If you’ve never seen Andorra on a map, that’s probably because it’s not very easy to see. And if you have, you may be wondering, why is it even a country? A nation so small that it gets lost from sight between the border of Spain and France ever so easily. So why does it exist? Even more curious than the fact that tiny Andorra is utterly and overwhelmingly landlocked between Spain and France, it also is actually a co-principality between the two. Both neighbors share a certain level of authority over Andorra still today, and they have for many years.
The origins of the sovereign state, at least according to Andorra itself, can be traced all the way back to the time of Charlemagne. The story goes that when the Frankish king set up a series of buffer states between Christian France and Muslim-controlled al-Andalus, Andorra was one of the states to serve as part of this Marca Hispanica buffer, and is the only remaining state of the region as well.
When the 9th century came around, Charlemagne’s son ,Charles the Bald, had taken his place and decided to name the Count of Urgell as the new authority over Andorra. The power was then passed to the Diocese of Urgell shortly thereafter. Two centuries after the state fell under the count’s rule, Andorra’s leader, the Bishop of Urgell, began to face outward threats from his neighboring lords and subsequently requested.
the protection of the Catalan noble, the Lord of Caboet, whose title would later be transferred to the Count of Foix due to a marriage in 1208 which crowned him the new heir. This in itself triggered further disputes over who had a true claim to authority when it came to little Andorra and the discord continued until the early end of the 13th century. On September 8, 1278, the first Paréage of Andorra was signed in Lleida, Cata-lonia,
which formed an agreement between the Count of Foix and the Bishop of Urgell. Count Roger-Bernard III and Bishop Pere d’Urtx would become joint rulers over the state of Andorra, sharing equal power and dominion. A second document was signed roughly a decade after the first, this time to clarify some of the contents of the previous agreement.
After this second signing, the first real set of basic laws in Andorra had been established and would remain until the future ratification of the Constitution One condition of these new laws was that Andorra now owed a yearly tribute to both co-rulers of the state. This was generally paid in the form of four hams, forty loaves of bread, and wine.
Despite being landlocked and politically split between two drastically larger neighbors, Andorra was in a pretty good position by this point. Its borders, which still remain today, had been established, it had a set of laws, and it had two powerful leaders. This stability would carry on for centuries, though some changes came in the 1500s.
In 1505 specifically, Andorra fell under Spanish rule when Germaine of Foix married Ferdinand V of Castile. Germaine’s descendants would maintain authority over Andorra nonetheless, as confirmed by Emperor Charles V in 1519, leading to the curious events which followed King Henry III of Navarre and Count of Foix’s rise to power.
In 1589, Henry III took the throne of France under the name of Henry IV and a couple of decades later, in 1607, he transferred his lordship of Andorra to the French state as opposed to the Germaine line as it was. This protection and leadership from the French government lasted over a century, much to the pleasure of the people in Andorra. They greatly benefited from the guidance of such a mighty nation as one of their co-rulers, which became a problem rather abruptly in 1793.
The contemporary French Revolutionary Government did not seem as fond of Andorra as their previous leaders had been. In fact, the new authorities flat-out refused to accept the yearly tribute from Andorra and renounced its suzerainty completely, which greatly disturbed the Andorran people.
While not particularly anti-Spanish, the Andorrans still were not happy with the thought of becoming exclusively ruled by Spain. Nonetheless, France had made its decision and held strong to it When the Napoleonic Wars erupted in the 1800s, Andorra managed to stay neutral despite both France and Spain being involved in the conflicts.
Still unwilling to give up their relationship with France, the Andorrans even began to petition for Napoleon to restore the co-principality status of their nation. Spain was not opposed, and Napoleon eventually agreed in 1806. The renewed French co-leadership of Andorra was a huge victory for the small nation, although it didn’t stop France from annexing it around 1813, alongside Catalonia.
The latter was divided into four new departments and Andorra was then placed into the department of Sègre, or the district of Puigcerdà. The next significant period of Andorran history came with the onset of the first world war, though more in theory than in actuality. Officially, Andorra did not engage on behalf of either side in World War One. A few volunteers from the nation did fight in the war, but the state itself opted to stay out of conflict once again.
Later on, in 1958, there were some claims made by American newspapers that said Andorra had, in fact, declared war on Germany back in 1914 and simply never signed a peace treaty until that year, but these assertions proved to be blatantly false. No evidence from the time of the war could be found to support the theory and only found documentation to prove the contrary.
Between the first world war and this later debacle, France had actually invaded and this time occupied Andorra back in 1933 in response to social unrest brought on by upcoming elections. A period of local chaos broke out the following year when a man by the name of Boris Skossyreff declared that he was Boris The First, the sovereign prince of Andorra, making him an enemy and direct threat to France and Spain.
The latter had the man arrested on July 20, 1934, and expelled him from the region. This was followed by a time of great concern on the side of the French as the Spanish Civil War erupted and raged on. The French left a garrison in Andorra as a precaution in case their own authority were to come under attack. Luckily, this never happened and the co-principality maintained its leadership from both sides.
When World War Two rolled around, Andorra yet again maintained its non-combative stance. It did, however, get involved in the conflict to some extent this time. Andorra became an important route for smuggling French Resistance fighters out of France and created an easy path from Spain to France. After the war ended, Andorra began to form new diplomatic relations with nations further from its borders than its neighbors of Spain and France.
Political reforms also began to take place as the Andorran people started to get a glimpse of life outside of their own country, and the Andorran government was turning into a more autonomous organism throughout the 1980s. By 1993, the nation became a parliamentary democracy and a new Constitution was established.
While the existence of the co-principality still remained as a part of the Constitution, the authority and political influence of both rulers was vastly reduced. The government reforms that had begun the prior decade continued, now with the legislation of political parties, expansion of civil rights laws, and a new provision for an independent judiciary.
Andorra was also admitted to the United Nations that same year, and had established a customs union with the European Communities, now known as the European Union, two years prior. In 1994, Andorra joined the Council of Europe and continued to build and strengthen bonds with nations all throughout the continent and with the United States of America.
The existence of Andorra as a country is therefore still a bit of a mystery, though an undeniable fact. Its state as a co-principality adds a uniqueness and may contribute to the question of why Andorra exists as its own entity still today. Nonetheless, Andorra has a long history of being an individual, even if not fully independent, state, spanning all the way back to the Charlemange era. After all these centuries, it would make less sense for the small, landlocked nation to dissolve, than for it to continue to exist.
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