The Burgundians review: shining a spotlight on a ‘neglected’ dynasty
A bestseller in Europe, this book opens up a ‘rich, bustling, blood-soaked world’
Today, most of us associate the word “Burgundy” with the wines produced in eastern France, said Dominic Sandbrook in The Sunday Times. “Yet to anyone familiar with medieval history, the name conjures up one of Europe’s great vanished states” – a territory that, in the 15th century, stretched “from the modern Netherlands to the shores of Lake Geneva”.
Never a kingdom in its own right, the state of Burgundy was an “autonomous grey area, uneasily poised between France, England and the Holy Roman Empire”, ruled by a succession of “strange and flawed” dukes.
In The Burgundians, the Belgian historian Bart Van Loo tells its story in “rollicking” style. A bestseller in Europe, the book opens up a “rich, bustling, blood-soaked world of quays, merchants and money changers, brutal family feuds and magnificent Flemish altarpieces”.
The original Burgundians were a Germanic tribe who established a power base around Dijon in the fifth century, said Paul Lay in The Times. In 1369, the Duke of Burgundy, Philip the Bold, married the daughter of the Count of Flanders – an alliance that brought the prosperous cities of Bruges, Ypres and Ghent under Burgundy’s sway.
Over the century that followed, Philip and his heirs – John the Fearless, Philip the Good and Charles the Bold – were “some of the most powerful men in Europe”, said Tim Smith-Laing in The Daily Telegraph. Key players in the Hundred Years’ War, they were rulers with a taste for the “spectacular” whose “patronage of men like Jan van Eyck helped usher in a golden age of Northern European art”.
Van Loo is their ideal chronicler – a spirited writer equally interested in food and poetry, “battles and politicking”. His book “shines a very welcome spotlight” on a “sadly neglected” dynasty.
Apollo 624pp £30; The Week Bookshop £23.99 (incl p&p)
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