19 August 1477: Marriage between Maximilian of Habsburg and Mary of Burgundy

The young Duchess of Brugund, Maria, was in great demand. For the Duchy of Burgundy (which included the Burgundian Netherlands) was a rich country and she was the sole heir.


The marriage candidates who offered themselves since her 5th birthday were, for example, the King of Aragon, the Duke of Lorraine, the Duke of Cleves, the Duke of Guelders, the Dauphin of France and the brother of the French King.

Strangely enough, some of the marriage candidates died sudden deaths, prompting rumours of poisonings.


But the Duke of Burgundy, Charles the Bold,had special wedding plans: he desperately wanted a royal crown for himself. Therefore, in 1467, he negotiated with the Holy Roman Emperor, the Habsburg Frederick III, who would marry his daughter Maria (1457-1482) to Frederick’s son Maximilian (1459-1519) if Frederick raised his kingdom to royalty. But Charles died in the Battle of Nancy in 1477 – his audacity, which would later earn him this nickname, cost him his life.

Mary’s godfather, King Louis XI of France, now annexed Burgundy by staging himself as Mary’s patron. He was determined to secure the Duchy of Burgundy for himself and demanded Mary’s betrothal to his only 7-year-old son and heir to the throne, Charles (VIII). But Mary did not agree with this approach: she sought help from the Estates and from the British and insisted on her marriage plans with the Emperor’s son Maximilian. She wrote to him: “You must not doubt that, as far as we are concerned, it is my firm intention to follow my father’s decision and that it is my will to be a faithful wife to you. I am sure that you have the same feelings towards me.” Moreover, may he come to her as soon as possible. Maximilian set off on 21 May 1477 and arrived in Ghent on 18 August, where the bride and groom met for the first time.


Maximilian himself describes the long journey in his work “Theuerdank”, the only one of his three autobiographical books to be published and printed during his lifetime. The book resembles an adventure novel, befitting Maximilian’s epithet as “the last knight”. The hero Theuerdank has to face all kinds of dangers on the journey to his bride, Fräulein Ernreich.

The young couple signed the marriage contract on the very day of Maximilian’s arrival in Ghent, according to which both partners were to rule equally. The next day, 19 August 1477, the wedding took place. In the “Weißkunig”, Maximilian’s other novel, the wedding festivities are described. Shortly after the marriage, Maximilian was enthroned as co-regent of his wife and appointed sovereign of the Order of the Golden Fleece. This order was to become the most important house order of the Habsburgs.


The King of France was furious. He wanted to seize Burgundy with all his might. The marriage was followed by the War of the Burgundian Succession, which lasted 15 years.

The marriage, however, was very happy. The two shared the same passions, such as riding, hunting and playing chess. Maximilian was delighted with his beautiful and clever wife.

The two had 3 children together:

– Philip (known as “the beautiful”): 1478-1506
– Margaret: 1480-1530
– Francis: 1481

However, on 6 March 1482, Maria fell from her horse during a hunt and died of the consequences at the age of only 25. She was buried in the Church of Our Lady in Bruges. Maximilian did marry one more time, but this was a mere marriage of convenience. He was never to get over the death of his beloved first wife and had his heart buried in her sarcophagus.


There is still much to remind us of the Habsburgs’ connection with Burgundy, especially in the Treasury in Vienna.

The Austrian National Library houses the Book of Hours of Mary of Burgundy, as well as copies of the “Theuerdank” and the “Weißkunig”.

A bronze statue of Mary can be seen in the Court Chapel in Innsbruck at Maximilian’s cenotaph.


(K. M.)