Canadian Besner Family of French Origins

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French origins with Spanish ancestry

The surname Bésaniare-Bézanère derives that the family was of Spanish origins. Those who have claimed and still claim, including Mrs Marie-France Colin, née Bézanère, our French cousin, base their opinion on the existence of the "z" in the name that is pronounced as a "th" in English and an "ss" in French. In any case, our Canadian ancestor, if he didn't know how to write his name, he could at least pronounce it distinctly, since both the priest who married him and the lawyer who drew up the contract, wrote his name, "Bazanaire" and the other "Bézanaire".

The country of origin of the ancestor of French Canadian Besner family, Gascogne, Gers, Haute-Garonne, is located in the south of France, situated half-way between the Mediterranean on the east and the Atlantic on the west. Occitan, language related to Spanish spoken in some parts of Southern France, is presently enjoying a cultural revival in that region.

The South of France, land of the "Oc" language

This past explains why the spoken french in that part of France has a particular accent. The ancestor of French Canadian Besner family, being illiterate, has never written his name nor the name of his parents, but has only pronounced them, leaving the written interpretation to the scribes.

In official Canadian records, we find other spellings: Bézenert, Besssenère, Bézenaire and Bezner and finally Besner that prevailed since the beginning of the 20th century to this day.. Throughout the first three Canadian generations, we often find a "z" in the spelling of the name: Bezenert and Bezner. Still today, in Canada, even though the spelling had definitely adopted an "s" people will often pronounce it as a "z". In the summer of 1992, a descendant living near Windsor, Ontario, wrote is name "Bisnair".

History encourages us to consider two hypotheses concerning our distant but possible Spanish origins.

We owe the first and more realistic to a priest in Savères. For more than fifty years, Jean-Louis Bézanère (1888-1957), known to our cousin from Versailles, while he was alive, gave some verbal information of his personal genealogy research. Unfortunately, according to his heir, Léa Saunier de Rieumes, the results of his written work were destroyed at his death.

According to this ecclesiastic, the first Bézanère would have arrived from Spain to France before the reign of Louis XIV (1643-1715). He based his opinion on the Basque writing on the first document that we have concerning this family. His name would have been borrowed from a peak or a Pyrenean village, this mountain range rides on the French-Spanish border.

This first hypotheses explaining the arrival of the Spanish family in France, must take into account the historical context of French Wars of Religion who hit their peak from 1559 to 1589 and beyond. Under the influence of the budding Calvinism, many, in the South of France, had converted to Protestantism, leading to the persecution of it's followers (Massacre of St-Barthelemy August 24th 1572) and a civil war that didn't subside until the Edict of Nantes in 1598.

It's Henry-IV, grandfather of Louis-XIV, first, Protestant king of Navarre, who brought back some tolerance in this mess. West of the border between France and Spain lied the Kingdom of Navarre. The north of the Kingdom was reattached to France's after Henri's accession to the throne and his reconversion to Catholicism.

Gascogne, like many other regions of the French south-west, had seen her Protestant population decimated by religious wars. The French nobles, who were most often the major property owners, went to Spain to entice Spanish Catholics to come settle in France as peasants to replace the ones that had disappeared.

The second hypothesis is advanced. The date of arrival of the Spanish ancestor to France could have coincided with the expulsion of the Moriscs and the Marranos. The qualifiers designated Jews and Muslims repressed in the south of Spain, during the "reconquista" under the reign of Isabelle of Castille, also-known-as Isabelle the Catholic, between 1481 and 1492, and forcibly converted to Catholicism. She had recognized that the "converted" continued to observe in private the rites of their first religion, and the revolted under the reign of Spain's Philip II. They were consequently repressed between 1568 and 1570. His successor radically fixed the problem by expelling them from the country at the beginning of the 1600's. They were numerous enough to have settled in the South of France.

Was our French ancestor of those numbers? This hypothesis is less probable than the first one, because of the geography process and the dates at which they occurred. Our earliest document dates to 1585, thus before the arrival of the Moriscs and the Marranos whom we establish at around 1610.

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