Émile-Charles Wauters: Mary of Burgundy Granting the Great Privilege (1878)

(Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, USA)

An historical scene by the Belgian painter Émile-Charles Wauters (1846-1933). The depicted scene is an important event in the history of the Netherlands. Starting in 1384, the Low Countries (today Belgium, Luxemburg and the Netherlands) were slowly integrated in Burgundian empire through marriages and wars. With this integration the dukes of Burgundy started a process of creating a centralized state out of their separate holdings. This process however met with stiff resistance by the local authorities as they were losing influence. When duke Charles the Bold of Burgundy was killed during the battle of Nancy on January 5, 1477 he was succeeded by his 19-year old daughter Mary of Burgundy. Young, alone, without a husband and inexperienced, Mary faced with enormous problems. The duchy was in turmoil by the unexpected death of Charles and the enemies of Burgundy (especially king Louis XI of France) immediately attacked and conquered a large part of Burgundy, even former territories like duchy Guelders and Prince-Bishopric of Liège took advantage by declaring their independence. In order to take control of her domain in the Low Countries (called the Burgundian Netherlands) she had to be accepted by the local authorities in the Low Countries - this was called a 'Joyous Entry' or 'Blijde Inkomst' in Dutch. These local authorities took advantage of the difficult position of Mary and met her with demands. Both parties negotiated and the resulting deal is called the 'Great Privilege' or 'Groot-Privilege' in Dutch. The deal was disadvantageous for Mary as the power of the central government was curtailed power of the individual provinces was increased but in return Mary was recognized as the ruler of the Burgundian Netherlands and she got financial support from the Netherlands for her war against France. Mary herself quickly married the same year with Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I of Germany which strengthen her position but the marriage escalated the conflict into a large scale war between France and Germany (France saw Burgundy as a rebellious French province, not an independent state). When Mary of Burgundy died after falling of her horse during a hunt in 1482, her husband Maximilian I cancelled the Great Privilege with rebellions in the Burgundian Netherlands as a result. Maximilian won the conflict but over the following 100 years the local authorities in the Low Countries used the Great Privilege to block any attempt of centralization. In the 1560's the conflict between the local authorities of the Low Countries and the Spanish-Habsburg  for centralization resulted in the Dutch war of independence (1568-1648). Painting from 1878.