History of Béarn
The viscountcy of Béarn was founded in the 9th century and grew as a result of later
annexations. Initially a vassal of the Dukes of Gascony, then of the Kings of Aragon, and
finally the Dukes of Aquitaine, who were also Kings of England, the viscountcy passed into the
hands of the Counts of Foix. In the 14th century, Gaston Phoebus forced the acceptance of the
sovereignty of Béarn. This great prince showed the Kings of France that he recognized
no other sovereign for Béarn than God and himself!
In the 15th century, through the marriage of the viscount to the heiress of Navarre, the state of Navarre was founded; it was further enriched in the 16th century through marriage by the wealth of a King of the South West: Jean d'Albret. Not for long, however, as the Catholic Kings were soon to annex all of Spanish Navarra. The state managed to retain only three cantons (today Basque, from Saint Palais to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port).This thin stretch of northern plain was however enough to allow Henri d'Albret, Jeanne d'Albret and then Henri IV to keep the coveted title of "King" or "Queen" of Navarre. Béarn then became Huguenot through the marriage of Henri d'Albret to Marguerite d'Angoulême who was in favor of reform, and whose daughter became a fervent supporter of this cause, founding a Protestant academy at Orthez. During the Wars of Religion, Béarn was devastated. In 1589, the last of the Valois assassinated, the French crown passed to the Bourbons and Henri III of Navarre became Henri IV of France, with his famous quip, "I am giving France to Béarn". While the King converted to Catholicism, Béarn remained Huguenot. It was only in 1620 that Louis XIII proclaimed the official union of Béarn with France, installed a parliament in Pau and re-established the Catholic faith. This brought the independence of Béarn to an end, but not its autonomy: it remained a "country of states", which continued to legislate in the Béarn language until the Revolution. If the history of Béarn as such comes to an end in 1789, its inhabitants continued to make history; Béarn produced a number of generals including Bernadotte (from Pau), a republican who later became King of Sweden.
The 19th century was distinguished by the settlement of an English colony at Pau, beginning in
1918 with the arrival of English officers, who explored the green hills of Béarn, founded the
first golf course in the country, and introduced hunting and horse racing. During the Second Empire,
the town of Pau even elected a half-Irish mayor, Patrick O'Quin and his successor in 1876 was
Aristide de Monpezat, an ancestor of the present prince consort, Henrik of Denmark.
The 20th century marked the beginning of a new era of prosperity, characterized by becoming part of industrial society.
History courtesy of Agence Touristique du Béarn