Franche-Comté (; English: Free County, Free Countian: Fraintche-Comtè; ) is an administrative region and a traditional province of eastern France. It is composed of the modern departments of Doubs, , and Territoire de Belfort and has a population of 1,168,208 (2009).
The region's name is derived from 'Franche Comté de Bourgogne', thusly named after it was separated from what is now the region of Burgundy proper in the 15th century. As of 2016, these two halves of the historic Kingdom of Burgundy will be reunited as the region of Bourgogne-Franche-Comté.
The principal cities are the capital Besançon, 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 Alemanni 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 de Bourgogne' 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 the Kingdom of 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 incorporated into the territories of the Habsburg monarchy with the marriage of Mary of Burgundy with Maximilian I. The territory was inherited by Philip II of Spain, from his father the emperor Charles V. 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). Enclaves such as Montbéliard remained outside French control.
Franche-Comté was one of the last parts of France to have serfdom. In 1784, half the population were serfs, accounting for 400,000 out of the 1 million French serfs. Landowners took one-twelfth of the sales price if a serf (mainmortable) wanted to sell up. Serfs were not forced to stay on the land, but the lord could claim droit de suite, whereby a peasant who died away from his holding left it to the lord, even if he had heirs. A runaway serf's land was forfeit after ten years. Louis XVI issued a decree banning these practices on 8 August 1779 but the Parlement of Besançon blocked this until 1787.
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.