Burgundy ~ Duchy and Region


BURGUNDY ~ Duchy and Region     BOURGOGNE.

  1. Duchy in medieval France;
  2. A gouvernement in the Ancien Régime;
  3. An administrative region in modern France.

It lies in east central France.

French Burgundy, the part of the old Kingdom of Burgundy that was included in the West Frankish Kingdom in 843, lay west and northwest of the middle Saône (though it later extended east of the river opposite Chalon and around Auxonne), reaching the upper Seine and also the River Loire in the region around Nevers.  It included the hills of the Côte d’Or and the Morvan.  This region, originally on the borders, now lies well within eastern France.

The Duchy of Burgundy emerged in the early 10th century.

English: Charles the Bald crowned Emperor

English: Charles the Bald crowned Emperor (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Its origins lie in the strengthening of the County of Autun by King Charles the Bald after a revolt in Septimania in 863 had drawn attention to the vulnerability of Neustria (now northern France) to attacks from the south.  Autun, which stands on a tributary of the Loire, lay on routes into eastern Neustria from the Massif Central.   Its early Counts were among the most important men of Charles’s Kingdom.   They included Bernard Plantevelue, father of the first Duke of Aquitaine, Robert the Strong, father of two future Kings, and Boso, the King’s brother-in-law.

In 879 Boso was crowned King.   His power lay in in the old Burgundian lands both within and without the French Kingdom, and it may well be that he was fortified by the knowledge that his brother, Richard, later called the Justiciar, was Count of Autun.  Richard, however, decided to give his loyalty to the young sons of Louis the Stammerer, the late King of the West Franks, and Boso was driven from French Burgundy and eventually held only Provence.   It was a time of dynastic instability caused by the depletion of the Carolingians (between 879 and 900 there were five Kings in France and five Kings in Germany).

At the same time there were attacks from outside – the Vikings were raiding into Burgundy in 880, the Hungarians were soon to come, whilst the Saracens plagued French Burgundy’s southern neighbours.   These circumstances combined to give men like Richard the Justiciar an opportunity to build up principalities strong enough to provide defence and stability in a threatening world.   Richard gathered together several Burgundian counties, was known as Marquis (super-count in a border region), and by 918/20 he was called the Duke of the Burgundians.  His power extended outside French Burgundy;  in France, he was overlord of the Counts of Troyes, whilst in the Kingdom of Burgundy, whose first King was his brother-in-law, he held the district around Besançon.

Richard the Justiciar was the first of a long sequence of Dukes, only briefly interrupted, but the area controlled by the Dukes within the region of French Burgundy varied.   There were several counties, such as Auxerre, Chalon, Charolais, Macon, Nevers, Tonnerre, which were sometimes held by the Duke, or were sometimes subservient to him, or were sometimes completely independent of him.  The region around Autun always belonged to the Duchy;  Dijon was acquired in the early 11th century, while King Robert II controlled the Duchy, and was the capital  from the time of the Capetian Dukes.

Richard the Justiciar was succeeded in turn by his two sons.   The elder, Raoul, was King of France 923-36, while the younger, Hugh, had to contend with his namesake, Hugh the Great, Duke of the Franks, who reckoned that Burgundy was under his overlordship, and who, on Hugh’s death in 952, was unchallenged in the title of Duke, though much of the actual power was held by Gilbert of Chalon, the Arch-Count of Burgundy.  The young son of Hugh the Great, Otto, and the young daughter of Gilbert were married and in 956 Otto became Duke following  the deaths of both his father and his father-in-law.

He died young and childless in 965 and his younger brother Henry succeeded him (his elder brother, Hugh Capet, became King of France in 987).  Duke Henry died in 1002.   He had no son and his only daughter was an infant, so he left the Duchy to his step-son, Count Otto William of Burgundy.   Henry’s nephew, King Robert the Pious of France, opposed the succession, and by 1006 had made good his own claims.  In 1016 he made his second son, Henry, Duke of Burgundy, but the accidental death of Henry’s elder brother in 1025 brought Henry to the throne of France when Robert II died in 1031.   His right was contested, and in the following year he felt obliged to secure his position by granting the Duchy to his younger brother, Robert, his mother’s candidate for the throne.

The line of Capetian Dukes lasted until 1361.  Several of them were crusaders in the Holy Land but also in Spain, where a grandson of Duke Robert I, became Count of Portugal c.1096.   The Count’s son became King in 1139, and all the subsequent Kings of Portugal were descended from him in the male line, though from 1385 it was a bastard descent.    In France the Dukes were on the whole not particularly troublesome to their kinsmen, the Kings of France.  The last Dukes were also Counts of Burgundy in the Empire, 1330-61.

In 1363, two years after the death of the last Capetian Duke, came the first Valois Duke when King John gave the Duchy as an appanage to his fourth son, Philip the Bold, who married Margaret, the child-widow of his predecessor, in 1369.   She was the heiress of Flanders, the Franche-Comté, and Nevers, and the marriage laid the foundation of the empire the Dukes built up, particularly in the Netherlands.

In the revived Hundred Years’ War, they allied themselves with Henry V, were parties to the Treaty of Troyes in 1420, which provided for the Crown of France to pass to Henry V and his heirs, and continued to support the English Regent of France, John, Duke of Bedford, until after the death of John’s wife, the sister of the Duke of Burgundy, in 1432.  The alliance had helped to increase and consolidate their dominions, but in 1435, Duke Philip the Good swapped allies, and was rewarded by the King of France with much of Picardy, the French province bordering upon some of his Netherlands territories.

Both Philip and his son, Charles, failed to obtain the Kingdom they hoped for.  The Emperor at times indicated his willingness to see the Kingdom of the Arelate, the old Imperial Burgundy, revived but he generally contrived to keep a safe distance and thus never actually got round to fulfilling his promises and their dreams.  Duke Philip toyed with ideas like making himself King of the Occident.  They came to nothing;  it was unlikely that other Kings would view him as other than an upstart.   Charles, nicknamed the Rash, Duke 1467-77, was one of the greatest troublemakers within the Kingdom of France.  Within the Empire, it  was his ambition to gain Lorraine, which would link the Duchy with the Netherlands, and he gradually built an alliance of implacable foes, including the Swiss, whose soil he twice invaded and upon which he was twice defeated.  He met his death at Nancy early in 1477, trying to seize the capital of Lorraine from the claimant.   The Netherlands territories and the Franche-Comté passed to his daughter, Mary, and to her Habsburg descendants.

The Duchy became a province of France and was one of the eight gouvernements in France when Louis XI died in 1483.   In 1601 the gouvernement extended southeastwards across the Saône to the Rhône when the Duke of Savoy’s lands in Bresse and Bugey became part of France.

In 1542 Burgundy became the généralité of Dijon for the administration of several important taxes and in time for much of the civil administration, though it kept its Estates until the Revolution (the former Savoy lands did not come under the Estates).   The Parlement of Dijon had jurisdiction in the old Duchy and the Savoy lands, but not in the acquisitions of the Valois Dukes on its fringes, the Counties of Auxerre, Bar-sur-Seine, and Mâcon, which all came under the jurisdiction of the Parlement of Paris.

In 1790 the old Duchy was divided between the Departments of the Yonne, Côte-d’Or, and Saône-et-Loire, while the Savoy lands became the greater part of the Department of the      Ain.  The first three, together with Nièvre, formed the present region of Bourgogne in 1960.

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