22 August 2015

Today's Princess: Bonne of Luxembourg

An illustration of Bonne and John, from her illuminated
prayer book, which is now in the collection of the
Metropolitan Museum of New York.
via Wikimedia Commons
The intertwining and shifting allegiances of 14th century Europe explain why a Bohemian princess named Jutta born 700 years ago last month is remembered as Bonne of Luxembourg (1315-1349). Although born in Prague as the daughter of the King of Bohemia, she was of the house of Luxembourg. (Her father was a Luxembourgish prince who gained the throne through marriage to a Bohemian princess.) When the French king Philip VI selected her as the bride of his heir--passing over an English princess, which might have been politically wiser--the French decided to translate her "odd" central European name. The closest they could come was the feminized version of the French word for "good" and so she is remembered as Bonne of Luxumbourg (or Good of Luxembourg) while her husband is remembered as Jean le Bon (or John the Good).

The marriage brought military support to France in its continuing wars against England. In fact, Bonne's father died fighting for France at the Battle of Crecy even though he had been blind for many years.

She was 16 at their marriage and he just 13. Their youth perhaps explains the childless first years of their marriage. When they finally started having princelings, however, they produced them in rapid succession: 11 children in as many years. Although several died young, several also grew to prominence including the future King Charles VI of France, Louis I of Naples, John Duke of Berry, Philip II Duke of Burgundy, and Jeanne Queen Consort of Navarre.

When she wasn't too busy having children, Bonne was a renowned support of music and the arts. Today, her prayer book, The Psalter of Bonne of Luxembourg, remains an excellent example of the illuminated manuscripts of the day. It is now in the collection of Metropolitan Museum of New York.

With a questionable claim to the French throne--based on denying women or their descendants from the throne--Bonne's Valois husband and father-in-law were almost constantly at war against the English, who felt they had a stronger claim to the French throne. While John was fighting in the Hundred Years' War, Bonne continued to grow the dynasty. Her wealth and royal status could not protect her against one of the greatest killers of the age. She was one of 50 million victims of the Black Death. She was 34.

Five months later her husband married the widow of the Duke of Burgundy. Six months after that, he became King of France.

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