France, Navarre, Béarn and Andorra

The king of France was always "king of France" period, and usually avoided the German styles with their long enumerations of territories. Whenever an individual came to the throne, whatever he possessed became immediately united and merged with the Crown. There are, however, some exceptions. In Dauphiné, Provence, and (briefly) Milan, the king of France also styled himself as lord of that particular area. There is also a peculiar exception with Navarre, Béarn and Andorra, discussed here.

  • Navarre
  • Bearn
  • Andorra
  • References
  • Navarre

    The kingdom of Navarre was one of the Christian kingdoms to emerge in northern Spain after the Muslim conquest in the 8th century, next to Asturias, Leon, Castile and Aragon. It oroginally extended north and south of the Pyrenees. When the indigenous dynasty died out, it was inherited by the counts of Champagne, whose heiress Jeanne married the king of France Philippe IV (d. 1314).

    Seal of Jeanne de Navarre, queen of France, ca. 1300.

    On her death in 1304 her eldest son Louis became king of Navarre. When Philippe IV died, Louis became Louis X, king of France and Navarre, and displayed both arms on his seal. Louis X died in 1316, leaving a daughter by his first marriage, Jeanne, and a pregnant widow. The posthumous child, a son, died after a few days, and Louis X's brother Philippe became king of France and of Navarre. On his death, neither throne passed to his daughters, but instead to his brother Charles IV, who also died without male heir in 1328. But, in 1328, the daughter of Louis X, Jeanne, was a grown woman and married to Philippe d'Évreux, second prince of the blood after the count of Valois and a powerful man. Moreover, the Navarrese contested the succession acts of 1316 and 1322, and recognized Jeanne as their queen. Finally, since Navarre had been inherited by women, it was hard for the French dynasty to claim that it could not pass through women. In the end, Jeanne was acknowledged as queen of Navarre, and the kingdoms separated, with Navarre passing to her descendants of the Évreux family.

    Seal of Charles III of Navarre (1409). (Source:
    Base de données Archim.)

    The kingdom of Navarre passed by marriage to Aragon in 1425, then to Foix in 1480, then to Albret. In 1512, the part of the kingdom south of the Pyrenees was conquered by Spain. Then, by a quirk of fate, France and Navarre were reunited when Henri IV, who was king of Navarre by right of his mother Jeanne d'Albret since 1572, became king of France by his father's right in 1589.

    When Henri III of Navarre became king of France as Henri IV in August 1589, he possessed considerable estates of his own, both within and without France: the kingdom of Navarre, the independent sovereignties of Béarn, Donnezan and Andorra; and, within the kingdom of France, the duchies of Albret, Beaumont, Vendôme, counties of Foix, Armagnac, Comminges, Bigorre, Marle, and other possessions. He inherited Beaumont and Vendôme from his father Antoine de Bourbon, but most of this inheritance came through his mother Jeanne d'Albret (died 1572), daughter of Henri d'Albret and Marguerite de France.

    The county of Foix belonged to a junior branch of the counts of Carcassone. The counts of Foix acquired the vicomté de Béarn (created in the 9th c.) by marriage in 1290. In 1398 the estates passed to the Grailly family, who inherited the kingdom of Navarre by marriage in 1480. In 1484, the inheritance passed to the powerful family of Albret. They were deprived in 1512 of the Haute-Navarre, or the part of Navarre south of the Pyrenees, when it was conquered by Aragon. The Albret only retained the Basse-Navarre, north of the Pyrenees.

    Thus, with Henri IV the two crowns were held by the same prince. However, they formed separate kingdoms, with different laws. In particular, Navarre did not follow the Salic Law which excluded succession through female line. When Henri IV officially acceded, his claim to the throne of France was far from secure, and he would spend another 4 years fighting to secure it. His sister Catherine was heir presumptive to the throne of Navarre, and he intended to protect her future. As a consequence, by letters patent of April 13, 1590, he declared that his personal estate was not united to the crown of France; other Letters of December 21, 1596 also prescribed that "our ancient domain, in our kingdom of Navarre and sovereign land of Béarn and Donazan, low countries of Flanders, as well as our duchies, counties, viscounties, lands, lordships in this our kingdom, be and remained disunited, disjoint and separate of our house of France not to be in any way included or merged unless it is by us otherwise ordered, or unless God bestows on us the grace of hacing children we desire to provide thereto." The parlement of Paris protested, arguing that French public law did not know of such distinction between the sovereign's public and private estate, and that, upon accession to the throne, "all States and possessions (Seigneuries) belonging to the King as an individual are considered to belong to the Kingdom, whether they are dependent of the Crown or have been separated from it at a prior time". Henri IV issued other letters on April 18 and on May 29, 1591 but the Parlement of Paris resolved not to register them on July 29, 1591. But the parlements of Toulouse and Bordeaux proved more compliant and registered the letters patent. (Note that Louis-Philippe, upon his accession to the throne in 1830, did the same thing and maintained his personal estates as separate from the Public Domain. As a result, even after his overthrow in 1848 his family remained well provided for).

    Over time, Henri IV's position on the throne was firmly established, his sister died without heirs, and he himself had a son in 1606. He therefore revised his position and, by an Edict of July 1607, revoked the letters patent of 1590 and 1591, confirmed the decision of the Parlement of Paris (thereby acknowledging the validity of the doctrine of automatic union) and united to the crown all his estates which were within the Kingdom of France. Thus Navarre, Béarn, Andorre and Donnezan, by default, remained separate.

    There was a precedent for this situation: when Anne de Bretagne married Charles VIII (1491) and then his successor Louis XII (1499), France and Brittany were under personal union but not complete union (Brittany had been more or less independent of the French crown, although in the 15th c. its dukes gave homage to the French king). Their daughter Claude de France succeeds her mother in 1514 and is married the same year to the heir presumptive, who becomes king as François I in 1515. On her death in 1524 their eldest son François became duke of Brittany, but in 1532 the Estates of Brittany proclaimed the perpetual union of Brittany to the crown of France.

    However, it is probable that Henri IV intended to pursue the union of his domains, and was prevented by his death in 1610. It remained to his son Louis XIII to carry this out, which he did by an Edict of October 1620, registered in his presence by the Sovereign Council of Navarre in Pau on October 20, 1620. The preamble of the edict mentions explicitly "the misfortunes and inconveniences which would occur if, failing a male heir to our Royal House, said countries passed by inheritance to Foreign princes, thereby opening a door to enter into our Kingdom."

    The text states, among other things, that "by this our perpetual and irrevocable Edict, we have united and incorporated, and we unite and incorporate said Crown and State of Navarre, and our State and Sovereignty of Béarn, Andore and Donesan, and all lands appertaining thereunto and which have customarily depended thereon, to our Crown and Domain of France, to be hereafter members thereof, and of the same Nation, rank and status as the other members of our Kingdom, Crown and Domain, without however infringing on the franchises, freedoms, privileges and rights belonging to our subjects of said Kingdom and State of Béarn."

    There were protests against the Edict, but they were directed at another clause which also united the judiciary of Navarre to that of France and created a new parlement in Pau. Apparently the Navarrais objected much more to the loss of their judiciary than to the union of the crowns. In 1789 the Navarrais would claim that the Edict of 1620 was not valid, since it had not received their consent, and ask for its repeal, but at the same time offer to adopt the Salic Law in Navarre; thus making clear that they agreed with the union of the crowns. In any event, the separate institutions of Navarre were abolished in 1791 and never recreated.

    Thus the main object of the edict of 1620 was to bind together the two kingdoms, not merge them, and they remained separate, with their bodies of laws and customs. (There are in fact striking similarities between this union and the Act of Union which created the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707.) The style of the monarch remained "Roi de France et de Navarre" and the coat of arms of the French king showed the two escutcheons of France and Navarre side by side.

    The high courts of Béarn and Navarre were replaced with a Parlement established in Pau, but the Estates remained, both in Navarre and in Béarn (as well as in other dominions of Henri IV, like Foix). The Estates of Navarre, composed of the clergy, nobility, and third estate or commons (representatives of 28 towns and communities) made all decisions regarding taxes, whose total amount was negotiated with the king. The coinage remained distinct in Béarn and Navarre until 1789, the main mint in Pau striking coins with per pale: I. France, II. per fess Navarre and Béarn; in the 1650s there was also a mint in Saint-Palais striking coins with per pale France and Navarre, and even in some cases per pale Navarre and France.

    In January 1789, when the Estates General of France were called, an order was sent to Navarre for the election of representatives to that assembly: the order was rejected by the Estates of Navarre, and the king sent an "invitation" to the Estates to send its representatives to the king in Versailles. The four representatives (one clergyman, the bishop of Bayonne; one nobleman, Legras marquis d'Olhonce; and two of the commons, Vivié and Franchistegui) arrived in Versailles in July 1789 but did not take seat at the National Assembly (which the Estates General had turned into). When the Assembly came to debate the new style of the monarch, it was proposed to drop the title of king of Navarre, at which point the deputation intervened and sent a letter to the Assembly, read in the session of October 12, 1789 (see the text of the session on Gallica). The Estates of Navarre, he explained, were not against complete union with France and in fact had just voted to adopt the Salic law in their kingdom; but they did not want this to happen before they knew what the new constitution would be, and without their consent. Until then, they considered their kingdom as separate. The Assembly nevertheless voted to drop the title, and the French king became "roi des Français" (the old style of "roi de France et de Navarre" was resumed from 1814 to 1830, at a time when it had no meaning anymore, the institutions of Navarre having been abolished without a trace in 1789-91).


    The Estates of Béarn were not so willing as the Council of Navarre to accept the Union. In fact, since their judiciary was the one to which the judiciary of Navarre was united, they had no objection to that part of the Edict, but they did not accept that their privileges ("les Fors") had been suspended by the Edict. In fact, they had expressed their opposition to the project of union on February 2, 1617. Called to register the Edict on October 21, they stalled and asked for a copy of the text to be studied at a later date. Called again in 1622, they approved the judiciary union but asked the king to revoke the political union (June 10, 1622). The Estates never officially registered the full text of the Edict.

    In 1789, when the Estates General were called for the first time since 1614, the Estates of Béarn debated whether they were in any way concerned, and whether they should send representatives. In the end they decided to do so, but severely restricted their mandates and did not authorize them to alter in any way the privileges of the land of Béarn. And in fact, when the National Assembly abolished all privileges on August 4, 1789, an exception was made allowing the Estates of Béarn to express their consent. Deliberations took place in a charged atmosphere, and in the end the decree of August 4 was approved on October 28, 1789.


    Andora was a special case: in 1278, as the outcome of an arbitration called a "paréage", sovereignty over Andorra was shared between the bishop of Urgel (Spain) on one hand, the counts of Foix and their heirs on the other. The county of Foix passed to the Albret family and thereafter became part of the inheritance of Henri IV. Andorra, or rather the portion of sovereignty reserved for the heirs of the counts of Foix, was included in the Edict of 1620, and the rights to Andorra therefore became part of the Crown of France, and its successor institutions.

    The Andorrans were obliged to pay tribute to the King of France every year (l'albergue). In 1793, they sent their tribute to the administration of the newly created departement of Ariège (note that Louis XVI had been deposed and France was a Republic, but the Andorrans clearly considered the French Republic to be the heir to the rights over Andorra). They were turned away, because the tribute was feudal, and feudalism had been abolished in France. Nevertheless, in 1801 they petitioned Bonaparte, then First Consul of the French Republic, to assert his sovereignty over Andorra. This was done on 27 March 1806 by an Imperial Decree, appointing a "viguier" to represent the Emperor alongside the viguier of the bishop of Urgel in the Cortes of Andorra, and by requiring three representatives of Andorra to swear an oath of loyalty before the prefect of Ariège, and fixing the annual tribute at 960 F, its pre-1789 value (to which was at some point added 12 cheeses, 12 poultry, 12 partridges and 6 hams; the tribute was paid until 1993, the new Constitution may have abolished it). The syndic of Andorra promptly made the oath, and, when the regime changed in 1814, made the oath again to the restored king.

    The successive French regimes have exercised unchallenged authority over Andorra, jointly with the bishop of Urgel, since then. The Constitution of 1993 (in Catalan or English) designates them as co-princes in Title III.


    Heraldry of Andorra

    The Arms of Andorra are displayed on the national flag. They show Quarterly gules a bishop's mitre or lined argent, or three pales gules, or four pallets gules and or two cows passant per pale gules. They combine Urgel, Foix, Aragon and Béarn.

    Other Resources on Andorra

    There are a number of links to Andorra on the Web.


    • Delmas, Pierre: Du Parlement de Navarre et de ses origines. Bordeaux, 1898; Yvres Cadoret.
    • Destrée, Alain: La Basse-Navarre et ses institutions de 1620 à la Révolution. Zaragossa, 1955; Talliares editoriales.
    • Tucoo-Chala, Pierre: La vicomté de Béarn et le Problème de la souveraineté. Bordeaux, 1961; Imprimerie Bière.
    • Toureng, Raymonde: Le Statut juridique des vallées d'Andorre. Toulouse, 1939; Imprimerie moderne.

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    François Velde

    Last modified: May 08, 2007