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Noirmoutier History.

Sud Vendee.. Haut Bocage.. Coastal Region.. Marais Poitevin.. Marais Breton.. Bas Bocage.. Plaine.. Marais Olonne..

On Noirmoutier there is considerable evidence of human occupation during the prehistoric era, in the form of megalithic monuments. During this period what is now the Ile de Noirmoutier was a peninsula that formed the left bank of the River Loire and included the Ile de Pillar and the Bais de Bourgneuf. There came a time, probably when the banks of the river breached and combined with the effects of the soils of the Bay of  Bourgneuf collapsing and coastal erosion, that the Island of Noirmoutier was born. The later joining of the Dune island of Barbatre and further alluvial deposits have given the island the shape we see today.

Roman and Gallo-Roman.
The Romans may well have been the first tourist to the island. They certainly settled on the island although it was not until 1832 that traces of their occupation were discovered. Near the village of Grand Viel the foundations of a Gallo-Roman building were uncovered along with many sarcophagi.
The Roman Legions were driven out in around 260AD by the Barbarians who overran Brittany and Poitou.
Sometime around 674AD Saint Philbert, who had been expelled from the abbey at Jumieges, founded the Abbey of Moutier which becomes Her, or of Her Moutire then Nermoutier and finally Noirmoutier. During this period the monk enhanced the soils of the island with manure made from seaweed leaving it fertile and productive. Philbert died ten years later, having spent most of his working life there. He left the island relatively peaceful and prosperous, and it remained that way until about 732AD when the abbey was destroyed by the Saracens.
The Normans raided the area for two centuries until Abbot Hilbord built the castle. The Normans responded with more attacks forcing the monks to abandon the island taking the remains of St.Philbert and many of the population with them.
The Normans controlled the island for the next two (more) centuries but as the Lords of Poitou became stronger they forced the Normans to look northward for new territories. By 1060AD the Lords of Garnache controled the land and this continued until 1206. Pierre IV lord of Garnache built a castle and the Cistercian monks founded the White Abbey (Notre-Dame de la Blanche) (they were to stay untill1789).
From 1206 until 1373 the island was controlled by Saint Maure, and then the Craon before being sold to the illustrious Tremoille family.
It was the Tremoille family that developed the land, built the dykes and windmills (in 1395 there were 6 windmills by 1682 there were 17) and invested in the white gold (salt). This was however a turbulent period, which included invasions, destruction, looting by pirates and other French, and also by other nations, such as the English, Dutch and Spanish. Finally in 1720 the last of the Tremoille family, Annne-Marie sold the island to the Duke of Bourbon whose son sold it to King Loisis XV for £1,900.00 in 1767.

(On July 8th 1747 during a blockade by the English Navy the British warship "Maidstone" a 1000ton vessel with 50 cannon struck a rock while inspecting the Dromadaire a 400 ton merchant vessel and sunk 3 miles off L'Herbaudiere. Since 1980 more than 300 objects have been salvaged and are now in the Museum at the
Chateau-de-Noirmoutier, also two canon are on the harbourside at St.Gilles-Croix de Vie.

During the Wars of the Vendee the island was to suffer badly as it was of strategically important to both sides. It changed hands 4 times between March 1793 and January 1794 with considerable loss of life.
The Island was first taken by the royalists early in the uprising, on the 16th and 17th March 1793. Guerry Fortinière, a former officer of the Coast Guard, and the head of the peasants of Bouin, Beauvoir and Saint-Gervais, crossed the Gois. He moved to Barbâtre on March 16th, and from his headquarters called on the Mayor of Noirmoutier to surrender. On the morning of the 17th March he received the submission of the city without a shot being fired.
The republicans retook the island which was then fortified, as they quite correctly thought that the Vendéens would need a port. Under Charrette the Vendéens first attempt failed, but on 12th October Barbatre was taken and Wieland the Republican leader capitulated to save the lives of his troops. He was taken prisoner and with his troops were taken to Bouin where Charrette's lieutenant, Cruel Pajot, an old poultry dealer, had them shot.
In the last part of 1793 the Republicans prepared to retake the island. It was blockaded by 3 frigates, dozens of corvettes, gunboats and luggers and in the last days of December their bombardment of Bois de la Chaise started. The Vendéens did however succeed in destroying the frigate "Nympe".
The attack proper started on the night of the 2nd January when 5000 men attacked on 4 fronts. After many hours of furious battles the south of the island was taken. After making their way north they finally arrived at the wooden bridge which had been burnt down. A delegation was there to meet them promising to lay down their arms if their lives were spared.
The republican army were the final victors and more than 1500 Vendéen soldiers were executed in a couple of days and the island was turned into a prison.

In 1849, after the wars of the Vendée, the castle was used as a Barracks and then a prison. During the Second World War the island was occupied by the Germans and the castle was again used for prisoners of war. Ironically after the war it was the Germans who became the inmates of the castle.
Finally the castle became a museum housing artefacts from the island’s past including Staffordshire pottery which was found buried on the island.

On the 14th June 1931 500 tourists from Nantes drowned when the ship 'Saint-Philbert' was lost in rough seas as it departed from the pier at the Plage des Dames, Bois de la Chaise. Many prospective passengers refused to board due to the conditions and of those that did only 8 were saved.

The Ile de Noirmoutier’s prosperity was built on salt and at the height of production over 100,000 tonnes were produced each year, today that has dropped to around 800 tonnes a year. It was so important especially for the preservation of food that many countries had consulates on the island including; Belgium, England, Holland and Sweden and it was the reason for most of its turbulent past.

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