Thursday, January 15, 2009

Marie de Bourgogne: La Chevauchée fatale

I had read many years ago that Marie de Bourgogne, daughter of Charles the Bold, had been involved in a tragic riding accident, and until yesterday, I really had no idea of the magnitude of her injuries. I didn't even know that an examination had been made of her skeleton. As I sat and translated the few brief passages, an involuntary chill swept through me and I was moved, almost to tears by a woman I had no connection with, who had died over 500 years ago; a young woman who's life was tragically cut short in her twenties.

It was March, 1482. Marie and her husband, Maximillian of Austria, were the guests of the duke of Clèves. Their host had arranged for a bird hunt. So, the royal party set off toward the woods and marshes. Maximillian and the other men set off ahead to flush game. Marie, with hawk on hand, had soon taken a heron. She had sighted another when tragedy struck.

The accounts vary as to what caused Marie's horse to shy and buck violently - a ditch or a tree across the path - what is known is that Marie fell to the ground and she was trampled. Marie was taken to a nearby house. She was tended to by physicians, but the injuries that she had sustained would painfully and eventually end her life.

The forensic evidence supports the accounts of her injuries. She had suffered not only injuries to her hands and arms, but to her ribcage as well: four broken ribs.

It serves as a reminder that no matter how innocuous the trail, how much we trust our horse, and how well we ride, in a glimmer of an eye, we can be taken by surprise.

A woman we knew where we stabled our horses before had made an almost prophetic observation. One of our horses has often been called "bomb proof". She said, "He's so calm and good natured that the one time he actually does spook, you're really going to get hurt". Six years later, that comment manifested into stark reality. Fortunately for my husband, he lived through it with "minor" injuries.

Ride safely.