History of Pays de la Loire
Ancient Pays de le Loire, like so much of France, enjoys a history carved from so many great civilisations and events, culminating in the fascinating region we find today. The development of organised religion, the growth of industry and, of course, the rise and fall of French nobility all play their part in the heritage of the Pays de la Loire, whose regional capital, Nantes, features prominently in the historic tales.
The earliest tribes to call Pays de la Loire home date from the European Iron Age, with powerful Celtic tribes known as the Cenomani and Carnute occupying the region and numbering in the thousands. These thriving communities would soon combine forces under the leadership of Vercingetorix in an effort to repel Roman incursions into Gaul led by Julius Caesar. Such efforts were ultimately in vain, with the Roman armies sealing a commanding victory and seizing control of the region in 52BC.
Under the stewardship of the Romans, however, the region experienced significant growth and benefitted from the dawn of a new age. The towns of Angers, Le Mans, and Nantes were founded under Roman rule, while the development of many agricultural estates and vineyards ensured the region could thrive during the centuries that followed.
Following the demise of the Roman Empire, and as the widespread adoption of Christianity took hold, it was the Franks under Clovis I that assumed control of the area, an era of rule that was defined by numerous invasions such as those by the ninth-century Vikings who laid siege to the region. The regime of the Franks was succeeded by feudal control, with a number of French counts leaving their mark on Maine and Anjou through the erection of magnificent châteaux.
The most famous of these counts would undoubtedly prove to be Henry Plantagenet. Henry’s ascension to the English throne in 1154, and later marriage to Eleanor of Aquitaine, would bring the region under the control of the English crown; a reign that lasted until the fiercely contested Hundred Years’ War saw dominion pass to the French monarchy.
Renaissance and Revolution
With its coastal setting and countryside charm, the region soon became a popular haven for the nobility of France, while the influence of the Renaissance across Europe found its way to Pays de la Loire and took form in the architecture of graceful châteaux. The signing of the Edict of Nantes, meanwhile, signalled the end of the ensuing War of Religions, with the city playing its part in one of the most important events of the 16th century.
As the French Revolution took hold and the changes in administration came into effect, resistance in Maine and Anjou triggered the Vendée War. For two years, the region witnessed Royalist uprisings and Republican counters, with the struggle ending in tragedy – a mass drowning of rebels in the River Loire.
That was not the end of conflict in the Pays de la Loire region, however; during the Second World War, one of the earliest acts of resistance against the Nazis by the French took place at the Saumur Cavalry School. Here, more than 2,000 officer cadets stood strong against the German troops, halting the advancement of the invading forces for two days.