Bearn - Encyclopedia


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BEARN, formerly a small frontier province in the south of France, now included within the department of Basses-Pyrenees. It was bounded on the W. by Soule and Lower Navarre, on the N. by Chalosse, Tursan and Astarac, E. by Bigorre and S. by the Pyrenees. Its name can be traced back to the town of Beneharnum (Lescar). The civitas Beneharnensium was included in the Novempopulania. It was conquered by the Vascones in the 6th century, and in 819 became a viscounty dependent on the dukes of Aquitaine - a feudal link which was broken in the 11th century, when the viscounts ceased to acknowledge any suzerain. They then reigned over the two dioceses of Lescar and Oloron; but their capital was Morlaas, where they had a mint which was famous throughout the middle ages. In the 13th century Gaston VII., of the Catalonian house of Moncade, made Orthez his seat of government. His long reign (1229-1290) was a perpetual struggle with the kings of France and England, each anxious to assert his suzerainty over Beam. As Gaston left only daughters, the viscounty passed at his death to the family of Foix, from whom it was transmitted through the houses of Grailly and Albret to the Bourbons, and they, in the person of Henry IV., king of Navarre, made it an apanage of the crown of France. It was not formally incorporated in the royal domains, however, until 1620. None of these political changes weakened the independent spirit of the Bearnais. From the 11th century onward, they were governed by their own special customs or fors. These were drawn up in the language of the country, a Romance dialect (1288 being the date of the most ancient written code), and are remarkable for the manner in which they define the rights of the sovereign, determining the reciprocal obligations of the viscount and his subjects or vassals. Moreover, from the 12th century Beam enjoyed a kind of representative government, with tours plenieres composed of deputies from the three estates. From 1220 onward, the judiciary powers of these assemblies were exercised by a tour majour of twelve barons jurats charged with the duty of maintaining the integrity of the fors. When Gaston-Phoebus wished to establish a regular annual hearth-tax (fouage) in the viscounty, he convoked the deputies of the three estates in assemblies called accts. These soon acquired extensive political and financial powers, which continued in operation till 1789. Although, when Beam was annexed to the domains of the crown, it was granted a conseil d'etat and a parlement, which sat at Pau, the province also retained its fors until the Revolution.

See also Olhagaray, Histoire de Foix, Beam et Navarre (1609); Pierre de Marca, Histoire de Beam (1640). This work does not go beyond the end of the 13th century; it contains a large number of documents. Faget de Baure, Essais historiques sur le Beam (1818); Les Fors de Beam, by Mazure and Hatoulet (1839), completed by J. Brissaud and P. Roge in Textes additionnels aux anciens Fors de Bearn (1905); Leon Cadier, Les Etats de Beam depuis leur origine jusqu'au commencement du XVI e siecle (1888). (C. B.*)

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