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The Passing of Europe's Last Feudal State
FOR more than two years the five thousand inhabitants of Andorra, all mountain peasants, have been stirred by a bitter conflict with their co-Princes, the Spanish Bishop of Urgel and the President of France. The conflict reached its climax when the people rose in rebellion against the "sovereign authority," and France sent an "army" of sixty or more gendarmes into the country. This occupation held a tragic significance for the Andorrans because it meant that a neutrality (i. e., freedom from invasion) which they had enjoyed since 1278, had been broken. Many of them feel that for the future there will always be a note of irony in the name which they give to their country: "The Free and Neutral Valleys of Andorra."
But the events had a deeper import than the surface conflict in a tiny and all but forgotten state. They heralded the fact that Europe's last feudal state was
in process of dissolution as such. And they may be regarded as constituting an incident in the historic process of French frontier rectification, which reached its high point in the Treaty of the Pyrenees (1659) but which, from the French viewpoint, has never been completed.
Andorra, sometimes called a Republic and sometimes a Principality, is neither. As a state it is Europe's square peg. It is feudal and does not fit into the twentieth century political picture at all -- a thing which most people who attempt to classify it forget. It gives homage to two co-Princes. It has an internal government consisting of the First and Second Sindics, more commonly called the President and Vice-President, and a Council General or administrative parliament of twenty-four members.
The Andorrans say they received their independence from Charlemagne; and Andorra may well have been one of the buffer states which he and his sons created when they established the Spanish March. But the Bishops of the little Spanish town of Urgel, which lies just to the south of the Andorran frontiers, have had certain claims on Andorra for at least eleven centuries. In 839, when the Bishop Sissebuto dedicated his cathedral at Urgel, Count Senyofredo of Urgel, by consent of the Emperor Louis, Charlemagne's son, placed Andorra under the jurisdiction of the Bishop and his successors.