found in our genealogy. No genealogical link to this "Baudouin" is known. Similar: Beaudoin de Lannoy b. 1438, Beaudoin "Le Begue" de Lannoy

*** UPDATE ***

24 Feb 2006 - George English writes to say that he believes the painting is indeed of Baudouin 'le Begue' de Lannoy )

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Introduction to Valois Burgundy (click to see the entire article, maps and paintings)

The Order of the Toison d'Or and the Chivalric Revival:

A major cause of the rivalry between the de Croy and Rolin families was the class division between the hereditary nobility and the newly ennobled families who had bourgeois backgrounds but received their titles as rewards for their services as ducal officers and financiers. As a reaction to the economic and social changes that were transforming Europe with the rise of a wealthy merchant class, there was a resurgence of interest in codes of chivalry and solidarity among the nobility. Ancient noble families were feeling threatened by the newly ennobled families like the Rolin. The ancient families emphasized those qualities that set them apart. Traditional feudal values such as service, fidelity, and obedience were asserted. Likewise there was emphasis on the military culture of the knight with its emphasis on honor and valor. "To live nobly" meant a life dedicated to the profession of arms. The de Croy family took great pride in the fact that Jehan de Croy, the father of Antoine, was killed in battle on the fields of Agincourt. There was great class resentment for those who had apparently bought their titles from the profits of their legal or financial careers.

Noble birth, virtue and honor, and not financial prosperity, were the primary attributes of the true noblesse. An abstention from trade, money-lending, and manual labor marks off the true noble from his bourgeois contemporaries. For a member of the nobility to be offered money for their services could be understood as an insult. Georges Chastellain, the chronicler of the Burgundian court, could proudly state, "you have shamed me by sending me money, which I am not accustomed to taking or receiving, because I do not wish to sell my service to good men for a price." Thus this period from the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries which was marked by profound and rapid social, political, and economic changes also witnessed chivalry in many respects at its height with the hardening of class barriers and the assertion of the traditional chivalric values.

This trend was manifested in the creation or revival of orders of knighthood at the principal European courts during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The Order of the Garter was founded by Edward III of England in 1348. In 1430, Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, on the occasion of his marriage to the Infanta Isabella of Portugal , established the Order of the Toison d'or, or the Golden Fleece. The Order of St. Michael was founded by Louis XI of France in 1469. The ideals of these orders are effectively summarized in the following excerpt from prologue of the statutes of the Toison d'or:

We Philippe, by the grace of God Duke of Burgundy...make known to all present and to come, that for the very great and perfect love that we have for the noble estate and order of knighthood, of which from very ardent and singular affection, we desire the honor and increase, by which the true Catholic Faith, the faith of our mother, the Holy Church, and the tranquility and prosperity of the public may be, as far as possible, defended, guarded, and maintained; we, to the glory and praise of the Almighty, our Creator and Redeemer, in reverence of his glorious mother the Virgin Mary, and to the honor of my lord Saint Andrew, Apostle and Martyr; to the exaltation of virtues and good habit; on the tenth day of January in the year of Our Lord 1429 [O.S.], which was the day of the solemnization of the marriage between us and our most dear and beloved companion, Elizabeth, in our city of Bruges, we did undertake, create, and ordain, and by these presents do undertake, create, and ordain an order and fraternity of knighthood, or amiable company of a certain number of knights, which we wish to be called the Order of the Golden Fleece, under the form, condition, statutes, manner, and articles which follow [D'Arcy Jonathan Dacre Boulton, The Knights of the Crown, p. 365].

Membership was open to only nobles of ancient family. The statutes of the order of the Toison d'or specify that those selected for membership should be distinguished "for [their] sense, prowess, virtues, and good customs... and the confidence [the Duke] had in their loyalty and perserverance in good deeds and honorable works." Members of the order were thus expected to be the models of knightly virtue. The number of members was carefully controlled. Only twenty-five knights along with the king were granted membership to the Order of the Garter at its foundation, while the Order of the Fleece at its foundation allowed for twenty-four members along with the Duke of Burgundy. This number was later increased to thirty-one. As observed by Olivier de La Marche, it was feared that a larger membership would more likely lead to internal dissensions within the order: "if there should be more knights, more contentious matters could arise between those knights that do not make for their unity nor for the furtherance of the intentions of the [order's] head."

Uniting the upper nobility under the authority of the prince was one of the major purposes of these orders. As noted above, the territories falling under the control of the Dukes of Burgundy were marked by major differences in geography, language, law, and customs. The Flemish nobility tended to live in cities while the nobility of Burgundy were based in their rural estates. The diversity of these domains made centralisation difficult. The Toison d'or's emphasis on the allegiance and dependence upon the person of the Duke was invaluable for the Dukes of Burgundy in uniting the nobility of these disparate provinces. In a period when loyalty was becoming increasingly tied to monetary arrangements in the form of pensions and annuities, these orders were a throwback to the system of vassalage traced back to feudal society of the earlier Middle Ages. The oaths of loyalty bound members of the orders together under the authority of the prince. The statutes of the order of the Toison d'or are explicit about the exclusive loyalty of the members to the duke alone. Members were forbidden to belong to any other chivalric associations. The only exception to this rule was the provision that "emperors, kings, and dukes" could belong to their own orders as well as the Toison d'or.

Posted by jhowell at December 29, 2003 11:44 AM