Gaston Febus III
Count of Foix and Bearn (1331-1391)
Formidable Warrior, Canny Negotiator, Master of the Hunt, Patron of Music
At the end of the fourteenth century—amidst war, famine, and religious division—an extraordinary musical society flourished in southern France. Nurtured in the courts of wealthy lords, the music of this society reflected and contributed to the prestige of the upper-class society. In this style, now known as the Ars subtilior (the more subtle art), highly trained poet-musicians wrote and performed complex music for the entertainment of an elite, highly cultured audience. Many pieces written at this time were dedicated to specific patrons, celebrating their achievements. One of the principle patrons of this music was Gaston Febus III, count of Foix and Béarn, two small but wealthy territories in southern France.
Febus lived in one of the darkest centuries of French history. He was confronted with the Hundred Years’ War, the Black Plague, and the Great Schism, three catastrophes which made life miserable for the populace. Febus’s actions in dealing with the problems of his century demonstrate a shrewdness unmatched by many of his peers. Under a policy of careful neutrality, Febus navigated these difficult times miraculously well, thus sparing his people much turmoil. Such was his leadership that his power and court rivaled that of the French king. Febus’s ability to balance clear mindedness with an eager spirit of chivalry was extraordinary.
Jean Froissart, French historian who lived in the fourteenth century, visited Febus's court at Orthez to learn news of far off lands. He was lavish in praise of his host:
"I can say that, although I have seen many knights, kings, princes and others in my life, I have never seen one who was so finely built, with better proportioned limbs and body or so handsome a face, cheerful and smiling, with eyes which sparkled amiably when he was pleased to look at anyone. He was so accomplished in every way that it would be impossible to praise him too highly. He loved everything which it was right to love and hated whatever deserved hatred. He was a shrewd nobleman, bold in action and sound in judgment. He never kept unbelievers about him. He ruled his estates grandly. He said numerous prayers daily."
By all accounts, however, this praise was well-earned. Febus was respected by his peers, his liege lords, and even the common populace.