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Burgundy (Traditional province, France)


Last modified: 2022-02-27 by ivan sache
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Flag of Burgundy - Image by Olivier Touzeau, 31 July 2017

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History of Burgundy

The early kingdoms

Burgundy (Bourgogne) is named after the Burgundians, a Germanic people which established in the 5th century near the river Rhine and possibly came from the Danish island of Bornholm. Defeated by the Roman general Aetius in 436, the Burgundians 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 6th century, Clovis, King of the Franks, and, later, his sons, defeated the Burgundian Kings Sigismund and Godomar, so that the Kingdom of Burgundy was subjected to the Franks in 532.

In 561, Guntram (545-592), son of Chlothar 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 Theuderic II.

In 887, Count Richard of Autun, brother-in-law of King of France Charles the Bald, founded the Duchy of Burgundy. His son Rudolph was elected King of France in 923 and gave his duchy up to his brother-in-law, Gilbert of Vergy.
At the same time, there existed nearby a Kingdom of Lower Burgundy, aka Cisjurane Burgundy (literally, on this [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, that is, roughly, the south-eastern quarter of modern France. This kingdom was founded by Boso, an other brother-in-law of Charles the Bald. King from 879 to 887, Boso was succeded by Louis the Blind (887-928) and Hugh of Provence (928-933).
In 888, Rudolph, Count of Auxerre, a town in north-western modern Burgundy, founded the Kingdom of Upper Burgundy, aka Transjurane Burgundy (literally, beyond the Jura mountains), which included Switzerland until the river Reuss, Valais, Geneva, Chablais and Bugey. In 933, Hugh of Provence transferred his kingdom to Rudolph II, who united the two kingdoms of Burgundy into the Kingdom of Arles, named for its capital located on the river Rhône, between Avignon and Marseilles. In 1033, King Rudolph III bequeathed his kingdom to Emperor of Germany Conrad II the Salian, founder of the Franconian dynasty. Subsequently, most of the territory of the former Kingdom of Arles was progressively incorporated to France.

The Duchy of Burgundy

The Duchy of Burgundy was transfered in 938 to the Capetians. Robert, son of King of France Robert the Pious (972-1031), was the root of the first Capetian house of Burgundy. This house extincted in 1361 with the death of Philip I of Rouvres (1346-1361), and Burgundy was reincorporated to the royal domain.

Two years later (1363), King John II the Good granted Burgundy to his prefered son, Philip II the Bold (1342-1404), also Count of Touraine, who founded the second house of Burgundy. In 1369, Philip married Margaret of Flanders, Philip of Rouvres' widow. In 1384, he inherited the Counties of Flandres, Artois, Rethel, Nevers and Burgundy. Beforehand, 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, John the Fearless (1371-1419) succeeded his father Philip the Bold. At that time, King Charles VI had lost his reason and France was divided between two factions, the Burgundian party and the Armagnac party, led by Louis, Duke of Orléans. In order to link territorially their lands in Burgundy and Flanders, the Burgundians allied with the English, then at war with France (Hundred Years' War). John the Fearless was behind the assassination of Louis of Orléans in 1407. After the French defeat in Agincourt (1415), John 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 town located on the border between Île-de-France and Burgundy, where he had planned a meeting with Charles VII.

Philip III the Good (1396-1467) succeded his father John the Fearless in 1419. In 1409, he married Michele of Valois, the daughter of Charles VI, who brought up as her dowry Boulonnais and Picardy. Philip helped Henry V of England 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. Phlip the Good founded in 1429 the Order of the Golden Fleece, placed under the protection of God, the Blessed Virgin and St. Andrew.

Charles the Bold (1433-1477) succeeded his father Philip the Good in 1467. Eager to increase the power of his duchy, he 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), which 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 (Picardy) 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) by setting up a counter-alliance between France, the Swiss cantons and the powerful René of Vaudémont, Duke of Lorraine as René. Defeated by the Swiss in Granson and Morat/Murten in 1476, Charles died the next year during the siege of Nancy, the capital of Lorraine. It is said that his body was found in a frozen pond, partially eaten by the wolves.

Charles' heir was his daughter, Mary of Burgundy (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). Mary married in 1477 Maximilian of Austria, so that the Low Countries and Franche-Comté became property of the house of Hapsburg.

The struggle between Louis XI and Charles the Bold 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 an eager 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 Gilded Age of the Duchy was never forgotten in modern Burgundy. A 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 greater dukes is particularly valued.

Burgundy after the incorporation to France

After the incorporation of Burgundy to France, the title of Duke of Burgundy was granted to royal princes, without any territorial possession. Among them, Duke Louis (1682-1712) was Louis XIV's grandson and Louis XV's father. Whatever the numbers seem to indicate, 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 John the Fearless' 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

Flag of Burgundy

The flag of Burgundy is a banner of the arms, "Quarterly, 1. and 4. Azure semé de lis or within a border gobonny argent and gules (Burgundy Modern), 2. and 3. Bendy of six or and azure within a bordure gules (Burgundy Ancient).

The first and four quarters of the banner are the arms of the second house of Burgundy (1363-1482), indeed the arms of Touraine. The second and third quarters are the arms of the first house of Burgundy (1032-1061).
In his Notice historique sur les blasons des anciennes provinces de France (Historical note on the coats of arms of the ancient French provinces, 1941), Jacques Meurgey represents the arms of Touraine on the first and fourth quarters with a semy of fleurs-de-lis (semé de France).

Ivan Sache, 14 June 2009

Variants of the flag

[Flag]         [Flag]         [Flag]

Variants of the flag of Burgundy - Images by Olivier Touzeau, 31 July 2017

The banner of arms of Burgundy is widely used locally. It can be seen in several places in Dijon, including the Regional Council, and in other towns. It is also flown on most service areas of the highways that cross Burgundy.
Variants of the flags are used instead of the banner with a semé de fleurs-de-lis, showing five (2-1-2 or 2-3) or three (2-1) fleurs-de-lis.

Ivan Sache & Olivier Touzeau, 31 July 2017