County of Burgundy

County of Burgundy
County of Burgundy
Comté de Bourgogne (fr)
Freigrafschaft Burgund (de)
Part of Upper Burgundy and
the Kingdom of Arles,
then state of the Holy Roman Empire


Coat of arms

Duchy (left) and County (right) of Burgundy in the 14th century
Capital Dole
Government Principality
Historical era
 - Otto-William,
    Count of Burgundy

 - Emperor Conrad II,
    King of Burgundy

 - Duke Philip the Bold,
    Count of Burgundy

 - Ceded to Habsburgs 1493
 - Joined Burgundian

 - Ceded to France 1678

The Free County of Burgundy (French: Franche Comté de Bourgogne; German: Freigrafschaft Burgund), was a medieval county (from 982 to 1678), within the traditional province and modern French region Franche-Comté, whose very French name is still reminiscent of the unusual title of its count: Freigraf ('free count', or franc comte in French, hence the term franc(he) comté for his feudal principality). It should not be confused with the more westerly Duchy of Burgundy (Bourgogne), a fiefdom of France since 843.


see also Franche-Comté

The area once belonged to the old Kingdom of Burgundy, that had been subdued by the Franks in 543 and incorporated into the Carolingian Empire. In the course of the Empire's partition by the 843 Treaty of Verdun, the area west of the Saône river was allotted to West Francia as the French Duchy of Burgundy, while the southern and eastern parts of the former Burgundian kingdom fell to Middle Francia under Emperor Lothair I. This Middle Frankish part was refounded as the two independent entities of southern Lower in 879 and northern Upper Burgundy under King Rudolph I in 888, of which the County of Burgundy formed the western part.

At the time of the collapse of the Carolingian Empire both Lower and Upper Burgundy were re-united in 933 as the Kingdom of Arles (Arelat) under King Rudolph II which itself collapsed among feudal anarchy with the extinction of the line in 1032. The Arelat then passed under the control of the Holy Roman Empire when it was inherited by Emperor Conrad II of the Salian dynasty, while the Duchy of Burgundy was re-installed by a cadet branch of the French Capetian dynasty.

In 982 Otto-William, son of Adalbert of Lombardy, Count at Mâcon in the Duchy of Burgundy, received the County of Burgundy from the hands of his mother Gerberga of Dijon. He thereby became the progenitor of the comital Anscarid dynasty, a collateral branch of the Bosonid dukes of Burgundy, descending from Hugh the Black, a 10th century brother of Duke Rudolph, and from Hugh's son-in-law Gilbert. Otto-William also inherited the Duchy of Burgundy upon the death of his stepfather Duke Henry I, nevertheless as the duchy was seized as a reverted fief by King Robert II of France two years later he only was able to maintain the rule over the Arelat county with his residence at Dole. The development of commercial routes across the Jura and the development of salt mines assured the prosperity of the county, and its towns preserved their freedom and neutrality in feudal conflicts.

At the end of the 11th century Conrad's son Emperor Henry III elevated the Archbishop of Besançon to the dignity of an archchancellor and conferred upon Besançon the rank of a Reichsstadt (imperial city) under the Emperor's direct patronage. Guy of Burgundy, brother of Renaud II, later became pope and negotiated the Concordat of Worms with Emperor Henry V. In the 12th century, Imperial protection allowed for the development of Besançon, but in 1127, after the assassination of William III, his cousin Renaud III shook off the Imperial yoke. Burgundy was from then on called "Franche-Comté," the "free county."

Emperor Frederick Barbarossa re-established imperial influence, took prisoner the brother of Count William IV and extended his influence by marrying William IV's niece and heir, Beatrice I, the daughter of Renaud III, when William IV died. Upon Emperor Frederick's death in 1190, his younger son Otto I, received the county of Burgundy and assumed the rare (unique?) title of an archcount. He was succeeded by his daughter, Beatrice II, and her husband Otto I, Duke of Merania; they were in turn followed by their son, Otto III, Count of Burgundy, and their daughter, Adelaide.

The Counts Palatine for many years had to share power with the greater feudal families of the county, notably with the family of Chalon, which was descended from the Stephen III, count of Auxonne, grandson of William IV and Beatrice of Thiern, the heir of the county of Chalon. The authority of the counts was re-established only by the marriage of Hugh of Chalon with Adelaide, the sister and heiress. However, this did not prevent a younger son, John of Chalon-Arlay, from taking control of the vassal states.

Coat of arms of the Free County of Burgundy from the 13th century

Otto IV, son of Hugh and Adelaide, was the last of the feudal counts of Burgundy. He married first the daughter of the Count of Bar, then the grandniece of King Louis IX of France, Countess Mahaut of Artois. This marriage brought the county under French influence. The daughters of Otto IV and Mahaut, Jeanne and Blanche, married respectively Philip V of France and Charles IV of France, sons of King Philip IV. Jeanne became Queen of France after having been one of the heroines in the Tour de Nesle Affair. In that same affair Blanche was found guilty of adultery and was imprisoned for the rest of her life. These events are retold in the historical novel The Accursed Kings by Maurice Druon.

After quarreling with his barons, and after a new revolt against the French carried out by John of Chalon-Arlay, Otto IV ceded the county to his daughter as a dowry and designated the King of France as administrator of the dowry in 1295. By marrying their daughter and heir Joan, Duke Eudes IV of Burgundy reunited the duchy and the county under his rule, followed by his grandson Duke Philip I. The personal union was again broken after Philip had died without heirs in 1361, when the Duchy of Burgundy was seized as a reverted fief by King John II of France, while the Imperial county was inherited by Philip's aunt Margaret I, a granddaughter of Count Otto IV. In 1382 she bequested her estates to her son Count Louis II of Flanders.

As Louis II left no male heirs, the County of Burgundy was part of the immense dowry of his daughter Margaret, which in 1405 was inherited by her husband, the Burgundian duke John the Fearless. The county and the duchy were again ruled in personal union by his descendants from the House of Valois-Burgundy until the death of Duke Charles the Bold at the 1477 Battle of Nancy. His cousin King Louis XI of France immediately occupied the county, fiercely opposed by Archduke Maximilian I of Habsburg, the husband of Charles' daughter Mary the Rich. Though defeated at the 1479 Battle of Guinegate, the French retained the county, until Louis' successor King Charles VIII of France, wishing to be free of conflicts over the county in order to intervene in Naples, again ceded it to Emperor Maximilian and his son Philip I of Castile by the 1493 Treaty of Senlis. With the Netherlands the County of Burgundy was held by Habsburg Spain until it was finally incorporated into France by the Treaty of Nijmegen in 1678.

See also

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