After displacing the powerful Cenomanni and Carnute tribes during the Iron Age, the Romans occupied what is now Pays de la Loire in 52 BC. They created the towns of Angers and Le Mans as well as many agricultural estates. Christianity gained the ascendancy in 313 and the following centuries witnessed a series of invasions, notably the Vikings in the 9th century.
The end of the first millennium saw the rise of the powerful counts of Maine and Anjou – the most famous being Henri Plantagenet, who was to become King of England. Returned to the French crown in 1202, the region became the cradle of feudalism and, in the 16th century, a platform for Renaissance ideas, including the cult of beauty in all fields: architecture, literature and music. The region was not spared during the Wars of Religion (1562-79) but the reign of King Louis XIV restored peace and order as power was centralized under the crown.
The 1789 French Revolution met with fierce resistance in Maine and Anjou, which rejected the religious and administrative reforms that were imposed. Local armies rallied in support of the church and the king under the white flag (the royal color) and captured Saumur and Angers. Severely defeated at Cholet in October 1792, they retaliated the following year by forming guerilla troops––the “Chouans”––in Vendée. For two years, the “Vendée War” was a succession of surprise attacks and fierce battles before ending with the execution of the rebels by firing squads or guillotine. Peace returned to Vendée, and in 1804 Napoleon founded La-Roche-sur-Yon (initially named Napoléon-Vendée) as a stronghold to prevent further uprisings.
During Word War II, the region distinguished itself when 2,000 cadets from Saumur's Cavalry School performed the heroic task of delaying the German advance along a 15-mile front.