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History of Ré Island

Throughout the centuries, the  has been the scene of various events that have influenced the appearance of the region and forged its reputation.

In ancient times, the territory returned belonged to the Gauls of the tribe of Lemovices. At that time, the island was still attached to the continent, but a violent earthquake was at the origin of the separation. The ground was covered with ferns or "ratus" in Latin, originally called "Ré". Ré counted at the beginning 4 islets which were then connected by the alluvial deposits and later by the men who built salt marshes.

The Middle Ages were marked by the arrival of the first monks on the island where they built the Abbey of the Chateliers. It was also during this period that they planted the first vines before embarking on the extraction of salt. The techniques and processes of the monks were transmitted to the Rests and are still applied today, with some improvements.

In the 11th and 12th century, the island belonged to the Mauléon clan of Chauvigny, lords of La Flotte. They also left their imprints by building the abbey of Notre-Dame de Ré.

Ré island was the object of covetousness of two European powers in the 17th century. In 1627, the Cardinal de Richelieu decided to end the Huguenots, entrenched in La Rochelle. At the same time, the English led by the Duke of Buckingham undertook to besiege the island with a fleet of 100 ships and some 6,000 soldiers. This major fact deserves a little attention.

The island held steady for 5 months but food was running short. The Count of Thoiras, governor of the island, asked three volunteers to swim to the mainland to ask for help from the troops stationed at La Rochelle. One of them managed the perilous crossing. A thousand French soldiers were sent as reinforcements with supplies for the defenders of the island. The English were repulsed, and the Duke of Buckingham lost 5,000 of his men.

In 1681, Louis XIV confided to his best engineer, Vauban, the construction of several fortifications for the defense of the island. The famous citadel of St. Martin and several other strongholds were erected at that time.

In the 19th century, Saint-Martin-de-Ré served as a stopover for convicted prisoners. Many criminals stopped there before being sent to New Caledonia or Guyana. This situation continued until 1938.