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Lord of the Pyrenees: Gaston Fébus, Count of Foix [1331-1391]

Lord of the Pyrenees: Gaston Fébus, Count of Foix [1331-1391]

Richard Vernier
Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    Lord of the Pyrenees: Gaston Fébus, Count of Foix [1331-1391]
    Book Description:

    The reign of Gaston III, Count of Foix and self-proclaimed sovereign Lord of Béarn, stands out as one of the rare success stories of the `calamitous' fourteenth century. By playing a skilful game of shifting allegiances and timely defiance, he avoided being drawn into the conflicts between his more powerful neighbours - France and English Aquitaine, Aragon and Castile - thus sparing his domains the devastations of warfare. Best known as a patron of the arts, and the author of a celebrated ‘Book of the Hunt’, Fébus - as he styled himself - also prefigures the eighteenth-century `enlightened despots' with his effort to centralize government, protect natural resources and promote enterprise. But a sequence of mysterious tragedies - the abrupt dismissal of his wife, the slaying of his only legitimate son - reveal the dark side of the brilliant and enigmatic `Sun Prince of the Pyrenees'. RICHARD VERNIER is Professor Emeritus of Romance Languages and Literatures, Wayne State University. He is the author of ‘The Flower of Chivalry: Bertrand du Guesclin and the Hundred Years War’.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-657-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. Preface
    (pp. vii-viii)
  5. Note: About Money
    (pp. ix-x)
  6. Abbreviations
    (pp. x-x)

    • 1 Inheritance
      (pp. 2-14)

      On 25 September 1347 one Acharias de Brunheys, ‘gentleman’ , brought to the Count of Foix letters bearing the royal seal of France. He was much taken aback when, after reading the letters, the fifteen-year-old Gaston III informed him that he had come to the wrong place, at the wrong time. The envoy had travelled very far indeed, all the way to Orthez in the viscounty of Béarn (now the French département of Pyrénées-Atlantiques), only to be told that the royal summons would only be considered, and answered, after the feast of All Saints, when the Count would be back...

    • 2 Apprenticeship
      (pp. 15-28)

      When he confidently asserted that, ‘in his own land of Béarn’ , he answered to no overlord, Gaston III was only sixteen years old. If the self-portrait he was to pen long afterwards is to be believed, he was at that time barely emerging from a rather unpromising childhood. ‘I was born’ , he wrote, ‘most depraved and frivolous, so much so that my father and mother were ashamed of me, and everyone said: “This one will be worthless, and woe is the land of which he will be lord!”’¹ Even allowing for the fact that this self-deprecation was part...

    • 3 Trials and Tribulations
      (pp. 29-43)

      Gaston III and his bride left Paris in late October or November 1349, after attending the funeral ceremonies for Jeanne de Navarre. For Agnès, who may well have lived most of her life until then in the elegant atmosphere of her mother’s court, her loss must have been compounded by the prospect of a veritable exile to a distant, unknown land, among probably uncouth strangers, crowded in the relatively cramped quarters of the Château Moncade. And even though the Count of Foix would presumably not have set out without a strong armed escort, the journey itself would have been cause...

    • 4 Fébus Revealed
      (pp. 44-60)

      An English strategy for a decisive campaign was set in motion in the summer of 1356. The plan was simple: Edward III was to strike from the North, while the Prince of Wales, who only a few months before had demonstrated his ability to go far and fast, would march from Aquitaine. The French King would thus have to fight on two fronts, a predicament made even more acute by the open war now waged by Philippe de Navarre from his base in Cherbourg, and the doubtful loyalties of some vassals and neighbours – such as the Count of Foix – on...


    • 5 Challenges and Designs
      (pp. 62-82)

      It was an impulse natural to feudal magnates to try and achieve as much political and legal independence as they could exact from their royal overlords. The eventual triumph of centralizing monarchies would make such centrifugal proclivities appear as retrograde movements against the flow of history – provincial obscurantism and feudal greed impeding for a time the formation of the indivisible national state. However, the resurgence in the twentieth century of many regional particularismes hitherto believed extinct, suggest that the wish to be master in one’s own house was by no means the monopoly of medieval nobles, and that their resistance...

    • 6 Governing Wisely
      (pp. 83-106)

      Whatever the ultimate goal of Gaston III’s territorial expansion may have been, his policy of armed neutrality in the Anglo-French conflict, together with successful resistance to claims of both English and French suzerainty over Béarn, had effectively preserved his domains from the then endemic ravages of war. To be sure, the perennial feud with Armagnac brought some enemy incursions, particularly into Marsan and Foix, but the most dangerous foreigners – Edward of Wales and Louis d’Anjou – refrained from attempting an invasion of Béarn. During his devastating chevauchée of 1355 from Bordeaux to Narbonne, the Black Prince spared not only the Count’s...

    • 7 Fébus at Home
      (pp. 107-126)

      Like many feudal rulers, Gaston III had no fixed capital in the modern sense of a central seat of government located in or near his principal residence. The coterie of familiars that formed the rudimentary governing council of Foix-Béarn under Fébus normally followed him wherever he chose to be at any given time. What remains of the several castles where he dwelt in various parts of his domains suggests that they were primarily fortresses, accommodating rather cramped living quarters. The oldest may have been the castle of Foix, on a site inhabited since prehistoric times and fortified since the tenth...

    • 8 Fébus, the Author
      (pp. 127-142)

      In the account of his visit to Orthez, Froissart sketches an unusually vivid picture of the Count of Foix and of his life style, a recollection in which are thrown together dramatic instances of Fébus’ dangerous temper (the ‘stabbing’ of Pierre-Arnaud) and mundane details of his eating habits (his large consumption of chicken wings), as well as the number of torches lighting the Count’s supper table, the amount of his daily alms distributed at his door, and his appreciation of minstrelsy. From other sources – such as the inventory of his library – it can be inferred that Fébus was an omnivorous...


    • 9 The Orthez Mystery
      (pp. 144-162)

      In the third of the thirty-seven penitential orisons Fébus composed ‘when the Lord was angry with [him]’ , the pathos of personal anguish can be clearly heard through the protective layers of rhetoric and quasi-liturgical Latin, a pathos laced with mystery as the Count begs God’s mercy not only for himself, but also for an unnamed, equally guilty other. The supplication is repeated five times: ‘Lord, may it please Thee that we two (nos duo) not be among the damned’; ‘Lord, look as us two Thy servants (nos duo servos tuos)’; ‘Lord, save me and him (salva me et illum)’;...

    • 10 Endgame
      (pp. 163-183)

      The dilemma about the dynastic succession was neither the only nor the most immediate concern raised by the death of young Gaston. By his marriage with Béatrix d’Armagnac, the heir of Foix-Béarn had been, as Espan de Lion put it, ‘the delight of his father and of the country, because through him the land of Béarn […] could remain in peace.’ But now, with its guarantor gone, the fragile peace mediated (not to say imposed) by the King of France and the Pope between the two greatest lords in the Midi was unlikely to hold – especially if the Count of...

    • 11 Death, and the Spoils
      (pp. 184-203)

      Taken at its face value, the treaty of Toulouse may appear to be the testament of a Count of Foix who, having considered his own mortality, wished to put his earthly affairs in order. In 1389 Fébus had reached an advanced age, at least by medieval reckoning. Enough of his contemporaries, friends and foes alike, had failed to reach the threescore years and ten allotted by the Psalmist: the once mighty Edward, Prince of Wales and Aquitaine, dead at the age of forty-six; Charles V ‘the Wise’ , at forty-four; the turbulent Louis d’Anjou, at forty-five. Dead also, the great...

  10. APPENDIX Bernard de Béarn, Count of Medinaceli
    (pp. 204-207)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 208-212)
  12. Index
    (pp. 213-222)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 223-223)