I've begun a new open university course. It's A200: Exploring history: medieval to modern 1400-1900. The course doesn't start 'properly' until February, and the first unit has to be done by February 13th, but then it's full on. I've made a start in order to build some slack into the schedule - and I'm already slower than I need to be to maintain that slack. I know from experience that if I allow myself to fall behind, I'll never get caught up - so I'll be using breaks from work to build the slack again.
At least, that's the plan.
The first topic is about the early 15th century, and the English Crown's claim on France. It's the story of Charles VI of France declaring the son of Henry V of England, Henry VI, as his heir. Charles Vi was unwell, and Henry V would administer France, with Henry VI becoming King. The unit talks of how Charles' son (the dauphin, Charles VII not liking this too much). For a time, France had two kings, with Henry VI in the north (along with Gascony) and Charles VII taking everything else. Jean d'arc appears in this unit, fighting to restore the Valois line, in the person of Charles VII, to the French throne. The dauphin was the name given to the French heir (like the Prince of Wales in the UK).
The second unit focuses on the Burgundian Dukes, who were players in the events in France. As with his father, Philip the Good sided with Henry VI, but played the situation and changed to siding with Charles VII - as a reward they gained some lands within France and did not have to pay homage to the overlord, the French King. It was an uneasy relationship though, realpolitik got in the way.
With the new generation, Louis XI of France and Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, there were many hostilities. Charles tried to achieve sovereign status in his lands (which were partially under the French overlord, Louis XI, and partially under Frederick III, Roman Emperor - the empire confusingly being in Germany(ish) rather than in Italy). Upon Charles the Bold's death, the Burgundian holdings became vulnerable. He had sown discontent in his need to raise taxes, as he had been aggressive in trying to claim lands to connect his different regions. Mary, his daughter, had difficulty keeping it together, and Louis XI used his death to reclaim the Duchy of Burgundy due to the lack of male heir.
Mary did some rangling, gave the populace a bone or two to keep them happy and married Maximilian from the Imperial lands (hence the rulers of Burgundy became Hapsburg), but she died leaving a young son and her husband as regent. Maximilian was 'imperial' and so the populace did not want to accept him.
Maximilian was able to restore peace in 1492, and in the next two years revoked some of the concessions Mary had made.
Maximilian signed an agreement with Louis XI in 1493, confirming Burgundian claims to Artois and the county of Burgundy (which Louis had claimed, despite being outside France), and which promised that they would not take the duchy of Burgundy by force (which was inside France).
I've been looking at how the Burgundian dukes (especially, Charles the Bold, son on Philip the Good and father of Mary) tried to turn their separate holdings into a state, with common identity and independence from the French crown as well as the Empire. Though in many practical terms the Burgundians were separate from France and the Empire, they still were not 'sovereign'. State building was not easy for several reasons, the lands being discontiguous was an important factor.
I'm currently looking at the splendour of the Burgundian Court compared to the contemporary courts of Frederick III (Holy Roman Emperor), Charles VII, Louis XI of France and so on. Essentially the court was lavish. This seems to be an attempt at 'state building', of instilling identity and tradition - just as many of the traditions in Westminster were invented following the act of union.
It's pretty interesting, but it's all rather confusing as they're all related. The Burgundian dukes were descended from the Valois line (the Kings of France) - and all the while there are intermarriages between England, France and Burgundy. As each line has new generations at different rates, the chronology of generations gets hazy and people alive at the same time are great uncles/nephews etc. I'm finding that to keep it straight I'm extracting the relevant information from the family tree and making a cut down version for the bit I'm looking at.
The other difficulty I'm having is simply keeping the labels straight. So far I've had Charles VI, VII, Louis XI and Charles VIII of France, Philip the Bold, John the Fearless, Philip the Good, Charles the Bold, Mary and Maximilian and Philip the Fair of Burgundy - and there's Henry V, Henry VI of England (Edward IV has had a mention as his sister married Charles the Bold).
I'm trying to plough on, and look things up again if confusion strikes. It's not perfect, but it seems to be reasonable (to learn the names I need stuff to latch the names onto, learning the names in isolation is hard and pointless). Certain earlier topics have become a little hazy, I'm not 100% clear, for instance, why it was that Charles VI named Henry VI as his heir in preference to his own son. I think it was a way of bringing conflict between England and France to an end in Charles' VI lifetime - but I'm not 100% sure. That's something for the tutorial session in a couple of weeks time.
Still, enjoying it so far - I'm so far out of my comfort zone you would not believe it - but that is the point.