Burgundy ~ Kingdom


There were several Kingdoms of Burgundy, of which the original Germanic Kingdom is called la Burgundie in French;  the Kingdom from 888 until 933, when it absorbed Provence, is called Transjurane or Upper Burgundy, Haute-Bourgogne in French, Hochburgund in German;  the united Kingdom of Upper Burgundy and Provence is often called the Kingdom of Arles or Arelate, the Latin name for that city on the Rhône, particularly after it became part of the Holy Roman Empire in 1032.


English: Kingdom of the Burgundians between 44...

English: Kingdom of the Burgundians between 443 and 476 AD Deutsch: Das Reich der Burgunder zwischen 443 und 476 n. Chr. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1.The First Kingdom of Burgundy.     In 443 Burgundians, a German people, who had survived a massacre by the Huns, were allowed to settle within the Roman Empire as allies, in the lands 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 in present-day Franche-Comté.

The Roman Empire was in decline;  the Burgundians provided military help and sustained the local Roman authorities.   Among their own people their principal leader was King, but in the Roman society it was the high Roman office that he held that gave him authority.   Two of the Burgundian Kings in the 5th century held the office of Master of the Soldiers (Commander-in-Chief).   Roman officials continued to administer the government and the Roman language eventually prevailed among the Burgundians.

So a region that was part of the Roman Empire slid without much violence and without hostility towards a decaying Rome into becoming the Burgundian Kingdom.   The Burgundians had spread into the lands on the middle Rhône around the two important Roman cities of Lugdunum (Lyon) and Vienna (Vienne) while returning from a campaign in 456 in aid of the Romans in Spain against the Suevic Kingdom.    In 470 they took over the city of Lyon and made it their capital.   By 475 the Burgundians had taken northern Provence and reached the River Durance;  at the opposite end, Langres was in their hands by 485;  to the west their kingdom reached the Loire.

Possibly Burgundy reached the Mediterranean in and around the port of Marseille, but if so it was only a narrow and isolated territory because it was the Visigoths who brought  Provence under their rule.   Nor did the the driving of the Visigoths from most of their Gallic possessions in the first decade of the 6th century bring Burgundy control over Provence.   Theoderic the Great, King of Ostrogothic Italy, intervened, and added it, the most Romanised region of Gaul, to his Italian realm.

In 523 Chlodomer, the King of Orléans and the eldest of the three sons of Clovis and his second wife Chlotild, campaigned against Burgundy and destroyed King Sigismund and his children but in the following year was killed while attacking Godomar, Sigismund’s brother and successor.   Chlotild had been a Burgundian princess, humiliatingly exiled when her uncle Gundobald, joint-King with his brothers, killed her father Chilperic and murdered her mother in 486.   It was her good fortune that the King of the Franks decided to marry her.   How far Chlodomer was motivated by desire for revenge upon the son of his grandfather’s murderer and how far by dreams of territorial aggrandisement at the expense of a weaker neighbour cannot be told..   In 532 Chlodomer’s younger brothers, Childebert and Chlothar, moved into Burgundy and resumed the struggle, winning a victory at Autun.   By 534 they had divided the Burgundian Kingdom between them.

2.Merovingian and Carolingian Burgundy.   Though the Burgundian Kingdom had lost its independence the territory of Burgundy survived.   It became one of the building blocks of Merovingian partitions.   When Chlothar I, the last of the sons of Clovis, died in 561 the reunited Kingdom of the Franks was partitioned among his four sons.   The second brother, Guntram (Gunthchramn) received the Kingdom of Burgundy, and also much of Provence (taken by the Franks in 536/7), Berry (in Aquitaine), and the Orléans-Sens-Troyes region from the main Frankish lands.   Orléans was the official capital but Chalon-sur-Saône became Guntram’s favourite residence.   His brothers predeceased him, and so his Kingdom expanded to take in most of Aquitaine and the lands north of the lower Loire, but he did not reunite the entire Frankish Kingdom as two of his brothers had left heirs to inherit at least part of their territories.  When he died in 592 Burgundy passed to the Austrasian King and his heirs until the Austrasian line died out in 613, when all the Frankish Kingdom came into the hands of the Neustrian King, Chlothar II.   Thereafter when partitions took place, Burgundy went with the Neustrian Kingdom, but it had its own administration headed by the Mayor of the Palace.

The Carolingians did not regard Burgundy as highly as their Merovingian predecessors.  It was not used as a sub-Kingdom either for the sons of Charlemagne in 781 or for those of Louis the Pious in 817:  one explanation is that the Carolingians controlled much more of the German lands and also held northern Italy, so had more important territories to allocate.   But that is not the entire explanation.   The Carolingians found it convenient to partition Burgundy, something the Merovingians had avoided except in the 530s just after the conquest.   In Charlemagne’s proposed but never implemented partition of 806, northern Burgundy, as far south as Savoy, was placed in the share of Charles, the eldest son, while Burgundy from the Lyonnais southwards was allocated to Louis the Pious, already King of Aquitaine.    In the partition decided at Verdun in 843 the greater part of Burgundy was placed in the Middle Kingdom of the Emperor Lothar I, but the districts lying to the northwest of the middle Saône were placed in the Kingdom of Charles the Bald.   Never again was the original Burgundy to be reunited, for although the France that emerged from Charles’s share gathered together most of the Burgundian territory, Switzerland held an important portion.

Lothar’s majority share was partitioned at his death among his two younger sons.   Lothar II took the northern lands, including Jurane Burgundy and Savoy;  Charles the rest, the Lyonnais, the Dauphiné and Provence.   The sickly Charles died in 863, when Lothar II added the Lyonnais and the district around Vienne to his Kingdom, while their brother, the Emperor Louis II, the ruler of Italy, took the rest.   When Lothar II died in 869, Louis II absorbed Savoy, Charles the Bald took the Lyonnais and Vienne and shared the north with Louis the German.   After Louis II’s death in 875 Charles the Bald succeeded him west of the Alps and in Italy.

The grip of Louis the Stammerer, Charles’s son and successor in 877, upon all his dominions west of the Alps was infirm.   His death in 879 led to the partition of his Kingdom between the two sons of his first marriage, Carloman, the younger, having the Burgundian lands within his share.    He lost Charles the Bald’s share of the Franche-Comté to his cousin, Louis the Younger, in 880, while in the rest of his Burgundian inheritance he faced a rival King, Boso.

Boso was the brother of Charles the Bald’s second wife and the husband of Ermengarde, the daughter of the Emperor Louis II.   His mother’s brother had been powerful in Transjurane Burgundy and he himself had served as Count of Autun in French Burgundy, then as Count of Vienne and also as Charles the Bald’s lieutenant in Provence after Louis II’s death in 875.    He was raised to the Kingship at Mantaille near Vienne in October 879.   He is generally called either King of Burgundy, because it was among the nobles of that land, in which he himself had been powerful, that he had support, or King of Provence, because when he died in 887 Provence was all he had left.   But almost certainly these are misnomers so far as Boso was concerned.   As brother-in-law of Charles the Bald and as husband of Ermengarde, the heir of line of the Carolingians, Boso was staking a claim to be King of the Franks.   The west Franks however rejected him, and the East Franks opposed him, though when he died early in 887, his son, Louis, a child, was acknowledged by the Emperor Charles the Fat as King of Provence, a recognition of little effect because Charles was coming to the end of his influence and his life.

3.The Kingdom in Upper Burgundy.   By 884 the last surviving son of Louis the German, the Emperor Charles the Fat, had reunited most of the Carolingian Empire, though in practical affairs each of the Kingdoms continued with its own customs and practices.   Only those lands that still acknowledged Boso as King lay outside Charles’s territory, and they were diminishing as Boso’s actual realm retreated ever more towards the Mediterranean Sea.   Charles however could not cope with the raids of Vikings from the north and Saracens from the south, and in 887 was deposed in the German Kingdom and replaced by his bastard nephew, Arnulf.   He died in January 888 and his various dominions went their own way, among them Burgundy. There Rudolf, a member of the Welf family, which had provided wives for both Louis the Pious and his son, Louis the German, had been ruling as Count or Duke of Transjurane Burgundy for some years, and his father before him.   Transjurane Burgundy included the lands north of Lake Geneva and the Valais, the upper valley of the River Rhône, and it was there at the Abbey of St Maurice that Rudolf was acknowledged as King by nobles and clergy, and anointed.   Rudolf’s ambition probably was to reconstitute the Lotharingian Kingdom but it was merely its southern sector that came under his control, the whole of Jurane Burgundy (with the River Aare as its eastern boundary) plus Savoy, a region of importance because it included the Great St Bernard and the Mont Cenis routes over the Alps.

King Rudolf II (912-37) was able to expand his Kingdom both in the northeast and in the south.  In the northeast he engaged in a struggle with Duke Burkhard of Alemannia (or Swabia), which finally ended when the King married Burkhard’s daughter. and c.922 received the Aargau, the land lying between the River Aare, and its tributary, the Reuss.   In 933 he received Provence.

4.The united Kingdom of Burgundy.   The Kingdom of Provence, also called Lower Burgundy or Cisjurane Burgundy, as opposed to the Upper or Transjurane Burgundy of the Rudolfs, included the cities of Lyon and Vienne and the country around them, and was the Kingdom that Boso had actually ruled and which had later acknowledged his son, Louis, as King.   Louis was crowned as Emperor in 901, but was turned out of Italy in 902.   When he returned in 905 he was captured, blinded and returned to Provence.   Had he been an Eastern Emperor the blinded Louis would have retired to a monastery;  as it was, he continued to reign in Provence, but exercised little power.   The most powerful noble there was Hugh of Arles, like Louis a great-grandson of the Emperor Lothar I.   In the 920s as the Emperor Berengar, never firm in the rule of Italy, became even shakier as he approached his eighties, Hugh began to stake a claim to the rule of Italy, and so did Rudolf II of Burgundy.

By 926 Rudolf had failed in Italy, but there was already the chance that he would renew his claims and complicate matters for Hugh, whose difficulties in Italy were considerable.   So in 933, Louis the Blind having died in 928, Hugh bought Rudolf II off with the Kingdom of Provence.   Louis the Blind’s son,

Charles Constantine, continued to rule part of his father’s old Kingdom as Count of Vienne.   He several times paid homage to the King of France before his death in 962.   About two years later, the French King’s sister married Conrad of Burgundy, with the Viennois and Lyonnais as her dowry.   Whether this was an actual transfer of territory or simply the French King’s acceptance that Burgundy already possessed these areas is not known.

The united Kingdom of Burgundy included most of the basin of the Rivers Rhône and Saône, encompassed the Jura Mountains, touched the southern slopes of the Vosges and, west of Lyon, extended across the River Loire to the eastern slopes of the Massif Central.   Much of its eastern border lay on the Alps, though it did cross over the Great St Bernard Pass to include the valley of Aosta, which to this day speaks a form of French rather than Italian.   Its principal addition to the original Kingdom of the Burgundians was Provence south of the Durance, its principal loss was French Burgundy.

Burgundy was generally weak in relation to its neighbours.   About the time that Rudolf II and Hugh of Arles worked out their agreement, Charles Constantine, the Count of Vienne, who was the son of Louis the Blind, acknowledged the authority of Raoul, King of France.   Raoul was also the Duke of Burgundy, the elder son and successor of Richard the Jusiticiar, whose brother, Boso, was the grandfather of Charles Constantine.  Nor did Charles Constantine submit only to this King of France to whom he was closely related.   In 941 he acknowledged Raoul’s successor, the restored Carolingian, Louis IV, but after Charles Constantine’s death in 962 the County of Vienne passed to King Conrad and so became tied in with the Kingdom.

Conrad had been young when his father, Rudolf II, died in 937.  Hugh of Arles, the former ruler of Provence, was able to arrange for Conrad’s sister Adelaide to marry his son, a sign of Hugh’s continuing interest in his homeland.   It was the German King, Otto I, who took Conrad under his wing and ensured his survival.   His interest in the Kingdom was increased in 951 when he married the widowed Adelaide.

Conrad’s son and successor, Rudolf the Sluggard (993-1032), was childless.   In 1016 he recognised the Emperor Henry II, the son of his half-sister, as his heir.   Henry II died childless before him and in 1027 Rudolf recognised the new Emperor, Conrad II, as heir.   Conrad was married to one of the daughters of a sister of Rudolf, but saw himself as the heir to Rudolf because he had succeeded Henry II, Rudolf’s acknowledged heir, in the German Kingdom and in the Empire.

Count Eudes II of Blois, the son of another of Rudolf’s sisters, had a better hereditary claim than Conrad II, and in 1032 he contended for the dead Rudolf’s throne, but Conrad’s supporters in Burgundy prevailed.   He was crowned King in 1033 and by 1034 was in control.

Thenceforward Burgundy was one of the three Kingdoms that composed the Holy Roman Empire.   The prince who was elected as German King was ipso facto the elected King of Burgundy as well.   The coronation city was Arles in the old Kingdom of Provence;  the Kingdom of Burgundy was increasingly known from the 13th century onwards as the Kingdom of ARLES or the ARELATE (the Latin name of Arles).

5.The Kingdom in the Empire (the Arelate).   Few German Kings were actually crowned as Kings of Burgundy.   Among them was Henry III, crowned in 1038 in the lifetime of his father, Conrad II, who had put such effort in to secure a Kingdom his successors appeared to value so little.   Henry III came three times to Burgundy during his reign, but his son, Henry IV, was preoccupied with many problems.   For him and most succeeding Kings the Arelate was a backwater and royal coronation there was rare.

One exception was Frederick I, Barbarossa, who was actually crowned twice as King of Burgundy, first in 1178, when he was crowned in Arles by the Archbishop, and secondly in 1186, in Milan by the Archbishop of Vienne in the same ceremony as saw his son Henry crowned King of the Romans and married to the heiress of Sicily.  Frederick came of a family who as Dukes of Swabia and holders of land in Alsace were neighbours of Burgundy and he himself married the heiress of the County of Burgundy in 1156.

His Hohenstaufen successors were preoccupied with Italy, and the later Kings and Emperors held lands away from Burgundy.   The Luxemburger Charles IV came to Arles in 1365 to be crowned:  his own territory was the Kingdom of Bohemia, in the further reaches of the Empire from Burgundy.   But Charles was conscious of the structure of the Empire, as its reformer, and he was French by language and culture, related to the Royal House of France, and all too well aware that his nephew, the new French King in 1364, had acquired the Dauphiné in 1349/55.   Charles proved to be the last German King/Emperor to be crowned, though his son Sigismund managed to visit Lyon in the course of a hectic reign.

The mountainous character of so much of the Kingdom would have given encouragement to local Counts even if the Kings had been strong.   But Louis the Blind had been a feeble ruler in the Kingdom of Provence or Lower Burgundy, Conrad of the united Kingdom needed support from outside, and Rudolf the Sluggard was derided in his own lifetime.  With monarchs mostly absent after 1034 the real authority in the Kingdom  rested with the great lords:  the Count of Provence, the Dauphin of Vienne, the Count of Savoy, the Count Palatine of Burgundy and, for a while until the line died out, the Duke of Zähringen, who as Rector of Burgundy held sway in much of what became central Switzerland.

The Kingdom, though normally a shadow, occasionally figured in the diplomatic manoevrings of Emperors and princes.   For a while there was talk of Richard the Lionheart, King of England and Duke of Aquitaine, becoming King of Arles in alliance with the Emperor against the King of France.   The Kingdom of Arles was in the air again while Charles of Anjou, King of Sicily, who was also the Count of Provence, played with gusto on the Mediterranean stage.   One particular scheme, in 1280, was to revive the Kingdom for Charles of Salerno, the son of the King of Sicily, who would pass it on to his eldest son, Charles Martel, already betrothed to Clementia, daughter of Rudolf I, the first Habsburg German King.   The arrangement was designed to ease the relations between the two Kings in central Italy.   The disasters that befell the Angevins in 1282 put paid to the plan, though there were intermittent echoes of the idea in the 14th century when Robert, the son of Charles Martel, was King of Naples.

The most serious proposed revival of the Kingdom of Burgundy was in 1473, for Charles the Rash, the Duke of Burgundy.   He held the Duchy and the Franche-Comté, he had inherited a considerable chunk of the Netherlands from his predecessors, and of the lands in between he held the Habsburgs’ Alsatian lands in pawn and had driven out the Duke of Lorraine.  But for all these lands he was subject to either the King of France or the Holy Roman Emperor.  The Emperor Frederick III was prepared to accommodate him;  the date was fixed for Charles to be made King of Arles;  cometh the day and the Emperor is found to have slipped away.   Charles never caught up with him again.

By 1473 much of the Arelate itself had slipped away.   Its northeastern lands were in the hands of the Swiss Confederates, who would have been appalled had Charles the Rash become King of Burgundy.   Forez, Lyonnais, the Vivarais, the Dauphiné – the lands of Lower Burgundy – were in the hands of the King of France, who was to add the important and rich land of Provence to his dominions in 1481.

When in 1500 and 1512 the Emperor Maximilian I created Imperial Circles to help in keeping the peace of the Empire, one of the Circles (created in 1512) became known as the Burgundian Circle.   It took its name not from the ancient Burgundian Kingdom but from that Duchy of Burgundy that Charles the Rash had held, shorn of the French Duchy but still consisting of the agglomeration of lands in the Netherlands as well as the Franche-Comté.   Burgundy no longer signified the Kingdom, which had in practice ceased to exist.

The creation of the Circles was a reform of the German Kingdom.   The Burgundian territories that survived were assigned to Circles:  the Franche-Comté to the Burgundian, the Duchy of Savoy and the Bishopric of Basle to the Upper Rhenish.   It was as though the remnant of the Burgundian sector of the Empire had been annexed by the German Kingdom.

The Duchy of Savoy became inceasingly detached from the Empire, becoming a more or less independent principality long before its Duke was elevated to the royal title as King, first of Sicily, then of Sardinia.   Then the last vestiges of belonging to the Empire disappeared.  There were two small principalities from within former Burgundy that survived into the 18th century, tiny sovereign entities, the flotsam of a Kingdom.   One was the Principality of Orange, on the left bank of the lower Rhône.   Because it was held by the Stadtholders of Holland the Principality, though miniscule, had international significance.   The same cannot be said for the other fragment of a survivor, the Principality of Dombes, held since the late middle ages by various French royals.   Its last Prince ceded it to the King of France in 1762, with barely a ripple on the international pond.

There was one last wisp of an appearance of the title of King of Burgundy, out of time and out of place.  In 1785 the Emperor Joseph II, still angling to gain Bavaria for his lands even though he had been foiled a few years before, offered the title to Charles Theodore, who was Elector Palatine as well as Elector of Bavaria.   The Emperor hoped that the offer would entice Charles Theodore’s heir, the Duke of Zweibrücken, whose opposition had helped scupper the previous attempt.   The lands of the Kingdom would have been the Austrian Netherlands without Luxemburg, which Joseph proposed should go to France, in other times Bavaria’s ally and supporter.   When Joseph II withdrew the offer of Luxemburg the French spilled the beans and Prussian hostility soon finished the idea off.   None of the territory offered Charles Theodore had been in any of the Kingdoms of Burgundy, though most of it had been held by the Valois Dukes of Burgundy.

In 1806 the last surviving vestige of the Burgundian Kingdom, as a title among the collection of the titles held by the Emperor, disappeared with the extinction of the Holy Roman Empire.

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