Period IV newsletter

St. Maurice Abbey, Museum. Photo: TES.

Forgotten Kingdoms

One of the most exciting but forgotten kingdoms of Switzerland existed from 888 to 1032, the kingdom of Burgundy, not to be confused with its predecessor of 443-534. The origin of the Germanic tribe of Burgundy is the (Danish) island of Bornholm.

From there, this tribe descended south in a process of centuries. They settled near Worms in 400 and the Romans gave them the status of an ally (Foederatus). The Burgunds were almost annihilated by the Huns in 1436, however. The Nibelungs are based on these events. They settled in the area of Lake Geneva afterwards. They integrated into the Gallo-Roman population and founded the Kingdom of Burgundy (463-534).

It is crucial for French-speaking Switzerland that this Germanic tribe adopted the Gallo-Roman language and did not introduce their Germanic language. Despite the decline of the Burgundian kingdom in 534, the Frankish conquerors continued to call themselves Kings of Burgundy (Burgundiae regnum).

Burgundy was recognised as a political entity. Three political entities called Burgundy were created after 843 (Treaty of Verdun). The Duchy of Burgundy (the territory of today’s Burgundy in France), the County of Burgundy (the Franche Comté with Besançon as its capital) and the Kingdom of Burgundy, which stretched from Geneva to the Rhône delta of Vaud, Jura and Basel (888-1032).

The kingdom of Provence (Regnum Provinciae seu Burgundiae) with Arles as capital was founded in 879. The kingdom of Jura or Trans-Jurane Burgundy (Regnum Iurense or Burgundia Transiurensis) was created in 888. St. Maurice became the  capital.

This area primarily comprised the present-day cantons of Valais, Vaud, Neuchâtel, Geneva, and part of the French territories of Savoy and the northern part of the Dauphiné. In the year 933, these two kingdoms would merge into one kingdom through dynastic marriage politics: into the Regnum Arelatense, the Kingdom of Arles, a geographical unit, which had in the north Basel, in the south the Rhône delta, in the east Zurich, in the west the river Sâone as borders. The Rhine and the Rhone rivers belonged to the kingdom.

The kingdom was a cultural, religious and linguistic homogeneity. The influence of the Abbey of Cluny and the establishment of new abbeys and monasteries in present-day Switzerland were also significant events. The last King Rudolf III died in 1032 without a successor, and the Kingdom of Arles became part of the Holy Roman Empire.

The forgotten Burgundian kingdoms were of crucial importance for  the development of French-speaking Switzerland. (Source: F. Demotz, L’an 888. Le Royaume de Bourgogne. Une puissance européenne au bord du Léman, Lausanne, 2012; J. Favrod, Les Burgonds. Un royaume oublié au coeur de l’Europe, Lausanne 2011).