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The History of the Vendée

The History of the Vendée
This is a short History of the Vendée with the major events and personalities that have shaped the Vendée of today.
Its is not intended as a complete or thorough account of all that has happened, but merely to give you a background to help you understand and enjoy your visit to this important historic region of France.

Civillisation. Man has been present in the Vendée since prehistoric times and especially on the islands and the coastal region where hunters and fishermen settled more than 14,000 years ago, leaving a legacy of their dolmen at La Frebouchere au Bernard, Le Givre, Commequiers and Ile Yeu and the Menhirs at Avrille and villages like Champ-Durand (Nieul-sur-Autise).
The Province of Picton is derived from the Picton Tribe who settled between Brittany and Aquitaine founding such villages as Bram (brem), Durinum (St.-Georges-de Montaigu) and Olonna (Olonne-sur-Mer).
With the coming of the Roman legions in 57 BC the provinces of Aquitaine and Poitou were united under the "Pax Romana" and this lead to the building of a network of roads which can still be seen today. The most visible of these is the road from Les Sables d'Olonne to Niort. This road going via Luçon and Fontenay-le-Comte at the time followed the coastline, Another visible Roman road  is the route from Fontenay-le-Comte to Bressuire.

Christianity was preached in the Vendée as early as the 3rd Century although in the countryside the Druids retained their influence. St. Hilaire, the bishop of Poitiers, was mainly responsible for the growth of Christianity and his name is often attached to village names.
The end of the 10th Century was the start of 200 years of Romanesque architecture and many of the churches and abbeys have parts if not all of their structures constructed during this period.

The early Middle-Ages saw the region invaded and devastated by the Arabs, Barbarians, Visigoths and Vikings which forced the population to seek shelter in the castles and Abbeys. This was the beginning of a period of Feudalism and the building of churches and Abbeys, many of which were fortified. There are fine examples such as the churches at Le Boupere and Cheffois.
Poitou was ruled by the Counts of Poitiers (also the Dukes of Aquitaine). Eleanor of Aquitaine married Henry of Anjou (Plantagenet) who in 1154 became King Henry 11 of England.
Gothic architecture started to appear during this period and its influence lasted until the 15th century. It was during this period that the Lusignan family where very influential, not only in this part of what was then still the Bas Poitou, but also in the Mediterranean. Guy de Lusignan was king of Cypress in 1192 and the Moricq Tower in Nicosia is an exact copy of the Tour de Moricq at Angles which was in the possession of the Lusignan Family.

1337 saw the start of the 100 years war between France and England and during this period the region was under English rule, before eventually being won back by supporters of Joan of Arc.
It is worth noting that although this war is claimed to be between the English and French it was in essence between the Plantagenet’s who formerly owned and ruled this part of France and who wished to regain it, and the French who had taken over control in the intervening years.
The 16th Century was the start of the Renaissance period which flourished in the Vendée. There were many châteaux, elegant houses and public buildings built
in the Renaissance style and no more so than at Fontenay-le-Comte which during this period was the capital of the region.

The Wars of Religion broke out in 1562 and lasted until 1598, seeing the destruction of many of the churches and abbeys. The conflict was ended by the Edict of Nantes which allowed Protestants to worship freely and this uneasy peace lasted till 1622 when the king fought the Protestants at St Gilles-sur-Vie. Cardinal Richelieu who was earlier Bishop of Luçon became Prime Minister under Louis X111 and he besieged La Rochelle, which was a Huguenot stronghold between 1627 and 1628. With the revocation of the 'Edict of Nantes' in 1685 over 400,000 Huguenots were forced to flee France.

The French Revolution of 1789 saw the Vendéens (the area was known as the Bas Poitou untill 1790) who were predominately royalist sympathisers pitched against the Bourgeoise who had gained more power with the abolition of feudalism. In 1790 their power was increased by the Clergy's Civil Constitution which imposed 'non-jurist priests' on the population replacing the 'jurist priests'. The people of the 28 parishes of the Bas Poitou reject this move and supported those priests that had refused to take the oath. With the abolition of Royalty in August 1792 and the execution of Louis X1V on January 21st 1793 things came to a head with people in the Vendée rejecting all Republican principles. The War broke out in Les Mauges with the Catholic and Royalist Army taking Cholet. The war raged on till 1796 with the loss of over 300,000 men. (For a fuller account of this visit  Wars of the Vendee).
Freedom of religion was eventually established and the Vendée returned to its slow and peaceful way of life.

The 20th century started with the first World War and 20,000 young Vendéen soldiers were to die in this bloody conflict. Many of the people from the Ardenne and Picardie regions were relocated during the war to the Vendée and many stayed on afterwards. During the Second World War the Vendée was occupied on the 21st June 1940 by the Germans, bunkers were built around the coast as protection from invasion and many of its male citizens were forced to march to Germany to work in prison camps and factories. (In September 1944 the local resistance gathered 3,000 men who played a significant part in the liberation of the Vendée and France.)

After the losses of the two Wars and a rural exodus the Vendée had lost some 50,000 inhabitants, it had no cities or large towns and had little or no influence in central Government and it was left to its own enthusiasm and hard work to develop its economy.
The closeness of the population brought about by years of conflict, an eagerness to succeed, and ingenious solutions to economic problems often in the face of hostilities from Central Government have today made the Vendée the second most productive agricultural region in France, with a faster growing and more diverse economy than any other Department in France.

Today the Vendée is truly on the map of France, and is a name recognised worldwide with its promotion of the  Vendee Globe yacht race, the Puy du Fou but more so for its friendly gentle people, who are quiet and modest with their roots in the past but their eyes to the future.

Personalities of the Vendée are as you may suspect with a rural community, few and far between, although the few that there are, are worth noting.
Richard the Lion Heart is one who although born in Oxford England and not in the Vendée spent a lot of time here at his castle at Talmont St. Hilaire.
Gilles de Rais (Bluebeard) at 25 he was "Marshal of France" and a companion of Joan of Arc. He is best known for the atrocities he committed at his castle at Tiffauges where it is claimed he killed more than 200 children in his attempt to make gold from blood.
Francois Viete. (1540-1603) is the mathematician from Fontenay who created modern algebra.
Cardinal Richelieu Born Armand du Plessis, at 23 he became bishop of Luçon and in 1608 he was to become first minister of France under Louis X111.
Rene-Antoine Ferchault du Reaumur (1683 to 1757) the inventor of the thermometer, he also developed a way of tinning iron and his studies of insects made him the father of French Entomology.

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