May 8, 1660 marked the arrival in Donibane Lohizune (Saint-Jean-de-Luz), Lapurdi, of the whole French court to begin celebrations for the forthcoming wedding of Louis XIV, King of France and Navarre, the Sun King, to Maria Theresa of Spain (held on June 9 that same year). The marriage had been agreed the previous year at the signing of the Treaty of the Pyrenees on Konpantzia, the Iles de Faisans or Pheasant Island, an islet in the Bidasoa River between Lapurdi and Gipuzkoa; and the location in which Basque delegates from both sides of the river, in the service of their respective crowns, had met traditionally to conclude commercial treaties.

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Maria Theresa is handed over to the French and her husband by proxy, Louis XIV, on the Ile des Faisans (Konpantzia) in 1659. Painting by Jacques Laumosnier. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

As Philippe Veyrin comments in The Basques of Lapurdi, Zuberoa, and Lower Navarre: Their History and Their Traditions (p. 185), “it was mainly Donibane Lohizune that, for a few weeks, had the eyes of the whole of Europe on it.” Veyrin continues (p. 186):

From May 8, when the royal entry had, in the fashion of the country, been enlivened by the leaps and bounds of Basque dancers (called carscabilayres in allusion to the little bells sewn into their clothes [kaskabilo is a small bell —ed.]), until June 15, when Their Majesties finally left the region, there was a deafening commotion.

This was just one more example, then, of how the Basque Country has been the setting for a key event in European history as a whole.

By way of an anecdote, it has been contended that Louis XIV was so taken by the Basque dancers he witnessed during his stay in Lapurdi that he took a group of them back with him to Paris to create the first Royal Dance Academy, founded in 1661.