Gascony

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Gascony

Gascony (găs´kənē), Fr. Gascogne, region of SW France. It is now coextensive with the departments of Landes, Gers, and Hautes-Pyrénées and parts of Pyrénées-Atlantiques, Lot-et-Garonne, Tarn-et-Garonne, Haute-Garonne, Gironde, and Ariège. The sandy and swampy Landes along the Atlantic coast, the majestic Pyrenees forming the border with Spain, and the hilly Armagnac region between the Adour and Garonne rivers are the main geographic areas of Gascony. Fishing, stock raising, wine making, brandy distilling, and the tourist trade are the chief industries. The historical capital is Auch; other important towns are Bayonne, Biarritz, Luchon (see Bagnères-de-Luchon), Tarbes, Dax, and Lourdes. Under the Romans the region was known first as Aquitania Propria and later as Novempopulana or Aquitania Tertia and was inhabited by the Vascones, or Basques, who since prehistoric times had lived in the lands N and S of the Pyrenees. Except in the region SW of the Adour, where the Basque language and customs have persisted to the present, Latin soon became the tongue of Novempopulana. Conquered by the Visigoths (5th cent.) and by the Franks (6th cent.), Novempopulana was invaded in turn by the Basque-speaking peoples (the Vascones) from S of the Pyrenees, who in 601 set up the duchy of Vasconia or Gascony. The duchy's borders fluctuated as the Basques fought the Visigoths, the Franks, and the Arabs throughout the Merovingian period. The duchy kept an independent spirit throughout its history, even when Charlemagne forced the duke of Gascony to recognize Louis the Pious, king of Aquitaine, as his suzerain (9th cent.). Invaded by Norsemen early in the 9th cent., Gascony fell into anarchy and split up into small counties and seigniories. In 1052, with the exception of lower Navarre and Béarn, which continued separate, the remainder of Gascony passed to the duchy of Aquitaine. Gascony shared the fate of Aquitaine, fell under English control in 1154, and was a major battleground in the Hundred Years War (1337–1453); it was completely recovered by France in 1453. Gascony was then not a political unit; most of its territory was held by the counts of Armagnac, the counts of Foix, and the lords of Albret. All these lands passed, through marriage and inheritance, to Henry of Navarre, who became king of France as Henry IV in 1589. The lands were united with the royal domain in 1607. The resulting province of Guienne and Gascony was divided under the jurisdictions of the parlements of Bordeaux and of Toulouse.

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