Viscounty of Béarn
|Viscounty of Béarn|
|Vicomitatus Benearniens (Latin)
Vescomtat de Bearn (Occitan)
Vicomté de Béarn (French)
Gascony and Bearn ca.1150
|Capital||Lescar (up to ca.841)
Morlans (10th–12th centuries)
Ortès (12th–15th centuries)
Old Occitan then Bearnès
|Religion||Roman Catholicism (up to the 16th century)
Calvinism (up to 1620)
|Viscount or Prince|
|Historical era||Middle Ages and Renaissance|
|-||Independence declared by Gaston III Fèbus||25 September 1347|
|-||Enric II became King of France||27 February 1594|
|-||Integrated by France||October 1620|
The Viscounty, later Principality, of Béarn (Gascon: Bearn or Biarn) was a medieval lordship in the far south of France, part of the Duchy of Gascony from the late ninth century. In 1347 the viscount refused to acknowledge the suzerainty of the French king and declared Béarn an independent principality. It later entered a personal union with the Kingdom of Navarre in 1479 and France in 1589. In 1620 the king formally incorporated Béarn as a province of France.
The citation of a certain "Gaston [son] of Centule, viscount of Béarn" (Gasto Centuli vicecomes Bearnensis) is the first attestation of a specific regional organization in the late 860s/early 870s. Its first parliamentary body, the Cour Major, was formed in 1080. Bearn became a part of the Duchy of Aquitaine, which passed to the Kings of England through Eleanor of Aquitaine, and was thus subject to the Kingdom of England for a little over a century (1242–1347). Béarn passed to the House of Foix in 1290.
The independence of Béarn from France came about as a result of the Hundred Years' War (1337–1453) between France and England. In 1347, on the heels of English victory at the battle of Crécy (1346), the Viscount Gaston III Fébus paid homage to the king of France for his the county of Foix, but refused to give homage for Béarn, which he claimed held from no one but God. After the English victory at Poitiers in 1356, Gaston refused to attend the Estates General of France. For the next decade he successfully resisted the efforts of the Black Prince to enforce his suzerainty as Prince of Aquitaine over Béarn. In 1364 Gaston dropped the lowly vicecomital title in favour of "Lord of Béarn" (Dominus Bearni). Its chief seat and stronghold lay at Pau, a site fortified by the 11th century, and proclaimed as official capital of the independent principality in 1464. In 1479, the Lord of Béarn, Francis Phoebus, inherited the Kingdom of Navarre, across the Pyrenees to the southwest. The two sovereign principalities remained in personal union until their extinction.
Béarn went on to be ruled by Henry II of Navarre, who inherited it from his mother, while at the same time the Kingdom of Navarre was almost entirely occupied by Spain (with only Lower Navarre, north of the Pyrenees, escaping Spanish permanent occupation). In 1560, Henry's daughter, Jeanne III, a staunch Calvinist, declared Catholicism outlawed and confiscated church property. When Jeanne's son, Henry III, became King Henry IV of France in 1589, he kept all his estates distinct from French royal domain. He re-appointed his sister, Catherine, his regent in Navarre and Béarn. It was only in 1607, after Catherine's death (1604), that he conceded to the demands of the Parlement of Paris, and reunited with the French crown his domains of Foix, Bigorre and Comminges, including Quatre-Vallées and Nébouzan, conforming to the tradition that the king of France would have no personal domain. However, he refused the Parlement′s demand that he unite Béarn and Lower Navarre with the French crown, since these territories were not French estates, but separate realms. Had these principalities been united with France, the Edict of Nantes (1598) would have applied to them and Catholic property would have to have been restored. Nonetheless, Henry, now a Catholic, consented to restore Catholic rights of worship in certain towns. The estates of Béarn continued to conduct business in the Bearnès dialect of Old Occitan and laws were enacted in the same. Prior to the 1601, the Duc de Rohan was the heir to Navarre and Béarn, since the Salic law of France did not apply there.
After Henry IV's death, Calvinists from Béarn attended the Huguenot conference at Saumur in 1611 in an effort to enlist their support for Béarnese and Navarrese independence. In 1614, the same year he came of age, Henry IV's successor, Louis XIII, was confronted by a Huguenot uprising supported by Béarn. In a meeting of the French Estates General that year, the Third Estate petitioned for the union of all sovereign provinces with France. In 1616 Louis issued an edict uniting the principality with France, but it was ignored. On 3 May the Treaty of Loudun gave the Huguenots, who had supported the rebellion of the Prince of Condé, the right join their churches with those in Béarn. Louis's edict of June 1617 ordering the restoration of property confiscated from Catholics was also ignored. In 1620 Louis marched into Béarn with a large army, convoked the estates and, sitting on his Béarnese throne, issued an edict of union. He preserved the freedom of worship of the Calvinists, the right of the estates to negotiate their taxes and the obligation of the king of France to swear to uphold the customary law of Béarn on his accession. The edict also united Béarn and Navarre: thenceforth the Parlement of Navarre had authority over both regions and would sit at Pau. Its operating language would be French. This was the first time the French language was imposed on a region incorporated into France. This last edict had little effect on Béarn, where the elites already spoke French.
- John Hine Mundy, [Review of Pierre Tucoo-Chala (1959), Gaston Fébus et la vicomté de Béarn, 1343–1391 (Bordeaux: Birère)], Speculum, 36:2 (1961), pp. 354–56.
- Paul Cohen, "Linguistic Politics on the Periphery: Louis XIII, Béarn, and the Making of French as an Official Language in Early Modern France", When Languages Collide: Perspectives on Language Conflict, Language Competition, and Language Coexistence (Ohio State University Press, 2003), pp. 175–78.
- Aleksandra Dmitrievna Liublinskaia, French absolutism: The Crucial Phase, 1620–1629 (Cambridge University Press, 1968), pp. 170–73.