1. Champagne!

    Champagne! (Photo credit: sudeepuk)

    Merovingian Duchy;

  2. Medieval County;
  3. Ancien Régime gouvernement (also called Champagne & Brie);
  4. Also, as CHAMPAGNE-ARDENNE, a modern administrative region.

Area in east central France, in the region of the Paris Basin to the east of Paris.

The name is derived from the Latin for plain and was used in Frankish times for the region around Reims.  Among the geographic regions in the vast area to which the name came to be applied are the Champagne humide, in the south in the Troyes region, a region of pasture and woodlands, and the Champagne pouilleuse (powdery), the chalklands to the north around Châlons-sur-Marne and Reims.

In the Merovingian era there was a Duchy of Champagne, which included Reims, Laon and Châlons-sur-Marne, and sometimes Troyes.   It lay in that region where the Kingdoms of Austrasia, Neustria and Burgundy met.

Reims had been the first capital of the Austrasian Kingdom, but Austrasia had been reduced in extent when Dagobert I had recreated it for his young son in 632, so that this area was in the east of the Neustrian Kingdom thereafter.  The last Duke was Drogo, the eldest son of Pepin of Herstal, the Carolingian Mayor of the Palace of Austrasia who had become Mayor in Neustria also after a victory in 687.   Drogo, who thus held a vital region for his ambitious father, died in 708, some six years before Pepin.

The partition of the Carolingian Empire in 843 put the future province wholly within the West Frankish Kingdom, though the earlier divisions were echoed in the fact that the County of Troyes was subservient to the Dukes of Burgundy in the late 9th and 10th centuries.

It was the family of the Counts of Vermandois – which lay northwest of the later province – who began to gather together the lands that were to form the County. Count Herbert II (d.943) gained Meaux and the Omois (in the eastern Brie) through marriage with the daughter of Robert, the Marquis of Neustria (and rival King of France in his last year).

He also gained control of the lands held by the Archbishopric of Reims by the simple expedient of having his five-year old son elected Archbishop – a temporary arrangement, as it turned out, because the Archbishop was deposed. He was later restored however, and some of the lands continued to be held by his family.

Herbert II brought the County of Troyes under his sway in the early 930s and the grip of the family upon that county, which was under the suzerainty of the Duke of Burgundy, was helped by the decline of the Duchy as well as by the later marriage of Herbert II’s son, Robert, with one of the daughters and heiresses of Gilbert, the Arch-Count of Burgundy and the ruler of the Duchy, 952-6.

For some forty years after his father’s death an elder son of Herbert II, Herbert III the Old, defended and consolidated the territory.   He died childless, c.980/4, and was succeeded by two nephews:  by Robert’s son in the Counties of Troyes and Meaux, and by his sister’s son, Count Eudes I of Blois and Chartres, in the County of Omois, in the northeast Brie.   Robert’s grandson died c.1019, and after a struggle Count Eudes II of Blois had established himself in Troyes and Meaux by 1023.

For the King of France the coming together of lands to west and east of the Paris region into the hands of one Count was unwelcome.   Eudes II meddled in the affairs of the Kingdom, supporting Robert, the brother of King Henry I, when Robert strove for the crown in 1031.  As the son of a sister to the last independent King of Burgundy, Eudes struggled to succeed his uncle in 1032, and he interfered in the affairs of Lorraine, his eastern and Imperial neighbour.  He roused the enmity of the French King and of the Emperor, not to mention the Duke of Lorraine, in whose realm he met his death in 1037 in battle.

He left two sons:  Blois went to the elder, Troyes and Meaux to the younger, whose death, c.1047, allowed Thibaut III, the Count of Blois, to govern Champagne for his nephew, a child.   Even when Odo, the nephew, came of age, he soon left the County – it is said, because of a murder – and sought his fortunes with his brother-in-law, Duke William the Bastard, becoming Count of Aumâle in Normandy, and after the Conquest, lord of Holderness by the Humber.

When Count Thibaut died, an old man, in 1089, his lands were again partitioned, the elder son holding Blois and Meaux, the second (and later the third) son Troyes.   Again the separation did not last;  by 1125 Blois and Champagne were  reunited under Thibaut IV, the grandson of Thibaut III.

With the death of Thibaut IV in 1152 the lands were again divided up.   In this partition not only were the Champagne lands left intact but they became the share of the eldest son, Henry I.   The trade routes that passed through Champagne and the fairs that the Counts had encouraged and protected had made a region less agriculturally prosperous than the lands of Blois a source of greater revenue.  The new Count, Henry I, was also overlord of the lands of his younger brothers in Blois and Sancerre.

A new alignment in France brought the King and the Count of Champagne together;  by then, the threat to the Kingdom was much greater from the Plantagenet ruler of England, Normandy, Anjou and Aquitaine than from the Count of Champagne.   Marriage alliances symbolised the changing attitude.   Count Henry I became King Louis VII’s brother-in-law when his sister Adela became the King’s third wife in 1160 and in 1164 the Count became Louis’s son-in-law through his marriage to Marie, the King’s daughter through his first marriage to Eleanor of Aquitaine, whose own second husband was Henry II of England.   Marie’s sister was married to Henry I’s brother, Count Thibaut V of Blois.

Count Henry II became a Crusader and died as King of Jerusalem by marriage in 1197.  He was succeeded by his brother, Thibaut III, who died young.   His son and heir was born posthumously.   When Thibaut IV of Champagne had grown up, he took advantage of the weakness of royal authority after King Louis IX succeeded as a child in 1226, but he himself had two weaknesses.

The first was that his rights as Count were disputed by the two daughters of Henry II, and he needed the backing of the Regent, Blanche of Castile, to see them off in turn.

The second was that he hoped to succeed his mother’s childless brother in the Kingdom of Navarre and for this he also needed the consent of the Regent.   To secure it he surrendered to the King his overlordship of Blois.   In 1234 ambition was fulfilled and the Count of Champagne became King of Navarre, which was too small and too distant to enhance his power as Count of Champagne.

Rather, the strength of the County was being dissipated for the glory of the royal title.   His two sons succeeded in turn.   The first died childless, the second left one daughter, whose mother remarried Edmund of Lancaster, the brother of the English King,

It was not with England, however, that the future of Champagne lay.   In 1284 the Countess was married to the heir of France, who became King Philip IV, the Fair, in 1285.   When she died in 1305, Queen Jeanne was succeeded in her County by her eldest son, who became Louis X of France in 1314.   Both he and his posthumous son died in 1316 whereupon both Crown and County passed to his next brother and not his daughter.

Likewise in 1322 the Crown passed to the youngest of the brothers and on his death without son, the Crown passed to his cousin, Philip, Count of Valois.   Champagne was too valuable to the Kingdom to allow it to pass to the daughter of Louis X, and so Philip VI retained the County even though he was not descended from Countess Joan. Joan II, the heiress, was allowed to succeed in Navarre and her husband was compensated with several lordships.   For the King, Champagne, protecting the eastern flank of the Paris region, was invaluable.

Its gain brought the royal lands to the frontier of the Kingdom;  previously the County had served as buffer between the royal lands and the Imperial realm in Lorraine.   It was the Count of Bar who first felt the strength of royal power:  in 1301 he was obliged by Philip the Fair to acknowledge the royal authority in the lands he held west of the Meuse.

In the Ancien Régime the gouvernement of Champagne & Brie included districts that had bordered on the County but not belonged to it, particularly in the north towards the provinces of the Netherlands.   In civil and financial administration, most of Champagne belonged to the généralité of Châlons, formed in 1542, but the southwest was separated and came under that of Paris.   The Parlement of Paris had jurisdiction over the province.

In 1790 the Departments of the Ardennes, Marne, Haute-Marne and Aube were formed from the Châlons généralité (and in 1960 formed the Champagne-Ardenne region).  The districts around Meaux and in the Brie, original lands of the County, as well as the later acquisitions around Sens, which had belonged to the généralité of Paris from 1542, joined departments formed out of the Île-de-France and Burgundy, principally Seine-et-Marne and Yonne, but also small parts in Aisne, Meuse, and Côtes-d’Or.

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