Duchy of Burgundy - The First Succession Crisis

The First Succession Crisis

Henry the Venerable's death, at Pouilly-sur-Saône in 1002, left two potential heirs: his nephew, Robert the Pious, King of France, and his stepson, Otto-William, Count of Burgundy, a vassal of the Holy Roman Emperor, whom Henry had adopted and named his heir some time before. Robert claimed the duchy by his dual rights as feudal overlord and nearest blood-relative of the deceased. Otto-William disputed his claim and sent soldiers into the duchy to start a war.

Had the two Burgundys been united, history would undoubtedly have taken a different course; a Burgundy united under the German Otto-William would have been within the sphere of influence of the Holy Roman Empire and would have affected the balance of power between the French and the Germans. However, it was not to be; although it took him thirteen years of bitter and prolonged battle, Robert eventually secured the duchy for the French crown by gaining control of all the Burgundian counties west of the Saône, including Dijon; prospects of a united Burgundy evaporated, and the duchy became irreversibly French in outlook.

For a time, the duchy formed part of the royal domain; but the French crown could not hope at this time to administer such a volatile piece of territory. The realities of power combined with Capetian family feuding: Robert the Pious gave the territory to his younger son and namesake, Robert. When King Henry I of France, acceding in difficult circumstances, found it necessary to secure the loyalty of Robert, his brother, he further enhanced the rights given to his brother. Robert was to be Duke of Burgundy; as ruler of the duchy, he would "enjoy the freehold thereof", and have the right "to pass it on to his heirs". Future dukes were to owe allegiance only to the crown of France and be overlords of the duchy beneath the ultimate authority of the kings of France. Robert gladly agreed to this arrangement, and the era of the Capetian dukes began.

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