Making Identities in the Hundred Years War: Aquitaine, Gascony and Béarn
By Makoto Kato
Paper given at the Eighth Japanese-Korean Symposium on Medieval History of Europe: Medieval Identities: Political, Social and Religious Aspects (2013)
Introduction: In June 1415, Bertrand VII, count of Armagnac, sent a letter to Gaillard de Durfort, seneschal of Aquitaine for the king of England:
It seems strange to us and a hard thing that our own relatives and friends, and even those of our same nation give aid to the men of foreign nation in this matter, … with the help of God and our lords and friends, no man of foreign nation shall be seen in Gascony who will dare to say and do such things against the count of Armagnac.
In this letter the count of Armagnac complained that many Gascon families had helped against him “the men of foreign nation” whom he designated elsewhere the count of Foix. This accusation reflected a long dynastic conflict between the house of Armagnac and of Foix. The idea of “nation” here might be close to the idea of an ethno-linguistic people: the Gascons. As Guilhem Pépin recently demonstrates, medieval Gascons had a very clear idea of their identity and of the borders of Gascony. In order to prevent from attacking him, the count of Armagnac, using this idea, claimed that the county of Foix had been historically and linguistically situated outside Gascony. However it is a curious statement because the count of Foix was also lord of Gascon lands such as Béarn, Marsan and Gabardan. Despite of a strong ethnic and linguistic unity, Gascons fought each other on both sides during the Hundred Years War. To complicate matters, Bertrand VII of Armagnac was a chief of the Pro-French party in Gascony and also, by marriage, nephew of Gaillard de Durfort who was one of Jean I of Foix’s ally.
So, in the formation of loyalties and the feelings of fidelity of the medieval Gasons, we are required to find other elements besides the ethnicity and the language. To clarify some aspects, this paper focuses on three phases in which political issues played crucial roles to make Gascon identities in the time of the Hundred Years War.
Through descent from Eleanor, Henry II’s queen, the kings of England were dukes of Aquitaine. The duchy of Aquitaine covered the vast territories from Poitou to the Pyrenees, which included Gascony, the region south of the Garonne. It is generally agreed that the treaty concluded between Henry III and Louis IX at Paris in 1259 had many problems, above all on the question of the homage for Gascony owed to the king of France by the king of England as duke of Aquitaine. This situation caused the conflicting claims of suzerainty and justice and the serious warfare over the sovereignty of the province came between 1294 and 1298 in Gascony.