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Nonfiction in Brief

MARGARET OF YORK Duchess of Burgundy 1446-1503 by Christine Weightman (St. Martin's Press: $35; 244 pp.)

August 20, 1989|SONJA BOLLE

In this beautifully illustrated life of Margaret of York, Christine Weightman takes the reader through the labyrinth of kinship and politics that linked the royal line of York in England with the ruling families of Burgundy and the Hapsburgs--all of whom were aligned at various times against the rulers of France.

According to Weightman, Margaret of York has not received the serious treatment she deserves from historians, in part because she is known primarily for her subversive efforts to restore the House of York to the English throne. Weightman contends that Margaret also contributed substantially to English interests. Her marriage to Charles the Bold of Burgundy furthered political aims of the British by keeping the Burgundian provinces hostile to the French. Margaret acted as a unifying force in her husband's northern provinces; her support of Maximilian (who married her stepdaughter, Mary) established Hapsburg presence in the Low Countries, thereby thwarting the efforts of King Louis XI of France. Because of Margaret's deft handling of Maximilian, France would have to wait until the 18th Century to annex the Low Countries.

Sister of Edward IV and Richard III, Margaret was married in a celebration of such pomp and extravagance as to outshine all other Burgundian--and most royal European--weddings. The result of two years of negotiations between the English and the Burgundians, the festivities included ingenious mechanical devices such as a 41-foot tower inhabited by monkeys, wolves and dancing bears, as well as a display of 32 rooms' worth of the tapestries for which Burgundy (which then included Flanders) is so famous.

The splendid tale this book has to tell is ill served by Weightman's dry prose, but the illustrations tell much of the story through the hands of such masters as Hans Memling, Petrus Christus and Roger van der Weyden. Margaret was allied with, related to, or personal enemy of all the most significant portrait subjects of her time, and the selection of illustration does justice to this period of great flowering in Flemish art.

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