FRANCHE-COMTE, a province of France from 1674 to the Revolution. It was bounded on the E. by Switzerland, on the S. by Bresse and Bugey, on the N. by Lorraine, and on the W. by the duchy of Burgundy and by Bassigny, embracing to the E. of the Jura the valley of the Saône and most of that of the Doubs. Under the Romans it corresponded to Maxima Sequanorum, and after having formed part of the kingdom of Burgundy was in the early part of the middle ages split up into the four countships of Portois, Varais, Amons and Escuens. In the 10th century these four countships were united to form a whole, which came to be called the countship of Burgundy, and belonged at that time to the family of the counts of Mâcon.
The limits of the countship were definitely settled under Otto William, son of Albert or Adalbert, king of Italy (†1027), who on the death of his father-in-law, Henry (1002), tried to seize the duchy of Burgundy, but without success. The countship, which formed a fief dependent on the kingdom of Burgundy, passed to Renaud I., the second son of Otto William. When the kingdom of Burgundy was joined to the Germanic empire, he refused to pay homage to the emperor Henry III., whose suzerainty over him never existed except in theory. William I., surnamed the Great or Headstrong (1059-1087), still further added to the power of his house by marrying Etiennette, heiress of the count of Vienne, and by acquiring from his cousin Guy, when the latter became a monk at Cluny, the countship of Mâcon. One of his sons, Guy, became pope, under the name of Calixtus II. His grandson, Renaud III. (1097-1148), in his turn refused to pay homage to the emperor Lothair, who retaliated by confiscating his dominions and giving them to Conrad of Zähringen. Renaud, however, succeeded in maintaining until his death his possession of the countships of Burgundy, Vienne and Mâcon. He left as sole heiress a daughter, Beatrix, whom his brother William III. imprisoned, in order to make an attempt on her inheritance; she was set free, however, by the emperor Frederick Barbarossa, who married her in 1156.
On the death of Beatrix (1185) the countship of Burgundy passed to Otto I. (1190-1200), the youngest but one of her sons, who had to dispute its possession with Stephen, count of Auxonne, the grandson of William III. Beatrix, the daughter and heiress of Otto I. (1200-1231), married Otto, duke of Meran (†1234), under whose government the inhabitants of Besançon, which had been since the time of Frederick Barbarossa an imperial city, formed themselves definitely into a commune. Alix, daughter of Beatrix and of Otto of Meran, and heiress to the countship of Burgundy, married Hugh of Chalon, son of John the Ancient or the Wise (d. 1248), and a descendant of William III. and consequently of William the Headstrong, thus bringing the countship back into the family of its former lords. His son Otto IV. (1279-1303) engaged in war against the bishop of Basel, and the German king Rudolph I., who supported the latter, entered Franche-Comté and besieged Besançon, but without success (1289). Otto, in fulfilment of the treaties of Ervennes and Vincennes (1291-1295) gave Jeanne, his daughter by Mahaut of Artois, in marriage to Philip, count of Poitiers, son of Philip the Fair. The latter took over the administration of the countship in spite of strong opposition from the nobles of the country, but their leader, John of Chalon-Arlay, was compelled to make his submission. Another of Otto's daughters married Charles IV., the Handsome, and both princesses, together with their sister-in-law Margaret of Burgundy, were concerned in the celebrated trial of the Tour de Nesle. Jeanne, however, continued to govern her countship when Philip her husband became king of France (Philip V., "the Long"). Jeanne, their daughter and heiress, married Odo IV., duke of Burgundy (1330-1347), and her sister Margaret became the wife of Louis II., count of Flanders. The countship returned to Margaret at the death of Odo IV., who was succeeded in his duchy by his grandson Philip of Rouvre.
The marriage of Philip the Bold with Margaret, daughter of Louis of Mâle, caused Franche-Comté to pass to the princes of the ducal house of Burgundy, who kept it up till the death of Charles the Bold (1477). On his death Louis XI. laid claim to the government of the countship as well as of the duchy, as trustee for the property of the princess Mary, who was closely related to him and destined to marry the dauphin (later Charles VIII.). French garrisons occupied the principal towns, and the lord of Craon was appointed governor of the country. In consequence of his severity there was a general rising, and at the same time Mary married Maximilian, archduke of Austria, to whom her father had formerly betrothed her (Aug. 1477). The French were expelled from the fortified towns and Craon beaten by the people of Dôle. Charles of Amboise, who took his place, reconquered the province, and even Besançon submitted to the authority of the king of France, who promised to respect its privileges.
On the death of Louis XI. (1483), the estates of Franche-Comté recognized as sovereign his son Charles, who was betrothed to the little Margaret of Burgundy, daughter of Maximilian and Mary (d. 1482), but when Charles VIII. refused Margaret's hand in order to marry Anne of Brittany there was a fresh rising, and the French were again driven out. The treaty of Senlis (23rd May 1483) put an end to the struggle: Charles abandoned all his pretensions, and Maximilian was thus left in possession of Franche-Comté, the sovereignty of which he handed on to his son Philip and ultimately to the crown of Spain. He had, however, constituted his daughter Margaret sovereign-governess of Franche-Comté for life, and under the administration of this princess (who died in 1530), as under the rule of Charles V., the country enjoyed comparative independence, paying a "don gratuit" of 200,000 livres every three years, and being actually governed by the parliament of Dôle, and by governors chosen from the nobility of the country. It was Franche-Comté which furnished Philip II. of Spain with one of his best counsellors, Cardinal Perrenot de Granvella.
In the 16th century the country was disturbed by the preaching of Protestant doctrines, which gained adherents especially in the district of Montbéliard, and later by the wars between France and Spain. In 1595 the armies of Henry IV. levied contributions on Besançon and other towns; but the people of Franche-Comté succeeded in obtaining special terms of neutrality in order to shelter themselves from injury from either of the parties in the war, and enjoyed a period of calm under the government of the infanta Isabella Clara Eugénie and the archduke Albert (1599-1621). But the country suffered greatly from the ravages of the Thirty Years' War, from the presence of the army of the Condés, which besieged Dôle, from the devastation of the troops of Gallas, and later of those of Bernard of Saxe-Weimar. The peace of Westphalia (1648) confirmed Spain in the possession of Franche-Comté. In 1668 the French again entered it, and the conquest, of which the foundations had been laid by the intrigues of the abbot of Watteville and the French party constituted by him, was easily accomplished by Condé and Luxemburg, Louis XIV. directing the army in Franche-Comté for some time in person. None the less, the country was restored to Spain at the peace of Aix-la-Chapelle (1668), but in 1674 Louis headed another expedition there. Besançon capitulated after a siege of twenty-seven days, and Dôle and Salins also fell into the hands of the invaders.
In 1678 the treaty of Nijmwegen gave Franche-Comté to France (the principality of Montbéliard remaining in the possession of the house of Württemberg, which had acquired it by marriage), and it was in celebration of this conquest that the Arc de Triomphe of the Portes Saint Denis and Saint Martin at Paris was erected. Franche-Comté became a military government (gouvernement). The estates ceased to meet, and the old "don gratuit" was replaced by a tax which became increasingly heavy. Louis made Besançon, which Vauban fortified, into the capital of the province, and transferred to it the parliament and the university, the seat of which had hitherto been Dôle. For purposes of administration, the county was divided among the four great bailliages of Besançon, Dôle, Amont (chief town Vesoul) and Aval (chief town Salins). At the Revolution were formed from it the departments of Jura, Doubs and Haute-Saône.
See Dunod, Histoire des Sequanois; Hist. du comté de Bourgogne (Dijon, 1735-1740); E. Clerc, Essai sur l'histoire de la Franche-Comté (2nd ed., Besançon, 1870).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)