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Who was Louis of Gruuthuse?

7 May 2019

The most famous owner of the Gruuthuse palace was Lodewijk van Brugge, lord of Gruuthuse, prince of Steenhuize, lord of Avelgem, Haamstede, Oostkamp, Beveren, Tielt-ten-Hove and Spiere en Earl of Winchester! Find out more about this Knight of the Golden Fleece below.

Longread Lodewijk 0000 GRO1557 I foto stadsfotografen
Longread plaquette Lodewijk X 1974 0054

Via inheritance and acquisition, Louis of Gruuthuse came to possess various glories with which he earned his living. A major source of income was the tax which he was allowed to levy on (almost) every imported or locally brewed tonne of beer (the ‘Gruut tax’).

This income enabled Louis to lead a luxurious lifestyle. His court was bathed in splendour. It was under his tenure that the Gruuthuse palace was extended to include the main wing. He also built the richly decorated oratory. He collected and ordered richly decorated manuscripts. He built up his library, which, besides manuscripts, included books by Colard Mansion, the top Bruges printer. His income also enabled him to play a major political, diplomatic, and military role in Bruges and elsewhere.

At a young age Louis provided the Duke Philip the Good of Burgundy with squires. From then on, his career was closely linked to the Court of Burgundy. He took part in military operations and undertook diplomatic missions in turn for Duke Philip the Good and Duke Charles the Bold and then Duchess Mary of Burgundy. These assignments also brought him into contact with the English royal family.

Louis of Gruuthuse was one of the executors of Mary of Burgundy’s will when she died at a young age. In the events after her death, Louis came into conflict with Mary’s widower, Maximilian of Austria. In 1485, Louis’ possessions were confiscated and he was even imprisoned in Mechelen for three years. Louis was released when the political situation changed, but, in 1489, Maximilian returned to power in Flanders to put a definitive end to Louis’ career. In 1491, he was accused of treason at a chapter meeting of the Order of the Golden Fleece and he fell out of favour. He passed away in his palace in Bruges before a court ruling was issued.