Labourd ("Lapurdi" in Basque; from Latin "Lapurdum", "Labord" in Gascon) is a former French province and part of the present-day Pyrénées Atlantiques "département". It is historically one of the seven provinces of the traditional Basque Country.

Labourd extends from the Pyrenees to the river Adour, along the Bay of Biscay. To the south is Gipuzkoa and Navarre in Spain, to the east is Basse-Navarre, to the north are the Landes. It has an area of almost 900 km² and a population of over 200,000 (115,154 in 1901; 209,913 in 1990), the most populous of the three French Basque provinces. Over 25% of the inhabitants speak Basque (17% in the Bayonne-Anglet-Biarritz zone, 43% in the rest). Labourd has also long had a Gascon-speaking tradition, noticeably next to the banks of the river Adour but also more diffusedly throughout the whole viscounty (about 20% in Bayonne-Anglet-Biarritz).

The main town of Labourd is Bayonne, although the capital, where local Basque leaders assembled, is Ustaritz, 13 km away. Other important towns are Biarritz, Anglet (between Bayonne and Biarritz), Hendaye, Ciboure and Saint-Jean-de-Luz along the coast, and Hasparren inland. The area is famous for the five-day "Fêtes de Bayonne" and the red peppers of Espelette. Many tourists come to the coast, especially at Biarritz, and the hills and mountains of the interior for walking and agri-tourism. La Rhune ("Larrun" in Basque), a 900m high hill, lies south of Saint-Jean-de-Luz on the border with Spain. The hill is a Basque symbol, with spectacular views from its peak.

" and to Basque traditions.

Lapurdian ("Lapurtera") is a dialect of the Basque language spoken in the region.


Ancient Labourd was inhabited by the Tarbelas, an Aquitanian tribe. They had the port of "Lapurdum", that eventually would become modern Bayonne, and give its name to the region.

In the Middle Ages it formed part of the Duchy of Vasconia or Wasconia, that eventually came to be called Gascony. In the year 844 Viking raiders conquered Bayonne, where they established a base for their incursions. They were only expelled in 986, leaving a legacy of naval expertise in Labourd and all the coastal Basque Country.

In 1020 Duke Sancho VI ceded the jurisdiction over Labourd and what came to be known as Lower Navarre, to King Sancho III "the Great" of Pamplona. This monarch made it officially a Viscounty in 1023, naming as Viscount certain Lupo Sancho, a relative of the Duke of Gascony. This territory included all modern Labourd and possibly some parts of modern Navarre north of the Bidasoa river.

C. 1125, Bayonne was chartered by Duke William IX of Aquitaine. In 1130-31, King Alfonso the Battler of Aragon and Navarre attacked Bayonne over a dispute on jurisdictions with the Duke of Aquitaine, William X the Saint.

Labourd was ruled directly, between 1169 and 1199, by Richard Lionheart, who gave a second charter to Bayonne c. 1174 and, c. 1175, gave to the merchants of this city the return of the duties they paid in the tolls of Poitou, Aquitaine and Gascony. This caused an uprising of Gascons and Basques (including Labourtines from outside Bayonne) but Richard defeated all the cities that had sublevated.

Richard married Navarrese princess Berenguela in 1191, which favored the trade between Navarre and Bayonne (and England). This marriage also induced a juridisctional transaction that shaped the borders of the Northern Basque Country: Lower Navarre was definitively annexed to Navarre, while Labourd and Soule remained as parts of Angevine Aquitaine. This pact was formalized in 1193 in form of the sale of their rights by the legitimate viscounts of Labourd, who had established their seat in Ustaritz. Ustaritz was since then the capital of Labourd, instead of Bayonne, until the suppression of the province in 1798.

John I of England, gave to Bayonne the Municipal Law, that created the figures of mayor, 12 jurors, 12 counsilors and 75 advisors.

Labourd passed to French hands in 1451, just before the end of the Hundred Years' War. Since then and until the French Revolution, Labourd was largely self-ruled as an autonomous French province.

In 1610, Labourd suffered a major witch-hunt at the hands of judge Pierre de Lancre, that ended with some 70 supposed "sorginak" burnt at the stake (see Basque witch trials).

In 1798, the newly born French Republic, with its centralizing Jacobin ideals, suppressed the historical provinces, including Labourd, incorporating them into the newly created département of Basses-Pyrénées, together with Bearn.

In the last decades there have been repeated petitions asking for the spearation from Bearn and the creation of a Basque département, together with the other two historical Basque provinces of Lower Navarre and Soule. Though these petitions have almost universal support inside Labourd and the rest of the "Pays Basque", they have been ignored by successive French governments [] .

Mariner activities

Labourd, like the other coastal territories of the Basque Country, played an important role in early European exploitation of the Atlantic Ocean.

The earliest document (a bill) that mentions the whale oil or blubber dates from 670. In 1059, Labourdin whalers already gave to the viscount the oil of the first captured animal. It seems that Basques disliked the taste of whales but made good business selling their meat and oil to the French, Castilian and Flemish. Basque whalers used for this activity the longboats known as traineras, that only allowed whaling near the coast or based in a larger ship.

It seems that it was this industry, along with cod-fishing, is what brought Basque sailors to the North Sea and eventually to Newfoundland. Basque whaling in Newfoundland and Labrador began in the 1530s. By at least the early 17th century Basque whalers had reached Iceland.

The development of rudder in Europe seems also a Basque and specifically Labourdine development. Three masted ships appear in a fresco of Estella (Navarre), dating to the 12th century, seals preserved in the Navarrese and Parisian historical archives also show similar ships. Rudder itself is first mentioned as steer "a la Navarraise" or "a la Bayonaise".

After Navarre lost St. Sebastian and Hondarribia to Castile in 1200, it signed a treaty with Bayonne that made it the "port of Navarre" for nearly three centuries. Role that extended also into the Early Modern Age, after Navarre had been annexed by Castile (but both provinces remained autonomous).

ee also

*Northern Basque Country
*Basque Country (historical territory)
*Basque language


*Urzainqui, Tomás, and Olaizola, Juan M. de, "La Navarra marítima". Pamiela, 1998. ISBN 84-7681-284-1

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