Chronicle of Flanders: Philip’s Entry into Ghent, 1458

A Translation by Jesse D. Hurlbut

It had become common practice by the fifteenth century to extend a warm welcome to a prince upon his arrival in one of the cities of his possessions. Elaborate ceremonies and the offering of lavish gifts (wines, jewels, silver goblets, and so on) were part of the standard reception organized by the city. In addition, the streets were cleaned and decorated with tapestries and banners. At certain points along the parade route, stages were set up on which were performed tableaux vivants (“living pictures”): allegorical, historical, and biblical scenes enacted by performers either frozen in place, or animated by simple pantomime.

Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy from 1419 to 1467, had managed to acquire territorial possessions that extended from Burgundy proper to the counties of Flanders and Brabant and into the Low Countries. The inhabitants of Ghent, one of the largest and richest cities of the duke’s possessions, revolted against him in 1447, inspired, by all appearances, by a new salt tax that the duke had wanted to impose. Injustices committed by both the duke and the inhabitants of Ghent led to war which concluded only in 1453 at the battle of Gavere, bringing victory to the duke and death to more than 20,000 Ghenters. For almost five years, the duke did not return to Ghent, but in 1458, he was invited back by the city’s population for a new ceremonial entry.

When the duke’s guards were sent to investigate the city’s preparations for the reception, they noticed that several roads branching off the parade route had been blockaded and they suspected, therefore, plans for an ambush. The dauphin, Louis, who was visiting Philip in Bruges, convinced him to avoid the possible attack. That week, a delegation from Ghent explained that the barricades had been set up so that the decorations could extend uninterrupted from the city gate to the duke’s palace. The Ghenters’ pleas prevailed, and on the 23rd of April, the duke made his resplendent entry into Ghent. The reluctant dauphin refused to accompany the duke and, thereby, missed out on what may have been the most impressive civic celebration of the fifteenth century!

The most detailed account of the entry survives in an anonymous chronicle composed around 1463 in Ghent, of which only two copies exist, both in the Library of the University of Ghent (Kronijk van Vlaanderen, mss. 433 and 590). According to the account in this chronicle, the procession of the duke from the city gates to the ducal palace lasted four hours. Along the route were 21 stages.

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Download the translation here: 1458 Ghent Chronicle