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Burgundy (Traditional province, France)


Last modified: 2023-07-03 by
Keywords: burgundy | bourgogne | fleur-de-lys: 6 (yellow) |
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[Burgundy]by António Martins

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History of Burgundy

The early kingdoms

Burgundy (Bourgogne) is named after the Burgunds, a Germanic people which established in the Vth century near the river Rhine and possibly came from the Danish island of Bornholm. The Burgunds were defeated by the Roman general Aetius in 436 and eventually settled in a large area including the basin of the river Rhône and the Alps mountains, where they founded the first kingdom of Burgundy. In the beginning of the VIth century, Clovis, King of the Franks, and, later, his sons defeated the Burgund kings Sigismond and Godomar, so that the kingdom of Burgundy was subjected to the Franks in 532.

In 561, Gontran (545-592), son of Clotaire I, king of the Franks, and Clovis' grandson, founded the second kingdom of Burgundy, in which he promoted the Christian religion. Burgundy was incorporated to France in 613 after the death of king Thierry II.

In 887, count Richard of Autun, brother-in-law of king of France Charles le Chauve, founded the duchy of Burgundy. His son Raoul was elected king of France in 923 and gave his duchy up to his brother-in-law, Gislebert de Vergy.

At the same time, there existed nearby a kingdom of Bourgogne Cisjurane (literally, on this [i.e., western] side of the Jura mountains), which included Provence, Vivarais, the County of Uzès, Lyonnais, Dauphiné, a part of modern Burgundy, Savoy and Franche-Comté, i.e., roughly, the south-eastern quarter of modern France. This kingdom was founded by Boson, an other brother-in-law of Charles le Chauve. Boson reigned from 879 to 887, and was succeded by Louis l'Aveugle (887-928) and Hugues de Provence (928-933).
In 888, Rodolphe, count of Auxerre (a city now in north-western Burgundy) founded the kingdom of Bourgogne Transjurane (literally, beyond the Jura mountains), which included Switzerland until the river Reuss, Valais, Geneva, Chablais and Bugey. In 933, Hugues de Provence gave his kingdom up to Rodolphe II, who merged the two kingdoms of Burgundy into a new kingdom named the kingdom of Arles, after its capital city located on the river Rhône, between Avignon and Marseilles. In 1033, king Rodolphe III bequeathed his kingdom to emperor of Germany Conrad II le Salique, founder of the Franconian dynasty. However, most of the territory of the former kingdom of Arles was progressively incorporated to France.

The duchy of Burgundy

Let us come back to the duchy of Burgundy. In 938, it was transfered to the Capetians. Robert, son of king of France Robert le Pieux (972-1031), was the root of the first Capetian house of Burgundy. This house extincted in 1361 with the death of Philippe I de Rouvres (1346-1361), and Burgundy was reincorporated to the royal domain.

Two years later (1363), King Jean le Bon granted Burgundy to his prefered son, Philippe II le Hardi, also Count of Touraine, and therefore founder of the second house of Burgundy. Philippe le Hardi (1342-1404) married Marguerite de Flandres, Phillipe de Rouvres' widow in 1369. In 1384, he inherited the counties of Flandres, Artois, Rethel, Nevers and Burgundy. Before this, the county of Burgundy (a.k.a. Franche-Comté), was distinct from the duchy of Burgundy. During the minority of king Charles VI, Philippe de facto ruled France, firstly serving his own interests.

In 1404, Jean sans Peur (1371-1419) succeded his father Philippe le Hardi. At that time, king Charles VI had lost his reason and France was divided between two factions, the Bourguignons, led by Philippe le Hardi, and the Armagnacs, led by Louis, duke of Orléans. In order to link territorially their lands in Burgundy and Flanders, the Bourguignons allied with the English, then at war with France (Hundred Years' War). Jean sans Peur was behind the assassination of Louis d'Orléans in 1407. After the French defeat in Agincourt (1415), Jean seized Paris in 1418 and attempted to limit the English influence by getting closer to Charles VII. He was murdered by Tanneguy Duchâtel on the bridge of Montereau, a city located on the border between Ile-de-France and Burgundy, where he should have met Charles VII.

Philippe III le Bon (1396-1467) succeded his father Jean sans Peur in 1419. In 1409, he had married Michelle de France, the daughter of Charles VI, and received as dowry Boulonnais and Picardie. He allied to Henry V of England and helped him to be recognized as the heir of the throne of France (treaty of Troyes, 1420). In Compiègne, he delivered Joan of Arc to the English against 10,000 golden crowns. By the treaty of Arras (1435), Philippe became reconcilied with Charles VII.
The duchy of Burgundy was then the richest and best administrated state in western Europe. The state was ruled by five general officers, the Marshal of Burgundy, the Admiral of Flanders, the Chamberlain, the Grand Equerry and the Chancellor. Phlippe le Bon founded in 1429 the Order of the Golden Fleece, placed under the protection of God, the Blessed Virgin and St. Andrew.

Charles le Téméraire (1433-1477) succeded his father Philippe le Bon in 1467. He attempted to increase the power of his duchy but had to face a tough rival, king of France Louis XI. Charles rallied several French princes in his League of the Public Good (Ligue du Bien Public), and forced Louis XI to sign the treaties of Conflans and Saint-Maur, following the battle of Monthléry. After having suppressed an insurrection in Liège (now in Belgium) in 1467-68, Charles formed a second league and captured Louis XI in Pérone (Picardie) by treachery. Louis XI was released with harsh conditions he did not respect. He broke the alliance between England and Burgundy (treaty of Picquigny, 1475), and set up a counter alliance between France, the Swiss cantons and the powerful René de Vaudémont, duke of Lorraine. Charles was defeated by the Swiss in Granson and Morat/Murten in 1476, and died the next year during the siege of Nancy, the capital city of Lorraine. It is said that his body was found in a frozen pond, partially eaten by the wolves.

Charles' heir was his daughter, Marie de Bourgogne (1457-1482). Louis XI forced her to give him up Burgundy (in its modern sense), which was eventually incorporated to France by the treaty of Arras (1482). Marie married in 1477 Maximilian of Austria, and the Netherlands and Franche-Comté became property of the House of Hapsburg.

The struggle between Louis XI and Charles le Téméraire is a major chapter of the French national history and a traditional component of the pseudo-historical national iconography. Louis XI is represented as an ascetic tricky man dressed in black, facing Charles looking like a strong predator dressed in red. The meaning of such a scene is quite clear: Louis XI was the legitimate king of France, whereas Charles allied with the hereditary enemy, England, and caused the incorporation of part of the French territory to the other enemy, Germany. The spirit of the duchy has remained very vivid in modern Burgundy. The main local daily newspaper is called Le Bien Public (The Public Good, like Charles' first league) and the rich cultural and architectural heritage of the dukes is particularly valued.

Burgundy after the incorporation to France

After the incorporation of Burgundy to France, the title of duke of Burgundy was given to royal princes, without any territorial possession. Among these princes, duke Louis (1682-1712) was Louis XIV's grandson and Louis XV's father. Whatever the numbers seem to say, Louis XV was indeed Louis XIV's grand grandson, this being "caused" by Louis XIV's very long reign (1643-1715).

The dukes of Burgundy had in Paris a palace called Hôtel de Bourgogne, from which only a tower, named Jean sans Peur's tower, has been preserved. In 1548, the palace was transformed into the first permanent theater of Paris. The actors of the Hôtel de Bourgogne struggled, often violently, against other companies, including the one led by Molière (1622-1673). In 1680, Louis XIV ended the troubles by merging all the companies into the Comédie-Française, which is still a state-funded company.

Ivan Sache, 22 December 2002

Description of the flag

The banner of arms of Burgundy is:

Ecartelé : au premier et au quatrième d'azur semé de fleurs de lys d'or à la bordure componée d'argent et de gueules, au deuxième et au troisième bandé d'or et d'azur de six pièces à la bordure de gueules (GASO)

In English:

Quarterly first and fourth azure seme de lys or within a bordure gobonny argent and gules (Burgundy Modern) second and third bendy of six or and azure within a bordure gules (Burgundy Ancient) (Brian Timms)

The first and four quarters of the banner are the arms of the second house of Burgundy (1363-1482). The second and third quarters are the arms of the first house of Burgundy (1032-1061).

The banner of arms of Burgundy is extremely popular there. It can be seen in several places in Dijon, including the Regional Council, and in other cities. It is also flown on most service areas of the highways that cross Burgundy.

Ivan Sache, 22 December 2002

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