Franche-Comté (Franc-Comtois: Fràntche-Comté; Franco-Provençal: Franche-Comtât) the former "Free County" of Burgundy, as distinct from the neighbouring Duchy, is an administrative region and a traditional province of eastern France. It is composed of the modern departments of Doubs, Jura, Haute-Saône and Territoire de Belfort and has a population (2006) of 1,146,000.
The principal cities are Besançon (a historical city and the modern era capital of the region), Belfort, and Montbéliard (Aire Urbaine Belfort-Montbéliard-Héricourt-Delle). Other important cities are Dole (capital before the region was conquered by Louis XIV in the late 17th century), Vesoul (capital of Haute-Saône), Arbois (the "wine capital" of the Jura), and Lons-le-Saunier (capital of Jura).
The region has been inhabited since the Paleolithic age and was occupied by the Gauls. Little touched by the Germanic migrations, it was part of the territory of the Alamanni in the 5th century, then the Kingdom of Burgundy from 457 to 534. It was Christianized through the influence of St. Columbanus, who founded several monasteries there. In 534, it became part of the Frankish kingdom. In 561 it was included in the Merovingian Kingdom of Burgundy, under Guntram, the third son of Clotaire I. In 613, Clotaire II reunited the Frankish Kingdom under his rule and the region remained a part of the Kingdom of Burgundy under the later Merovingians and Carolingians.
The name Franche-Comté (Free County of Burgundy, or literally "Free County"name="someone should cite such"
>>) did not officially appear until 1366. It had been a territory of the County of Burgundy from 888, the province becoming subject to the Holy Roman Empire in 1034. It was definitively separated from the neighboring Duchy of Burgundy upon the latter's incorporation into France in 1477. That year at the battle of Nancy during the Burgundian Wars the last duke Charles the Bold was killed in battle. It was transferred to Austria in 1481 and to Spain in 1556. Franche-Comté was captured by France in 1668 but returned under the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle. It was conquered a second time in 1674, and was finally ceded to France in the Treaty of Nijmegen (1678).
The region's population fell by a fifth from 1851 to 1946, reflecting low French natural growth and migration to more urbanized parts of the country. Most of the decline occurred in Haute-Saône and Jura, which remain among the country's more agriculture-dependent areas. It is one of the 26 regions of France.