BAR(2), County and Duchy. later Bar-le-Duc, Barrois (pays).
Medieval French speaking County, later a Duchy.
The County, which belonged entirely to the Holy Roman Empire until the beginning of the 14th century, was named after the town of Bar-le-Duc, which stands on the River Ornain, ESE of Châlons-sur-Marne and SSW of Verdun in eastern France. The road from Bar to Verdun became famous in the Great War as la voie sacrée, the supply route to besieged Verdun.
The district around Bar-le-Duc lay west of the Meuse, in the border zone of the German Kingdom with France (the border at that time lay some distance west of the river). Its Count in the 950s was Frederick, a member of the great Ardennes family founded by Wigerich. His wife was the niece of Bruno, the Archbishop of Cologne, whom his brother, Otto the Great, had appointed as Duke of Lotharingia. In 959 Bruno made Frederick Duke of Upper Lotharingia (hence Bar-le-Duc). (Alternatively, it has been argued that Frederick acquired Bar after he became Duke of Upper Lotharingia).
Frederick’s family held the Duchy until the last male, Frederick II or III, died in 1033. His younger sister, Sophia, who inherited Bar, married Louis of Mousson, and their descendants ruled a scattering of territories in the western Empire – Montbéliard, now close to the Swiss border, and Ferrette, now in southern Alsace, as well as Bar. These territories were partitioned in 1104.
The share of the Counts of Bar included the lands that had belonged to Sophia’s husband, which were centred on the Moselle. Subsequent Counts eventually acquired more lands in western Lorraine, thereby linking Bar and Pont-à-Mousson. They also held part of Bassigny on the upper reaches of the Meuse; whilst to the north they acquired lands around Stenay, north of Verdun, and around Longwy and Briey on the borders with Luxemburg.
The Counts generally followed a pro-French policy, but in the 1290s Count Henry I, who was married to a daughter of Edward I of England, was associated with his father-in-law in his struggles with Philip the Fair of France. The situation in which Bar was placed had noticeably changed of recent years because Philip had married the heiress of Champagne, so that Bar had lost the buffer of the powerful counts of Champagne between itself and French royal power.
The result was that Philip the Fair forced the Count in 1301 to do homage for the lands of Bar that lay west of the Meuse (these lands became known as the Barrois Mouvant, the lands within the authority of France). At the time Philip was allied with Albert I, King of the Romans, who had his own reasons for wanting Henry of Bar checked. Henry had supported Adolf of Nassau, Albert’s predecessor, whom Albert had defeated and killed.
In 1354 Count Robert became Duke of Bar; he lived until 1411 and had several sons from his marriage to the daughter of King John of France. But by the end of 1415 there was only one survivor in the male line – two sons and a grandson of Duke Robert had been slaughtered at Agincourt. The survivor was a cleric; he held the Duchy until 1419, then handed it over to his sister’s grandson, René of Anjou. René married the heiress of Lorraine, and was Duke in her lifetime until 1453; after his death in 1480, his daughter’s son, René II, who had already succeeeded to Lorraine, joined the two Duchies together, and thus became a vassal of France for the Barrois mouvant.
The Duchies thereafter remained united, except that in 1659 Bar was ceded to France by the Peace of the Pyrenees. The arrangement proved short-lived: in 1661 it was returned to the Duke of Lorraine. Eventually the two Duchies were united to France in 1766, though they had been closely linked with French administration since 1737, following the replacement of the old ducal line with the former King Stanislas of Poland, whose only child and heiress was the wife of Louis XV of France.