FREE Catholic Classes
(Latin Burgundia , German Burgund , French Bourgogne ).
In medieval times respectively a kingdom and a duchy, later a province of France (to 1789), and now represented mostly by the departments of Ain, Saône-et-Loire, Côte-d'Or, and Yonne. It has nearly 2,000,000 inhabitants, and is famous for its diversified scenery, its rich wines, its rivers and canals, varied industries, mineral wealth, and many prosperous cities. In the fifth century a Germanic tribe, the Burgundi or Burgundiones, conquered from the Romans the fertile basins of the Rhone, the Saône, and the Loire, but were unable to maintain their sovereignty (Lyons, Geneva, Vienne) which in the next century they lost (534) to the Frankish successors of Clovis [Binding, "Das burgundisch-romanische Königreich von 443-532", Leipzig, 1868; Drapeyron, "Du rôle de la Bourgogne sous les Mérovingiens" in "Mém. lus à la Sorbonne", 1866, 29-42; B. Hauréau, "L'Eglise et l'Etat sous les premiers rois de Bourgogne" in "Mém. de l'Acad. des inscriptions et belles-lettres", Paris, 1867, XXVI (1), 137-172]. In the latter quarter of the ninth century this territory again acquired independence, first as the short-lived Kingdom of Arles, and then as the dual Kingdom of North and South (or Lesser) Burgundy, the latter including Provence or the lands between Lyons and the sea, while the former took in, roughly speaking, the territory north of Lyons, now divided between France and Switzerland. These kingdoms, known as Transjurane and Cisjurane Burgundy, were reunited (935) under Rudolf II. The independence of this "middle kingdom", the medieval counterpart of modern Switzerland, was short-lived, for in 1038 Emperor Conrad II obtained the crown of Burgundy for his son (later Emperor) Henry III. For two centuries German influence was uppermost in the counsels of the Burgundian rulers, but little by little the growing prestige and power of neighbouring France asserted themselves, beginning with the annexation of Lyons by Philip the Fair in 1310 and ending with that of Savoy and Nice in 1860. During this time, in language, laws and institutions Burgundy became regularly more closely assimilated to France, and finally an integral part of that nation when, on the death of Charles the Bold (1477), Louis XI incorporated with France the Duchy of Burgundy and extinguished thereby, in favour of the royal prerogative, one of the most important fiefs of the French Crown (G. Hüffer, "Das Verhältniss des Königreichs Burgund zu Kaiser und Reich, besonders unter Friedrich I", Paderborn, 1874; Reese, "Die staatsrechtliche Stellung der Bischöfe Burgunds und Italiens under Kaiser Friedrich I", Göttingen, 1885; cf. André Du Chesne, "Hist. des rois, ducs, et comtes de Bourgogne et d'Arles", Paris, 1619; de Camps, "De la souveraineté de la couronne de France sur les royaumes de Bourgogne Transjurane et d'Arles", in "Mercure de France", April, 1723; von Bertouch, "Burgund als Scheidewand zwischen Deutschland und Frankreich, eine historisch-politische Frage", Wiesbaden, 1885).
The medieval political vicissitudes of the Kingdom of Burgundy are accurately outlined in E. Freeman, "Historical Geography of Europe" (ed. Bury, London, 1903), passim . The following passage from that work (pp. 258-259) exhibits in a brief but philosophic way the political vicissitudes and rôle of medieval Burgundy:The Burgundian Kingdom, which was united with those ofGermany and Italy after the death of its last separate king, Rudolf the Third , has had a fate unlike that of any other part ofEurope. Its memory, as a separate state, has gradually died out. The greater part of its territory has been swallowed up, bit by bit, by a neighbouring power, and the small part which has escaped that fate has long lost all trace of its original name or its original political relations. By a long series of annexations, spreading over more than five hundred years, the greater part of the kingdom has gradually been incorporated with France. Of what remains, a small corner forms part of the modern Kingdom of Italy , while the rest still keeps its independence in the form of the commonwealths which make up the western cantons of Switzerland. These cantons, in fact, are the truest modern representatives of the Burgundian Kingdom. And it is on the confederation of which they form a part, interposed as it is between France, Italy, the new German Empire, and the modernAustrian Monarchy, as a central state with a guaranteed neutrality, that some trace of the old function of Burgundy, as the middle kingdom, is thrown. This function it shares with the Lotharingian lands at the other end of the empire, which now form part of the equally neutral Kingdom of Belgium, lands which, oddly enough, themselves became Burgundian in another sense.
The present article deals chiefly with Northern Burgundy since the middle of the fourteenth century, and may serve as an introduction to the articles on BELGIUM and the NETHERLANDS.
States of the House of Burgundy
The formation of the Burgundian State from which sprang the two kingdoms of Belgium and the Netherlands, is an historical phenomenon of intense interest. The Duchy of Burgundy was one of the fiefs of the French Crown. Made vacant in 1361 by the death of Philippe de Rouvre, the last of the older line of dukes, it was presented by John II, King of France, to his son Philip the Bold who, at the age of fourteen, had fought so valiantly at his father's side in the battle of Poitiers. In 1369, as the result of the negotiations with his brother, King Charles V, Philip married Marguerite de Male, widow of his predecessor and sole heir to the countship of Flanders, thereby acquiring that magnificent domain including the cities of Antwerp and Mechlin and the countships of Nevers and Rathel, not to mention the countships of Artois and Burgundy to be inherited from his wife's grandmother. He thus became the most powerful feudary of the Kingdom of France. To be sure he had to conquer Flanders by dint of arms, as the people of Ghent, who had rebelled against the late count, Louis de Male, had no intention of submitting to his heir. But Philip had the armies of his nephew, King Charles VI, march against them and they lost the battle of Roosebeke (1382); then, after continuing the struggle for two years longer, they were finally obliged to submit in 1385. The Peace of Tournai put Philip in possession of his countship, yet he was not satisfied and, through adroit negotiations, he succeeded in securing foothold for his family in most of the other Netherland territories. By the marriage of his daughter Margaret with Count William of Hainault, proprietor of the countships of Hainault, Holland, and Zealand, Philip provided for the annexation of these three domains. Moreover, he obtained for his wife, Margaret, the inheritance of her widowed and childless aunt, Jane, Duchess of Brabant and Limburg, and gave it to Anthony, his youngest son, whilst the eldest, John the Fearless, was made heir to his other states (1404). But John the Fearless did nothing great for the Netherlands, being better known for his ardent participation in the troubles that disturbed the Kingdom of France during the reign of the deranged King Charles VI. After assassinating Louis of Orléans, the king's brother, John himself perished at the Bridge of Montereau during his famous interview with the Dauphin, being dispatched by the latter's followers (1414). The first two Dukes of Burgundy who reigned in the Netherlands were pre-eminently French princes and bent upon preserving and augmenting the prestige they enjoyed in France as princes of the blood royal. On the other hand, their two successors were essentially Belgian princes whose chief aim was the extension of their domains and whose policy was distinctly anti-French. Of course the assassination at Montereau, by setting them at variance with the French Crown, had helped to bring this change about, but it would have taken place in any event. To avenge his father, Philip the Good allied himself with the English to whom he rendered valuable services, especially by delivering to them Joan of Arc , made prisoner by his troops at Compiègne. When, in 1435, he at length became reconciled to the king by the treaty of Arras, it was on condition of being dispensed from all vassalage and of receiving the cities along the River Somme. At this price he agreed to help the king against his own former allies and participated in the unsuccessful siege of Calais (1436).
Effects of Philip's Rule
The chief work of Philip the Good was to reunite under his authority most of the Netherland provinces. In 1421 he purchased the countship of Namur from John III, its last incumbent. In 1430 he became Duke of Brabant and Limburg as heir of his first cousin, Philip of Saint-Pol, son of Duke Anthony; in 1428 he constrained his cousin Jacqueline of Bavaria, Countess of Hainault, Holland, and Zealand, and Lady of Friesland, to recognize him as her heir, and even during her lifetime, in 1433, he obliged her to relinquish this inheritance. Finally, in 1444, he purchased the claims of Elizabeth of Gorlitz to the Duchy of Luxemburg, thus owning all of modern Belgium except the principality of Liège, all the western provinces of the present Kingdom of the Netherlands, and several French provinces. However, this did not suffice and he managed to place his bastards in the episcopal Sees of Cambrai and Utrecht and his nephew in that of Liège. Victorious over all his enemies, among whom was the King of France, in 1437 he held out against the Emperor Sigismund who tried in vain to re-establish the dependency of the Netherlands upon the empire. On two different occasions in 1447 and 1463, he importuned the Emperor Frederick III to give him the title of king, but the attempts failed. Nevertheless, under the title of "Grand Duke of the West" he won the admiration of his contemporaries and was the richest and most powerful sovereign in Europe. It was he whom Pope Nicholas V wished to place at the head of the new crusade he was planning, and during a sumptuous feast at which he made the celebrated voeu du faisan , Philip promised to take the cross. But the crusade did not take place. Being master of so many provinces, Philip wished to unite them under a central government, but this was not easy of accomplishment. Each of them considered itself a self-governing State, independent of all the others and living its own life; moreover, the large cities of Flanders also claimed to be separate commonwealths and tried to escape centralization. Despite his entreaties, Ghent forsook the duke at the siege of Calais in 1436; in 1438 Bruges was the scene of a revolt where he was nearly made prisoner ; and in 1451 Ghent revolted. But the duke overcame all these obstacles to his ambition and, through his victory of Gavre in 1453; obtained possession of the commune of Ghent, the most intractable of all. The people of Liège were now the only ones who resisted him, but in 1465 he conquered them at Montenaeken and imposed upon them very severe conditions. A twelvemonth later he destroyed the city of Dinant. During his last years Philip's faculties became impaired and Louis XI of France not only made trouble between him and his son but even influenced the duke into giving up the cities of the Somme. However, in 1465 Philip became reconciled to his son, Charles, and confided to him the administration of affairs, dying 15 June, 1467. A shrewd man and cunning politician, Philip was likewise ostentatious, irascible, and licentious. The splendour of his court was unequalled, and the founding of the Order of the Golden Fleece at Bruges in 1430, on the occasion of his third marriage, this time with Isabella of Portugal, marks, to some extent, the culmination of the luxury of the time.
Charles the Bold
Inheriting neither the astuteness nor the vices of his father, Charles the Bold was industrious, eager for justice, and irreproachable in his private life; but his boldness amounted to rashness and his ability was not at all commensurate with his unbounded ambition. In his earlier years all was well. During his father's lifetime he placed himself at the head of the "League of the Public Weal" which gathered about him the French lords who were unfavourably disposed toward Louis XI. Charles was victorious over Louis at Montlhéry, after which triumph the Peace of Conflans (1465) gave him the cities of the Somme. He humbled the cities of Ghent and Mechlin for having dared to oppose him, fought the people of Liège at Brusthem, and deprived them of their freedom. King Louis XI, who strove to combat the duke by dint of intrigue, was destined to become the victim of his own trickery. While he was visiting Charles in Peronne, the latter sovereign learned that the people of Liège were again in revolt, having been excited thereto by the king's agents. Furious at this intelligence, he kept Louis prisoner and forced him to accompany him to Liège where the wretched monarch witnessed the total destruction of the unfortunate city to which he had promised assistance (1468). Although the conqueror of all his enemies Charles still entertained mighty projects, and in 1469 he obtained the possession of the landgraviate of Alsace and the county of Ferrette (Pfirt) as security for a loan made to Sigismund. He prevailed upon Duke Arnoul to sell him the Duchy of Guelderland, the duke being at war with his son Adolphus (1472). He then marched against the King of France, but was stopped before the walls of Beauvais by the heroic resistance of its citizens (1472) and made to sign the truce of Senlis. Nor was he any more successful in his attempt to obtain a king's crown from the Emperor Frederick III, to whose son, Maximilian, he had promised the hand of his own daughter, Mary. Later, however, the emperor and the duke met at Trier for the approaching coronation, when the emperor, whom the agents of Louis XI had succeeded in alarming, hastily disappeared. At the same time Louis stirred up further hostilities against Charles on the Upper Rhine where a confederacy, including the Alsatian villages and Swiss cantons was already plotting against him. Meanwhile Charles had been wasting his troops on the tedious, fruitless siege of the little city of Neuss on the Rhine, and was therefore in no condition to rejoin his ally, Edward IV of England, who had just landed in France. In order to have full sway along the Rhine he signed the truce of Soluvre (1475) with Louis XI and profited by it to take possession of Lorraine, which till then had separated his Burgundian domains from those of the Netherlands ( provinces de par deça ). He then advanced upon the Swiss who defeated him most mercilessly at Granson and Morat and fairly annihilated his army. René, the young Duke of Lorraine, recovered his country and when Charles afterwards laid siege to Nancy, its capital city, he lost courage, and betrayed by one of his own hirelings, was defeated and killed in a sortie. The next day his frozen corpse was found in a pond, having been half devoured by wolves (5 January, 1477).
Help Now >
Mary and the "Great Privilege"
This catastrophe left the Burgundian estates in a most critical condition. The sole heir to all these provinces, Mary of Burgundy, who was then barely twenty years old, beheld storms gathering both within and without. The King of France seized the Duchy of Burgundy as a male fief of the Crown and also the cities of the Somme and held up the other provinces to tempt the cupidity of neighbouring princes. The large cities of Flanders roused by Louis' confederates, grew restless and the States-General, convened in February, 1477, obliged the young duchess to grant the "Great Privilege ". This famous act was a violent reaction not only against the despotical tendencies of the preceding governments, but also against all their work of unification; it destroyed central institutions and reduced the Burgundian States to nothing but a sort of federation of provinces combined under the regime of personal union. Not content with this, the people of Ghent brought to the scaffold Hugonet and d'Humbercourt, Mary's two faithful counsellors, whom they looked upon as representatives of the deceased duke's absolutist regime. Satisfied that the country was sufficiently weakened and disorganized, Louis XI threw off the mask and ordered his army into Artois and Hainault. The imminence of danger seemed to revive a spirit of loyalty in the Burgundian provinces and the marriage of Mary and Maximilian of Habsburg, son of Frederick III, was hastened. This marriage saved the inheritance of the young princess but, as we shall see, it resulted in thereafter making the Netherlands dependent upon foreign dynasties. Meanwhile Maximilian vigorously repulsed the French in the battle of Guinegate (1479). Unfortunately Mary of Burgundy died in 1482 from injuries sustained in a fall from her horse, and Maximilian's claim to the right of governing the provinces in the capacity of regent during the minority of his son Philip, roused the indignation of the States-General, which were led by the three large Flemish cities of Ghent, Bruges, and Ypres. Duped by Louis XI they concluded with him the second Peace of Arras (1482) which gave the hand of their Princess Margaret to the Dauphin, with Artois and Burgundy for her dower, and Maximilian was deprived of his children who were provided with a regency council. This was the origin of a desparate struggle between himself and the States-General during which he was made prisoner by the people of Bruges, and it was with the greatest difficulty that he obtained his freedom. Immediately upon his release he began again to contend with the States, which eventually were obliged to submit to his power (1492), and the treaty of Senlis with France restored Artois to Maximilian with his daughter Margaret (1493). In this same year Maximilian became emperor and liberated his son Philip who assumed the government of the Netherlands.
Philip the Handsome
The reign of Philip the Handsome, which lasted thirteen years, promised Belgium an era of self-government and independence, but his marriage with Joanna of Castile only paved the way for its dependence on a foreign sovereign as, on the death of the son of Ferdinand the Catholic and Isabella, it was Philip who, in the name of his wife, became King of Castile. However, he died in 1506 and as his father-in-law, Ferdinand, soon followed him to the tomb, it was Charles, son of Philip the Handsome, who inherited all the great Spanish monarchy "on which the sun never set", the Netherlands being thenceforth only a dependency of his chief kingdom. But at first this was not noticeable. Charles, who was also the emperor (with the title of Charles V ), travelled much and paid frequent visits to the Netherlands, showing a special predilection for his Flemish fellow-countrymen and knowing how to make himself popular among them. He confided their country to the care of his aunt, Margaret of Austria, and later to that of his sister, Mary of Hungary (1531-55), both talented women and of great service to him. Charles' reign represents the maximum of political and commercial prosperity in the Netherlands to which he annexed the city of Tournai (1521), the provinces of Friesland (1523), Utrecht and Overyssel (1528), Groningen and Drenthe (1536), and the Duchy of Guelderland (1543). Thus the patrimony was definitively settled and known thereafter as the Seventeen Provinces. By his Pragmatic Sanction of 1549 Charles V declared this domain an indivisible whole and nothing contributed more to the formation of national unity. He sundered the ties of vassalage that bound Flanders to the Kingdom of France, and although emperor, permitted the authority of the empire to come to naught in the provinces west of the Scheldt. Beginning with 1548 they in truth formed the "Circle of Burgundy", a title which implied little or no duty toward the empire. In the interior Charles V organized a central government by creating three councils, called collateral, and established with a view to simplifying matters for the female ruler; they were the council of state for general affairs, the privy council for administrative purposes, and the council of finance. He introduced the Inquisition, issued extremely severe "placards" prohibiting heresy, and harshly suppressed Ghent, his native city, which had refused to vote certain subsidies and had given itself up to acts of violence (1540). It was deprived of all its freedoms and at this time communal government may be said to have received its death-blow in the Netherlands.
However, Charles V was sincerely regretted when, during a solemn session held at Brussels before representatives of the States, 25 October, 1555, he renounced the government of the Netherlands in favour of his son, Philip II. Strictly speaking, with Charles V ended the Burgundian era in this country which was subsequently known as the Spanish Netherlands. But as yet these states had no national name, the dukes generally alluding to them as their provinces de par deça in contradistinction to the Duchy and Countship of Burgundy which were territorially separated from them. Nevertheless, although this duchy and countship had been conquered by France, from the fifteenth century it had been customary to call them Burgundy, and their inhabitants Burgundians. Even the French spoken at the ducal court was called Burgundian. In spite of the efforts made at bringing about unification, the spirit of particularism prevailed in the various provinces in matters of legislation, each according political rights to its own inhabitants exclusively and opposing central institutions as much as possible. From the time of Philip the Good the Netherlands had been the centre of a luxurious and brilliant civilization, and Antwerp, which had replaced Bruges, whose harbour had become sand-filled, was recognized as the chief commercial city of Europe. Nothing could equal the sumptuousness of the court which was the rendezvous of many literary men and artists, and it was during the reign of Philip the Good that the Bruges school of painting sprang up and prospered, boasting of such famous members as the brothers John and Hubert Van Eyck, Hans Memling, and Gerard David, whilst Brussels, Ghent, Louvain, and Antwerp gloried in artists like Roger Van den Weyden, Hugo Van der Goes, Thierry Bouts, Quentin Metsys, and in the great sculptor Claus Sluter. Although literature did not flourish to the same extent as the arts, the historians Philippe de Comines, Molinet, Chastelain, and Olivier de la Marche are certainly deserving of mention and were far superior to the French historians of the same epoch.
For the public ecclesiastical history of Burgundy see articles BESANÇON, DIJON, LYONS, MÂCON. Also Antoine Mille, "Abrégé chronologique de l'histoire ecclésiastique civile et littéraire de Bourgogne, depuis l'établissement des Bourguignons dans las Gaules jusqu'à l'année 1772" (Dijon, 1771-73); and the histories of various religious orders established in Burgundy, e.g. J. Foderé, "Narration historique et topographique des couvents de l'ordre de St-François et de Ste-Claire érigés en la province anciennement appelée de Bourgogne", etc. (Lyon, 1619); Lavirotte, "Mémoire statistique sur les établissements des Templiers et des Hospitaliers de St-Jean de Jérusalem en Bourgogne" (Paris, 1853); "Pèlerinages en Bourgogne" in "Congrès scient. France" (Autun, 1876-78), II, 90; Quantin, "Mémoire sur l'influence des monastères des ordres de St-Benoît et de Cîteaux en Bourgogne", in same collection (Auxerre, 1858059), II, 390; J. Simonnet, "Le clergé en Bourgogne" (XIV, XV siècles) in "Mém. de l'Acad. de Dijon" (1866), XIII, 21-143; C. Seignobos, "Le régime féodal en Bourgogne jusqu'en 1360, étude sur la société et les institutions d'une province française au moyen-âge", etc. (Paris, 1881).
Copyright 2020 Catholic Online. All materials contained on this site, whether written, audible or visual are the exclusive property of Catholic Online and are protected under U.S. and International copyright laws, © Copyright 2020 Catholic Online. Any unauthorized use, without prior written consent of Catholic Online is strictly forbidden and prohibited.
Catholic Online is a Project of Your Catholic Voice Foundation, a Not-for-Profit Corporation. Your Catholic Voice Foundation has been granted a recognition of tax exemption under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Federal Tax Identification Number: 81-0596847. Your gift is tax-deductible as allowed by law.