Centre History

A powerful people, known as the Cenomanni, inhabited the Loire Valley during the Iron Ages. Their descendents, the Carnutes, vigorously opposed the Roman Conquest in 52 BC. Subsequently, they and the Druids unsuccessfully revolted against Caesar.

Emperor Augustus finally brought about peace and stability that encouraged towns like Angers, Le Mans, Orléans and Tours to organize along the Roman model with baths, forums, theaters and other public buildings. During the early part of the Christian era, the first Bishop of Tours, Saint-Gatien, was introducing Christianity to the area. By the 4th century, Saint-Martin, the greatest of all Gallic bishops, had assured complete acceptance of Christianity in the region.

By the time of the 11th and 12th centuries, the age of the powerful Loire barons, the Loire Valley was doted by imposing chateaux. Only Orléans was firmly in the hands of the French crown. However, in 1202, John of England’s French lands were seized by Philippe-Auguste and the entire Loire became French again. Under the Capet kings, the 11th and 12th centuries were also the period when feudalism flourished in the Loire Valley. A hierarchical pyramid descended from the king to the nobility, and from them to the knights. The fief was a grant of land to the nobles that was then subdivided by a lord and, in turn, granted to a knight, or to another. The grant’s recipient then became the grantor’s vassal who owed his grantor certain economic and military obligations.

During the Renaissance, the power of the Catholic Church diminished in the Loire Valley. But, by 1540, the Roman Catholic Church lashed out at the Renaissance inspired Reformation with uncompromising repression. In turn, Protestant Huguenots rose up against the Catholics in 1560. Thus, the brilliant period of the Loire finished in tragedy.

The economy of the Loire dramatically accelerated during the 17th century, with a growth in agriculture and textile production. But, the textile industry together with other sectors of the economy; fell into decline during the 18th century. The French Revolution contributed to this decline by pitting one part of the Loire against the other. On the one hand, the inhabitants of the towns quickly saw the benefits of the Revolution whereas the rural peasants were opposed to it. Furthermore, the areas of Maine and Anjou rose up against the Revolution, while the people of Orléanais and Touraine supported it. In the end, the Revolution left entrenched bitterness and widespread ruin in its waking.

During the first World War, Tours served as headquarters for the American Expeditionary Force. Shortly after the commencement of the Second World War, the French Government moved to Tours and then subsequently to Bordeaux. On October 24, 1940, Marshal Pétain went to Montoire, in the Loire, where he met Hitler and agreed to his terms for an Armistice. Control of the Loire was retaken by the Resistance and Allied forces in September, 1944.

The Region of Centre was created in the 1970’s to be coextensive with the former historic provinces of Berry, Orléanais and Touraine.

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