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The life of Philip the Good (1396-1467)

A miniature of Philip the Good by Rogier van der Weyden (1447-8), 
depicting Philip being presented with a History of Hainault by the author Jean Wauquelin

Philip the Good became Duke of Burgundy in 1419 when his father John the Fearless was assassinated on the bridge at Montereau during a diplomatic meeting.

Philip, grandson of Philip the Bold, became engaged at the tender age of eight to Michelle of Valois, daughter of the king of France, Charles VI, and was married four years later. Michelle died in 1422, and two years later Philip married his uncle’s widow, Bonne of Artois. His uncle Philip II of Nevers had been killed at the Battle of Agincourt, but Bonne died a year later.

In 1430 he married again, to Isabella of Portugal, the daughter of John I of Portugal and sister of Henry the Navigator. They had three sons, the youngest being Charles the Bold who succeeded him, and he had another 18 illegitimate children.

Isabella was an able administrator and great support to her husband, becoming increasingly involved in government and diplomacy, sometimes as regent in his absence – particularly so after Philip suffered a stroke following a game of tennis in 1458, and she nursed him for the rest of his life.

Because of French involvement in the assassination of his father, Philip formed an alliance with Henry V of England under the Treaty of Troyes in 1420. Two years later he was offered membership of the Order of the Garter, but he declined it, not wishing to offend his French overlord.

Instead, he created his own Order: the Order of the Golden Fleece was established on the occasion of his wedding to Isabella at Bruges in 1430. In the same year, Philip’s troops under the Count of Ligny captured Joan of Arc at Compiègne and handed her over to the English. She was tried and burnt at the stake in the following year at Rouen. His alliance with England was revoked by the Treaty of Arras in 1435 when he returned his allegiance to the French and recognised Charles VII as king of France. 

During his reign, Burgundy became a leading centre of the arts: he patronised many Flemish composers, no less than 176 artists, including Jan van Eyck, established a university at Louvain in 1425 and commissioned the purchase of over 600 illuminated manuscripts.

His extravagant lifestyle ensured that his court was seen as the most splendid of all Europe. He extended the territories of Burgundy considerably during his reign; the state of Burgundy reached its zenith during his reign and became dominant in north-west Europe, deriving its wealth through diplomatic alliance, annexation, tolls on a flourishing trade and merchandise and access to the credit facilities of banking houses.

At his height, he is said to have been the most influential man in Europe.

The gouden leeuw or ‘lion’ denomination (fineness .958), worth 30s 0d, was introduced in 1454 because of a rise in the price of gold and was abandoned soon after in 1460. The obverse design is derived from a Flemish coin of Louis de Male. The briquets or steels on either side of the Gothic canopy are the Burgundian emblems and also refer to the famous Order of the Golden Fleece, created by Philip, of which the insignia consists of a sheep suspended from a jewelled collar of firesteels in the shape of a B. The arms on the reverse are a combination of those of the French royal house of Valois,  Burgundy and the lion of Brabant.

This excellent example has an exceptional provenance, dating back to the famous Montagu collection, which was sold by Sotheby’s in London in a series of sales from 1896. 

View the coin

BELGIUM, Brabant, Philip the Good (1430-67), Lion d’or (gouden leeuw), ND (1454-6), Malines (Mechelen) mint, lion seated left under a Gothic canopy, briquets on either side, PhS DEI GRA DVX BVRG BRAB DNS ML. Rev. The Duke’s arms on a floriate cross, SIT NOMEN DOMINI BENEDICTVM AMEN (briquet), 4.21g (Del. 65; Witte II, 470; F. 29; cf Schneider III, 237 (but rev. legend ends ML); v G&H 3.1). Some weakness of strike as usual, good extremely fine, an excellent example; in NGC holder graded MS61, ‘ex Montagu collection’ on the label £3,500

Ex Schulman auction 237, 18 March 1963, lot 1125

Ex Montagu Collection

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