The Escuteon of Andorra



A Concise History Of Andorra

The history of Andorra is not very well-documented. In fact, it is rather sparse. No major historical works mention Andorra (with one exception), and all of the following is the result of painstaking research of translated sources.

[ Pre-Charlemagne | Charlemagne | Parliament | The French Revolution | King Boris I of Andorra | The Modern Era ]


The valleys of Andorra have been inhabited for thousands of years. Achaeologists have discovered artifacts (pottery, primitive jewelry, etc.) dating back to the Neolithic period (between five thousand and eight thousand years ago). Bronze Age (about four thousand years ago) artifacts have been found near the villages of Cedre and La Serra d'Enclar. However, there is very little solid documentation. Historians speculate that the original inhabitants of the valleys of Andorra were related to the Basque people of northern Spain, and that the name Andorra is of Basque derivation. Other pre-roman inhabitants included Celt tribal migrations, Iberians from the south, and a small tribe called the Andosinos, mentioned by Polybius when he was describing the Punic Wars. Yes, it is likely that somewhere in Andorra, someone would be justified in putting up a "Hannibal slept here" sign.

Andorra was part of the Roman Empire in it's heyday (the Roman Empire, not Andorra), although not mentioned in any of the secondary sources which I consulted. When Rome fell, Andorra became a gateway for the northern barbarian tribes to pass from the Roman provinces of Gaul into the provinces of Iberia. Several of the tribes left traces of their passing through (discarded McDonalds wrappers, etc.), including the Alans, the Visigoths, and the Vandals.


There story of Andorra properly begins with the Moor invasion of Spain, when the forces of the newly-converted Berber Ibn Ziad Tarik came across at Gibaltar (which is a corruption of Jebel Tarik, or "The Mountain of Tarik"). After the defeat of the Spanish King Roderick at Jerez de la Frontera, the Moors spread like wildfire throughout Spain, and Christian peasants near the Pyrenees found refuge in the many mountain valleys, including what would come to be known as Andorra.

Even with the defeat of the Moors by Charles Martel at Tours in 732, Moors continued to raid into southern France. The inhabitants of Andorra, not overly enthused about being considered a portal for these raids, appealed to Charlemange for assistance.

Charlemange swept the Moors out of Andorra, and in fact, most of the adjascent Spanish areas - but when the French armies went home again, the Moors returned. Charlemange then sent his son, Louis the Pious, to deal with them, and he defeated them decisively at a battle on the plain where the Valira river forks. After the battle, Louis was said to have compared the valley to the Biblical Valley of Endor and Rsdraelon, where the Christian armies had won a different decisive battle against the heathen.

Of course, the cynical among us might prefer to believe that Andorra is decended from the the Moorish Al-Darra, which means "The thickly-wooded place" - but c'mon - give the traditional view its place.

After slaughtering the Infidel, Louis formally settled the boundaries of the tiny proto-republic, settled some of his soldiers in the villages, and established the original annual tribute of two trout. He placed Andorra into the care of the newly-created Count of Urgell, one of his knights who would undertake to protect France from incursion from the Spanish side of the mountains.

Granted, there appears to be numerous historical and anecdotal problems with the above, and no documentation that actually fixes the date - but since its virtually impossible to prove a negative, let us agree to enjoy the legends as history... *grin*

The most important document in the country of Andorra is the Carta de Fundacio d'Andorra, a charter for the country written by Charlemagne, and given to his son, Louis the Pious, establishing Andorra's independance. it is kept under lock and key by the Andorran government, and they rarely let it see the light of day. However, there are many who suspect that the document is a forgery dating from the 12th century, made by the Andorrans themselves as fraudulent documentation to support their claims to independence against claiments from both Spain and France.

In any case, the Counts of Urgel were the overloards of Andorra, but they were apparently kept rather busy in their role as protectors of the Spanish March against the Moors; the first Count of Urgel, Ermengol I, fell in battle with the Moors in 1010. Ermengol II died in the Holy Land. Ermangol III was killed in battle with the Moors at Barbastri in 1065. Et cetera. They seemed more or less content to ignore Andorra, and concentrated on killing the Moors, instead.

Destroyed by the Moorish invasion, the Cathedral of Urgel was rebuilt by Bishop Posidinius in 819, and endowed with certain lands by Sunifred of Urgel on behalf of the Holy Roman Emperor, including the six Parishes which made up the whole of Andorra. Given that many of the Church's officers held feudal power as well as spiritual power over lands in the Medieval age, there is some confusion about how much authority (aside from the usual tithing) that the Bishop had over Andorra in the beginning - but we do know that any ambiguity was elimited over the 10th through the 12th centuries, when the Counts of Urgel made various grants to the Bishop which essentially transfered whatever rights were outstanding, confirming the Bishop's secular power.

However, just when you thought the lines of authority over Andorra were clear... also around that time, various grants from the Bishop and/or the Counts of Urgel were made to the Vicount of Castellbo, and these passed from Castellbo to the Count of Foix in 1202, when the Castellbo heiress Ermesinde married Count Roger Bernard II.

According to the Bishop of Urgel, any rights ceded to Foix were held in fief to the Bishop, as had been the original grants. The Count of Foix maintained that the rights inherited via Castellbo gave them unencumbered secular rule over Andorra. Of course, they might have been able to work out some sort of a modus vivendi, but southern France was in the middle of the Albigensian Heresy persecutions, and the Counts of Foix were Cathar in sympathy, and Roger Bernard II was excommunicated for heresy in 1236.

Roger Bernard III took arms against France and Aragon, and invaded Urgel. Bishop Pedro of Urgel was off fighting the Moors with his army, and so Foix rampaged through the Bishop's lands unimpeded, doing all those pleasant things that invading armies do - " the slaughter of men, both soldiers, ecclesiastics, and villeins, and the destruction of castles and houses... the mutilation of mens' bodies, and many other atrocities and other most unspeakable evils"... and thats the language from the eventual peace treaty!

Four years later, Foix would invade again (on the pretext that the conditions of the peace treaty hadn't been fulfilled), but the Bishop Jathbert of Valencia would lead them to the peace table instead, and the "six intermediaries" of Jathbert, Raymond de Besaln (Archdeacon of Tarragonna), Bonat de Lavayna (Canon of Narbonne and tax-collector for the King of Aragon), Rayumond d'Urg, Isarn de Fajaus, and William Raymond de Josa (nobles from the Foix delegation) hammered out an agreement called the Acte de Pareage in 1278, which was later supplemented by a second treaty. This is the "Magna Carta" of Andorra, and established the co-rule of the Bishop of Urgel and the Count of Foix over the country.

This treaty, and another signed eleven years later, established that Andorra would become independant, but pay an annual tribute called questia. To whom the tribute went alternated every year; first to the Count of Foix, then to the Bishop of Urgell, then the Count of Foix, etc. This agreement, called the Pareage is still the basis of Andorra's constitution and political independance. It is still paid to the Bishop of Urgell, and the President of France (as the sucessor to the Counts of Foix). The twin heads of state are referred to as "co-princes", and hence the country is referred to as the "Principality of Andorra".


In 1419 the people of Andorra petitioned the co-rulers for permission to establish a local parliament, which would consider local issues. This was granted, and the Council Of The Land was established. The members of the Council were elected by the "heads of household", which in practice meant males over the age of 25. There were four representatives from each of the six parishes, resulting in a membership of twenty-four.

One side note was that Soldieu was the birthplace of the of the few Andorran sons to set foot in the histories of the World, Jean Salvador de Calvo, who would enter the military service of King Louis XIV of France, and rise to the rank of Lieutenant General. Reknowned for his courage, he would spend fifty years in service and die leading a charge at the head of his troops.

The French Revolution

Over the years the title of "co-prince" of Andorra changed hands on the French side of the border. Henry II of Foix became Henry IV of France, and the title passed into the royal dominion, and Louis XIII (the son of Henry IV) confirmed Andorra's rights.

However, in 1793 the French monarchy was overthrown, and for the next fifteen years the Andorrans were without the protection of the French government. While this generally wouldn't really bother most people, the Andorrans were worried that their Spanish overlord would take this opportunity to revoke their independence, and make them a subordinate territory.

Indeed, this seemed almost certain when the Revoluntionary army was dispatched to take Urgel via marching through Andorra. The army requested right of passage through the mountains, but Andorra rejected them with a firmness that complements their courage, given that there was no standing Andorran army, just the militia. However, that militia mobilized (for the first time in about a thousand years), about 500 strong.

The French, under a smart fellow named Chabert, decided against invading Andorra; while he was secure in his ability to overrun the militia, he was less sanguine about his chances when they passed into Urgel. After all, an army is only as good as its line of supply, and while the Andorra military might not be large, its constituents were ideal for fighting a guerilla war behind the French advance, cutting off communication and supply.

When Napoleon became Emperor of France, he issued on March 26, 1806 an Imperial Decree re-establishing the the overlordship of the French government, and confirming their rights of independence. When France became a reupblic in 1870 the role of overlord became part of the duties and powers of the President of the Repyblic.

Nearly a century latyer, Andorra was forced to mobilize its army again, during the Carlist wars in Spain. Many of the rebels had forces in the Pyrenees, and during the seige of Urgel by royalists, the Andorra border was repeated violated by both sides of the conflict, and the Andorra army ejected the intruders - mostly Carlists - back into Spain.

Another incident occured in 1880, and is referred to as "The Battle of the Casino", in which the Bishop of Urgel supported a French gambling syndicate in an attempt to set up operation in Escaldes. Bribes were paid, and the debate in the Andorra General Council (which needed to approve the franchise) was heated to the point of rage. The Andorrans were unwilling to give up their independance for material gain, however - but the Spanish side was so forceful and vehement that the French government dispatched a battalion to the border at Soulane, one day's march from Andorra La Vella. The gambling scheme was rejected, and relocated to Monaco instead!

In 1893 - despite opposition by the Bishop of Urgel - Andorra got its first telegraph line to the outside world (to Ax-Les-Thermes, on the French side of the border).

King Boris I of Andorra

In 1933 several disaffected Andorrans, some in high positions in the government, sponsored the attempt of Boris de Skossyreff (himself a Russian) to proclaim himself King Boris I of Andorra. Several days later "King Boris" was removed by several guardsmen of the Bishop of Urgell, but the resultant turmoil culminated in the nation's judicial authority, the Tribunal de Corts, firing the members of the Council Of The Land.

In order to prevent the total dissolution of law and order, the French government sent squads of gendarmes to keep domestic order. Within a short time, the Andorrans held elections, re-established the Council Of The Land, with all men over the age of twenty-four being allowed to vote, and all men over thirty allowed to hold office. In 1970 women were granted the right to vote and hold office, and in 1971 the age requirements were lowered to twenty-one for the right to vote.

The Modern Era

In 1978 the six parishes of Andorra were expanded to seven, with the establishment of the parish of Escaldes-Engordany.

In 1981 an organization called the Government Of Andorra was created. It is the executive branch of government, and consists of the Head Of Government (elected by the Council Of The Land), and four to six Councillors who act as Ministers, each looking after a particular area such as defense, education, finance, foreign affairs, etc.


As you might imagine, much of this comes from various sources, and much of it anecdotal in nature - I have culled things from texts foreign and domestic, from travelogues and magazines, from travel books and history books, and - of course - the CIA. However, sources of information regarding Andorra are few and far between. My knowledge of Spanish is reasonable, my knowledge of French imperfect, and my knowledge of Catalan almost non-existant (although I do have an excellent Catalan/English dictionary). If you know of a resource I've not yet plundered for this narrative, please notify me!