Kingdom of Burgundy

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

Kingdom of Burgundy was a name given to various states located 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.

As a political entity, Burgundy has existed in a number of forms with different boundaries, notably, when divided in Upper and Lower Burgundy and Provence. 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 existed Kingdom of Provence, Duchy of Burgundy and County of Burgundy.

Kingdom of the Burgundians after their settlement in Savoy from 443.
Burgundy as part of the Frankish Empire between 534 and 843.
The Kingdoms of Upper and Lower Burgundy between 879 and 933.
Kingdom of Arles (1033–1378).
The holdings of the House of Valois-Burgundy during the reign of Charles the Bold in the late 15th century.

Kingdom of the Burgundians (4th century – 534 AD)

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

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 settled as foederati in the Roman province of Germania Secunda along the Middle Rhine. Their situation worsened when about 430 their king Gunther started several invasions 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 Western Roman Empire in 476, king Gundobad allied with the powerful Frank king Clovis I against the threat of Theoderic the Great. He was then able to organize the Burgundian acquisitions based on the Lex Burgundionum, an Early Germanic law code.

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

Frankish Burgundy, 534–933

While there no longer was an independent Burgundian kingdom, between 561 and 584 and between 639 and 737 several rulers of the Frankish Merovingian dynasty used the title of "King of Burgundy".

Kingdom of Provence, 855–863

Partitions of Charlemagne's empire by his immediate Carolingian heirs led to a short-lived kingdom of Middle Francia, which was created after the 843 Treaty of Verdun. It included lands from North Sea to southern Italy and was ruled by emperor Lothair I. The northwestern part of the former Burgundian lands as Duchy of Burgundy (Bourgogne) was included in the kingdom of West Francia. Shortly before his death in 855, Lothair I divided his kingdom among his three sons in three parts - Lotharingia, Kingdom of Italy and regions of Lower Burgundy and Provence which were left to the youngest son - Charles of Provence. This partition created more conflicts, as older Carolingians who ruled West Francia and East Francia viewed themselves as the true heirs of Middle Francia.

As Charles of Provence was too young to rule, the actual power was held by regent, count Girart II of Vienne whose wife was the sister-in-law of emperor Lothar I. Girart was a strong regent, defending the kingdom from Vikings, who raided as far as Valence. Charles' uncle, Charles the Bald of West Francia, attempted to intervene in Provence in 861 after receiving an appeal for intervention from the Count of Arles. He invaded Provence as far as Mâcon before being restrained by Hincmar of Rheims.

Upper and Lower Burgundy

Already in 858 count Girart arranged that should Charles of Provence die without heirs, Kingdom of Provence would revert to Charles' older brother Lothair II who ruled in Lotharingia. When Charles died in 863, his oldest brother Louis II claimed Provence for himself, so the kingdom was divided between the two remaining brothers: Lothair II received the bishoprics of Lyon, Vienne and Grenoble, to be governed by Girart; while Louis II received Arles, Aix and Embrun.

After the death of Lothair II, according to the 870 Treaty of Meerssen, the northern part of former Middle Francia was allotted to king Louis the German of East Francia and the southern lands of Charles of Provence vere given to king Charles the Bald of West Francia.

After the overthrow of Charles the Bald in 877, followed by the death 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 and established his kingdom of Lower Burgundy and Provence.

Upper 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) 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.

Kingdom of Arles, 933–1378

Main article: Kingdom of Arles

Ruler of Upper Burgundy Rudolph II (the son and heir of Rudolph I) acquired Lower Burgundy from Hugh of Arles in 933 and created a kingdom which was known as the Kingdom of Arles which existed independently until 1033 when it was absorbed into the Holy Roman Empire under Conrad II. 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 gradually fragmented as it was continually divided among heirs, or lost and acquired through diplomacy and dynastic marriages.

By 1378, when kingdom of Arles ceased to exist, large parts were already held by the County of Savoy and remaining lands were ceded to the Dauphin of France Charles VI by Emperor Charles IV thus creating Dauphiné.

"Third Kingdom of Burgundy"

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 III to crown him as a king at Trier. The planned ceremony did not take place because the emperor fled during the night of September 1473, due to his displeasure with the duke's attitude. This ultimately ended the duchy as an independent realm with the defeat and mutilation of Charles at the Battle of Nancy.

See also


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