Over the 85-km2 area of Île de Ré, a great number of events occurred throughout centuries

A few significant facts illustrated the rich historic past


Among those memorable events are the settling of Cistercian monks in the Middle Ages, the Religious Wars in the 17th century, the island’s desertion in the 19th century and the building of the bridge in 1988.


Several small islands and ferns

Do you know where does the name «Ré» come from? It would be a derivative of the word ‘ratus’ meaning “fern”, the name of the plant covering the soil. As a ma er of fact, the island was made of four small islands which were  rst linked one to another naturally by alluvial deposits and then by marshlands built by men.


Monks, vineyards and salt

In the Middle Ages, the  rst monks built the ‘Abbaye des Châteliers’ (Les Châteliers abbey) the vestiges of which are still visible from the road connecting Rivedoux to La Flotte.  They  first planted grapevines, extracted salt from the sea and then developed their commerce. And above all they taught their methods to the inhabitants of Ré.

Catholics against protestants, English against French

In 1625, in the reign of Louis XIII, Protestants seized the island.

But two years later, the intransigent and catholic Cardinal de Richelieu decided to besiege La Rochelle, the last stronghold in which the Huguenots were entrenched,  financially supported by the King of England who disapproved the development of French navy. 

The Duke of Buckingham occupied Île de Ré, in front of La Rochelle, with more than 100 warships and 6,000 men.  The siege of the island lasted for two months, from July to November 1627. Shortage of food and water supplies drove the Count of Toiras, the governor of the island, to send three volunteers to swim across the ocean and join the royal troops stationed in La Rochelle so that they could come and help them, but only one man managed to reach La Rochelle. 35 small boats belonging to the French  fleet and equipped with 1,000 men managed to make it through the English naval blockade at night and provided the soldiers based at St Martin with supplies.

The Duke of Buckingham a empted a last assault, but due to the loss of 5,000 soldiers, he was forced to retreat in defeat and came back to England without glory.

Very few ba les were won by French against English, so this victory is worth mentioning.


Vauban, the builder of fortifications

To protect the island from England’s aspirations, Louis XIV asked Vauban to build fortifications around the town of St Martin; in 1681, he constructed one of the largest defensive buildings of his time, a citadel and its star-shaped ramparts, which will never be a acked…

Today the very preserved fortress of Saint Martin is part of Vauban’s major sites. At that time, he also built three redoubts at Rivedoux, Ars en Ré and Les Portes en Ré.  The citadel of Saint Martin will soon be converted into a prison housing prisoners on their way to the penal settlements of New Caledonia and French Guiana. Among the most famous convicts, Seznec and Dreyfus and Henri Charrière, the prisoner who managed to escape, also known as ‘Papillon’.


Prosperity and decline

The island’s economic growth, based on salt and wine slowed down because of the French Revolution.

Ablebodied men went across to the continent and joined the army to  fight for the Republic; the other part of the population joined patrols who protected the island thus giving up agricultural works and marshland preservation.

Vines were a acked by phylloxera and salt faced new competition.

In mid-19th century, extreme poverty had progressively appeared and consequently drove notables’ and 'merchants’ families out of the island.  They settled on the continent. 

This situation lasted for nearly a century.

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