Were the Latourrettes of Osse of Nobility?

Note: This paper is a revised version of one originally written on September 27, 2005 to be posted on the Latourette Family Genealogy Forum. As such it represents the author's earlier research on the question of Latourrette nobility. It serves as background to the companion paper posted here with the title David Latourrette as Abbe Laique d'Osse (Lay abbot of Osse), September 6, 2011. The companion paper, however, provides the documented sources to clearly demonstrate the Latourrettes of Osse were not nobility, although they were the leading family of Osse.


The purpose of this paper is to determine whether the Latourrette family of Osse, Bearn (now Osse-en-Aspe) was "of nobility". To this end, the paper examines the status of the family in Osse, which was called a "Protestant stronghold" prior to 1685, when Jean Latourrette fled with Pastor Pierre Peiret and his family. Basically, the role of the family in the village can be ascertained by the titles held by Jean Latourrette's ancestors and his father, David. In this context, the Fors de Bearn prescribed in considerable detail the structure of society in the Aspe valley and the role of each individual, including Jean Latourrette's status as a "cadet" (a younger son) in the family.

Latourrettes, from at least Gassiot, minister of the Aspe valley by 1563 and recorded in the temple records as the first "ministre de la Parole de Dieu" (minister of the word of God) of the Protestant parish at Osse from 1578 to his death in 1595, appeared to have held the title of "notaire". Gassiot's son Pierre (ca 1570-ca 1655), who was the minister at Castetnau, northwest of Pau, for 52 years (1601-53), was also the "notaire" for the village. David (ca 1625-1697), the father of the Jean who came to America, appears frequently with the title of "notaire" in Alfred Cadier's book, Le Bearn Protestant. The author has an original document, dated July 22, 1694, which is signed by David Latourrette, "notaire". So, even with Louis XIV's many edicts of the early 1680s banning Protestants from holding any public position or practicing any profession, leading up to the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, David somehow continued to be a "notaire" after 1685. It also appears that Jean's older brother Jacob (born ca 1650) continues the family tradition after David's death in 1697 as he is an "avocat" (advocate-lawyer) representing clients on legal matters. On this site, see the section The Blason (Coat of Arms) of Jacob de la Tourrette under Tales, Fables and Hoaxes.

The position of "notaire" comes from a Roman tradition, which was formalized in France in the 16th century. Historically and even today in France, the position is much more important than a "notary" in the United States who certifies signatures and papers. The "notaire" was the keeper of the records of the village and was involved in all of the legal transactions. The importance of the position is clearly indicated by the fact that each village had only one "notaire". Therefore, in addition to being leaders in the Protestant religious community of Osse, the Latourrettes were leaders in the legal sphere. It should be noted, however, that the position of "notaire" was externally superimposed in the 16th century and was not originally part of the Fors de Bearn, which evolved from the 12th century to govern life in Osse.

The Latourrettes owned a mill, which, in part, was the basis of their wealth. The mill, associated with the Latourrette house built after 1569 when the village was destroyed, is shown as part of the properties # 368 to 371 on a 1837 map of Osse, under the name of Pierre latourrette-Casamayou. It was later called the Latourrette-Casamayou house and both properties appear on the village's map for 1837. (The Latourrette house in Osse will be the subject of another paper, which will describe the re-designation of the Latourrette-Casamayou house as Casamayou-Mayerau approximately 100 years ago and its purchase by an English couple in 2003. Now, it is simply referred to as the Mayerau house.)

Pictures of the Latourrette-Casamayou (Casamayou-Mayerau and now the Mayerau) house and a similar mill, still standing in Osse, are included in the Picture Tour of Osse on this site.

The Latourrettes also were jurats (village officials) and deputes. It is typically observed in Osse today that the Latourrettes and other Protestants had always held the best land. It is also the case that they were more educated than the general population. Therefore, the Latourrettes of Osse were millers, ministers, notaires, jurats, and deputes, as well as better educated, wealthier and deacons and elders of the Protestant parish. (The role of David as a church elder, or in French "ancien", is well documented in the Osse Temple's records and Cadier's Le Bearn Protestant.)

Given the traditions of the Latourrette family in terms of community leadership; their social, economic and political position in Osse; and tolerance for others they might be described as aristocratic- people with a touch of class. One finds these traits in the recollections of a descendant of the Latourrettes who migrated to South America. He has been a frequent visitor to Osse over a period of many years.

"One cannot stress enough the fact that the Latourrettes were very tolerant people and, as such, they often created the bridge between the two factions (Protestant and Catholic) in the village. They were considered a 'liberal' family in the best sense of the term. This comes to me from what others in Oloron and the surrounding area thought about the Latourrettes from the Aspe Valley. They were not only notaires and ministers of the Protestant parish, but they were also jurat and depute, all positions of certain importance. This liberality and tolerance, education, and their good financial fortunes gave them more than a touch of class and 'noblesse'. One of the Moutengou-Latourrette descendants summarize it to me as follows: 'It wasn't a coincidence that the Latourrettes were Protestants, because it indicated at that time a certain way of life, a certain class, a certain distinction.' "

The author believes future research will result in a greater documentation of these traits described above. Also, see the postscript at the end of this paper about David Latourrette after 1685 and the persistence of Protestantism in Osse.

Without an understanding of the Fors de Bearn, described below in more detail, one might jump to the conclusion that another title David Latourrette carried in 1685 denoted some form of nobility. The Fors de Bearn allowed the purchase of a renewable land title for a period of sixteen years, called the Abbaye de Gayrosse. In this particular case, the title was to a modest Medieval Maison-Forte. This structure, still standing, is not a castle on a hill overlooking Osse, but a strong house in the middle of the village, dating from the 8th century. By legend, it is said to be the only structure in Osse not destroyed in 1569. At that time, Queen Jeanne d' Albret of Navarre, the mother of the Protestant King Henry IV, ordered several villages in the Aspe valley to be raised to the ground to impose the Calvinist faith on all her subjects. After that time, Osse became the Protestant stronghold of the valley and the Latourrettes emerged as the leading Protestant family.

The land title came to the family as the result of the acquisition of the lease for the Abbaye de Gayrosse in Osse by Bertrand Davancens, the husband of Gassiot's daughter Marie, in 1605. The title was kept in the family between 1605 and 1682 when David declares renewed ownership. One possible explanation for its inheritance by David is that Marie had no children and/or it was passed to other members of the family with David eventually receiving the property around 1666, because title at that time was granted for 16 year periods. David is referred to as the Abbe laique d'Aspe in the September 5, 1685 list of "indomitable" Protestants who refused to adjure, described in Jean Latourrette in France on this site.

A picture of the Gayrosse Maison-Forte is included in the Tour of Osse on this site.

Note: The details of how the Abbe de Gayrosse was acquired is explained in the companion piece about David Latourrette as the abbe laique of Osse, with source citations

In Bearn, in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, this title did not by itself signify nobility. It merely represented a degree of wealth and an ability to purchase and renew, over time, a 16 year lease of a property associated at one time with the barons of Gayrosse. In fact, the property was conveyed to Marie's husband by Pierre d'Abbadie de Maslacq, whose family had acquired it from the Gayrosse family in 1544. Like the importation of the concept of a "notaire", therefore, this title came from outside the structure that governed life in Osse, the Fors de Bearn, from the 12th century until the French Revolution.

It should be noted that, because the Gayrosse Maison-Forte was in the possession of the Latourrette family for a long period, some in Osse believed that the Latourrettes descended from Lord Gayrosse, or he was the original Latourrette. But it is clear that the claim to the land title came, not from inheritance, but from the purchase in 1605 from Pierre d'Abbadie de Maslacq, who had in turn acquired the property from the Gayrosse family in 1544.

In her short presentation about Osse and the Latourrette family, Madame Antoinette Doerr clearly makes the point that the Latourrettes were not the descendants of Lord Gayrosse. Referring to the Maison Forte de Gayrosse, Madame Antoinette Doerr says "Cette maison n'a rien a voir avec le nom de Latourrette." ("This strong house has nothing to do with the name of Latourrette.") See the reference to Madame Doerr in Jean Latourrette in France on this site.

When the author visited Osse in August of 2005, he learned that the Gayrosse maison had been purchased and he noted that it was undergoing extensive internal renovation. The shutters on the building were open for the first time in many years.

The Fors de Bearn (L'Ancien Fors de Bearn) established the structure of society in Bearn and in the Aspe Valley in which Osse is located. It governed every aspect of village life. It consisted of 260 general rules of conduct for the areas of Oloron and the three valleys of the high Pyrenees: Aspe, Baretous and Ossau. Each area had some additional rules of conduct, including 26 for the Aspe valley.

For its time, the Fors granted a remarkable degree of independence and rights to the people of Bearn. They were published by Gaston VI in 1180 and renewed by Gaston Febus in 1350. These rights were explicitly recognized in 1620 when Bearn was forcibly made part of France and were practiced until at least the time of the French Revolution. It is also clear, from the description of the Fors, which follows, that some of these rights were eroded after the Revolution and re-emerged only in recent times.

In writings and in practice, the Fors established a local democracy or, as it is frequently described, a pastoral democracy in Bearn. Men and women were free and were not serfs, as in the feudal system which dominated much of Europe of the time. Also, by the time Marie's husband purchased the Maison-Forte in 1605, the isolated case of nobility in Osse, represented by the absentee Gayrosse family, had been gone from Osse for many years.

The precepts of the Fors described a system which specified how people participated in their own local government with the heads of the houses (l' ostau in Bearnais) electing jurats (mayors and assistants) and the representatives of the villages to the state. They prescribed the establishment of a police force, social protection, and the use of goods and drink. One of the most striking features, for the time, was the equality of men and women which allowed women the right to participate in local elections. Women were also granted the right of inheritance if first born, possession of their goods separate from husbands, to recover their contribution to the marriage in event of divorce, and the right to ask for an accounting and recovery of their dowrys, if endangered by bad management. At the death of the husband, the wife would take control of the family goods and property without having to return them to the paternal family. Women could enter into contracts without the authorization of their husbands and held a place of honor in marriage, baptism and funeral services.

The Fors also promoted education and the elimination of illiteracy. The collective management of common pastures and woods fostered the appointment of a teacher in each village and the education of both men and women. For these reasons, studies show that the elimination of illiteracy occurred much earlier in Bearn than elsewhere in France. With regards to education, the list of occupations in Osse in 1831 (Andre Eygun, "Peuple d'Aspe, p 84) shows there were two "instituteurs" (teachers) with 88 children in the village between the age of 6 and 13. One of the teachers is clearly a descendant of the Latourrette-Casamayou, who is listed on the 1837 property map, to which we have referred, as Pierre Casamayou, "instituteur d'Osse". At that time, he is the owner of the Latourrette-Casamayou house and mill property, mentioned above.

The right of the wife to assume the family property under the Fors is certainly the basis for the Abbaye laique de Gayrosse remaining in the Latourrette family and being passed on ultimately to David Latourrette. The Fors was also the reason why control of the Latourrette-Casamayou house was passed to the mother of Antoine Latourrette, a Casamayou in the 18th century. These ancient rights provide an insight into the role of women in Osse and how they participated actively in the daily life of the village. Their equality with men is certainly evident in being singled out individually as women by the representatives of Louis XIV as refusing to abjure in 1685 to participating in the Protestant Temple marriages and baptisms, from which participation one is able to determine lineages and family relationships. Finally, it is this independence granted by the Fors that made Bearn and, in particular, Osse such a fiercely independent force. A question to be fully explored in the future is the extent to which this independence in Osse made it such a stronghold of Protestantism.

The Fors de Bearn also prescribed the family structure of Osse, as well as its political, economic and social aspects. The structure of the family in Osse gives us a greater understanding of why Jean Latourrette may have readily volunteered to accompany Pastor Peiret and his family in their flight from the village in 1685, even with the attending risk of arrest and, perhaps, death. L'ostau (house in Bearnais) was the home of the family unit which included the house and land. In those times, it was the case that l'ostau could house 2 and 3 generations of a family, with perhaps a total of 10 to 15 members under one roof. In a few isolated cases today, one still sees a large, extended family under one roof in Osse.

An individual was identified by his or her l'ostau. Jean de Latourrette meant that Jean lived at the house of the Latourrettes. (In contrast to other areas of France, the use of the "de" did not mean nobility; it only served to identify the house to which the person was associated.) The first son, as in this case Jacob, was the heir of the l'ostau. (Or, it was the first daughter, if there was no son.) The first son then became a chef de famille (chef de l'ostau), a member of the assembly that governed the village. The heir could marry a cadette (second or younger daughter, but not an heiress) to perpetuate l'ostau. Cadets (second or younger brothers) became shepherds or developed a craft skill or a trade. This is why, as a cadet (second son), Jean became a joiner or carpenter. If a cadet, like Jean, found an heiress to marry, he took the name of her l'ostau. That was rare, as was the case of a cadet (younger son) and a cadette (younger daughter) marrying and establishing a new l'ostau. Thus, Jean's economic and social opportunities were limited in Osse and with his strong faith and the tremendous changes that were occurring around him in 1685, he may have decided that the risk to leave with Pastor Peiret was well worth the danger. He was a cadet without an inheritance and not married at 34. It would have been difficult for him to establish a new l'ostau as a cadet under the Fors, and the edicts of Louis XIV were designed to preclude Protestants from practicing any profession or trade. Although Jean appears to be the only one who left Osse at the time and who also came to New York, it is clear that some cadets, and a few with their cadette spouses, left Osse later for greater opportunities during the 18th and 19th centuries. One finds them, for example, migrating to California, Spain, Portugal, and South America.

It is anticipated that additional research will provide a more detailed and fully documented story of the family in the future, augmenting the fragments borrowed and pieced together by the author in this narrative. It is clear, however, that the Latourrette family was not of nobility in Bearn and Jean was a cadet (a younger son), not a count. As noted, however, as a member of the Latourrette family, he was well-educated for the times and had a trade. Most of the cadets of other families of the time were forced to be herders, cultivators, laborers, and to engage in other work on the land and with the animals.

There are a number of descriptions of the Fors de Bearn, which dominated the life of the mountain valleys until the French Revolution, which can be accessed by searching the title on Google. For the reader, one such description is given in:

http://fotw.fivestarflags.com/fr-bearn.html#his ,

in which it is stated:

"In the south of Béarn, the mountain valleys of Ossau, Aspe and Barétous kept until the Revolution a system of political autonomy, often called "pastoral democracy", which was based on the aforementioned fors. Feudal taxes, serfdom and gabelle (salt tax) did not exist there. The pastures were a collective property, divided into three parts rotated each year between the shepherds. The pastures of Pont-Long, located north of Pau, are still divided between the herds from the three valleys according to medieval acts."

Note, from the description on this Webpage, that the rights granted under the Fors gave the people of Osse an unprecedented degree of independence, in spite of the wishes of some of the rulers of the region, from 1180 to the French Revolution.

See also (in a rough translation from the French) for a detailed description of the role of women under the Fors de Bearn:


It is the independence and local democracy under the Fors that made nobility an anathema in the Osse community of the Latourrettes. In Osse it may have created a fertile ground for the emergence of Calvinism under the leadership of Gassiot Latourrette as the first "minister of the word of God" in the Aspe valley.

The descendants of Jean Latourrette in America can take great pride in the heritage and traditions handed down to them from their ancestral family of the small village of Osse in the Aspe valley of the High Pyrenees.

Postscript on David Latourrette after 1685 and the Persistence of Protestantism in Osse after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes

Beyond the description, given above, of the Latourrettes of Osse, two other qualities stand out with regard to David Latourrette, the patriarch of the family and the Protestant faith in 1685. Although his influence in the Aspe valley was diminished after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, his faith and courage were never stronger. As noted above, he continued his practice as a "notaire" even though Protestants were forbidden to hold public office. He refused to abjure his faith and he openly defied the authority of the local priest, being fined in 1693 for publicly "abusing" him. Because of the mutual respect between the Latourrettes and the Leclede de Bedous, the leading Catholic family of the valley, records show that he was present at baptisms and other Leclede functions held in the Catholic Church in the neighboring village of Bedous in the 1690s. As noted in Gassiot Latourrette's Chronology on this site David's daughter Marie (Jean's sister) married Jean Leclede in 1685. In Le Bearn Protestant, Alfred Cadier emphasized the protection that the Leclede family always extended to the Protestants of Osse, especially after the marriage between Marie Latourrette and Jean Laclede and the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685.

Although their minister Pierre Peiret was driven out in 1685, their church and cemetery destroyed in 1686, and great pressure was placed upon them to convert, the Protestants of Osse remained strongly attached to their faith after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes. Clearly, David Latourrette, with his roots tracing back to Gassiot, the first minister at Osse, served as an inspiring leader. Even though David passed away in 1697, the Protestant legacy left by the Latourrettes nurtured the faithful for a full century.

For the next 100 years, the Protestants in Osse went underground and practiced their faith in the surrounding forests. With their Temple and cemetery destroyed, they were forced to bury their dead under their houses. As evidence of this practice, there are tombs under the foundation of the Latourrette-Casamayou (now Mayerau) house in Osse, described above. Perhaps, an archeological dig may reveal these are the tombs of David and his wife.

Because of the traditional fierce independence of the people of Osse and the support of the prominent Leclede family, noted by Cadier, it appears that any attempt to stop the underground practice of the faith was unsuccessful. This point is underscored by the re-emergence of the public practice of the religion in 1787 and the legalization of the Protestant marriages of 59 families and the baptisms of 151 children in December of 1788, after the Edict of Tolerance was circulated in November of 1787. Ultimately, this led to the reconstruction of Temple Bethel beginning in 1802, and its consecration on August 4, 1805, the 200th anniversary of which was just celebrated in Osse.

Commenting on the recognition of the Protestant marriages and baptisms in Osse on December 1, 1788, Andre Eygun in his book Peuple d' Aspe, 1989 (p.65), observes the following (translated from the French):

"What maybe said is that religious hatred never divided these two communities (Catholic and Protestant); with regard to the disinherited, the solidarity of the villagers was totally practiced whatever the belief of one or the other. Thus, over the village of Osse, breathes the true Christian spirit which elevates these farmers above the disputes of doctors and theologians. This date of December 1, 1788, dear to the Protestants of Osse reminds all, Christian or not, that persecution ---- did not shatter the resistance of the oppressed."

This statement by Eygun and the record of 59 marriages being legitimized suggests a comparison of the Protestants in the Osse community over almost two centuries. Cadier (p. 140) provides a count of 75 families associated with the Temple at Osse in 1665. He notes that the number in Osse at that time was the same at the turn of the century in 1600. The 59 families recognized in 1788 is approximately 80 percent of the number recorded during the previous century. There may have been others recognized later. This certainly confirms the persistence of Protestantism, described by Eygun and speaks to the point he makes about village solidarity, a conclusion shared by Cadier in Le Bearn Protestant.

The persistence of Protestantism in Osse appears to be unique in comparison to the rest of France, in terms of the many studies cited by Jon Butler in The Huguenots in America (pp. 21-2), which show the size of the Protestant population dropping in many communities to a small fraction of what it had been in 1685, within 30 to 50 years. Noting that the extent of the decline is not accounted for by the number who left France, Butler indicates that Catholic baptisms rose significantly as Protestant congregations were being demolished. His conclusion is that these new Catholics may have intended to re-establish their faith, but persecution, family needs and economic and political realities meant that most of them never embraced Protestantism again. The persistence of the Protestant faith in Osse over a full century is a radically different story and attests to the strength of the ministry established originally by Gassiot Latourrette in 1563 and the legacy left by David Latourrette after his death in 1697.