Gaston III, Count of Foix

Gaston Fébus [also spelt Phoebus] (30 April 1331 – 1391) was the eleventh count of Foix (as Gaston III) and viscount of Béarn (as Gaston X) from 1343 until his death.

Lord of Bearn

Gaston Fébus
Born30 April 1331
Died1 August 1391 (1391-09) (aged 60)
Notable work
Livre de chasse (Book of the Hunt)
TitleCount of Foix (as Gaston III), viscount of Béarn (as Gaston X)
PredecessorGaston II, Count of Foix
SuccessorMatthew, Count of Foix
(m. 1348)
ChildrenGaston de Foix-Béarn, Yvain de Béarn, Bernard de Béarn, Gratien de Béarn
  • Gaston II, Count of Foix (father)
  • Aliénor de Comminges (mother)
Signature Fébus.png
Gaston Fébus, from an early 15th-century copy of his Livre de chasse, made in Paris and kept at the National Library of France.

Early lifeEdit

Gaston was born either in Orthez or Foix, the eldest son of Gaston II/IX (1308–1343). As the lord's eldest son, he was given the name, Gaston. He later adopted Fébus as a nickname. In its classic spelling, Phoebus, it is one of the names of the sun-god, Apollo, and is apt because of Gaston Fébus's golden hair. His native language was Gascon (a dialect of Occitan), but he was also fluent in French. He wrote a treatise on hunting in French, and an Occitan song, Se Canta, has been ascribed to him. One contemporary chronicler, Jean Froissart, records that he "very willingly spoke to me not in his native Gascon but in proper and elegant French".[1]

Count of FoixEdit

Béarn had passed to the county of Foix in 1290. Fébus paid homage to the French king for his own county, but starting in 1347 he refused to give homage for Béarn, which he claimed as an independent fief, with its chief seat his stronghold at Pau, a site that had been fortified by the 11th century, which was later made the official capital of Béarn in 1464.

Starting in 1374, court minutes in the sovereign viscounty were dated with reference to the lord of Béarn. He established international diplomatic relations with Navarre, Castile and Aragon, taking advantage to a large extent of the weakness of the French crown. He started a policy of rapprochement to the realms to the south of the Pyrenees. He, for example, married Agnes, daughter of Philip III and Joan II of Navarre, with the acquiescence of the French king Philip VI.[2]

While Gaston eventually repudiated Agnes, he pursued the establishment of a Pyrenean realm under his leadership, and thus secure the control of the thriving commercial route of Toulouse-Bayonne. His intent to reinforce authority across all the area was halfhearted due to economic constraints.[2]

Although he designated the king of France as his successor, eventually that did not happen, since the newly established Estates-General of Béarn prevented it.[2] He was succeeded as count of Foix and sovereign viscount of Béarn by Mathieu of Foix-Castelbon.

A fortune won in battleEdit

The House of Béarn-Foix was engaged in a long running feud with the House of Armagnac. In 1362, a battle was fought between the two noble houses at Launac. Fébus was victorious and succeeded in capturing his chief rivals, whom he ransomed for a vast fortune of at least 600,000 florins. This money was stored in the Moncade tower in Orthez, where Fébus also created a gallery of portraits and military trophies to commemorate the event.[3]


The constructions of Gaston Fébus all have in common the same plan whatever its surface and its location. The plan is as follows: a polygonal enclosure to which are built buildings forming an interior courtyard, a quadrangular tower straddling the curtain wall (pentagonal at the Château de Moncade), sometimes a second tower, as well as a ditch spanned by a drawbridge.

Records of Jean FroissartEdit

Jean Froissart and Espaing de Lyon on their way; Gaston Fébus receiving them.

In late 1388, the chronicler, Jean Froissart, visited the County of Foix and recorded the splendour of Fébus' court at Orthez.[4] He noted that Fébus describes the three "special delights" of his life as "arms, love and hunting".

Livre de chasse (Book of the Hunt)Edit

Fébus was one of the greatest huntsmen of his day, and hunted his entire life – he died of a stroke while washing his hands after returning from a bear hunt. His Livre de chasse (Book of the Hunt) was written between 1387–1389 and dedicated to Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy.[5]

Recorded in the book are different stages of hunting different animals, as well as describing animal behavior, offering advice to less well-off gentry about how to enjoy hunting without bankrupting themselves, and is even sympathetic to the peasant poacher because he too has the hunting instinct.

It is the classic treatise on Medieval hunting, and was described by scholar Hannele Klemettilä as "one of the most influential texts of its era".[6] Some forty-four 15th and 16th century illuminated manuscripts survive, the most famous being that held by the Bibliothèque nationale de France, which has exquisite miniatures, illustrating the hunt.[7]

Marriage and childrenEdit

Fébus married Agnès of Navarre (1334–1396), daughter of Joan II of Navarre and Philip III of Navarre in 1348. They had a son:

He was also the father of four illegitimate children:

Betrayal of the Count's sonEdit

Gaston III outside the Château de Pau.

As Jean Froissart records, Fébus was betrayed by his son who also bore the dynastic name, Gaston, and who tried to kill his father using poison given to him by Charles II of Navarre. Fébus caught his son in the act and imprisoned him. In a subsequent violent quarrel, Fébus stabbed his son, who died.[9]

Following Gaston's death, Fébus had no legitimate descendants. In 1393, in Paris at a masquerade given by the Queen of France, Isabeau of Bavaria, one of Gaston Fébus's four recorded illegitimate sons, Yvain de Foix, was burned to death when his costume, along with the costumes of four others, caught fire from a torch at the Bal des Ardents.[8]


Popular cultureEdit

Alexandre Dumas published a novella entitled Monseigneur Gaston Phœbus, a dramatic retelling of Froissart's account. Initially serialised in the magazine Le Siècle, it was published as an annex to the second volume of Dumas's historical novel, Acté, in 1839.

In the 20th century, the novel by Myriam and Gaston de Béarn, La Vie fabuleuse de Gaston Phœbus (1959), was a great success. This romantic trilogy was adapted to television in 1978 in Gaston Fébus: the Lion of the Pyrenees.

In March 2020, the ethnologist and ethnographer Emmanuel Larrouturou revealed that the calligraphy of Gaston Fébus' signature is an ingenious graphic device revealing, by superimposing loose sheets, various forms related to totemism.[10]

See alsoEdit

Further readingEdit

  • Lagabrielle, Sophie (2011), Gaston Fėbus : Prince Soleil (1331-1391) (in French), Paris: Ėditions de la Rmn - Grand Palais, ISBN 978-2-7118-5877-4
  • Pailhès, Claudine (2007), Gaston Fėbus : Le Prince et le diable (in French), Paris: Ėditions Perrin, ISBN 978-2-262-02355-3
  • Tucoo-Chala, Pierre (1983), Gaston Fėbus : Un grand prince d'Occident au XIVe siècle (in French), Pau: Ėditions Marrimpouey, ISBN 2-85302-096-7
  • Tucoo-Chala, Pierre (1993), Gaston Fėbus : Prince des Pyrénées (1331-1391) (in French), Pau: Ėditions Deucalion, ISBN 2-906483-43-5



  1. ^ Paul Cohen, "Linguistic Politics on the Periphery: Louis XIII, Béarn, and the Making of French as an Official Language in Early Modern France", When Languages Collide: Perspectives on Language Conflict, Language Competition, and Language Coexistence (Ohio State University Press, 2003), pp. 165–200, at 189 n. 40.
  2. ^ a b c Adot Lerga, Álvaro (2005). Juan de Albret y Catalina de Foix o la defensa del Estado navarro (1483-1517). Pamplona/Iruñea: Pamiela. pp. 62–63. ISBN 84-7681-443-7.
  3. ^ Fowler, Kenneth (2001). Medieval Mercenaries: Vol. I The Great Companies. Oxford: Blackwell. pp. 61–7. ISBN 0631158863.
  4. ^ Vernier 2008, pp. 111-118.
  5. ^ d'Athenaise 2002, pp. 4-7.
  6. ^ Klemettilä 2015, p. 4.
  7. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-07-27. Retrieved 2010-01-28.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  8. ^ a b Tuchman 1978, pp. 530-532.
  9. ^ Tuchman 1978, pp. 360-61.
  10. ^ Larrouturou, Emmanuel (March 2020). "FEBUS' SIGNATURE / DECIPHERING TOTEMS / COMPENDIUM OF ETHNOGRAPHIC VISUAL ESSAYS, MARCH 2020". Cromlechs Ossau. Retrieved June 1, 2020.


External linksEdit

Preceded by
Gaston II & IX
Count of Foix
Viscount of Béarn

Succeeded by