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It is generally accepted that the first Burgundians, like other tribes such as the Goths and the Longobardi, were of Scandinavian origin. Roman sources state that the Burgundians first emerged east of the Rhine, in what is known today as Germany. By the 4th century, this tribe was now settled in the Vistula basin. The Romans attempted to play the Burgundians off against other barbarian tribes encroaching on their borders, but as the Roman empire fell apart, the Burgundians would eventually begin occupying Roman lands upon request from the Romans as military garrisons. First settling in Roman-held Germany, before being moved to southwestern Gaul, the Burgundians would then annex them from their former owners in the middle of the 5th century and even intervene in Roman politics. At its height, this kingdom almost covered the whole of southeastern France, and spilled into western Switzerland.
The Franks and Burgundy
After the 5th century, the Burgundian kingdom began to decline, as the practice of dividing realms up between sons soon fractured the whole of the kingdom, leaving it at the mercy of another tribe: the Franks. The Franks, successfully playing off one prince against the other, eventually annexed Burgundy in the space of two years, and by 540, Burgundy was effectively a part of the Frankish empire. Burgundy would remain a Frankish possession
until the treaty of Verdun in 843, when it was divided into two along the Saône. Charles the Bald received the northern part of the kingdom, which was then known as the duchy of Burgundy, while his brother Lothair I received the other half that reached all the way to the sea. Further partitions of this land would occur, so that by the end of the 9th century there were four relgions, all identified with the appellation of "Burgundy": the Kingdom of Upper (Transjurane) Burgundy around Lake Geneva; the Kingdom of Lower Burgundy in Provence; the Duchy of Burgundy west of the Saône; and the County of Burgundy east of the Saône.
Upper and Lower Burgundy were reunited in 937 and absorbed into the Holy Roman Empire under Conrad II in 1032, as the Kingdom of Arles. The Duchy of Burgundy was annexed by the French throne in 1004, where unlike the Kingdom of Arles, it remained somewhat independent of France. The County remained loosely associated with the Holy Roman Empire (intermittently independent, whence the name "Franche-Comté"), and finally incorporated into France in 1678, with the Treaties of Nijmegen.
Throughout the Middle Ages, Burgundy was the seat of some important Western churches and monasteries, among them Cluny, Cîteaux, and Vézelay.
During the Hundred Years' War, King John II of France gave the duchy of Burgundy in 1363 to his youngest son, Philip the Bold, for defending him with exceptional heroism at the battle of Poitiers. Phillip the Bold, as he became known, married Margaret, heiress to the county of Flanders; the territory was soon added to the Burgundian domains, along with the German part of Burgundy. Phillip the Bold was a clever politician, and during the reign of the mad king Charles VI he became virtual ruler of the realm, furthering his own dynastic ambitions, laying the foundations for the success of his heirs.
The Apex of Power
Phillip's son John the Fearless, established a more forceful foreign policy. His father had always worked through means of diplomacy, but John himself excelled not only in cloak-and-dagger intrigues but also in military command. After the assassination of the brother of the king, the duke of Orléans, a civil war broke out. The Burgundian faction managed to exploit this very well, and after many of their opponents had died on the field of Agincourt (1415), the northern French cities for a large part turned coat. Threatened by the Burgundian expansion, the dauphin, the future Charles VII, had John assassinated during peace negotiations on the bridge of Montereau (1419), but to no avail.
The duchy soon became a major power, because the Dukes of Burgundy succeeded in assembling an empire stretching from Switzerland to the North Sea, in large part by strategic marriage. Burgundian territory comprised a number of fiefdoms on both sides of the (then largely symbolic) border between the Kingdom of France and the Holy Roman Empire. Its economic heartland was in the Low Countries, particularly Flanders and Brabant. Its capital, Dijon, even outshone Paris, economically and culturally. In Belgium and in the south of the Netherlands, a "Burgundian lifestyle" still means "enjoyment of life, good food, and extravagant spectacle".
It was thus unsurprising, then, that interstate jealousies soon resulted in outright war. The last male heir of the line, John's grandson, Charles the Bold, was a warlike man (for which he too received the epithet "the Terrible"). No Burgundian duke had to fight as many wars as he did: in attempts to unify his northern and southern demesnes, Charles fought the French, conquered Guelders, burnt down rebellious Liege, faced revolt in his newly claimed territories of Alsace and Lorraine, and was attacked by the Swiss. Although Charles was the best general of all the dukes of Burgundy, even he could not face this onslaught. Falling in 1477 at the battle of Nancy, Charles left only a female heiress, his 18-year-old daughter Mary.
Yet, the duchy was far from finished — Mary married Maximilian of Habsburg, the son of the Holy Roman Emperor. Although Burgundy proper and its territories on the banks of the Somme were soon lost to France, Maximilian surprisingly managed to hold on to other territories. After Mary's death, her husband moved his court first to Mechelen and later to the palace at Coudenberg, Brussels, and from there ruled the remnants of the empire, the Low Countries (Burgundian Netherlands) and Franche-Comté, then still an imperial fief. The latter territory was ceded to France in the Treaty of Nijmegen of 1678, while the rest were soon annexed to the Spanish Empire.