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History of Franche Comté

History of Franche Comté

In comparison to many regions of France, not least those sharing a border with another nation, the history of Franche-Comté has been remarkably sedate. Though settlers are thought to have first established a presence in the region during Palaeolithic times, it has remained a sparsely populated area over the centuries, thereby ensuring that the mountains and valleys enjoy a peaceful, unspoilt existence.


The earliest civilisation to make Franche-Comté its own was the Gauls, whose dominion across France as a whole was usurped by the might of the Roman Empire. For Franche-Comté, control of the region would pass to tribes of the Alemanni during the fifth century, before being absorbed into the expanding Kingdom of Burgundy. The conversion to Christianity soon followed, with the very first monasteries being developed here.

During this era, the Merovingian and Carolingian dynasties would maintain control of the area as part of the Kingdom of Burgundy and, for the next few centuries at least, there would be little in the way of dispute over the territory. Though the advent of the Holy Roman Empire would see a brief sojourn from Frankish rule, Franche-Comté would not acquire its title as ‘Free County of Franche-Comté’ until 1366, separating completely from Burgundy a century later.

Rise of the Hapsburg dynasty

Rule over the Franche-Comté region of eastern France was next passed to the Hapsburgs dynasty of Spain through the marriage between Maximilian I and Mary of Burgundy, daughter of Charles the Bold. Successive generations would maintain control of the region until attempts to reclaim the land would prove successful and the signing of the Treaty of Nijmegen would cede power to the French.

Serfdom and abandonment

Saint Hymetière

As a region rich in rural charm, life throughout Franche-Comté during the 18th and 19th centuries was as a feudal society, with serfdom being part of everyday life for nearly fifty percent of the population. And, although operating until well into the late 18th century, it would take an official decree of Louis XVI for the practice to end. The move led, in part, to many abandoning the region for more prosperous areas of France, leaving Franche-Comté to pursue a future of agricultural life for those residents that remained.

20th century

The more recent era has witnessed Franche-Comté embrace one of the more lucrative industries of modern times: tourism. The area today enjoys a reputation as being among the most popular for holidaymakers embarking on walking holidays or cross-country skiing.