The HANDSOME Duke of Burgundy….?

Philip of Habsburg (called the Handsome or the Fair) was Duke of Burgundy from 1482 to 1506

At the moment I’m trawling around medieval rulers in Europe. And lo! I’ve come upon this gentleman:

from Wikepedia

His contemporary likenesses aren’t much better, so why was he called Philip the Fair/Handsome? Was it tongue-in cheek? If you look through the various recreations of him in this link below, if they’re even halfway accurate you can be certain he was NOT handsome. Unless what was considered handsome then certainly isn’t what we’d call handsome now. It seems he was called “the Handsome” because of his fair hair and attractive grey-blue eyes. Well, if his hair was notably fair, his modern likeness certainly isn’t. But yes, his eyes are indeed blue-grey.

Now the Habsburgs weren’t renowned for their physical beauty, and this chap seems to confirm it. He was not only Duke of Burgundy, but became the first member of the house of Habsburg to be King of Castile, albeit for less than a month. He was the one who was unfortunate enough to be driven ashore in England in early 1506 when his ships were caught in a terrible storm. He fell into the clutches of Henry VII, who was only too delighted to receive him and force him to agree to treaties. See here. Philip’s unexpected arrival was clearly manna from Heaven to wily Henry. But within months poor Philip was dead, having only just got the crown of Castile in his grasp.

Philip was married to Joanna, elder sister of Catherine of Aragon who, as we ALL know, eventually became the queen of Henry VIII, albeit after a bit of to-ing and fro-ing involving Henry’s late elder brother, Arthur. It was a still-unanswered question of whether Arthur and Catherine “knew each other” in the biblical sense. First it suited Henry VIII to decide they hadn’t, but when he wanted to be rid of her, suddenly they had! But that, of course, is another story.


  1. Goodness, how one can be led astray by browsing the internet! I followed the link for Melcombe Regis, to find it was now part of Weymouth, got involed reading and discovered an C18th Duke of Gloucester I’d never been aware of previously! Worth a look – had he made a wiser Royal marriage, the history of Britain – and the world – might have been very different!,_Duke_of_Gloucester_and_Edinburgh

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  2. He was good looking enough that his death caused his wife to go insane with grief. (Of course doing so made it a lot easier for her father and her son to rule Castile unhindered by her – just saying).

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    1. I happen to be going through the Calendar Rolls for Richard II, and strange to say there are a number of people being found “idiots” or “not of sound mind”…so their inheritance and other property goes to their nearest and dearest…or someone else of nimble mind and means!

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      1. hmm I wonder if that was the case with a few of those Nevilles (not Joan, baroness Fauconberge, she was deemed an “idiot” from birth), they seem to pop up at the most opportune times

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  3. And it may also have put off any other suitors, which may have been convenient for her! Annoying to have one’s life and future to be mapped out by men just to swell their coffers!

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    1. In some parts of the world/cultures the male of the species is still at it! (She wrote with a snarl.)


  4. Let’s just say it this way, NO Hapsburg was ever going to be physically appealing, period! There are paintings of Maximilian, Mary of Burgundy’s sigh husband, I believe in his mature years, studly and his furred cloak just dripping jewels, yet …. still a Hapburg. And Mary was a lovely beauty. Northern painting was severe, both in intent to render in explicit detail and without the slightest interest in whatever those Italians were doing.
    Had Raphael or Correggio painted Mary’s son Philip, and his just as sour faced sister, Margaret of Austria, I guarantee you would still see the protuberant lips, that JAW, the sallow skin, droopy eyelids, oh yes, all of it, BUT, with the warm glow of life yet brimming within like a flame, their eyes glowing, gentle smile, even a haughty one has an assured health to it, or secretive assurance, Italians knew how to imbue vitality and gentility on even the homeliest visages (consider squat Agnolo Doni and his dowdy bride Maddalena, the pensive, melancholy Castiglione, but also the gorgeous unknown Woman in a Veil – surely some commoner – compared to the grand Elisabetta Gonzaga, stiff and a sad tale, virtuous, cultured, with an impotent husband she loved to distraction… were van Eyck to paint the unfortunate Elisabetta her husband’s condition would surely be understood! Raphael, instead, hides nothing, but note how her mouth is about to tremble. Her face and eyes are composed, as she must be, but how fortunate convention will not allow her to look up at the painter!

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