The origin of the Royal Basque Society of the Friends of the Country

Amiga de Número de la Real Sociedad Bascongada de los Amigos del País

The origin of the Royal Basque Society of the Friends of the Country founded in 1764 was the gatherings that took place in the palace of Intsausti, in Azkoitia, at the initiative of the count of Peñaflorida, Xabier Mª de Munibe. This group of enlightened intellectuals and especially Peñaflorida were responsible for the drafting of the "Plan for an economic Society or academy of agriculture, science and practical arts and business", presented in the Legislative Assembly of Gipuzkoa in 1763, a consequence of the interest shown by its authors in promoting the economy of the area. And so Peñaflorida is considered the founder of what would become the Royal Basque Society, although he was not alone.

One year after presenting the Plan, the enlightened project of Gipuzkoa managed to unite the three Provinces of the Basque Country and found the first enlightened society in Spain. This union was symbolized by three united hands (irurac bat) which 250 years later still presides over the life of the institution.

The aim of the Society was written in Article 1 of its statutes: "to cultivate the inclination and love of the Basque Nation for Science, Literature and Fine Art, to correct and polish their customs, banish leisure and its unfortunate consequences and strengthen the union of the three provinces of Álava, Vizcaya and Guipúzcoa and all the Basque Country".

One of the most representative actions of the Society in its early stages was the founding of the Royal Seminary of Bergara in 1776, a pioneering institution in research and teaching in the Basque Country. In 1778, its chemical laboratory was opened, where a new metal, wolfram, was isolated in 1783, thanks to the work of Juan José and Fausto de Elhuyar, teachers at the Seminary. Likewise, for the development of the chairs of Chemistry and Metallurgy, they employed prestigious lecturers (the physicist Chabaneau, the chemist Proust or the mineralogist Thünborg). They also saw to it that some members of the Society were educated abroad so that they could then be incorporated into the Seminary as lecturers. Students from all over attended the institution. There was a notable presence of overseas students. Of these hundred or so, the highest number came from Cuba (31) followed by Mexico (21) and the area of Peru (13).

Originally, the Society had different categories of members: the full members (eight per province) and the supernumeraries and distinguished members. At present, the new statutes have eliminated the numerus clausus of the first category. Moreover, there were numerous foreign members, both from Europe and America, in general, leading figures from the world of law, diplomacy, science, literature or economics.

There were more French members than other European members. Among the French were those who excelled due to their contributions to the field of metallurgy and chemistry (Grignon, Rouelle, D'Arcet, Daubenton, Guyton de Morveau, Fourcroy, Vauquelin, etc.). However, without a doubt, the Mexican members were the greatest in number, accounting for more than 500 of the 868 members that the Society had in Madrid, Cadiz, Seville, America and the Philippines in 1775.

Throughout the years, the Royal Basque Society of the Friends of the Country has had three stages in its 250 years of history. The first corresponds to the early years, from its foundation in 1764 until the beginning of the 19th century. After the death of the count of Peñaflorida in 1785, both the Seminary of Bergara and the Society itself were weakened for some years although neither institution reached the point of disappearing altogether. The political conflicts of the early decades of the 19th century led to a certain lethargy in the Society although the educational institute in Bergara continued to function under different names and objectives. At the end of the 19th century, a group of Friends recuperated the spirit of the pioneers to revive the Society following the same principles of the enlightened founders but adapted to the circumstances of the time.

Thereafter, the Royal Basque Society of the Friends of the Country has maintained its activity to this day. The number of full members, restricted originally to eight for each of the three provinces, has disappeared in the interest of allowing figures of proven merit to join.

Its organizational structure consists of three commissions, one for each province of the Basque Country, whose governing boards are elected every three years. It also has a Board of Governors, which, chaired by the director of the Society, is the body which represents the whole Society.

Today, the Royal Basque Society of the Friends of the Country, as well as the commissions in each province, has two delegations: the Delegation in Court, exactly as it was originally planned, and the other in Mexico, given the importance of the membership there still today as in the 18th century.



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Tel. 943 285 577
E-mail: intsausti.rsbap@gmail.com

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