Isabella of Bourbon

Isabella of Bourbon

Diptych depicting Charles and Isabella
Countess consort of Charolais
Reign 1454 - 1465
Born c.1436
Died 25 September 1465(1465-09-25) (aged 29)
Burial Bruges, Flanders
Spouse Charles, Count of Charolais
Issue Mary of Burgundy
House Bourbon
Father Charles I, Duke of Bourbon
Mother Agnes of Burgundy

Isabella of Bourbon, Countess of Charolais (1436 September 25, 1465) was the second wife of Charles the Bold, Count of Charolais and future Duke of Burgundy. She was a daughter of Charles I, Duke of Bourbon and Agnes of Burgundy, and the mother of Mary of Burgundy, heiress of Burgundy.


Not much is known about Isabella's life. She was the daughter of the reigning Duke of Bourbon, and his Burgundian wife, Agnes, daughter of John the Fearless, the powerful Duke of Burgundy and sworn enemy of the "mad king" Charles VI of France and his regent, Louis of Orleans.

France was in the throes of the Hundred Years War, with the English, whose King claimed the French throne as a descendant of the Direct Capetian Line. The Burgundians and the Armagnacs were two factions vociferously fighting for control of the King, who was deemed unable to rule. Their rivalry deepened after the brutal assassination of Louis of Orleans, the leader of the Armagnac party. A temporary truce was sworn on to face the increasing threat of the English. Seeing the right opportunity, Henry V of England attacked France. However, despite the aforementioned truce, Burgundy offered no troops to help the Armagnacs. Isabella's father, the Duke of Bourbon, was a staunch Armagnac and had distinguished himself in the Battle of Agincourt, which nevertheless ended with France suffering a humiliating defeat. In its aftermath, Burgundy swiftly occupied Paris, declaring himself regent of the King, forcing the Dauphin, Charles to flee to the South. With the North in English hands and Burgundy ruling Paris, the Dauphin sued for truce, which was sworn upon. The Dauphin called for a second meeting, on the grounds of the first one not being an assurance of truce. Expecting it to be a diplomatic meeting, Burgundy arrived Montereau, only to be assassinated by the Dauphin's men. This helped further deteriorate the enmity between the Armagnacs and the Burgundians.

Marriage and children

Isabella of Bourbon

Although politically opposed to his brother-in-law and the new Duke of Burgundy, Philip, he betrothed Isabella to Charles, Count of Charolais, only legitimate son and heir of Burgundy as a condition of truce. She and the Count of Charolais married on 30 October 1454 at Lille, France,[1] and their marriage was reportedly good, perhaps due to her husband's faithfulness.

In 1459, Isabella stood godmother to Joachim, the short-lived son of the refugee Dauphin of France and his second wife, Charlotte of Savoy. Upon his succession to the throne of France, the Dauphin abandoned his wife in Burgundy, leaving the young Queen Charlotte dependent on Isabella's aid.


Isabella may not have been of any significance or had any influence during her lifetime, but in her death she became a symbol of the wealth of the Dukes of Burgundy, which would later be inherited by her only daughter Mary. Isabella's funeral monument was erected in the church of St. Michael's Abbey, Antwerp in 1476. It was decorated with 24 bronze statuettes of noblemen and women standing in niches, known as 'weepers' or 'mourners', with a bronze effigy of Isabella herself surmounted on it. During the Iconoclast Fury of 1566, radical Protestants destroyed images in Catholic churches and monasteries. The destruction was justified by Calvin's contention that all images in churches were idolatrous and had to be removed. As a result, Isabella's tomb was stripped of its decorations and the 'mourners' disappeared.

Isabella of Bourbon's funeral monument in the St. Michael's Abbey, Antwerp - 17th century

However, ten of them turned up in Amsterdam. In 1691 the burgomasters of Amsterdam purchased the ten statues which they thought represented the counts and countesses of Holland. Pieter de Vos, 'clerk of the secretariat', was the man who sold the statuettes, which he had presumably inherited from his father. In exchange for the statues De Vos received an annual pension of 150 guilders. He died in 1721; the city had therefore paid De Vos around four thousand five hundred guilders for the mourners. The clothes worn by the mourners are of an earlier fashion than Isabella's. This is probably because the mourners were copied from older tombs, which are no longer in extant. The statuettes are copies from two earlier tombs, which were the work of the sculptor Delemer, the painter Rogier van der Weyden and the bronze-founder Jacob de Gerines, commissioned by Philip the Good. It is assumed that the models for the Amsterdam statuettes were supplied by Delemer or his workshop.

In fact the mourners are not Isabella's immediate family: they represent her ancestors. Two portraits have been identified as Emperor Louis of Bavaria (with the imperial crown and orb) and Albrecht of Bavaria, with the St Antony cross around his neck. These portraits have been identified on the basis of a list of names published in 1695 by Daniel Papebrochius. The statuettes reveal the kind of clothes worn by Burgundian nobles in the Late Middle Ages. An unusual aspect is the amount of cloth employed in the garments: the sleeves are exceptionally long, as are the robes. Various kinds of headgear are worn, both by men and women, the latter of whom have shaven heads, as was the fashion in those days.

These statues have been on display in the Rijksmuseum for around a hundred years. The rest of the tomb, with the statue of Isabella, is now in Antwerp cathedral. Nothing more of the tomb furnishings survives.



  1. "Isabel de Bourbon". The Peerage. 29 April 2009.
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Isabella of Bourbon
Cadet branch of the Capetian dynasty
Born: 1436 Died: 25 September 1465
Preceded by
Catherine of France
Countess consort of Charolais
31 October 1454 – 25 September 1465
Succeeded by
Margaret of York
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