Poitou-Charentes: A Brief History
Following the era of Roman domination, early Christians gathered around Poitiers, where they elected St. Hilaire as Bishop. Germanic tribes invaded Poitou in the 3rd century, followed by the Visigoths, who were defeated by King Clovis in 507. Poitiers, however, is better remembered for a conflict that remains a milestone in the history of Western Christianity: in 732, Frankish troops led by Charles Martel defeated the Arab invaders who had already conquered Spain and southwestern France.
Part of the Plantagenet Territories.
In 1137, Eleanor of Aquitaine married King Louis VII and as part of her extensive dowry brought to the French crown what is now Poitou-Charentes. Her subsequent divorce and remarriage to Henry Plantagenet, future King of England, gave the region to the English. In 1173, Eleanor, separated from her second husband, settled in Poitiers, where she held a brilliant court and became a patron of the arts. She later retreated to a castle on the Ile d’Oléron, one of the two islands off the region’s coast.
While Poitou rejoined the French crown in 1224, the duchies of Aunis, Saintonge and Angoulème once again became English territories in 1360. The following century saw the end of the Hundred Years War and the dismantling of the English possessions in France. Poitou-Charentes held a significant role in the 16th-century Wars of Religion: Calvin preached his Reformation Doctrine and converted the population of La Rochelle and of Poitiers. The 1598 Edict of Nantes granted the Protestants freedom of worship, only to be revoked in 1685, thus creating a massive Huguenot emigration from the region.
A period of great economic development followed in the early 18th century, followed by the Revolution during which Catholic priests were deported from the port of Rochefort. At the end of World War II, Free French soldiers and members of the Resistance fought German forces still entrenched in the Atlantic “pockets”, including Royan, the region’s most southerly harbor.