Burgundy ~ Main Article


Coat of arms of the Free County of Burgundy un...

Coat of arms of the Free County of Burgundy until the 13th century. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A name with several uses, for a county, a duchy, a kingdom , for all of which see the following articles. It was the name of a gouvernement in pre-Revolutionary France and is the name for a modern region (for these see below in the article on the duchy).   It was also used in LITTLE BURGUNDY and TRANSJURANE BURGUNDY within the Kingdom of Burgundy, and in the BURGUNDIAN IMPERIAL CIRCLE.   This article, deals with:-

  1. The origins of Burgundy and its early territory in Gaul.
  2. Some names that include Burgundy.
  3. The shifting of Burgundy in the late middle ages.

1.Medieval Burgundy.   The name derives from the Burgundians, who on one reckoning came from the western Baltic island of Bornholm, of which Burgundarholm was an earlier form.   Be that as it may, the Burgundians in the 3rd century were living in the vicinity of the River Oder, and most remained there though a group moved into the region of the lower Main and Neckar in the later years of that century.   When the frozen Rhine and weakened Roman defences allowed a considerable invasion of Gaul by Germans at the end of 406 the Burgundians of the Main-Neckar region, reinforced by others from the Oder region, moved across the Rhine and occupied the region around Worms.

Unlike some of the tribes they were ready to act as allies of Rome, and were recognised as such by the Emperoro Honorius.   In 435 their King Gundicar led an expedition westwards to see whether they could move into Belgica, but they were turned back by the Roman forces.   The following year the Burgundian army was defeated and destroyed by the Huns, encouraged by Aetius, the Roman governor of Gaul.

In 443 the survivors were allowed to settle as allies in the area between Lakes Geneva and Neuchâtel.  From there they spread out into the lands between the Jura and Lake Geneva, into the later Savoy south of the Lake, and beyond the Jura into present-day Franche-Comté.   These were the areas of their greatest settlement, but in the declining Roman Empire the Kings of the Burgundians, with their authority legitimated among the Empire’s citizens by their holding Imperial offices, came to rule an extensive area encompassing:-

  1. Practically all that part of the basin of the Rhône and the Saône that lies north of the River Durance.
  2. The upper course of the River Loire until its confluence beyond the Massif central with the River Allier.
  3. The uppermost reaches of the Seine and the Marne, besides either just touching or coming close to the uppermost Meuse.

To this extensive region of the First Burgundian Kingdom, either the Franks or the Second Kingdom added Provence and the Alemannic lands of Switzerland west of the River Reuss and the lowest reaches of the Aare, lands where the language is Germanic, not Romance.   So the name of Burgundy could be applied, in modern terms, to the whole of southeastern France – liberally, not narrowly, construed – and the western half of Switzerland.  It even crossed the Alps into Italy to include the valley of Aosta, surrendered by the Lombards to the Franks some time in the 580s, and even today speaking a form of French.

2.Transjurane/Cisjurane Burgundy; Upper/Lower Burgundy.   Transjurane Burgundy is the area lying between the Jura and Lake Geneva, plus Lower Valais, the valley of the Rhône as it approaches the Lake.   It is the area where Rudolf I, King of Burgundy from 888, had served as Duke or Count, and his father before him, the area where he and his family were richest in property.   This region had formed the southeast of the Kingdom of Lotharingia:  it lay across the Jura from the rest of that Kingdom.

Transjurane Burgundy is also used for the Kingdom of Rudolf I.   That kingdom included the Alpine lands south of Lake Geneva, including the region of Savoy, and the lower lands, west of the Jura, that later formed the Franche-Comté.   It thus straddles the Jura, so that Transjurane Burgundy is a misnomer.   Upper Burgundy is the more widely used name for Rudolf’s Kingdom, and much more accurate.

In the 10th century the Kingdom of Burgundy expanded to include Provence, Lyonnais and what later was called the Dauphiné.   This region is called either Lower Burgundy or Cisjurane Burgundy, the antonyms of Upper or Transjurane Burgundy.   Purists however confine both phrases to Lyonnais and Dauphiné because Provence did not belong to the original Dark Age Kingdom of the Burgundians.   Lower Burgundy causes no problems, other than the question of whether it includes Provence or not.   It is lower down the Rivers Saône, Rhône and Isère, which, higher up, belong to Upper Burgundy.   Cisjurane Burgundy is however a misnomer.   Only Lyonnais and northernmost Dauphiné lie this side of the Jura from Transjurane Burgundy, and they do so obliquely rather than directly.   It is a term that arises more from a dictionary of antonyms than an atlas.   It is however quite well established, so to deplore it smacks of tilting at windmills.   (The true Cisalpine Burgundy in relation to the Transjurane Burgundy in southeastern Lotharingia is the Franche-Comté).

Lower Burgundy has also been used for the area of Burgundy west and northwest of the Saône that was included in the West Frankish Kingdom in 843.    It is indeed lower than Upper Burgundy.   The Morvan and the Côte-d’Or do not measure up to the Jura, let alone the Alpine region that includes Mont Blanc.   But the only common major river between French Burgundy and Rudolf I’s Kingdom of Burgundy, the Saône, lies in the border zone between them.

3.Burgundy shifts.    In 1785 the Emperor Joseph II decided to give the Kingdom of Burgundy to Charles Theodore, the Elector Palatine since 1742 and Elector of Bavaria since 1777, in exchange for Bavaria.   The Kingdom would consist of all the provinces that Austria possessed in the southern Netherlands, except Luxembourg, which it was planned to give to France in compensation.   The King of Prussia got wind of the scheme and in the last year of his life rallied other German princes against it.   The whole idea proved a dead letter.

Not a single one of the territories that Joseph II planned to hand over had ever been in the original Burgundian Kingdom, or even close to it.   It would in fact have been impossible for Joseph to have offered Charles Theodore any of the old Kingdom, which was almost entirely in the hands of France, Switzerland and the Kingdom of Sardinia.   The fragments left over, like Montbéliard, were in the hands of other German princes, not in those of the Emperor, whose royal title of Burgundy was entirely titular.

That Burgundy, other than the old French Duchy, which still survived as a province and gouvernement of the French Kingdom, should mean lands in the Low Countries was the fruit of the work of the Valois Dukes of Burgundy in the 14th and 15th centuries and of their Habsburg heirs.   The Valois Dukes collected all the important secular principalities in the southern Netherlands plus Holland, the most important of the northern ones.  The Habsburgs added the remaining important northern principalities, including the secularised Bishopric of Utrecht.   They continued to call these lands Burgundy and themselves Dukes of Burgundy, because they saw themselves as the rightful Dukes, who had been deprived of part of their rightful inheritance, the Duchy of Burgundy within the French Kingdom.

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