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Béarn (Traditional province, France)

Last modified: 2004-10-09 by ivan sache
Keywords: bearn | cows: 2 (red) |
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[Bearn]by Arnaud Leroy

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History of Béarn

Béarn is the ancient pagus Bearnensis or Benehornum.

In 820, king Louis le Pieux made of Béarn an hereditary viscounty granted to one of the duke of Gascogne's sons. In 841, Morlaàs replaced the former capital city Lescar, which had been trashed by the Sarracens. In the XIth century, viscount Gaston IV le Croisé promulgated the For (right) de Morlaàs, a kind of chart which restricted the seignieurial powers and established an equitable tallage. Every new viscount should "swear the For". In 1194, the capital city of Béarn was transfered to Orthez.

In 1290, the House of Foix received Béarn by marriage. The most famous count of Foix and viscount of Béarn was Gaston III (1331-1391) Fébus (the Brilliant or the Hunter), whose motto was toque-y si gauses (touch it if you dare). Fébus exerted an absolute power and did not care of the Fors. He convened in Orthez a rich court with poets and troubadours, but was also involved in more violent acts. He ordered the assassination of his brother and murdered himself his son during an argument. Fébus was fond of hunting: he wrote a treaty on venery and maintained a pack of 600 dogs. Aged 60, he died near Sauveterre from a cerebral hemorragy when returning from bear hunting.

In 1464, the new ruling house of Albret transfered the capital city of Béarn to Pau. The Albret were small Aquitan lords, who eventually owned the county of Foix, Béarn and Lower-Navarre thanks to the protection of the king of France and wise marriages.
In 1527, viscount Henri d'Albret married François I's sister, the brilliant Marguerite of Angoulême Marguerite was described as follows: "a woman's body, a man's heart, and an angel's head". Her daughter Jeanne d'Albret, however, was said "to be a woman by her sex only". She married Antoine de Bourbon, a descendant of Louis IX (Saint-Louis), thus explaining why their son Henri IV claimed the throne of France after the death of the last Valois king, Henri III. Jeanne became queen of Navarre, since the Salic law was not in use in Béarn, and abjured catholicism for the reformed religion. King of France Charles IX sent an army that seized Pau and forced Jeanne to flee to La Rochelle. Montgomery captured Pau and the queen came back five months later. Jeanne married his son to Marguerite de Valois (la Reine Margot), the daughter ofkKing of France Henri II and Catherine de Médicis.
In 1572, the bloody night of St.Bartholomew took place six days after Henri's wedding. Henri was forced to abjure protestantism, but solemnely abjured only short before being crowned king of France in 1589. He is said to have said then Paris vaut bien une messe ("Paris deserves at least a mass"). Béarn was incorporated to the kingdom but kept its autonomy status. Henri said: "I give France to Béarn and not Béarn to France" and bore the title of "King of France and Navarre". Béarn was eventually annexated in 1620 under Louis XIII, but the province kept its Parliament and States, called Cour de Béarn (Court of Béarn) in Pau until 1789.

In the south of Béarn, the mountain valleys of Ossau, Aspe and Barétous kept until the Revolution a system of political autonomy, often called "pastoral democracy", which was based on the aforementioned fors. Feudal taxes, serfdom and gabelle (salt tax) did not exist there. The pastures were a collective property, divided into three parts rotated each year between the shepherds. The pastures of Pont-Long, located north of Pau, are still divided between the herds from the three valleys according to medieval acts.

Ivan Sache, 17 December 2002

Description of the flag

The banner of arms of Béarn is:

D'or aux deux vaches de gueules, accornées, colletées et clarinées d'azur, passant l'une sur l'autre (GASO)

In English, the blazon is shorter:

Or two cows gules horned and belled azure (Brian Timms)

The cows (vaches) recall the ancient Iberic tribe of Vacceans, who were subjugated by the Romans in 100 BP, and are said to be the ancestors of the Béarnais.

Ivan Sache, 17 December 2002

The arms of Béarn are shown on the coat of arms and flag of Andorra

Santiago Dotor, 18 December 2002