- Former gouvernement;
- Present Region.
in south central France.
The valley of the northward flowing River Allier is the core of the region; the Monts du Forez and the Monts du Velay border it on the east (though in early medieval times the Velay was part of Auvergne); from the western and southern slopes of the Monts d’Auvergne flow the upper courses of rivers whose eventual outlet is the Gironde.
The name came from the Arverni, one of the most important of the Gaulish tribes, whose chieftain, Vercingetorex, led the last major resistance to the Romans in 52 BC. Together with Berry, the Auvergne formed the Roman province of Aquitania Prima. It subsequently belonged to the Visigothic Kingdom and later still to the Frankish sub-kingdom of Aquitaine. Its Counts in the late 9th century, Bernard Plantevelue (i.e. Hairyfeet) and William the Pious, came from a family that had been powerful in the south – in Toulouse and Septimania – and in Burgundy – in Macon and Autun. In the 890s William became Duke of Aquitaine, though he remained powerful in southern Burgundy, where he founded the Abbey of Cluny in 910. He had no sons however and the nephews who succeeeded him lost control of most of the territories.
From 927 the Counts of Toulouse and Poitiers struggled for control over Aquitaine in general and the Auvergne in particular. From 963 to 979 Count William Taillefer of Toulouse had the upper hand in the Auvergne, but he failed in the end, and the local Vicomte took the title of Count under the overlordship of the Count of Poitiers, who had by then become the unchallenged Duke of Aquitaine. The years of dispute and uncertainty had allowed the local lords to take much of the power for themselves, and the new line of Counts were never strong princes. One opportunity to expand, through marriage with the heiress of the County of Rouergue to the south, failed because the Countess died childless and the powerful Count of Toulouse had claims to Rouergue.
Eventually the weak County broke up into four parts, the process beginning in the mid-12th century, when Count William VIII the Old, the uncle of Count William VII the Young, seized the County in 1155. A struggle began which ended, after arbitration in 1169, in the division of the County, the usurper keeping the greater part of it. The smaller portion became known as the Dauphiné of Auvergne, William VII’s wife being of the family of the Dauphins of Vienne.
Near the end of the century the two rulers were united in preferring the distant overlordship of the King of England as Duke of Aquitaine to the French King’s growing interest in the region. Philip II, however, intervened in the Auvergne and in 1195 occupied part of the County, from which he did not withdraw. In 1199 he obliged the Dauphin to give up his rights in Montferrand and in the Velay on the upper Loire. A little later the Count, Guy II, quarrelled with his brother, the Bishop of Clermont, who had comital rights there. In 1213 the King intervened, and firmly established the Bishop’s County of Clermont with lands from the County of Auvergne, the rest of which he confiscated. Only in 1224 was the Count restored to a small part of his lands; the King kept the rest, this royal Auvergne being called the Terre d’Auvergne.
The diminished County held lands east of the Allier, with Vic-le-Comté as its capital. The son of the restored Count acquired the small and distant County of Boulogne in 1260 through his mother, and the two Counties remained together until 1419, by which time they were held by the La Tour family, lords of land in western Auvergne. The niece of the last Count, Catherine de Medici, married the future King of France, Henry II, and on her death in 1589 she bequeathed the County of Auvergne to her grandson, Charles de Valois, the bastard son of King Charles IX. He proved a troublemaker, and in 1606 was obliged to give the County to Queen Margot, the divorced wife of the King of France. In 1610 she gave it to her stepson, soon to be King Louis XIII. In 1651, as part of the price for getting royal control of the Principality of Sedan, Mazarin gave the County to the Duke of Bouillon, himself a cadet of the La Tour family; it remained with his successors until the Revolution.
The Dauphiné of Auvergne held lands southeast and southwest of Issoire. In 1428 its heiress married Louis, younger son of the Duke of Bourbon, and himself Count of Montpensier, which was a small lordship in northern Auvergne. Although the Dauphine died childless, Louis’s paternal grandmother was her aunt and would have been her heiress had she still been alive, so Louis kept the Dauphiné. His grandson (by his second marriage), the Constable Bourbon, was deprived of his lands in 1523-7, though Montpensier and the Dauphiné were restored in 1538 to his sister and her son, and only returned to the Crown in 1693, with the death of Anne, la Grande Mademoiselle.
The County of Clermont was held by the Bishop until 1557, when Catherine de Medici, then Queen, managed through the use of law to reunite it with the County of Auvergne.
The Terre d’Auvergne, the greater part of the province, was granted to Alphonse, Count of Poitiers, brother of Louis IX, in 1241, reverted to the Crown on his death in 1271, and was later granted by John II to his third son, John, Duke of Berry, as the Duchy of Auvergne. He died in 1416 and in 1425 the Duchy was granted to his daughter and her husband, the Duke of Bourbon, eventually passing to the future Constable Bourbon, as heir male and as the husband of the heiress of the previous Duke. Thus the Duchy and Dauphiné were reunited. They were confiscated as a result of his treason, and the Duchy stayed with the Crown.
Auvergne was part of the gouvernement of Lyonnais until 1695, when it became the separate gouvernement of Auvergne. The généralité of Riom (originally at Issoire), formed in 1542, was very similar to the old province. Auvergne was subject to the jurisdiction of the Parlement of Paris.
In 1790 the departments of Cantal (all), Puy-de-Dôme (most), Haute-Loire (half) and Allier (some) were formed from the lands of the gouvernement. The territory of these four departments formed the new Region of Auvergne in 1960, which comprised most of the old Auvergne and Bourbonnais plus the northern lands of Languedoc.