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The land of Provence has a history quite separate from that of any of the larger nations of Europe. Its independent existence has its origins in the frontier nature of the dukedom in Merovingian Gaul. In this position, influenced and affected by several different cultures on different sides, the Provençals maintained a unity which was reinforced when it was created a separate kingdom in the Carolingian decline of the later ninth century. Provence was eventually joined to the other Burgundian kingdom, but it remained ruled by its own powerful, and largely independent, counts.
In the eleventh century, Provence became disputed between the traditional line and the counts of Toulouse, who claimed the title of "Margrave of Provence." In the High Middle Ages, the title of Count of Provence belonged to local families of Frankish origin, to the House of Barcelona, to the House of Anjou and to a cadet branch of the House of Valois. After 1032, the county was part of the Holy Roman Empire. It was inherited by King Louis XI of France in 1481, and definitively incorporated into the French royal domain by his son Charles VIII in 1484.
During the period of the Merovingian dynasty in Gaul, Provence was a province ruled by duces (dukes), military leaders and district commanders who served as defenders of the frontiers of the kingdom and ruled over vast territories as opposed to the comites (counts), who ruled the cities and their environs. Provence was usually a part of the division of the Frankish realm known as Kingdom of Burgundy, which was treated as its own kingdom. Their title sometimes appears as rector Provinciae.
This is an incomplete list of the known Merovingian-appointed dukes of Provence.
After the division of the Carolingian Empire by the Treaty of Verdun (843), the first of the fraternal rulers of the three kingdoms to die was Lothair I, who divided his middle kingdom in accordance with the custom of the Franks between his three sons. Out of this division came the Kingdom of Provence, given to Lothair's youngest son, Charles. A heritage of royal rule was thus inaugurated in Provence that, though it was often subsumed into one of its larger neighbouring kingdoms, it was just as often proclaiming its own sovereigns.
It was in the aftermath of the death of Louis the Blind that Provence began to be ruled by local counts placed under the authority of a margrave. Firstly, Hugh of Arles served as duke and regent during Louis' long blindness. Secondly, Hugh gave the march of Vienne and duchy of Provence to Rudolf II of Burgundy in a treaty of 933. Rudolf was never recognised by the nobles of the country and instead appointed Hugh, Duke of Burgundy, its first margrave.
At the time, the premier counts in the region were the counts of Arles and those of Avignon. Those who would first bear the title comes Provinciae or "count of Provence" descended from one Rotbold of Arles. William I and Rotbold I did not divide their father's domains and this indivisibility was maintained by their respective descendants. It is thus impossible to ascertain who succeeded whom in the county as various reigns overlap. The margravial title also continued in their family until it passed to Bertrand, Count of Toulouse in 1062.
With a lack of interest in the Reconquista on their southern frontier, the Catalans turned towards their origins, the Mediterranean littoral and northwards. They coveted the region between the Cévennes and the Rhône, then under the control of Toulouse. In 1112, the count of Barcelona, Ramon Berenguer III, married the heiress of Provence, Douce, who was the daughter of the Countess Gerberga of Provence, Gévaudan, Carladais, and part of Rodez. The marriage was probably taken at the urging of the church, which was then in conflict with house of Toulouse. In 1076, Count Raymond IV was excommunicated, but he still lent his support to Aicard, the deposed archbishop of Arles (since 1080). With the count away on the First Crusade, the church took the opportunity to seize the balance of power in the region. This marriage effectively put Provence under Catalan control.
In 1125, Raymond's heir, Alfonso Jordan, signed a treaty whereby his family's traditional claim to the title of "Margrave of Provence" was recognised and the march of Provence was defined as the region north of the lower Durance and on the right of the Rhône, including the castles of Beaucaire, Vallabrègues, and Argence. The region between the Durance, the Rhône, the Alps, and the sea was that of the county and belonged to the house of Barcelona. Avignon, Pont de Sorgues, Caumont and Le Thor remained undivided.
Internally, Provence was racked by uncertainties over the rights of succession. Douce and Ramon Berenguer signed all charters jointly until her death in 1127, after which he alone appears as count in all charters until his death in 1131. At that time, Douce's younger sister, Stephanie was married to Raymond of Baux, who promptly laid claim to the inheritance of her mother, even though Provence had peacefully passed into the hands of her nephew, Berenguer Ramon I.
Upon his death the heirless Charles du Maine bequeathed the counties of Provence-Forcalquier to King Louis XI of France. From this point, the title of Count of Provence becomes simply one of the many hereditary titles of the French monarchy. The only time the title was used independently following this time was by the future Louis XVIII of France, who was known as the Comte de Provence until the death of his nephew Louis XVII in 1795, when he claimed the French throne.
By his marriage to Emma of Provence, daughter of Rotbold II, William III, Count of Toulouse inherited lands and castles in Provence. Emma inherited the title Margrave of Provence on her elder brother's death in 1037. Her son Pons by William III did not survive her, but her grandson did and claimed her title in opposition to the younger line of counts of Provence.
To accommodate the longstanding claims of the count of Toulouse, in 1125 Provence was divided along the Durance. Lands north of the river constituted the march of Provence, ruled by Toulouse, and south of the river was the county proper, ruled by the House of Barcelona.
In 1790, the French Revolution definitively ended the governorship.