Basque People’s History

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The Basque Country
The Basque Country
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Basque people’s History

Basques’ origin.
Basque people in the Antic Ages.
Vascony’s duchy
Pamplona’s basque kingdom :

March towards unity (824-1004).
Navarre’s height (1004-1076).
Navarre’s decline (1076-1425).
The Civil War (1425-1515).
End of Navarre’s kingdom.
Xubero and Lapurdi in the Middle Ages.
Basque Country from Renaissance to Spanish civil war :

Northern Basque Country.
Southern Basque Country.
Southern Basque Country during the spanish civil war and Franco’s dictatorship.
Southern Basque Country and democracy.



Basques’ origins :

According to molecular anthropology’s latest results, it seems that Basques settled in Europe with the first Homo Sapiens and that they lived side by side with Neanderthal men. We would thus be the most direct descendants of the Stone Age artists who, about 20000 years ago, have painted the Lascaux and Altamira caves : Basques may thus be the oldest West European population. Our traditions (ethnic solidarity, family cell permanence, property transmission to a single heir) may have allowed us to preserve a large part of our ancestral genetic characteristics and may have slowed foreign gene incorporation. Around 8500 BC, different human groups left Mesopotamia looking for new agricultural lands. When they arrived at the Atlantic coast around 4000 BC, the first Basques were already settled at the Pyrenees bottom, in a woody area, with a pleasant and humid climate.
Genetic studies have demonstrated that all Western Europeans, except Lappish who have a mongol origin and Basques, are genetically closed from each other. A recent molecular anthropology study based upon several hundreds men, has thus pointed out that Basques :

have very specific blood groups and proteinic tracers, that can easily be distinguished from those from surrounding populations.
have in their chromosomes a specific genetic sequence, very uncommon in other Western european populations.

Those specificities suggest that Basques are the oldest western Europe inhabitants. We may thus have resisted better than other people against genetic mixes, that have transformed the continent since the “Neolithic Revolution”.
Basque language, Euskara, which is not indo-european, is very unique amongst the other spoken languages of the area. Strabon and Julius Cesar already described it as very different from the Gauls language. Its syntax and its structure are very specific, and no attempt in connecting Euskara with other linguistic groups have been successfully achieved. Sergeï Stratostin have connected Euskara to the Northern Caucasus linguistic group, which also includes Sumerian language. Some other researchers supposed that Euskara was connected with ancient Iberes. But, despite some similarities, perfect knowledge of Euskara doesn’t allow to understand the ancient iberian language. Euskara has links with causasian and ural-altaic languages, together with an old mediterrean substrate which extend as far as dravidian languages of pre-indoeuropean India.


Basque people in the Antic Ages :

Antic historians listed different people settled between Pyrenees, Garonne river and Atlantic Ocean : Vascons in Navarre, Vardulis in Guipuzcoa and Caristiis in Biscaya. During the last 1000 years before AD, the basque’s influence spread from Garonne river to Aragon and Biscaya : it corresponded with the western pyrenean transhumance area. Celts, who invaded Gaule around 500 BC, never achieved in conquer this influence area. However, around AD, celtic culture influenced basque people by agriculture and iron working introduction in Aquitany, Western Aragon, Southern Alava and Navarre. The last centuries before AD are also characterized by oppidum buildings upon upper hills.
In 72 BC, Sertorius, roman commander in Iberia, supported by Vascons and Cantabres, rebelled against Rome and Pompee, who came to besiege its capital. After its victory, he occupied Navarre and Alava and founded Pamplona. Then, Romans occupied all the iberian peninsula. One of their most important road, from Bordeaux to Astorga, crossed the Basque Country. They exploited Encartaciones (the most western area of Biscaya) iron ore layers and thus favoured ironworks development. But Romans never could or never wanted to settle in atlantic and northern Navarre valleys, probably intimidated by mountains and well defended gorges. Basque Country’s latinisation and christianisation began in those romanised areas.
In his “Gaules War”, based on language, custom and law differences, Julius Caesar distinguished 3 zones : Belgian Gaule, Celtic Gaule and Aquitany. During Caesar campaigns against Belgians and Celts, in 58 BC, Aquitans were only spectators. But, in 56 BC, fearing a Caesar invasion, they helped Armoricans. Then, Caesar sent one of his lieutenants, Publius Crassus, to submit Aquitany : Basques were defeated on Garonne river bank and then on Adour river bank. Finaly, in 39-38 BC, Agrippa, Octavius lieutenant (who will become emperor August), battled and defeated Aquitans. Since that time, basque influence on Aquitany’s plains ended, population were graduately latinised by urban development : Gascon language would thus be a highly latinised version of Euskara. Romans founded the cities of Lapurdum (Bayonne), Iluro (Oloron), Aquae Tarbellicae (Dax).
One of the rare roman period vestiges in Euskadi, “Hasparren’s roman stone”, indicates that Basques obtained their autonomy from Rome, thanks to the country governor’s services to the Empire : Novempopulany is created. Verona’s list, a 297 AD document listing Empire’s provinces, testifies the Novempopulany’s relative autonomy.


Vascony’s duchy :

In 406 AD, germanic tribes invaded Gaule. They devastated Novempopulany in 407. Emperor Honorius gave Visigoths Novempopulany and neighbouring areas, with Toulouse as capital. Aryan (a christianism heresy), they persecuted the first christians who settled in the Basque Country, converted and convinced by San Fermin, the first Pamplona bishop. In 472, they left Novempopulany and settled their capital in Toledo in 554. After king Reccarede’s conversion, Toledo’s council established in 589 AD Visigoths hegemony and peninsula’s religious unity. Vascons, who stayed apart from romanisation, were repelled towards North-East and Gascony by Visigoths.
Visigoths in the south and Francs in the north tried then, alternately and without success, to submit Novempopulany. According to Fegedaire’s chronicle, basque tactics consisted in “creating small human groups, harassing the enemy with repeated skirmishes, timely simulating a retreat and taking refuge in inaccessible points”. Thus, in 635, Basques repelled king Dagobert’s armies, directed by the Duke of Arimbert, in Xubero valleys.
In 670, Basques elected Otsoa for duke, who founded the Aquitany’s duchy. At the time, this duchy spread until Loire river and integrated Vascony’s duchy. In 720, Charles Martel recognised Odon’s sovereignty, Otsoa’s son, on his duchy. And Odon helped Charles Martel in defeating the Saracens in Poitiers in 732. But, en 760, Charles Martel attacked Aquitany. In 768, Pepin le Bref, Charles Martel’s son and Charlemagne’s father, got to murder the Aquitany’s duke. But Vascony remained independent.
Moslems landed on iberic peninsula in 711. Divided by lord struggles, Visigoths couldn’t resist to Moslems : the same year, king Rodrigue was defeated in Guadalete. Moslems took Toledo and invaded the peninsula in few months. This was the beginning of islamic kingdom of Al-Andalus. In 722, in Covadonga, the small soldier troop, sent by Cordoba’s emir Alzama so as to eliminate christian resistance which had taken refuge near the Europe Peaks, is defeated. This victory gave back self confidence to Christians and allowed them recreate a christian monarchy in Asturies.
In 777, after his victory against the Saxons, Charlemagne received a spanish moslem delegation, directed by Barcelona and Gerona’s governor, rebelled against his king Abd al Rahman I. He proposed Charlemagne to give him some Northern Spain towns, including Zaragosa. At spring 778, Charlemagne went toward Pyrenees and arrived front of Zaragosa. But the master of the place had changed and refused to give up the city. Charlemagne then gave up the siege and took back the road to Pamplona with moslem hostages, who will be liberated by a commando action near Navarre. As reprisals, Charlemagne’s army destroyed Pamplona’s walls. As a revenge, on august 15th 778, on Pyrenees crossing, near Ronceveaux, Basques trapped Charlemagne’s army. They killed most of Charlemagne’s knights, among who were Roland. Charlemagne’s troops were demoralised and retreated. This battle impressed the minds through the Song of Roland, written during the XIth century. In 824, Basques, allied with Moslems, trapped again at the same place king Louis II the Devout, Charlemagne’s son, who was coming back from a military expedition in Pamplona.
The two Ronceveaux victories insured Basques independence. But, in the north, Vascony was exhausted by three centuries of struggles against Francs and basque gravity centre moved towards south, where Navarre kingdom was born in 824.


Pamplona’s basque kingdom :


March towards unity (824-1004) :

Iberic peninsula around 800 AD

During the decades before the Pamplona’s kingdom constitution, Navarre was threaten by Cordoba’s emirate on one hand and by Charlemagne’s empire on the other hand. At the end of the VIIIth century, a political and familial alliance was established between Inigo Jimenez, first king of Pamplona’s father, and Banu Qasi, Visigoths converted to Islam who ruled a small territory in the Ebro area. In 801, Louis the Devout took Barcelona to Cordoba’s emir. In 806, Navarra asked for Charlemagne’s protection so as to escape from Cordoba’s emirate forces, come to submit Banu Qasi and their Vascon allies. A franque march was thus created in Spain. But, in 812, Vascons rebelled against Francs et Louis the Devout, Charlemagne’s son, came to Pamplona to restore order. In 824, Basques defeated for the second time the franque army near Ronceveaux, while it went back to France after pacifying Pamplona.
After this victory, Eneko Arista has been crowned king of Pamplona. In the Pamplona’s kingdom, as in other peninsula kingdoms at this time, sovereigns don’t have an absolute authority upon their subjects. Nobility had important privileges, harshly defended : nobles actually ruled the kingdom, recovering taxes, exploiting lands… People’s representatives gathered in provincial assemblies (the Cortes), in which the sovereign came to take the oath to respect Fors (each village’s regulations, exemptions and liberties).
In 842, Cordoba’s emir, Abd el Rahman II, defeated Banu Qasi and Eneko Arista. Pamplona’s kingdom will then, all along the IXth century, mix resistance and agreements with Arabs, so as to preserve its sovereignty.
All along the Xth century, successive kings organized and strengthened the kingdom, while repelling Moslems in the south and Vikings in the north. In 925, king Garcia Sanchez I of Navarre married arago princess Andregoto Galindez. Their son, Sancho Abarca, unified Aragon with Navarre in 970. In 998 and 999, Cordoba’s emir Almanzor, at the top of his power, destroyed Pamplona. But he was killed at Calatañazor battle in 1002, defeated by the alliance between Navarre and Castile.

Navarre’s height (1004-1076) :

Iberic peninsula at the beginning of the XIth century

Navarre is at its height during Sancho the Great’s reign. Born in 992, he married Munia, count of Castile’s daughter, in 1016. He established an objective alliance with the count of Barcelona, and contacted with french religious cultures. He also stretched his influence towards Gascony and Toulouse county, thanks to his familial relationships with king of Gascony (king Garcia Sanchez I of Navarre’s daughter married the king of Gascony), who to pay homage to Sancho in 1012, after having refused it to Hugues Capet, king of France. On may 13th 1029, the young count of Castile, come in Leon to marry the count’s daughter, was murdered. Munia, Sancho’s wife, inherited Castile. Sancho the Great’s reign was a period of political, economical and social expansion for Pamplona’s kingdom, which became definitely the kingdom of Navarre. During his reign, the arab threat left definitely the kingdom, partly due to arab civil war (1008-1028) which ended the Omeyyades caliphate.
When Sancho the Great died in 1035, his possessions had been shared between his sons : Garcia, the eldest and the single king at the beginning, will rule the basque provinces, Fernando will be count of Castile, and by marriage, of Leon. Finally, Ramiro will inherit Aragon. All along the XIth century, Castile looked at Navarre. And on september 1st 1054, Fernando of Castile’s troops killed Garcia at Atapuerca battle. In 1067, with king of Aragon’s help, Navarre repelled Castilians at Viana. But, on june 4th 1076, king of Navarre was murdered and king of Castile took his chance to invade Navarre.

Navarre’s decline (1076-1425) :

Navarre’s people then chose king of Aragon as sovereign and repelled together the castilians. At this battle end, the kingdom of Pamplona came under king of Aragon’s protection, who designed a count of Navarre. Rioja was annexed by Castile. For 58 years, from 1076 to 1134, Navarre has enjoyed a relative and shared sovereignty, under Aragon administration. Meanwhile, Navarre and Aragon had taken Huesca (1096), Tudela (1119) and Zaragosa (1118) to Arabs.

Iberic peninsula in the middle of the XIIth century

In 1134, king of Aragon and Navarre died without descendant at Fraga battle. He bequeathed his kingdom to Temple, Hospital and Holy Sepulcre order. Refusing the testimony, Navarre and Aragon’s Cortes chose their own king : Aragon and Navarre were again separated.
In 1200, while king Sancho the Strong of Navarre is in expedition in Africa, Castile and Aragon invaded Navarre. At this conflict’s end, Castile took Alava, Guipuzcoa and Biscaya, supported by basque lords. King of Castile became lord of Guipuzcoa. In thanks to their collaboration, Alava, Guipuzcoa and Biscaya obtained very liberal Fors, which made them states associated by a personal link to Castile’s sovereign. They were not simply Castille’s provinces. Navarre was reduced at its minimal size.
Under Castile’s power, Alava and Biscaya, grew up economically. Thus, Vitoria, founded in 1181 by Sancho the Wise, became a commercial place. It was for centuries the main basque marketplace and gathered a dynamic community of merchants and craftsmen, where jewish community played a clue role. Bilbao was founded in the XIVth century by castilian kings. From its very suited geographical situation, a maritime harbour was created and the town became the main access to Europe for Castile’s products. The commercial growth favoured biscayan ironworks products export and enhanced coastal villages maritime activities. However, due to their orographic characteristics, large areas of Guipuzcoa remained isolated. Their external relationships were limited to areas neighbouring the main roads, used for trade and by pilgrims who walked on the Way of St James of Compostella.

Iberic peninsula at the beginning of the XIIIth century

On october 14th 1201, in Chinon, Navarre signed an eternal peace with England, which has become master of Gascony with Alienor of Aquitany’s marriage with Henry II king of England. This treaty allowed Navarre to use Bayonne as maritime harbour. Under the pope insistence and despite their conflicts, Navarre allied to Castile to defeat Arabs at las Navas de Tolosa in 1211. In 1234, at king of Navarre’s death, the kingdom came in the hands of Thibault IV of Champagne, who was a pacific sovereign and favoured agriculture development, introducing his homeland techniques.
In the years 1270, struggles started between each Pamplona’s quarters (navarre, french, …). They’ll reach their climax with Pamplona civil war (1274-1276). In 1284, Queen Jeanne married king Philippe IV le Bel of France : Navarre was then ruled, until 1328, by House of France. When king Charles IV died in 1328, Navarre’s Cortes chose Jeanne, Louis X le Hutin’s daughter, married to count of Evreux, as their queen. His son, Charles the Bad (1349-1387) implied himself a lot in french politics and acquired the hate of king Jean II le Bon, to have got murder the France connetable (1354) so as to obtain his wife’s dowry. The king of France jailed him in 1356 and 1357, but he escaped. He then allied with the English who were struggling France since 1337. From 1363 to 1367, plots and wars between Henry of Trastamare, who wanted Castile’s throne and kings of France and Aragon on one hand, and kings of Castile, Navarre and England on the other hand, alternated. They finished with Henry of Trastamare defeat at Najera battle. In 1372, the pope decided to give Alava, Guipuzcoa and Rioja to Castile and suggested Navarre’s infant marriage with Castile’s princess, so as to insure peace between both kingdoms. On may 31st 1379, king of Navarre had to accept, after Charles V kidnapped his son, Briones peace, where he had to give up his alliances with England. His son Charles III the Noble will re-establish internal and external peace.

The Civil War (1425-1515) :

When Charles the Noble died, his daughter Jeanne and her husband John of Aragon inherited the throne. After her death (1441), Jeanne bequeathed her kingdom to her son Prince of Viana. But John of Aragon occupied the throne. In 1447, he married Juana Enriquez who gave him a son : Fernando of Aragon. When, on september 7th 1451, Prince of Viana ended, with Puente la Reina’s treaty, the war initiated by his father against Castile, the latter sent him Juana Enriquez as regent. Navarra’s nobility then split in two parts : one part followed Louis of Beaumont, who supported the Prince of Viana and peace with Castile, and the other part followed Gramont family, who supported John of Aragon. War began in 1452. On december 3rd 1454, in Barcelona, front of their sister Leonore and her husband Gaston IV of Foix, John of Aragon summoned Prince of Viana and his sister Blanche to submit, unless they will undergo a trial to deprive them for their hereditary rights to Navarre’s kingdom. In april 1456, they gave in and Navarre was transferred to Leonore. Gaston of Foix came, during summer 1456, to Navarre to apply the decision.
In 1458, after her brother’s death, John bequeathed Aragon, Valencia and Catalonia. Prince of Viana and his sister Blanche dead respectively in 1461 and 1464. John of Aragon still kept the power, and despite his 1456 promises, Leonor and Gaston IV of Foix will have to wait their turn, in 1479. They however still remained to serve him loyally. Meanwhile, both Beaumont et Gramont parties killed each other : Low Navarre was the only zone to live in peace. François Phoebus, son of Eleonor of Navarre and Gaston IV of Foix-Béarn, was recognised king by both parts in 1481, but his power was weakened. Queen mother and Fernando of Aragon, who meanwhile came king of Castile and Aragon, imposed for a time peace to both sides, sharing kingdom’s charges between them. After François death (1483), his sister Catherine bequeathed the throne and married Jean d’Albret, lord of Foix, Comminges and Béarn. Civil War restarted and only ended with Navarre’s invasion by Castile, in 1512. Since then, Navarre’s sovereigns lived in Pau, in Béarn.

End of Navarre’s kingdom :

On july 18th 1512, a castilian army, commanded by the duke of Albe crossed the border between Navarre and Castile. On july 21st, this army besieged Pamplona, which surrendered on 25th. An another army, coming from Aragon and commanded by the bishop of Zaragosa, occupied the south of Navarre, which has resisted until september. During summer, duke of Albe’s army invaded Low Navarre. Louis XII, king of France, set up an expedition commanded by the dauphin François in which Jean d’Albret participated, to free Navarre. It besieged Pamplona on november 27th but failed with winter arrival.
In july 1515, King Fernando officially annexed Navarre to what became the spanish kingdom, while promising to preserve its Fors and its customs and insuring a relative autonomy : the king would be represented in Navarre by vice-king and would act through a Royal Council. In 1521, taking the opportunity of the Communéros revolt, king Henry of Albret, supported by France, attacked the spanish. On may 15th 1521, they took the St Jean Pied de Port’s castle and took control of Low Navarre. They arrived at Pamplona where the people rebelled against spanish : the city fell on may 20th. But, once the Communeros defeated, the spanish army came back against the Navarre’s and french armies, which was defeated on june 30th in Noain, in Pamplona’s valley. Spanish army took back the control of Navarre, except Low Navarre.
In 1531, estimating that Low Navarre was too difficult to defend, Charles Quint gave up his political rights on Low Navarre. This remaining part of the Navarre’s kingdom will finally be integrated in french kingdom in 1589 when its king, Henry III of Navarre, was crowned king of France with the name of Henri IV. His son, Louis XIII, definitely united both kigdoms in 1620.


Xubero and Lapurdi in the Middle Ages :

Those both basque provinces had never constituted a unified entity with the five others : during all the Middle Ages, they fully belonged to the duchy of Aquitany.
In 843, the Verdun treaty divided Charlemagne‘s Empire in 3 parts. Aquitany belonged to western franque kingdom. But this kingdom dislocated with Vikings invasions, who occupied Bayonne in 892. They executed Saint-Leon came to christianise the area. After their departure, an independent county was created including Gascony, in which Xubero and Lapurdi are integrated. In 987, Gascony refused his homage to Hugues Capet. It paid homage to king of Navarra, what get tell to some people that the king of Navarra ruled Gascony. but this duchy was never integrated in the kingdom of Navarra.
In 1137, Alienor, duchess of Aquitany, married king Louis VII of France bringing him in dowry her possessions. In 1152, she divorced and married Henri Plantagenet, who became king of England in 1154, named Henry II : Xubero and Lapurdi, together with Poitou, Guyenne and the whole Gascony, went from french crown to english crown. In 1174, Richard Lion Heart came to submit the viscount of Lapurdi Arnaud Bertrand, who was rebelled with his basque barons. Kings of England then separated Bayonne from Lapurdi and leant on gascon middle-class to administrate this harbour so useful to their trade and their war marine. In 1259, by the treaty of Paris, the king Henry III of England resigned to Anjou, Maine and Poitou and recognised king of France’s suzerainty on Aquitany (See map below).

Western Europe during the XIIIth century

In august 1343, lapurdian people rebelled against Bayonne’s mayor, who got murder 5 lapurdian chiefs, and besieged the town. A long civil war started between Bayonne and Lapurdi. Prince Edward of Wales, also called Black Prince, finally imposed peace in april 1357 and sentenced Bayonne’s nobles to compensate lapurdian people. In 1360, after his defeat in Poitiers (1359), king Jean II le Bon of France resigned his suzerainty on Aquitany, at the Bretigny’s treaty.


Northern Basque Country and its area during the XIVth century

During the 100 years war, the basques of Lapurdi and Xubero, british subjects fought against french. Thus, in 1449,they resisted to Gaston of Foix, viscount of Béarn. King of Navarre, Mauleon castle suzerain and Gaston of Foix’s son-in-law, argued and convinced Xubero to resign to Béarn. In 1450, Gaston of Foix attacked Lapurdi and won the battles of Guiche and Saint Pée sur Nivelle. Lapurdi accepted peace with the King of France at the Ayherre treaty : it integrated the french kingdom, keeping its Fors. In 1451, Dunois and Gaston of Foix besieged Bayonne, which resigned in exchange of their privilege keeping. In 1510, Xubero was integrated to the french crown.

Northern Basque Country and its area in 1430. Northern Basque Country and its area at the end of the 100 years war. Northern Basque Country and its area in the middle of 16th century.


Basque Country from Renaissance to Spanish civil war :

At the beginning of the 16th century, basque provinces had no more links between each other. But they have kept a relative autonomy :

they recovered the taxes without contributing to the king.
they organised their own militias and weren’t submitted to military duty beyond their territory.
serfdom was unknown.
liberties were insured by written customs (the Fors) and by local popular assemblies.

But, if they were theoretically free to separate from the King, the monarchies absolutism limited practically those liberties.
At the Pyrenees treaty (1659), Spain and France ended long years of conflict and decided the marriage between infant Marie-Therese of Spain and King Louis XIV, which took place in Saint Jean de Luz in 1660. King of France definitely resigned to his hereditary rights to Navarra’s kingdom and France obtained Roussillon, Cerdagne, Artois, a part of Luxembourg and some Flanders fortified cities. This treaty fixed the border between the two countries and since then Basque Country’s history couldn’t be distinguished from the history of states in which it was integrated.


Northern Basque Country :

From english administration to french administration, the city of Bayonne underwent a period of marasmus and economic decline from which it has slowly come out since 1580. It only came back to prosperity at the end of XVIIIth century. All along the XVIIth and at the beginning of XVIIIth century, the town of Saint Jean de Luz will be the most wealthy place of Northern Basque Country : each year, 7000 lapurdians shipped for cod fishing in Newfoundland.
Amongst the northern Basque Country main events during Absolute Monarchy, we can notice :

Saint Pée sur Nivelle witchcraft trial, opened in 1609 by a king’s representative : many priests and 700 women were condemned to fire. The massacre was stopped thanks to the intervention of Baïgorri’s bishop to king Henri IV.
The edict of union which included in 1620 the kingdom of Navarre into the french crown, despite the opposition of Navarre’s assembly. Navarre’s currency was suppressed in 1643.
the frequent revolts, repressed in the blood, against the centralisating monarchy : in 1641 against General Farmers installation, in 1661, in 1685 against salt-tax in Saint Jean Pied de Port, and then in 1696, 1724, 1726 and 1748. The last revolt occurred in Hasparren from october 3rd to 6th 1784 : many hundreds of women faced 150 grenadiers and 5 brigades of maraîchaussée to protest against salt-tax extension. The town’s priest intervention will preserve from struggle.
in 1707, french language became the single official language in the 3 northern basque provinces.

French Revolution ended the basque provinces relative autonomy. In 1789, Constituante assembly, despite basque delegates protestations, suppressed Xubero and Lapurdi’s autonomy and annexed Navarre to France. In 1790, the département of Low Pyrenees was created despite the joined opposition of basque and Bearn’s delegates, who asked for two separated départements. In 1793, after king Louis XVI’s execution, Spain declared war to revolutionary France. In 1794, 4000 basques from Labourd were deported to Gers and Landes to have refused to fight against the southern basques. In 1795, Bâle treaty ended war between Spain and France : Spain gave to France the spanish part of Santo Domingo island. Prefectoral institution creation by Napoleon Bonaparte, in 1800, accelerated centralisation. All along the XIXth century, Northern Basque Country remained out of industrialisation, due to its lack of raw materials and to its side geographical situation. Its economy remained mainly based on agriculture and cottage industry. Basque traditional society, with its oral transmission, strongly structured around the house and the parish, built around priest and nobles, remained for long the northern basques society model. Spanish customs transfer from Ebro river to Pyrenees in 1841, destroyed the economical structure of Northern Basque Country. A lot of its inhabitants have then gone, since 1845, towards Americas : 90 000 people left the Basque Country all along the XIXth century. This emigration were mainly compensated by high birth-rate.
During the IIIrd Republic, teachers tried to gallicise the basque society, creating an insecurity feeling against a culture different from traditional basque society’s one. The basque society insulated itself and constituted barriers around teachers and workers came from outer parts, excluding them from local life.
Northern Basque Country participated to all french/german wars, sending troopers to the front. During World War II, Basques played a key role in getting crossed the border to escaped jews and allied pilots.

Southern Basque Country :

Southern provinces, and mainly coastal zones of Biscaya and Guipuzcoa, took profit of Americas colonisation, which favoured navigation, trade and cottage industry development (especially the ironworks). Southern basque provinces took profit from more favourable economic conditions than Northern basque provinces, cut from Canada and Newfoundland by wars against the british. This economical growth also went with a demographic growth : the 4 southern provinces population grew from 350 750 people in 1560 to 515 400 people in 1800. This growth was also favoured by a later centralism of spanish state. However, despite the Fors that Spanish kings swore to respect, the later also express a centralisating will. At the beginning of XVIIth century, they thus decided that members of Guipuzcoa’s and Biscaya’s assemblies had to master the castilian language and that notaries had to write their official acts in castilian language. Southern Basque Country also knew its revolts, hardly and violently repressed : salt revolts in 1631 et 1634, farmers revolts in 1718 and 1804.
In 1700, the king of Spain died without descendance and chose in his testimony Philippe of Anjou, the Louis XIV’s grandson and future Louis XV’s uncle. The war of the Spanish succession then began between France on one hand and Great Alliance gathering England, the Holy Empire, Prussia, Denmark and United Provinces on the other hand. This war ended with Utrecht treaty (April 11th 1713) in which Philippe of Anjou was recognised as sovereign of Spain and its colonies. Gibraltar and Minorque are given to England and the border between France and Spain was confirmed. Spain also loosed Luxembourg and Flanders, its possessions in Italy, together with Sicily and Sardinia.
In 1807, Napoleon obtained from king of Spain the right to get his troops crossing the spanish territory towards Portugal, which favoured England. But french troops installation in the North worried the people and prime minister Godoy suggested to the sovereigns to escape to America, as the portuguese sovereigns. During the night of march 17th 1808, Godoy’s palace in Aranjuez was attacked by heir prince Fernando’s supporters. Carlos IV dismissed Godoy and abdicated in favour of his son. Then, Napoleon summoned Fernando and his father in Bayonne and forced them to resign to the spanish throne (may 5th). He jailed them and named his brother Joseph king of Spain.
But these negotiations and french troops presence in Madrid displeased the people. Madrid revolt on may 2nd 1808 started the spanish independence war. French army committed such atrocities that Navarre’s Diputacion Forale declared war to Napoleon on august 29th : it mobilised all the men ageing from 17 to 40. This war was a guerrilla war, which achieved in repelled Napoleon with the english support of Wellington’s army. In 1813, many american colonies took profit of this war to declare their independence : la Plata, Uruguay, Paraguay, Chile, Colombia. This war will have important drawbacks on basque provinces : french centralism affected Spain, while Napoleon’s dictatorship and unreligious behaviour inserted in most of Basque people minds a repulsion feeling towards French Revolution’s ideas.
Cadix’s constitution, redacted by liberals in 1812, under Joseph Bonaparte’s reign, appeared to Basques as opposite to their laws (because they considered their Fors as God’s gift) and they felt threatened. In 1814, Fernando VII was freed by Napoleon. Back to power, he cancelled this constitution and reigned as an absolute monarch. All along the XIXth century, most of Basques chose the spanish absolutist party, who wanted to preserve monarchy and Fors and who exploited the basque people’s need of independence and their catholicism, against Liberals. But, in 1820, Liberals won and threatened basque liberties, considering them as provincial privileges granted by spanish sovereigns. Don Carlos, candidate for his brother Fernando VII succession, declared wanting to defend the Fors.
When Fernando VII died, Don Carlos was evicted from throne by his niece Isabel, supported by Liberals. He then called for rebellion : it was the beginning of first carlist war. Carlist battalions, mainly constituted by basques, were commanded by general in chief Tomas Zumalakarregi. With is 27000 men, using guerrilla tactics and ambushes, he resisted to 105 000 soldiers of spanish army, achieving in taking some Basque Country’s fortified points. Hopelessly, he died in 1835, wounded by a bullet in front of Bilbao. After Zumalakarregi’s death, carlist army underwent defeats after defeats. It was recovered by general Maroto, who finally surrendered to liberal general Espartero at the Vergara’s “abrazo”, on august 31st 1839. The war killed 270 000 people. Don Carlos was jailed in Bourges by king Louis Philippe. When he died in 1860, he transmitted his rights to his son, who transmitted them to his own son Don Carlos VIII in 1868.
Navarre was transformed in province and lost its statute of kingdom. The three other provinces lost most of their foral privileges. In 1841, spanish custom is transferred from Ebro river to Pyrenees and Bidassoa river. The four provinces progressively got spanishized. Biscaya’s and further Guipuzcoa’s industrialisation changed their infrastructures. Thanks to steam engine and local Encartaciones ores, heavy metal industry developped.
In 1872, basque provinces rebelled in favour of Don Carlos VIII. The second carlist war ended with Don Carlos VIII’s defeat in february 1876. Basque provinces lost definitely their Fors.
At the end of the XIXth century, basque nationalism took a new form. Sabino Arana Goiri drew the Ikuriña (the basque flag) in 1893, founded the National Basque Party (NBP) in 1895 and created the basque patriotic song. He also wrote a huge political literature which will inspire basque nationalist all along the XXth century. In the first decades of the XXth century, NBP became the main political force in the four southern provinces.
From 1923 to 1931, Alphonse XIII’s Spain lived under general Miguel Primo de Riveira and general Berenguer’s dictatorship.


Southern Basque Country during the spanish civil war and Franco’s dictatorship :

In 1931, spanish municipal elections gave, in towns, a large majority to republicans. King Alfonso XIII exiled after abdicating in june, Republic was proclaimed and a constitutive assembly was elected. Basque provinces sent to Cortes a majority of NBP delegates, among who was Aguirre. December 1931 chosen constitution authorised regions autonomy under the conditions that autonomy was chosen by 2/3 of mayors, was approved by referendum with at least 70% votes and approved by Cortes. Catalonia and Basque Country finally achieved in gathering each of the 3 conditions. Thus, in the 3 provinces of Alava, Guipuzcoa and Biscay, autonomy was approved by 80% votes at the referendum. However, Navarre refused autonomy. Constitution also proclaimed anti-clerical decisions. In 1933, José Antonio Primo de Riveira, dictator’s son, created the Phalanx : this movement was opposed to any local separatism.
In february 1936, Frente Popular won the elections. On july 13th 1936, monarchist leader Calvo Sotelo was murdered by republicans. To restore order in the country, some militaries created the “national revolt ” (july 18th) but government proclaimed resistance : it was the beginning of spanish civil war. Garrisons rebelled : Bilbao’s and San Sebastian’s were mastered by basque nationalists. El Movimiento, which relied on Church took the aspects of a crusade.
Came from Morocco on german and italian ships, general Franco commanded southern operations, while general Mola, in agreement with Franco, rebelled in Navarra. Thus, in october, 10% of Navarre’s population was enrolled in Franco’s forces. Franco joined the northern army near Madrid in august. Basques were then separated from republican government. After Irun’s fall, took by general Mola on september 15th, after 3 weeks struggles, they were separated from Northern Basque Country and republicans couldn’t communicate anymore through France. San Sebastian fell on september 13th, soon followed by Guipuzcoa. On september 27th, Bilbao repelled Franco’s armies. On october 1st 1936, in Burgos, Franco was designed as generalissimo and chief of the state.
Then, spanish republican government recognised the 3 basque provinces autonomy. On october 7th 1936, Aguirre constituted in Gernica the first Euskadi’s government and took the oath under the millenary oak. But, this government had no jurisdiction on Navarre and Franco’s supporters occupied most part of Alava and Guipuzcoa. However, it had resisted to Franco’s armies for almost one year. It had ruled democratically and it had orientated the basque economy towards war industry. On march 31st 1937, Franco’s armies attacked with aerial support of german Condor legion. On april 26th, german airforce destroyed Gernica’s town and population. Bilbao fell on june 19th, after 10 weeks of strong resistance.
After Basque Country’s fall, Euskadi’s soldiers defended Santander. They finally surrendered to italians. A small part of them achieved in escape, and among them Aguirre. Barcelona fell on january 26th 1939, Madrid and Valencia fell on march 28th and 30th. Franco won the spanish civil war.
During World war II, basque government took refuge in New York. When peace came back, it settled in Paris, in Paris Basque House, where Aguirre died in 1960. During franco’s dictatorship, 1947 and 1951’s strikes were repressed. Some basque nationalists decided to use terrorism to fight against Franco and created ETA (Euskadi Ta Askatasuna : Basque Country and Freedom) in 1959. Progressively, ETA acquired an increasing influence inside basque society, in southern basque country, organising political demonstrations against Franco’s dictatorship. ETA murdered some of people from police and army forces, among who general Carrero Blanco, Franco’s prime minister (december 20th 1973). ETA was famous when some of its members were trailed in Burgos in december 1970, kidnapping german consul in San Sebastian.
Franco died in 1975.


Southern Basque Country and democracy :

In 1978, a new constitution drove Spain to democracy, as a parliamentary monarchy. The three provinces of Alava, Biscaya and Guipuzcoa obtained a specific autonomous statute in 1979.
In 2001, in the legislative elections in the autonomous community, 80% of the listed electors have voted. The moderate nationalists (the National Basque Party and Eusko Alkartasuna, who had governed for 20 years), leaded by the Lehendakari Ibarretxe, president of the autonomous community, obtained 33 delegates over 75. Euskal Herritarok, the party who represents those who push the strongest toward a complete independence, obtained 7 delegates. The “spanishizing” parties, who defended a complete linkage to Spain, obtained collectively the 35 other delegates.
Following these results, the Lehendakari Ibarretxe proposed, during a general politic speech, a new political pact for Basque Country’s future. It rests on cohabitation based on a new free-association statute with spanish state. His project rests on :

the recognition of the basque identity and of the unique historical, cultural and social heritage of the basque people.
the recognition of the basque people’s right to self-determination to decide for his future.
the respect by the basque people of the decision made by citizens living in various juridical or political realities.


Bibliography :

“Les Basques avant tout le monde”.
Science et Vie. N°947. p 52 – 54.(8/1996).

“Histoire du peuple basque. Le peuple basque dans l’Histoire”.
Jean Louis DAVANT.
Elkar (1996).

“Nabarra ou quand les basques avaient des rois”.
Zabal (1978).

“Atlas historique. De l’apparition de l’homme sur la Terre à l’ère atomique.”
Werner HILGEMANN ; Hermann KINDER.
Perrin (1995).