Kingdom of Burgundy

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This article is about the broader area known as the Kingdom of Burgundy. For the original kingdom of the Germanic tribe, see Kingdom of the Burgundians. For the constituent kingdom of the Holy Roman Empire, see Kingdom of Arles.

The Kingdom of Burgundy was a state in Western Europe during the Middle Ages. The historical Burgundy correlates with the border area of France, Italy and Switzerland and includes the major modern cities of Geneva and Lyons.

Burgundy is named after a Germanic tribe, the Burgundians, who originated in mainland Scandinavia. settled on the island of Bornholm, whose name in Old Norse was Burgundarholmr ("Island of the Burgundians"). From there they migrated south through Germany into Roman Gaul and settled in the western part of the Alps and Rhône valley.

As a political entity, Burgundy has existed in a number of forms with different boundaries. Two of these entities — the first around the 6th century, the second around the 11th century — have been called the Kingdom of Burgundy. At other times there was a Duchy of Burgundy and a County of Burgundy.

By the late Middle Ages, the House of Burgundy had become one of the most influential and powerful dynasties in Europe, with possessions obtained by marriage and inheritance extending from and encompassing areas, at various times that now constitute the Netherlands, Belgium, Nord-Pas de Calais, Luxembourg, Lorraine, Rhône-Alpes, western Switzerland, the County of Savoy, Valle d'Aosta and Provence.

The First Kingdom of the Burgundians, after the settlement in Savoy from 443.
Burgundy as part of the Frankish Empire between 534 and 843.
Middle Francia, established by the Treaty of Verdun in 843.
The Kingdoms of Upper and Lower Burgundy between 879 and 933.
The holdings of the House of Valois-Burgundy during the reign of Charles the Bold, in the late 15th Century.

First Kingdom of Burgundy (4th century – 534 AD)[edit]

The first documented, though not historically verified King of the Burgundians was Gjúki (Gebicca), who lived in the late 4th century. In the course of the Crossing of the Rhine in 406, the Burgundians, an East Germanic tribe, settled as foederati in the Roman province of Germania Secunda along the Middle Rhine. Their situation worsened when about 430 the Burgundian King Gunther started several campaigns into neighbouring Gallia Belgica, which led to a crushing defeat by joined Roman and Hunnic troops under Flavius Aetius in 436 near Worms—the origin of the mediæval Nibelungenlied poem.

The remaining Burgundians from 443 onwards settled in the Sapaudia (i.e. Savoy) region, again as foederati in the Roman Maxima Sequanorum province. Their efforts to enlarge their kingdom down the Rhône river brought them into conflict with the Visigothic Kingdom in the south. After the fall of the Roman Empire in 476, King Gundobad allied with the mighty Frankish king Clovis I against the threat of Theoderic the Great. He was thereby able to secure the Burgundian acquisitions, leaving the Lex Burgundionum, an Early Germanic law code.

The decline of the Kingdom of the Burgundians began when they came under attack from their former Frankish allies. In 523 the sons of King Clovis campaigned the Burgundian lands, instigated by their mother Clotilde, whose father King Chilperic II had been killed by Gundobad. In 532 the Burgundians were decisively defeated by the Franks at Autun, whereafter King Godomar was killed and finally Burgundy was annexed by the Frankish Empire in 534.

Interregnum: Frankish Burgundy 534–933[edit]

Between 561 and 584 as well as between 639 and 737 several rulers of the Frankish Merovingian dynasty also used the title of "King of Burgundy".

The Kingdom of Arles came to occupy most of Provence and Burgundy, the southern lands of the former kingdom of Middle Francia (or Lotharingia — which only lasted 14 years — but excluding Emperor Louis I's inheritance in the Kingdom of Italy). Middle Francia was the central part of the Frankish Empire, created by its three way division after Louis the Pious died, giving rise to a civil war (840–843) between his three sons.

When the war was resolved by the Treaty of Verdun (843), Burgundy became part of Middle Francia (Latin: Francia media ruled by Emperor Lothair I, who gave rise to its alternate name Lotharii Regnum. However, its northwestern part, the Duchy of Burgundy (Bourgogne) fell into West Francia.

In failing health, shortly before his death in 855 at Prüm Abbey, Emperor Lothair I bequeathed the southern part of his realm of Middle Francia, consisting of the larger southeastern part of the former Kingdom of Burgundy and the Provence, to his youngest son Charles of Provence (sometimes called "Charles of Burgundy" or "Charles of Burgundy and Provence").

Lothair's brothers Charles the Bald and Louis the German intervened and prevented the inheritance and succession of their late brother's dignities as a Monarchy, preventing any of their Frankish nephews from elevating themselves and eliminating the Kingdom of Lotharingia. The two instead partitioned the middle realm's lands between East and West Francia, although allowing their nephews to retain their respective duchies, accepting that part of the king's arrangements.

According to the 870 Treaty of Meerssen, the northern part of First Burgundy was allotted to Charles's uncle King Louis the German of East Francia, while the southern lands with Provence fell to King Charles the Bald of West Francia until 875.

Upon Charles's death in 877, followed by that of his incapable son Louis the Stammerer two years later, the Frankish noble Boso of Provence proclaimed himself a "King of Burgundy and Provence" at Vienne in 879.

  • Boso thereby established the Kingdom of Lower Burgundy ruling over those former Middle Frankish parts of Burgundy which King Charles had inherited in 875. Boso however could only prevail in the Provence and the Cisjuranian parts of Burgundy.
  • Transjurane Burgundy (which was centered in what is now western Switzerland, and included some neighboring territories now in France and Italy and some which later became the Franche-Comté) on the contrary remained under the influence of the East Frankish king Charles the Fat.

From 887, these northern territories formed the Kingdom of Upper Burgundy, proclaimed by the Welf noble Rudolph I of Burgundy at Saint-Maurice, Switzerland.

Second Kingdom of Burgundy (933–1378) [edit]

Main article: Kingdom of Arles

When Rudolph II (the son and heir of Rudolph I) acquired Lower Burgundy from Hugh of Arles in 933, the Kingdom of Burgundy was re-united. The Second Kingdom of Burgundy, also called the Kingdom of Arles (alternatively Arelat), existed from 933-1033 as an independent entity.

It had incrementally come into existence by the merger of several short lived states which themselves came into existence in power vacuums along the Rhône within the region of the First Kingdom of Burgundy.

These smaller states gradually coalesced into two states known as Upper Burgundy and Lower Burgundy (which began as the Kingdom of Provence and Burgundy), which had been sundered by the division of Middle Francia upon Lothair I's death[clarification needed], were united as the Second Kingdom of Burgundy.

This second Kingdom of Burgundy was absorbed into the Holy Roman Empire under Conrad II in 1033, as the Kingdom of Arles. It was one of the three kingdoms within the medieval Empire, the others being the Kingdom of Germany and the Kingdom of Italy. The Kingdom of Burgundy or Arles gradually lost its territorial integrity as sons inherited pieces over time, and other pieces were dispersed through diplomacy. Large parts were already held by the Counts of Savoy when Arelat ceased to exist (1378), after the remnants were ceded to the French Dauphin Charles VI by Emperor Charles IV of Luxembourg (Dauphiné).

The dynasty known as the House of Burgundy ruled from 1032 to 1361. While the Franche Comté de Bourgogne ("Free County" of Burgundy, known also as the Palatinate of Burgundy and the later basis of Franche-Comte existed from 1330, when the wife of Eudes IV inherited it from her mother, until 1361, it did not control the Kingdom of Burgundy.

The Second Kingdom was absorbed into the Holy Roman Empire to 1378, when it was succeeded by the Duchy of Burgundy.

The late medieval Duchy of Burgundy & the abortive "Third Kingdom of Burgundy"[edit]

As a geographical entity, the holdings of the Duchy of Burgundy were to reach their peak during the late medieval period, when they included areas ranging from the County of Holland, Flanders, and the County of Boulogne to Luxembourg, the County of Nevers and the Franche Comté de Bourgogne.

From 1384 to 1477 both the Duchy of Burgundy and the Free County of Burgundy were ruled by a cadet branch of the House of Valois (see Dukes of Burgundy). By the mid-15th century this dynasty also ruled most of the provinces in the Low Countries, making it one of the most powerful ruling houses in Western Europe.

The territories of the House of Valois-Burgundy in the Low Countries were never part of ancient Burgundy proper, but the combined territories of the ruling house are sometimes referred to as the Burgundian Lands or the Burgundian Netherlands. However all of these lands were notionally held by the House of Valois-Burgundy as feudal vassals of either the King of France or the Holy Roman Emperor.

In the late 15th Century, Duke Charles the Bold conceived the project of combining his territories into a "Third Kingdom of Burgundy" with himself as its fully independent monarch. Charles even persuaded the Emperor Frederick to assent to crown him king at Trier. The ceremony, however, did not take place owing to the Emperor's precipitate flight by night (September 1473), occasioned by his displeasure at the Duke's attitude, and ultimately ended the duchy as an independent realm with the defeat and mutilation of Charles, also called 'the brash', at the Battle of Nancy.

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Davies, Norman (2011) Vanished Kingdoms: The History of Half-Forgotten Europe (ISBN 978-1846143380)