BERRY Or, Berri
- Medieval County and Duchy;
- A gouvernement in the Ancien Régime.
The region lay in central France, on the middle courses of the Rivers Indre and Cher, north of the Massif Central, not reaching the Loire in the north, though that river formed part of its eastern boundary.
Berry was the north of the Roman province of Aquitania Prima, and later was disputed between the rulers of Aquitaine and the Kings of France. Neither the King and his appointed Counts nor the Duke of Aquitaine usually prevailed for long. The result was a fragmented authority, divided between the Archbishops of Bourges, the Vicomtes of Bourges, the lords of Châteauroux (earlier Déols) in the west, and of Issoudon (between Châteauroux and Bourges). The Archbishops, unlike some of their episcopal colleagues, who exploited such situations to make their sees formidable political units, seem to have normally followed the precept that discretion was the better part of valour.
It was King Philip I who began the consolidation of royal power when in 1101 he bought the Vicomté of Bourges from the Vicomte, who needed to finance his decision to go on crusade. Philip’s grandson, Louis VII, gave it as dowry to Eleanor, Duchess of Aquitaine, his wife; her divorce from him and subsequent remarriage to the Count of Anjou, soon to be Henry II of England, reopened the rivalry in Berry between King and Duke. Eventually King John used the diplomatic device of the dowry to pacify the matter; his niece, Blanche of Castile, still a child, was betrothed to the heir of Philip II of France, and pending the marriage Berry served to support her. By the time the marriage could be made real, Philip Augustus had driven John out of many of his French dominions and Berry was firmly royal.
King John II (d.1364) gave it as an appanage to his third son, John, a selfish, brutal and stupid politician, though a mighty patron of the arts. After his death in 1416 the Duchy was given to Charles, the youngest, but soon to be the only surviving, son of the afflicted Charles VI of France. Deprived of the throne of France by the might of Henry V, the insane conduct of his father and the treachery of his mother, Charles claimed the Crown and was derided by the English and their French supporters as the King of Bourges.
He had the last laugh however, and Berry, which had stayed loyal to him, was later given as an appanage to his younger son Charles, who was loyal to nothing. In 1465 he was transferred from Berry to the Duchy of Guienne, further away and less powerful, by his brother, Louis XI. Berry was again used as an appanage for Jeanne, daughter of Louis XI and the hunchback wife of Louis XII, discarded by him when he became King in 1498; and for Francis Hector, the brother of Henry III, who in 1576 added it to the various possessions that he held. It was used as a title for a grandson of Louis XIV and for the younger son, assassinated in 1820, of the future Charles X.
Berry was briefly part of Lyonnais in Henry II’s reign, and then in 1559, part of the extensive gouvernement of Orléanais. The généralité of Bourges, formed in 1542, consisted of medieval Berry with parts of La Marche, Bourbonnais and Nivernais. Berry became a separate gouvernement in the 17th century. The region was subject to the jurisdiction of the Parlement of Paris.
In 1790 most of Berry became the greater part of the departments of the Cher and the Indre, but small parts of Berry are in the neighbouring departments of the Loiret, Creuse, Indre-et-Loire, and Loir-et-Cher. When new regions were formed in 1960 Berry did not remerge as an administrative unit, to the discontent of some of its inhabitants – the old province formed the south of the vast Centre region.