Burgundy: History

The territory, conquered by Caesar in the Gallic Wars, was divided first into the Roman provinces of Lugdunensis and Belgic Gaul, then into Lugdunensis and Upper Germany (see Gaul). It prospered, and Autun became a major intellectual center. In the 4th cent. Roman power dissolved, and the country was invaded by Germanic tribes. It was finally conquered (c.480) by the Burgundii, a tribe from Savoy. The Burgundii accepted Christianity, established their Lex Burgundionum, and formed the First Kingdom of Burgundy, which at its height covered SE France and reached as far south as Arles and W Switzerland.

Conquered (534) by the Franks, it was throughout the Merovingian period subjected to numerous partitions. Burgundy nevertheless survived as a political concept, and after the partitions of the Carolingian empire two new Burgundian kingdoms were founded, Cisjurane Burgundy, or Provence, in the south (879) and Transjurane Burgundy in the north (888). These two were united (933) in the Second Kingdom of Burgundy (see Arles, kingdom of). A smaller area, corresponding roughly to present Burgundy, was created as the duchy of Burgundy by Emperor Charles II in 877. In 1002, King Robert II of France made good his claim to the duchy, but his son, Henry I, gave it in 1031 as a fief to his brother Robert, whose line died out in 1361.

The golden age of Burgundy began (1364) when John II of France bestowed the fief on his son, Philip the Bold, thus founding the line of Valois-Bourgogne. Philip and his successors, John the Fearless, Philip the Good, and Charles the Bold, acquired—by conquest, treaty, and marriage—vast territories, including most of the present Netherlands and Belgium, the then extensive duchy of Luxembourg, Picardy, Artois, Lorraine, S Baden, Alsace, the Franche-Comté, Nivernais, and Charolais.

In the early 15th cent. the dukes of Burgundy, through their partisans in France, dominated French politics (see Armagnacs and Burgundians). England, at first supported by Burgundy in the Hundred Years War, suffered a crucial setback when Philip the Good withdrew that support in the Treaty of Arras (1435). A great power, Burgundy at that time had the most important trade, industry, and agriculture of Europe. Its court, a center of the arts, was second to none.

The wars of ambitious Charles the Bold, however, proved ruinous. Charles, opposed by the determined and resourceful Louis XI of France, was defeated by the Swiss at Grandson, Morat (1476), and Nancy (1477), where he lost his life. His daughter, Mary of Burgundy, by marrying Emperor Maximilian I, brought most of the Burgundian possessions (but not the original French duchy) to the house of Hapsburg. The duchy itself was seized by Louis XI, who incorporated it into the French crownlands as a province, to which Gex, Bresse, and Charolais were added later by Henry IV and Louis XIV.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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