As heiress of the rich Burgundian domains her hand was eagerly sought by a number of princes. When her father fell upon the field of Nancy, on January 5 1477, Mary was not yet twenty years of age. Louis XI of France seized the opportunity afforded by his rival's defeat and death to take possession of the duchy of Burgundy as a fief lapsed to the French crown, and also of Franche Comte, Picardy and Artois.
He was anxious that Mary should marry the Dauphin Charles and thus secure the inheritance of the Netherlands for his descendants. Mary, however, distrusted Louis; declined the French alliance, and turned to her Netherland subjects for help. She obtained the help only at the price of great concessions. On February 10 1477 she was compelled to sign a charter of rights, known as "the Great Privilege," by which the provinces and towns of the Netherlands recovered all the local and communal rights which had been abolished by the arbitrary decrees of the dukes of Burgundy in their efforts to create in the Low Countries a centralized state. Mary had to undertake not to declare war, make peace, or raise taxes without the consent of the States, and not to employ any but natives in official posts.
Such was the hatred of the people to the old regime that two influential councillors of Charles the Bold, the Chancellor Hugonet and the Sire d'Humbercourt, having been discovered in correspondence with the French king, were executed at Ghent despite the tears and entreaties of the youthful duchess. Mary now made her choice among the many suitors for her hand, and selected the archduke Maximilian of Austria, afterwards the emperor Maximilian I, and the marriage took place at Ghent on August 18 1477. Affairs now went more smoothly in the Netherlands, the French aggression was checked, and internal peace was in a large measure restored, when the duchess met her death by a fall from her horse on March 27 1482. Three children had been the issue of her marriage, and her elder son, Philip, succeeded to her dominions under the guardianship of his father.