The Feast of the Pheasant (Burgund 1454)
The feast was celebrated in February 1454 and it is called the "greatest feast" of its time. It followed after a great militaric victory of the duke of Burgund against the citizens in Gent in the preceding year, it's said, that about 14.000 victims were counted only at the Gent side. So it meets the category "peace and victory Trionfi, although this term likely wouldn't have been used by its celebrators. It meets with two other contemporary peace-treaties, 9th of April 1454 peace of Lodi between Milan and Venice and other partaking cities in Lodi (
Italian Map 1454)
short after the feast (ending a period of about 30 years of successive wars and open a period of about 40 years of relative peace) and with the issue of the battle of Castillon (
Report), which ended the
hundred-years-war between England and France with a great victory for France at July 19th, 1453. All 3 great wars in European development had the background of the Fall
- (Excerpt of Ruth Putnam: Charles the Bold. Last Duke Of Burgundy, 1433 - 1477;
(Full text version)
After the fatigues of this contest with Ghent, followed a period of
relaxation for the Burgundian nobles at Lille, where a notable
round of gay festivities was enjoyed by the court. Adolph of Cleves
inaugurated the series with an entertainment where, among other
things, he delighted his friends by a representation of the tale of
the miraculous swan, famous in the annals of his house for bringing
the opportune knight down the Rhine to wed the forlorn heiress.
When his satisfied guests took their leave, Adolph placed a chaplet on
the head of one of the gentlemen, thus designating him to devise a new
amusement for the company; and under the invitation lurked a tacit
challenge to make the coming occasion more brilliant than the first.
Again and again was this process repeated. Entertainment followed
entertainment, all a mixture of repasts and vaudeville shows in whose
preparation the successive hosts vied with each other to attain
The hard times, the stress of ready money, so eloquently painted when
the merchants were implored to take pity on their poverty-stricken
lord, were cast into utter oblivion. It was harvest tide for skilled
craftsmen and artisans. Any one blessed with a clever or fantastic
idea easily found a market for the product of his brain. He could see
his poetic or quaint conception presented to an applauding public with
a wealth of paraphernalia that a modern stage manager would not
scorn. How much the nobles spent can only be inferred from the ducal
accounts, which are eloquent with information about the creators of
all this mimic pomp. About six sous a day was the wage earned by a
painter, while the plumbers received eight. These latter were called
upon to coax pliable lead into all sorts of shapes, often more
grotesque than graceful.
One fete followed another from the early autumn of 1453 to February,
1454, when "The Feast of the Pheasant," as the ducal entertainment was
called, crowned the series with an elaborate magnificence that has
never been surpassed.
Undoubtedly Philip possessed a genius for dramatic effect and it is
more than possible that he instigated the progressive banquets for the
express purpose of leading up to the occasion with which he intended
to dazzle Europe.
For the duke's thoughts were now turned from civic revolts to a great
international movement which he hoped to see set in motion. Almost
coincident with the capitulation of Ghent to Philip's will had been
the capitulation of Constantinople to the Turks. The event long
dreaded by pope and Christendom had happened at last (May 29, 1453).
Again and again was the necessity for a united opposition to the
inroads of the dangerous infidels urged by Rome. On the eve of St.
Martin, 1453, a legate arrived in Lille bringing an official letter
from the pope, setting forth the dire stress of the Christian Church,
and imploring the mightiest duke of the Occident to be her saviour,
and to assume the leadership of a crusade in her behalf against the
Philip was ready to give heed to the prayer. Whatever the exact
sequence of his plans in relation to the court revels, the result was
that his own banquet was utilised as a proper occasion for blazoning
forth to the world with a flourish of trumpets his august intention of
dislodging the invader from the ancient capital of the Eastern empire.
The superintendence of the arrangements for this all-eclipsing fete
was entrusted, as La Marche relates,
"to Messire Jehan, Seigneur de Lannoy, Knight of the Golden
Fleece, and a skilful ingenious gentleman, and to one Squire Jehan
Boudault, a notable and discreet man. And the duke honoured me so
far that he desired me to be consulted. Several councils were held
for the matter to which the chancellor and the first chamberlain
were invited. The latter had just returned from the war in
Luxemburg already described.
"These council meetings were very important and very private, and
after discussion it was decided what ceremonies and mysteries were
to be presented. The duke desired that I should personate the
character of Holy Church of which he wished to make use at this
As in many half amateur affairs the preparations took more time than
was expected. At the first date set, all was not in readiness and the
performance was postponed until February 17th. This entailed serious
loss upon the provision merchants and they received compensation for
the spoiled birds and other perishable edibles.
The gala-day opened with a tournament at which Adolph of Cleves again
sported as Knight of the Swan to the applause of the onlookers. After
the jousting, the guests adjourned to the banqueting hall, where fancy
had indeed, run riot, to make ready for their admiring eyes and their
sagacious palates. _Entremets_ is the term applied to the elaborate
set pieces and side-shows provided to entertain the feasters between
courses, and these were on an unprecedented scale.
Three tables stood prepared respectively for the duke and his suite,
for the Count of Charolais, his cousins, and their comrades, and for
the knights and ladies. The first table was decorated with marvellous
constructions, among which was a cruciform church whose mimic clock
tower was capacious enough to hold a whole chorus of singers. The
enormous pie in which twenty-eight musicians were discovered when the
crust was cut may have been the original of that pasty whose opening
revealed four-and-twenty blackbirds in a similar plight. Wild animals
wandered gravely at a machinist's will through deep forests, but in
the midst of the counterfeit brutes there was at least one live lion,
for Gilles le Cat received twenty shillings from the duke for the
chain and locks he made to hold the savage beast fast "on the day of
the said banquet."
Again there was an anchored ship, manned with a full crew and rigged
completely. "I hardly think," observes La Marche, "that the greatest
ship in the world has a greater number of ropes and sails."
Before the guests seated themselves they wandered around the hall
and inspected the decorations one by one. Nor was their admiration
exhausted when they turned to the discussion of the toothsome dainties
provided for their delectation.
During the progress of the banquet, the story of Jason was enacted.
Time there certainly was for the play. La Marche estimated forty-eight
dishes to every course, though he qualifies his statement by the
admission that his memory might be inexact. These dishes were wheeled
over the tables in little chariots before each person in turn.
"Such were the mundane marvels that graced the fete," is the
conclusion of La Marche's exhaustive enumeration of the
masterpieces from artists' workshops and ducal kitchen.
"I will leave them now to record a pity moving _entremets_ which
seemed to be more special than the others. Through the portal
whence the previous actors had made their entrance, came a giant
larger without artifice than any I had ever seen, clad in a long
green silk robe, a turban on his head like a Saracen in Granada.
His left hand held a great, old-fashioned two-bladed axe, his
right hand led an elephant covered with silk. On its back was a
castle wherein sat a lady looking like a nun, wearing a mantle of
black cloth and a white head-dress like a recluse.
"Once within the hall and in sight of the noble company, like one
who had work before her, she said to the giant, her conductor:
"'Giant, prithee let me stay
For I spy a noble throng
To whom I wish to speak.'
"At these words her guide conducted his charge before the ducal
table and there she made a piteous appeal to all assembled to come
to rescue her, Holy Church, fallen into the hands of unbelieving
miscreants. As soon as she ceased speaking a body of officers
entered the hall, Toison d'Or, king-at-arms, bringing up the rear.
This last carried a live pheasant ornamented with a rich collar of
gold studded with jewels. Toison d'Or was followed by two maidens,
Mademoiselle Yolande, bastard daughter of the duke, and Isabelle
of Neufchatel, escorted by two gentlemen of the Order. They all
proceeded to the host. After greetings, Toison d'Or then said:
"'High and puissant prince and my redoubtable lord, here are
ladies who recommend themselves very humbly to you because it is,
and has been, the custom at great feasts and noble assemblies to
present to the lords and nobles a peacock or some other noble bird
whereon useful and valid vows may be made. I am sent hither with
these two demoiselles to present to you this noble pheasant,
praying you to remember them.'
"When these words were said, Monseigneur the duke, who knew for
what purpose he had given the banquet, looked at the personified
Church, and then, as though in pity for her stress, drew from his
bosom a document containing his vow to succour Christianity, as
will appear later. The Church manifested her joy, and seeing that
my said seigneur had given his vow to Toison d'Or, she again burst
forth forth into rhyme:
"'God be praised and highly served
By thee, my son, the foremost peer in France.
Thy sumptuous bearing have I close observed
Until it seemed thou wert reserved
To bring me my deliverance.
Near and far I seek alliance
And pray to God to grant thee grace
To work His pleasure in thy place.
"'0 every prince and noble, man and knight,
Ye see your master pledged to worthy deed.
Abandon ease, abjure delight,
Lift up your hand, each in his right,
Offer God the savings from thy greed.
I take my leave, imploring each, indeed,
To risk his life for Christian gain,
To serve his God and 'suage my pain.'
"At this the giant led off the elephant and departed by the same
way in which he had entered.
"When I had seen this _entremets_, that is, the Church and a
castle on the back of such a strange beast, I pondered as to
whether I could understand what it meant and could not make it out
otherwise except that she had brought this beast, rare among us,
in sign that she toiled and laboured in great adversity in the
region of Constantinople, whose trials we know, and the castle in
which she was signified Faith. Moreover, because this lady was
conducted by this mighty giant, armed, I inferred that she wished
to denote her dread of the Turkish arms which had chased her away
and sought her destruction.
"As soon as this play was played out, the noble gentlemen, moved
by pity and compassion, hastened to make vows, each in his own
The vow of the Count of Charolais was as follows: "I swear to God
my creator, and to His glorious mother, to the ladies and to the
pheasant, that, if my very redoubtable lord and father embark on
this holy journey, and if it be his pleasure that I accompany him,
I will go and will serve him as well as I can and know how to do."
Other vows were less simple: all kinds of fantastic conditions being
appended according to individual fancy. One gentleman decided never to
go to bed on a Saturday until his pledge were accomplished. Another
that he would eat nothing on Fridays that had ever lived until he
had had an opportunity of meeting the enemy hand to hand, and of
attacking, at peril of his life, the banner of the Grand Turk.
Philip Pot vowed never to sit at table on a Tuesday and to wear no
protection on his right arm. This last the duke refused to permit.
Hugues de Longueval vowed that when he had once turned his face to the
East he would abstain from wine until he had plunged his sword in an
infidel's blood, and that he would devote two years to the crusade
even if he had to remain all alone, provided Constantinople were not
recovered. Louis de Chevelast swore that no covering should protect
his head until he had come to within four leagues of the infidels,
and that he would fight a Turk on foot with nothing on his arm but a
glove. There was the same emulation in the vows as in the banquets and
many of the self-imposed penalties were as bizarre as the side-shows.
There were so many chevaliers eager to bind themselves to the
enterprise that the prolonged ceremony threatened to become tedious.
The duke, therefore, declared that the morrow would be equally valid
as the day.
The Count of St. Pol was the only knight present who made his going
dependent on the consent of the King of France, a condition very
displeasing to his liege lord of Burgundy.]
"To abridge my tale [continues La Marche], the banquet was
finished and the cloth removed and every one began to walk
around the room. To me it seemed like a dream, for, of all the
decorations, soon nothing remained but the crystal fountain.
When there was no further spectacle to distract me, then my
understanding began to work and various considerations touching
this business came into my mind. First, I pondered upon the
outrageous excess and great expense incurred in a brief space by
these banquets, for this fashion of progressive entertainments,
with the hosts designated by chaplets, had lasted a long time. All
had tried to outshine their predecessors, and all, especially my
said lord, had spent so much that I considered the whole thing
outrageous and without any justification for the expense, except
as regarded the _entremets_ of the Church and the vows. Even that
seemed to me too lightly treated for an important enterprise.
"Meditating thus I found myself by chance near a gentleman,
councillor and chamberlain, who was in my lord's confidence and
with whom I had some acquaintance. To him I imparted my thoughts
in the course of a friendly chat and his comment was as follows:
"'My friend, I know positively that these chaplet entertainments
would never have occurred except by the secret desire of the duke
to lead up to this very banquet where he hoped to achieve a holy
purpose and to resist the enemies of our faith. It is three years
now since the distress of our Church was presented to the Knights
of the Golden Fleece at Mons. My lord there dedicated his person
and his wealth to her service. Since then occurred the rebellion
of Ghent, which entailed upon him a loss of time and money. Thanks
be to God, he has attained there a good and honourable peace, as
every one knows. Now it has chanced that, during this very period,
the Turks have encroached on Christianity still further in their
capture of Constantinople. The need of succour is very pressing
and all that you have witnessed to-day is proof that the good duke
is intent on the weal of Christendom.'"
During the progress of this conversation, a new company was ushered
into the hall, preceded by musicians. Here came _Grace Dieu_, clad
as a nun followed by twelve knights dressed in grey and black velvet
ornamented with jewels. Not alone did they come. Each gentleman
escorted a dame wearing a coat of satin cramoisy over a fur-edged
round skirt _a la Portuguaise. Grace Dieu_ declared in rhyme that God
had heard the pious resolution of Duke Philip of Burgundy. He had
forthwith sent her with her twelve attendants to promise him a happy
termination to his enterprise. Her ladies, Faith, Charity, Justice,
Reason, Prudence, and their sisters, were then presented to him.
_Grace Dieu_ departs alone and no sooner has she disappeared than
Philip's new attributes begin to dance to add to the good cheer. Among
the knights was Charles and one of his half-brothers; among the ladies
was Margaret, Bastard of Burgundy, and the others were all of high
birth. Not until two o'clock did the revels finally cease.
It must be noted that La Marche's reflections upon the extravagance of
the entertainment occur also in Escouchy's memoirs. Probably both
drew their moralising from another author. It is stated by several
reputable chroniclers that Olivier de la Marche himself represented
the Church. That he merely wrote her lines is far more probable.
Female performers certainly appeared freely in these as in other
masques, and there was no reason for putting a handsome youth in this
role of the captive Church. In mentioning the plans that La Marche
claims to have heard discussed in the council meeting, he says plainly
that he was to play the role of Holy Church, but as he makes no
further allusion to the fact, it may be dismissed as one of his
This pompous announcement of big plans was the prelude to nothing! Yet
it was by no means a farce when enacted. Philip fully intended to
make this crusade the crowning event of his life, and his proceedings
immediately after the great fete were all to further that end. To
obtain allies abroad, to raise money at home, and to ensure a peaceful
succession for his son in case of his own death in the East--such were
the cares demanding the duke's attention.