Burgundy, Duchy of

   Strictly speaking, the duchy of Burgundy was a large fief held in feudal tenure from the king of France and located in east-central France. But in the 14th and 15th centuries, the term also designated a much larger political unit, including the original duchy but also incorporating most of modern Belgium and the Netherlands. This powerful state developed expansionist ambitions that endangered the territorial integrity of both France and the German Empire. It originated in 1364 when King John II of France granted the duchy of Burgundy to his younger son Philip the Bold as a virtually independent principality. John then secured for Philip the adjacent Free County of Burgundy, a fief of the German Empire, and arranged for him to marry the heiress of the count of Flanders, the richest, most industrialized, and most urbanized part of northern Europe. Duke Philip and his descendants began acting like rulers of a sovereign kingdom, negotiating with foreign powers and scheming to expand their principality. Some of its regions were French-speaking; some spoke Flemish and Dutch. Each province had its own regional courts, assemblies, and other institutions. The rulers created central judicial, representative, and administrative agencies for the Netherlandish provinces, but until the 16th century, these efforts at centralization had little effect.
   Since the dukes were still members of the French royal family, they became major players in the turbulent factional politics of the French court during the Hundred Years' War. During the second phase (1415-1453) of that conflict, Duke Philip the Good (1419-1467) allied himself with the English king, Henry V, and negotiated a division of all of northern France between himself and Henry, whom he recognized as king of France. Burgundy's defection from this English alliance in 1435 was a major turning point in the struggle to drive the English out of France. The last independent duke of Burgundy, Charles the Rash (1467-1477), tried to seize those parts of northern France and western Germany that separated his Burgundian from his Netherlandish territories. This attempt led to conflict with the Swiss Confederation, and Charles died in battle against the Swiss. His only child, Mary of Burgundy, sought to preserve her principality by marrying Maximilian of Habsburg, the heir of the German emperor. King Louis XI of France seized the duchy of Burgundy but was unable to conquer the Free County of Burgundy and the Netherlandish provinces. Thus Mary and her husband Maximilian remained rulers of most of the Burgundian lands. Mary died a few years later, leaving her son Philip as her successor, under the regency of his father. In 1496 Maximilian negotiated Philip's marriage to Juana, daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella, the rulers of Spain.
   The son of Philip and Juana, Charles (the future emperor Charles V), became the heir to Spain and its many territorial claims in Italy and the Americas, to the hereditary Habsburg lands in Germany, and to the Burgundian territories, including the Netherlands. Charles grew up in the Netherlands, gained his first political experience there, and originally spoke no language except French, the language of the Burgundian court. Although he inherited the Spanish crown in 1516 and was elected Holy Roman emperor in 1519, initially his political goals and closest advisers were Burgundian. Charles continued to press for development of central judicial and administrative agencies, despite growing uneasiness among the local elites over his policy of centralization. He had grown up among the Burgundian aristocracy and retained their loyalty, even though by the late 1520s it was becoming obvious that he was making Spain rather than the Netherlands the foundation of his rule.
   Under his son Philip II, a thoroughly Spanish king, the latent conflict between royal centralization and Burgundian regionalism became more obvious. Local resistance to the centralizing policies of the crown and to the ruler's efforts to extirpate heresy produced a movement of protest in the mid-1560s, civil disorders in 1566, and a full-scale civil war after 1568. Ultimately, the leaders of the resistance movement declared independence from Spain in 1581. The Spanish army eventually regained control of the southern provinces, leaving the Burgundian lands permanently divided between the independent United Netherlands and the Habsburg-ruled Spanish Netherlands (known as Belgium since 1830, when it became an independent kingdom).

Historical Dictionary of Renaissance. . 2004.

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