In his memoirs, the Frisian nobleman Frederik van Vervou, who visited the court of Brussels in , noted that he had attended the public meal of the archduke in the palace, where he had been able to see that Albert was waited on with ritual respect by his courtiers, who served him food and drink while sitting on their knees. Clearly, then, at the end of the sixteenth century, what the courtiers in Brussels were used to in terms of court ceremonial must have been a rather mixed bag — an amalgam of rituals, rules and regulations that stemmed from different courtly traditions.
Chances are therefore that their reluctance to accept the new rules was based on a rather blurry understanding of what the Burgundian ceremonial implied. See note 3 above. View all notes The new system, providing a better protection of the entrances to the state rooms, was clearly copied from the Spanish court, where access to the king had become an important concern.
In addition, the adjustments coincided with the complete renovation of the residential wing of the palace, which had been embarked upon by Archduke Albert in in preparation for his wedding to the infanta. Whereas this part of the palace on the Coudenberg hill had previously consisted of a simple enfilade of suites, through the addition of a second series of rooms the wing was split in two.
By doing this, the internal route leading to the archducal Bedchamber became significantly longer than it had been in previous decades. For a thorough analysis of the new route, see Raeymaekers, One Foot in the Palace , —1.
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The spatial arrangement of the residential wing mirrored, as it were, a social hierarchy: the higher on the social ladder one stood, the closer one was allowed to approach the inner sanctum of the palace — and hence, the archduke himself. Clearly, the new system had a profound impact on daily life at court. Although court ordinances on the subject are lacking, other sources suggest that the access to the archducal apartments was henceforth closely guarded. Somerset, The Travel Diary , —8. The papal nuncio, too, had to follow the ceremony from behind the curtain, and even the infanta was only allowed to look on from an opening in the doorway.
Somerset, The Travel Diary , Raeymaekers, One Foot in the Palace , —8. View all notes This, it seems, is precisely what happened at the archducal court. By literally distancing themselves from the spying glance of his subjects and denying them access to their chambers, Albert and Isabella strengthened the inviolability and the mystique surrounding their princely personae.
As I have argued elsewhere, on a more secular level their physical withdrawal necessitated a reorientation of the patronage networks at court, which became more and more independent of the few persons who were authorized to approach them. View all notes Naturally, this provoked the ire of the courtiers, who — as we have seen — complained that Albert was trying to organize his court like that of the king of Spain, which was deemed inappropriate, given the fact that the archduke was no king.
This complaint raises the question why Albert and Isabella were so keen on using this new model, despite the criticism.
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After all, the archdukes would have been keenly aware that the organization of their joint household was not — and could never be — simply a matter of personal preference. Reigning over a country with a history of distrust against all things Spanish, they must have realized that introducing a Spanish court ceremonial would certainly raise eyebrows. In that sense, the decision to do so was undoubtedly a conscious political choice — and one that served a certain purpose.
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That purpose will be addressed in the following paragraph. An important element to remember is that the court ceremonial in Brussels was adapted on the occasion of the wedding of the archdukes in and that the reforms mentioned above were implemented shortly after their arrival in that city. The reforms were clearly inspired by the court model in vogue at the court in Madrid. In and of itself that need not surprise. Albert and Isabella had both grown up at the court of Philip II, which defined their frame of reference and on top of that enjoyed much prestige in Europe in this time period.
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Since their childhood their respective households were organized according to the Spanish-Burgundian court ceremonial. It seems consequently nothing more than logical that they wanted to keep the style familiar to them at their court in Brussels. But there was more going on. In terms of organization the archducal household was indeed a copy of its pendant portrait in Madrid. The specific religious practice that defined day-to-day life at court, to mention but one aspect, was to a greater or lesser extent a typical characteristic of all Habsburg courts. Profound devotion and spirituality made up part of the Habsburg identity, an identity with which the archdukes — whose marriage stood as a symbol for the unanimity and harmony between both dynastic branches — had been strongly diffused.
It could be posited that the archducal court was in the first place a Habsburg court, and one of many that were to be found in Europe at the time. One aspect that applies even more nuance to this complex material is the fact that the archducal marriage also went hand in hand with the transfer of sovereignty over the Netherlands to Albert and Isabella. Beginning with the arrival of the infanta in , the court in Brussels was thus no longer the seat of a governor but of two sovereign princes of the blood royal.
The meaning and impact of this change in status cannot be easily underestimated.
It brought with it definite expectations which could and would not be ignored. View all notes According to Adamson, every self-respecting sovereign court was expected to satisfy definite formal requirements. This was a matter not only of possessing a magnificent palace and displaying luxury and opulence, but also of patronizing the arts and sciences and of demonstrating a profound religiosity. In that sense there is mention of a pattern of expectations that entered into the foreground not only at Habsburg but at pretty much all Western and Central European courts. At the end of the sixteenth and the beginning of the seventeenth century, namely, this pattern would be very strongly applied, as Adamson posits: What is perhaps the most distinctive aspect of the late sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century court culture was the gradual acceptance of all, or almost all, of the items on this checklist as being virtually de rigueur for any sovereign court that aspired to be taken seriously by its peers.
It effectively itemizes what contemporaries regarded as the defining features of a sovereign court. In a certain sense the archducal court can be seen as a reinvented court. Under governess Margaret of Parma, it could still in a way maintain its glorious reputation, but in the turbulent years after that it lost much of its former luster. Through the introduction of the Spanish-Burgundian court ceremonial, which could be seen as the most prestigious in Europe, the archdukes breathed new life into the languishing court.
Characterized by a deep-going ritualization of daily life, the new decorum accented their elevated and sacred status as princes of the blood royal — and consequently also the legitimacy of their reign. The archdukes were all too well aware of the political role their court could play. When the archdukes came to power, the Low Countries found themselves to be in a situation of serious instability.
For three decades the country had had to suffer from a civil war, with all its economic and social consequences. The wariness among the populace toward the new regime was great.
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A large number of members of the aristocracy had turned away from the Habsburg dynasty, and under the surface the fear reigned that even more would follow. In that kind of climate the archdukes opted to present their court as a beacon of political quiet and stability. The proliferation of offices and positions in their households made it possible — in combination with the system of service par terme — to attract large groups of nobles and to give them access to the renewed market of patronage which came to be developed there.
In that way the court would play a defining role in rebuilding the much-plagued Habsburg regime in the Netherlands. For the quotation, see p. View all notes Weiser refers to Milan and Burgundy to underpin his position, but perhaps the theory goes for the Habsburg Netherlands as well. Quoted in Duerloo, Dynasty and Piety , View all notes As Luc Duerloo has shown, Albert and Isabella were especially sensitive to infractions on the decorum and rules of precedence at court.
As quoted in ibid. View all notes The English ambassador Lord Doncaster was also able to experience something similar in the flesh. When in he went for an audience with the archdukes, they refused to offer him a chair. Doncaster interpreted that to be a crude insult and made his complaint, upon which he got to hear drily that he was being given the same treatment as that which in turn had fallen to the Count of Noyelles, the archducal emissary in England, when the latter was received by King James I a few months before that.
In fact, with his complaint Doncaster hit the nail on the head. The court of the archdukes was, to be sure, a sovereign but not a royal court. View all notes Clearly, definite political ambitions were hidden behind this measure. There is indeed no doubt that the aspirations of Albert and Isabella reached further than dominion over the Netherlands.
It says much, for example, that the archdukes at the beginning of their rule undertook ardent yet fruitless attempts to have themselves recognized by the pope and the international community as kings of Burgundy — a title that would have catapulted them at once to the top of the pecking order among European princes. On top of that, as the newly wed son of the emperor — with still good hopes for any possible birth of children around — the archduke was a candidate marked to succeed the childless Rudolf II on the imperial throne.
Duerloo, Dynasty and Piety , —2. View all notes It was an option that the historiography of the archducal reign has dared to forget, but one of which Albert himself was all too well aware. For a long time he saw himself as the future emperor of the Holy Roman Empire — or in any case as having a very great chance at this position. Seen from that angle, the revitalization of the court in Brussels was nothing more than logical. With the introduction of a semi-royal court ceremonial Albert and Isabella anticipated the splendid future that they saw set aside for themselves. It could not be suspected in that none of those mentioned ambitions would in the end become the truth.
The observation by the nuncio Bentivoglio supposing that the household of Albert and Isabella rested on the age-old organization of the court of Burgundy, has to be interpreted in the right context. At the time when the nuncio wrote down his report, the notion of a Burgundian ceremonial had not referred for a long time to the model that had come into being in former times under the Dukes of Burgundy.