Because of its geographical location, the peaceful département of La Vienne has also been the site of some major confrontations. And because it lies on the route between the Paris and Aquitaine basins, on three occasions the Poitiers area has been the site of battles that have profoundly marked the country.
The Frankish army led by Clovis and his eldest son Theuderic clashed with the Visigoth army under King Alaric II. At the time Clovis had just unified Northern Gaul, while the Visigoths had established a state with Toulouse as its capital. Clovis was not at all happy about that! The Frankish army marched to Poitiers, where Alaric was residing at the time. The battle between the two kings took place at Vouillé, ten miles from Poitiers. King Alaric II was killed by Clovis and the Visigothic army was defeated. This victory had far-reaching consequences, enabling Clovis to unite Frankish and Catholic Gaul for the first time, among other things.
The Frankish army led by Charles Martel stopped the advance of the Muslim army, which was putting the country to fire and sword. The clash between the two armies took place at Moussais-la-Bataille on the edge of the modern-day commune of Vouneuil-sur-Vienne. For seven days the two armies stood face to face, watching each other. On the eighth day, 25 October 732, combat began. The Muslim army, under the command of the emir of Spain Abd el-Rahman, charged the Frankish lines. After two days of fighting, the emir lay dead and his soldiers deserted the battlefield in the early hours of the morning. With this victory, Charles Martel established his authority over France, which was fragmented into several kingdoms and duchies. France was and would remain Frankish and Catholic.
The site of Moussais-la-Bataille is now marked by a giant chessboard which tells the story of the conflict in cartoon form. Visitors walk from square to square, each of which contains drawings and quotations. All around, a number of information boards in French and Arabic explain the differences between the two clashing civilisations: the Muslim East and the Christian West.
This took place between the English and French during the Hundred Years’ War. To understand why, we have to go back to 1328. The last Capetian king, the third son of Philip the Fair, died without leaving a male heir. Thus began a dispute about who would succeed to the throne of France. The king of England, Edward III, claimed the crown as the rightful heir since by his mother, Isabelle of France, he was Philip the Fair’s grandson. The French barons did not want their country to become English. They decided that Philip VI of Valois, the nephew of Philip the Fair, should be made king. This disagreement gave rise to a long-running conflict interspersed with truces that became known as the Hundred Years’ War.
During this period, the English retained firm control over Aquitaine and Guyenne. From these provinces, Edward of Woodstock, the eldest son of Edward III, king of England, led raids into the French kingdom. By 1356 the king of France, John II, known as John the Good, was becoming exasperated by this pillaging. He decided to send an army to stop the English. The two armies clashed at Nouaillé. Despite being greater in number, the French army was defeated and the king of France was taken prisoner. The king’s ransom was set at the considerable sum of three million gold crowns. To pay it, a new currency called the franc (meaning ‘free’) was minted. In 1360, in the treaty of Brétigny, John the Good was forced to give up a quarter of his realm to the English, specifically the part that connected Guyenne to the Loire. So it was that the Poitou became English. It took almost a century of defeats and victories to restore the unity of the kingdom of France.