David Latourrette as Abbe Laique d'Osse (Lay abbot of Osse)

Section completed September 6, 2011

David Latourrette, the father of Jean Latourrette who left Osse in 1685 and came to New York City in October 1687, is described at the time as the abbe laique d'Osse (the lay abbot of Osse). Since the origin of this title historically was associated with nobles, some people have assumed, even in Osse, he was of nobility. Perhaps, the notion of a title in France was passed on in America by word of mouth among early Latourrette generations and was partially responsible for the hoax which was developed in the 1840s that Jean was a count when he left France in 1685. Even if David were of nobility, Jean had an older brother, Jacob, born about a year earlier and titles and property in Bearn always passed to the oldest son.

David was not of nobility, although he was the most prominent Protestant in Osse and, in addition to being the abbe laique of Osse, he was the notaire of the village and, at times, of the Aspe Valley making him the person who was responsible for all legal and business transactions. The family owned a grain mill and he was likely the wealthiest person in the village as a result of the property and lands associated with the title and privilege to collect the tax on the products of the land called the dime. He would have collected fees for his work as a notaire, for the use of the mill, and for collecting the tax called the dime.

The abbe laique or abbe laic of a village was the person who owned the village dime and, if it was not appropriated to his own use, remitted it, in part or whole, to the local priest for support of the village church. Typically, the rights to the dime resided with a house (an Abbaye) located near the parish church and it was usually noble and discharged of the taille (the house was free of the tax that was collected as the dime). The dime was a tax collected from the products of the land and, although it meant one-tenth, the tax usually varied by the nature of the agricultural and animal products-from grain, hay, wine to vegetables to poultry and meat. Documents of the period suggest the dime may have averaged about one-thirteenth rather than one-tenth.

The title of abbe laique with its house and land was a valuable possession and the price of the sale of the house and associated property, with its tax-free status and control of the dime, would be recorded by the presiding notaire. The abbe laique also had the right to name the priest for the parish church.

Many of the churches established in Bearn, including those in the lower and upper Aspe Valley, were originally built on land owned by abbes laiques at their own expense and, therefore, they became the legal owners, collected the dime to their benefit and named the local priest. The commoners in the villages were generally too poor and could not afford to build their own church, so frequently a lord, baron or other member of the nobility would do so creating the position of abbe laique of that particular village.

To give an example with David Latourrette (abt. 1625-1697) the house associated with the title abbe laique was the Maison-Forte in the center of Osse, including its land holdings, called the Abbaye de Gayrosse. Thus, David was called the abbe laique d'Osse, when he controlled the Abbaye de Gayrosse. (See picture of the Abbaye de Gayrosse maison-forte in Picture Tour of Osse on this site.)

The original abbe laique of Osse was the seigneur Gayrosse whose house is listed in the 1385 census of Osse as "L'ostau deu senher de Gayrosse, domenger." In Bearnais, ostau deu means house of and senher means lord, with domenger meaning noble. Therefore, in 1385, it was a noble, the seigneur Gayrosse, who held the title of abbe laique d'Osse. One finds the seigneur de Gayrosse in 1376 identified as Arnaud-Guilhemet and information about two "batard" (bastard) sons Berdot and Arnauton confirming a legend passed down to today in the village. (See Pau archives, 1376, E 303)

The original ten old, large noble families or baronies of Bearn were the Andoins, Arros, Coarraze, Doumy, Gabaston, Gayrosse, Gerderest, Lescun, Miossens and Navarre and they were usually identified by the name of their strongholds. Thus, the Gayrosse maison-forte (strong-house) in Osse, which became the Abbaye d'Osse when the family built the parish church, was the stronghold of the noble Gayrosse family.

The house and title was sold by the house of Gayrosse December 14, 1544 to Pierre d'Abbadie de Maslacq. It is clear from the next sale on June 16, 1605, likely by a son, that Pierre d'Abbadie de Maslacq was a noble because he is identified as "seigneur et baron d'Arboucave et Baleix." (Note: Maslacq is 36 miles north, Arboucave 56 miles north, and Baleix 52 miles northeast of Osse.)

The 1605 sale of the Abbaye de Gayrosse is to Guilhem Arnaud de Castarranh and Bertrand de Davancentz (Davancens), his son-in-law, merchants of Oloron. The following is an approximate translation of the recorded sale.

In an act of June 16, 1605, sold for the price of 15,500 francs, at 10 good sols per franc, the Abby maison and its associated properties, called the Abbaye de Gayrosse situated in Osse, in the Aspe valley in favor of Guilhem-Arnaud de Castarranh and Bertrand de Davancentz (Davancens), his son-in-law, merchants of Oloron. The sale is by "noble" Pierre d'Abbadie de Maslacq, seigneur and baron of Arboucave and Baleix. (translation from the French). Davancens was a widower who was married at first with the daughter of Guilhem-Arnaud and hence the reference to him as a son-in-law.

Note: Neither Bertrand de Davancentz (Davancens) nor his father-in-law by a former marriage, Guilhem-Arnaud de Castarranh, are identified as nobility, but as merchants of Oloron.

Source: Pau archives E 1805 f 897. Also found in "Notice genealogique sur la maison Abbadie de Maslacq," Proceedings and Transactions of the Royal Society of Canada, Vol 1, Meetings of May 1895, p. 78.

Secondary Source: A detailed summary of the June 16, 1605 sale of the Abbaye de Gayrosse and the preceding sale of December 14, 1544 to Pierre d'Abbadie de Maslacq and its ratification by the sovereigns of Bearn on March 22, 1558, identifying Jeanne de Florence as the dame of Gayrosse and her husband Bertrand d'Abbadie, is found in Victor Dubarat, Le Protestantisme en Bearn et Au Pays Basque, 1895, p.245, ft 1.

Davancens was married to Marie Latourrette, daughter of Gassiot Latourrette, on August 27, 1594 and it is thought that Marie and Davancens did not have any children and that Marie outlived Bertrand and his father-in-law by his first marriage resulting in Marie inheriting the title and property and passing it on to family and eventually David Latourrette. Exactly how the property is passed on is still not known. (See the section on this webpage about Gassiot's chronology for source citations.)

It appears that David is in possession of the title in 1666 and perhaps he inherited from Eleazar who died in 1664. (This is based on the assumption that Eleazar was David's father.)

As noted below David renewed his rights to the dime in the records of 1682-1683 of the archives.

The Archives Departementales des Pyrenees-Atlantiques in Pau has hundreds of records of actions taken by Abbes Laiques in Bearn and, in particular, in the Aspe valley where Osse-en-Aspe is located. Up until the French Revolution, beginning in 1789, each village and hamlet with a Catholic Church had an abbe laique. Loosely translated the term means a lay abbot.(Citations of files below are from the archives in Pau.)

In the immediate area of Osse (Osse-en-Aspe) one finds records of lay abbots in the villages of Accous; Bedous; Cette and Eygun (now Cette-Eygun); Lees and Athas (now Lees-Athas); and Lescun. Also, the small hamlets of Aydius, Jouers and Orcun which have Catholic Churches had abbes laiques, some of whom lived in another village in the valley or even at some distance as noted above. As indicated below, the ownership of abbayes by the 16 th and 17th centuries was wide spread among nobles, priests and lay persons. One finds in the Pau archives, for example, the following:

In 1589-1593, Jean Despourrin, abbe of Accous sells land and Bernard Salafranque, abbe of Borce, is a notaire of the Aspe valley (E 1100, 1589-1593)

In 1621-1626, Tristen La Salle, the Seigneur of Sassus, is the abbe laique of Bedous and Lees (E 1113, 1713-1716)

In 1682, Francois Lees is the abbe laique of Aydius. (B 5679, 1725-1786)

In 1786, the Sieur Minvielle, who inhabits Osse, is the abbe laique of Joures. (B 5679, January 26- June 21, 1786)

In 1784-1787, Jean Chrisostome of Saint Martin is abbe laique of Cette (C1348, 1784-1787)

As examples of actions of David Latourrette as a notaire of the Aspe valley, we have transactions recorded in the period 1659-1673 for:

Henri Despourrin abbe laique of Accous and Captain of the Aspe valley (E 1110, 1659-1673). Note first entry above where Jean Despourrin was the abbe of Accous in 1589-1593, an indication the title was passed to later generations.

Jean Casabonne, abbe of Borce (E 1110, 1659-1673) Note first entry above where Bernard de Salafranque was the abbot of Borce in 1589-1593.

Finally, we have the declaration of David Latourrette in the Pau archives of 1682-1683, B 913, to renew decimal rights- i.e. the dime ("declarations de droits decimaux")as the abbe laique of Osse. David is described as the "dimier d'Osse," the person holding the rights of the "dime." It is noted around this period in files encompassing the 1680s we see priests listed as "dimiers," which indicates that the rights to the dime in some villages, originally associated with nobles, had been purchased by the representatives of the Catholic Church.

Obviously, the situation in Osse with David Latourrette, the leading Protestant of the village, holding the dime was unique.

In the story on this site of Gassiot Latourrette becoming a minister in 1563, it is emphasized that Osse is the only Protestant parish surviving in the three mountain valleys of Bearn to the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685. Except for Osse, the mountain valleys were 90 percent Catholic, even after Queen Jeanne d'Albret made Protestantism the state religion in 1569. Thus, as the holder of the right of the dime a hundred years later, David was inevitably in direct conflict with Catholic authorities and the local Catholic parish priest over the distribution of the proceeds of the collected dime.

Repeated here are four paragraphs from the section on this webpage entitled "Jean Latourrette in France," relative to the conflict between David as abbe laique d'Osse and the Catholic Church, with the underlined sections indicating its nature. (Note: The footnotes can be found under the section identifies on this web page.)

"After the religious war of 1569, there had been a general accommodation between the two religions and a re-emergence of the historic resentment against the imposition of outside authority in the Aspe Valley as restricting the local authority granted by the Fors de Bearn. The ascent of Louis XIV, however, encouraged Catholic priests to be more aggressive. In 1665 the Osse priest attempted by a suit, using some previous actions of the Catholic - controlled Pau Parliament, to interfere with the free selection by villagers of the four Osse jurats (magistrates). Here, we must rely on Cadier, because the consistory records are silent on the issue. (11) The local priest charged that the selection of the jurats had to be determined by the actions of parliament, which had given a preference to the selection of Catholics; the estate of the Catholic Church was being managed by a Protestant (as abbe laique, David Latourrette); since 1650 the jurats had used the estate funds for community and other profane purposes and not for the Church; and the existing jurats and David Latourrette, notaire, had insulted him and attempted to break the door to the Catholic cemetery. The suit resulted in favoring the selection of Catholic jurats. The other charges were not considered for the lack of evidence or were dismissed.

" Having lost control over the selection of jurats, there was no respite for the consistory. In 1672 a Catholic premier jurat taxed the Protestants to support the Catholic estate. The consistory meetings of December 14 and 18, 1672 resulted in actions to block the levy and to seize all the monies which had been paid. The resulting litigation involved the consistory in heavy expenses to defend itself, but the case was lost. (12)

The next action against the consistory was in March of 1673 when the Reformed were deprived of the use of public funds for their school. Two detailed reports of expenses incurred to fight this litigation were presented at the September 8 meeting, which Cadier quotes at length, noting that this case illustrates "the simplicity of our mountain people's customs." (13)

There had been a long-standing agreement in Osse referred to as the Premice, which was used to provide funds for the needs of both churches. Although this agreement had been approved by the Count of Toulongeon on February 9, 1675, the local priest contended in the same year that the Premice was not a separate fund but part of the Catholic estate, and claimed the funds which had been allocated to the consistory. These funds were managed by David Latourrette, who continued to give funds to the Protestants. This resulted in endless litigation which extended beyond his lifetime and involved personal claims against him for the funds the priest claimed were due the Catholic Church. (14)"

After David renewed the rights to the dime in 1682, it is not clear how long he continued to enjoy this privilege, because we find in the Pau archives a sale of the Abbaye de Gayrosse in 1695 and the persons selling the rights are not David.

We find the following transaction translated from the French:

" January 7, 1695. Sale, for the price of 22,000 francs bordelais, the dime, Maison noble abbaye, called Gayrosse, and abbaye laique situation in Osse, in the valley of Aspe, with right of entry to Bearn, by Marianne de Lateulade, widow of Mr. Marc-Antoine de Precillon, seigneur and baron of Laas, guardian of their children, of one part, and noble Jean-Jacques de Precillon, seigneur of Labore, priest, of the other part, in favor of Mr. Jean de Fondevielle , of Accous, priest and parish priest of Etsaut and the abbe laique (lay abbot) of Lees."

Citation: Pau archives 1480-1780 G 353/1 and confirmed by 1698 1J1515 and 1697-1698 C 745.

The part owner, Marianne de Lateulade is from a village named Lateulade about 12 miles from Laas where her husband was the baron. This an example of abbe laiques living outside the Aspe valley. There are several Laborie villages in France so it is difficult to determine the location of the priest Precillon, who is likely the brother or other relative of the deceased husband. Laas is about 35 miles northwest of Osse near Sauveterre-de-Bearn.

The purchaser Fondevielle lives in Accous and is the abbe laique of Lees (now Lees-Athas) both of which are in the lower Aspe valley. Etsaut, where he is the parish priest, is in the upper Aspe valley near Borce. Today, Accous has a population of 447 and Etsaut 79. Likely, the two villages were about twice as large in the 16th and 17th centuries and Fondevielle lived in Accous and likely traveled for services in Etsaut 6.5 miles away.

Additional research is required to determine exactly how the title of abbe laique and control of the dime was lost (or sold) by David Latourrette. We do know that David was fighting after 1668 against edicts and rules issued by Louis XIV which vacated all rights of Protestants to hold titles such as abbe laique, notarie and military appointments, along with wide sweeping restrictions against practicing any profession. Yet we see him referred to by Catholic authorities as notaire as late as 1683 in terms of reviewing and certifying the legacy of the Osse temple and as late as September 2, 1685 when his wife Magdeleine (also known as Marguerite) is identified as the spouse of David, the abbe laique d'Osse.

The question of David's loss or sale of the Abbaye de Gayrosse and the dime after 1685 appears to revolve around the role that Jean-Jacques de Precillon played as parish priest at Osse and a relative, perhaps a brother or other relative who appears in the Pau archives as Jean de Precillon and is identified as abbe laique d'Osse. File 1657-1664, E 1825 lists Jean-Jacques de Precillon as parish priest and file 1650-1652, C 719 lists Jean Precillon as abbe laique. It is noted from above that Jean-Jacques de Precillon is a party to the sale of the Abbaye de Gayrosse in 1695 to Fondevielle, along with the widow of Marc-Antoine de Precillon.

After 1685 was David forced to sell the rights to the Abbaye de Gayrosse? If he was, the record of the sale is yet to found. Or, were the rights somehow expropriated by the King's authorities and passed to the former parish priest of Osse and his family?

The subject of what happened to David's rights and the role he and his son Jacob (the older brother of Jean) played in protecting the rights of the Osse Protestants after 1685 is the subject of ongoing research.