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Franche-Comté (fräNsh-kôNtāˈ) or Free County of Burgundy, former province and former administrative region, E France. It is coextensive with Haute-Saône, Doubs, and Jura depts. Dôle was the capital until 1676; Besançon was the later capital and remains the chief city. Other important towns are Montbéliard, Lons-le-Saunier, and Saint-Claude. The Jura Mts. form the region's eastern border with Switzerland; the Vosges Mts. are in the north. The chief rivers are the Doubs and the upper Saône. Franche-Comté is largely an agricultural region and has a large dairy industry. Livestock is raised in the Jura district, where there are dense pine forests and extensive grazing lands. The Peugot automobile company has two factories there. Other manufactures include clocks, watches, machines, and plastics.
The region was occupied by the Celtic tribe of the Sequani (4th cent. B.C.) and was conquered by Julius Caesar (52 B.C.). Overrun by the Burgundians (5th cent.), it was included in the First Kingdom of Burgundy and was annexed by the Franks in 534. The territory was united in the 9th cent. as the Free County of Burgundy, or Franche-Comté, a fief held from the kings of Transjurane Burgundy, who were later (933–1032) kings of Arles. Franche-Comté passed to the Holy Roman Empire in 1034; but the allegiance was tenuous, and for six and a half centuries Franche-Comté was perpetually invaded and contested by France, Germany, Burgundy, Switzerland, and Spain.
Philip the Bold, duke of Burgundy, acquired Franche-Comté through his marriage to Margaret of Flanders in 1369. After the defeat and death of Charles the Bold (1477), the region passed to Archduke Maximilian of Austria (later Emperor Maximilian I), who in turn gave it to his son Philip I of Spain. Governed by native officials and its parlement at Dôle, Franche-Comté enjoyed relative autonomy under the Spanish crown. At the end of Charles V's reign (1556), Franche-Comté became a possession of the Spanish Hapsburgs. Although some of the region's fortified towns were occupied by France during the Wars of Religion (16th cent.), peace and prosperity continued until the Thirty Years War (1618–48), when the region was ravaged by both Catholics and Protestants.
Louis XIV conquered Franche-Comté in 1668 and again in 1674 and finally obtained its cession from Spain. Although the parlement continued to function after its transfer to Besançon (1676), the provincial assembly was abolished, and Franche-Comté became an integral part of France. Established as an administrative region of France in 1972, Franche-Comté was merged with Burgundy to form the region of Burgundy-Franche-Comté in 2016.
(also Free County of Burgundy), a historical region in eastern France. Franche-Comté includes the department known as the Territory of Belfort and the departments of Doubs, Jura, and Haute-Saône. Area, 16,300 sq km. Population, 1,070,000(1975).
The principal city in Franche-Comté is Besançon. As of 1975, industry and construction employed 50 percent of the region’s economically active population, and agriculture 14 percent. Automobiles are assembled at the Peugeot plants in Sochaux and Montbéliard. Watches and chemical and wood products are also manufactured. In the Jura Mountains livestock is raised, and cheese is made. Forestry is a major industry in Franche-Comté, more than 40 percent of which is forested. Franche-Comté produces handicrafts and attracts many tourists. It constitutes an economic planning region of France.
The area that is now Franche-Comté became a county in the tenth century; it was known as Burgundy, and its capital was the city of Dôle. The name “Franche-Comté” (Free County) was first applied to the county of Burgundy in the 14th century after its cities had acquired various privileges from the German kings and the Burgundian dukes.
The region became part of the Holy Roman Empire in the 11th century and belonged to the French king Philip V from 1316 to 1322. From 1322 to 1361 and again from 1384 to 1477 it was a possession of the dukes of Burgundy. Later Franche-Comté belonged to the Hapsburgs; it passed from the German branch of the Hapsburgs to the Spanish branch in 1558. The region, which had been occupied by French troops in 1674, was ceded to France by the Treaty of Nijmegen in 1678. The treaty gave the French all of Franche-Comté except the district of Montbéliard, which France annexed in 1793. The French transferred the capital from Dole to Besançon. Franche-Comté was divided into departments during the French Revolution.