Skip to main content

History of Charente

As one of the four departements of the Poitou-Charentes region, the history of Charente can be traced back to the early Gallic settlers known as the Pictavi in the second century BC. As was the way with much of ancient France, the region was soon conquered by the invading legions of Rome, with Julius Caesar leading the march across Europe. This rule would last until the collapse of the Roman Empire in the fifth century, after which time the region passed between the hands of various rulers.

Visigoths and Franks

As the demise of the Roman Empire gradually saw its influence recede from France, it was the Visigoths that first stepped into Charente territory. This rule, however, would last until just 507 AD, when the Franks, under the leadership of King Clovis I, took stewardship of the region – control that would last for centuries to come.  

One of the most defining periods in the history of  Poitou-Charentes occurred over the two centuries following the Frankish seizure of power when, in 732, Charles Martel’s Christian troops defeated Arab invaders. Having already conquered much of Spain and southern France, this victory in Poitiers was heralded as integral to the longevity of Christianity in western Europe.

British rule

At the onset of the Middle Ages, the marriage of Eleanor of Aquitaine would play an integral role in the fate of Charente. Eleanor’s marriage to Henry II – the future king of England – in 1152 passed dominion of the area to the English, whose control over Poitou-Charentes would endure for three centuries. Of course, the events of the Hundred Years’ War initiated the transition from British to French control, with region reverting to French rule in 1416.

Revolution and modern history

A period of relative stability and economic prosperity ensued until the events of the French Revolution found their way to south-west France. Charente became one of the 83 departements founded on March 4, 1790, and the growth of industry and commerce continued until the middle of the 19th century.

Two World Wars would go on to blight the region, yet the flourishing Cognac and wine trades remained integral, with development throughout the latter half of the 20th century proving invaluable to the popularity of the area as a tourist destination.