Bresse (Arpitan: 'Brêsse') is a former French province. It is located in the regions of Rhône-Alpes, Bourgogne, and Franche-Comté of eastern France. The geographical term Bresse has two meanings: Bresse bourguignonne (or louhannaise), which is situated in the east of the department of Saône-et-Loire, and Bresse, which is located in the department of Ain. The corresponding adjective is bressan, and the inhabitants are Bressans.
Bresse extends from the Dombes on the south to the Doubs River on the north, and from the Saône eastwards to the Jura mountains, measuring some 60 miles in the former, and 20 miles in the latter direction. It is a plain varying from 600 to 800 feet above the sea, with few eminences and a slight inclination westwards. Heaths and coppice alternate with pastures and arable land; pools and marshes are numerous, especially in the north. Its chief rivers are the Veyle, the Reyssouze and the Seille, all tributaries of the Saône. The soil is a gravelly clay but moderately fertile, and cattle-raising is largely carried on. The region is, however, more especially celebrated for its table poultry.
Bresse belonged in the Middle Ages to the lords of Bâgé, from whom it passed in 1272 to the house of Savoy. It was not till the first half of the 15th century that the province, with Bourg as its capital, was founded as such. In 1601 it was ceded to France by the Treaty of Lyon, after which it formed (together with the province of Bugey / 'Bugê') first a separate government and later part of the government of Burgundy.
Initially, Bâgé was the principal city of the province. But its location, close to the borders of France, encouraged the emergence of Bourg-en-Bresse, which became the capital. The province was coveted by the King of France, who wanted to increase his territory. The flat nature of Bresse was difficult to defend. Finally the sovereigns of Savoy ('Savouè') agreed to relocate to the Alpine part of the Duchy and to give up Bresse and Bugey in exchange for Château-Dauphin in Piedmont.