ARMAGNAC, formerly a province of France and the most important fief of Gascony, now wholly comprised in the department of Gers (q.v.). In the 15th century, when it attained its greatest extent, it included, besides Armagnac, the neighbouring territories of Fezensac, Fezensaguet, Pardiac, Pays de Gaure, Rivière Basse, Eauzan and Lomagne, and stretched from the Garonne to the Adour. Armagnac is a region of hills ranging to a height of 1000 ft., watered by the river Gers and other rivers which descend fanwise from the plateau of Lannemezan. On the slope of its hills grow the grapes from which the famous Armagnac brandy is made. In Roman Gaul this territory formed part of the diocese of Auch (civitas Ausciorum), which corresponded roughly with the later duchy of Gascony (q.v.). About the end of the 9th century Fezensac (comitatus Fedentiacus), in circumstances of which no trustworthy record remains, was erected into an hereditary countship. This latter was in its turn divided, the south-western portion becoming, about 960, the countship of Armagnac (pagus Armaniacus). The domain of this countship, at first very limited in extent, continued steadily to increase in size, and about 1140 Count Gerald III. added the whole of Fezensac to his possessions. Under the English rule the counts of Armagnac were turbulent and untrustworthy vassals; and the administration of the Black Prince, tending to favour the towns of Aquitaine at the expense of the nobles, drove them to the side of France. The complaint against the English prince which Count John I., in defiance of the treaty of Brétigny, himself carried to Paris, was the principal cause of the resumption of hostilities of 1369, and of the incessant defeats sustained by the English until the accession of their king Henry V.
At that moment Count Bernard VII. was all-powerful at the French court; and Charles of Orleans, in order to be able to avenge his father, Louis of Orleans, who had been assassinated in 1407 by John the Fearless, duke of Burgundy, married Bonne, Bernard's daughter. This was the origin of the political party known as "the Armagnacs." With the object of combating the duke of Burgundy's preponderant influence, a league was formed at Gien, including the duke of Orleans and his father-in-law, the dukes of Berry, Bourbon and Brittany, the count of Alençon and all the other discontented nobles. Bernard VII. ravaged the environs of Paris; and the treaty of Bicêtre (November 2, 1410) only suspended hostilities for a few months, war breaking out afresh in the spring of 1411. Paris sided with the duke of Burgundy, and at his instigation Charles VII. collected an army to besiege the allies in Bourges. The peace of Bourges, confirmed at Auxerre on the 22nd of August, put an end to the war. Paris was dominated at that time by the party of the "butchers," or Cabochiens, which had been organized and armed by the count of Saint-Pol, brother-in-law of John the Fearless. But their excesses, and in particular the Cabochien ordinance of the 25th of May 1413, aroused public indignation; a reaction took place, and in the month of August the Armagnacs in their turn became masters of the government and of the king. The duke of Burgundy, besieged in Arras, only obtained peace (treaty of Arras, September 4, 1414), on condition of not returning to Paris.
Several months later Henry V. declared war against France; and when, in August 1415, the English landed in Normandy, the Armagnacs and Burgundians united against them, but were defeated in the battle of Agincourt (October 25, 1415). John the Fearless then began negotiations with the English, while Bernard VII., appointed constable in place of the count of Saint-Pol, who had been killed at Agincourt, returned to defend Paris. However, the excesses committed by the Armagnacs incensed the populace, and John the Fearless, who was ravaging the surrounding districts, re-entered the capital on the 29th of May 1418, in consequence of the treason of Perrinet Leclerc. On the 12th of June Bernard VII. and the members of his party were massacred. From this time onward the Armagnac party, with the dauphin, afterwards King Charles VII., at its head, was the national party, while the Burgundians united with the English. This division in France continued until the treaty of Arras, on the 21st of September 1435. The rivalry of the Burgundians and Armagnacs brought terrible disasters upon France, and for many years afterwards the name of "Armagnacs" was bestowed upon the bands of adventurers who were as much to be feared as the Grandes Compagnies of the preceding age.
In 1444-45 the emperor Frederick III. of Germany obtained from Charles VII. a large army of Armagnacs to enforce his claims in Switzerland, and the war which ensued took the name of the Armagnac war (Armagnakenkrieg). In Germany the name of the foreigners, who were completely defeated in the battle of St Jakob on the Birs, not far from Basel, was mockingly corrupted into Arme Jacken, Poor Jackets, or Arme Gecken, Poor Fools.
On the death of Charles of Armagnac, in 1497, the countship was united to the crown by King Charles VII., but was again bestowed on Charles, the nephew of that count, by Francis I., who at the same time gave him his sister Margaret in marriage. After the death of her husband, by whom she had no children, she married Henry of Albret, king of Navarre; and thus the countship of Armagnac came back to the French crown along with the other dominions of Henry IV. In 1645 Louis XIV. erected a countship of Armagnac in favour of Henry of Lorraine, count of Harcourt, in whose family it continued till the Revolution. James of Armagnac, grandson of Bernard VII., was made duke of Nemours in 1462, and was succeeded in the dukedom by his second son, John, who died without issue, and his third son, Louis, in whom the house of Armagnac became extinct in 1503.
In 1789 Armagnac was a province forming part of the Gouvernement-général of Guienne and Gascony; it was divided into two parts, High or White Armagnac, with Auch for capital, and Low or Black Armagnac. At the Revolution the whole of the original Armagnac was included in the department of Gers.
For authorities see U. Chevalier, Répertoire des sources hist, du moyen âge, s. Armagnac (Montbéliard, 1894). For the Armagnacs see Paul Dognon, "Les Armagnacs et les Bourguignons, le comte de Foix et le dauphin en Languedoc" (1416-1420) in Annales du Midi (1889); Rameau, "Guerre des Armagnacs dans le Mâconnais" (1418-1435) in the Rév. soc. lit. de l'Ain (1884); Berthold Zeller, Les Armagnacs et les Bourguignons, la Commune de 1413; E. Wulcker, Urkunden und Schreiben betreffend den Zug der Armagnaken (Frankfort, 1873); Witte, Die Armagnaken im Elsass, 1439-1445 (Strassburg, 1889).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)