The inhabitants of the commune are known as Angoumoisins or Angoumoisines.
Located on a plateau overlooking a meander of the Charente River, the city is nicknamed the "balcony of the southwest". The city proper's population is a little less than 50,000 but it is the centre of an urban area of 110,000 people extending more than fifteen kilometres from east to west.
Formerly the capital of Angoumois in the Ancien Régime, Angoulême was a fortified town for a long time and was highly coveted due to its position at the centre of many roads important to communication so therefore suffered many sieges. From its tumultuous past the city, perched on a rocky spur, inherited a large historical, religious, and urban heritage which attracts a lot of tourists.
Nowadays Angoulême is at the centre of an agglomeration which is one of the most industrialised regions between Loire and Garonne (the paper industry was established in the 16th century, a foundry and electromechanical engineering developed more recently). It is also a commercial and administrative city with its own university of technology and a vibrant cultural life. This life is dominated by the famous Angoulême International Comics Festival that contributes substantially to the international renown of the city.
The history of the city is not very well known before the Roman period: it is simply known that the plateau was occupied by an oppidum, traces of which were found during excavations in the Saint-Martial cemetery under the name Iculisma. Its currency was Lemovice.
The city of Haut-Empire remained unknown for a long time. Recent excavations have provided details on the power of the Roman city. A well dug in an early era shows that the water table was very high. A large thermal spa complex was found under the courthouse which is usually related to water supply through an aqueduct.
The first bishop of Angoulême was Saint Ausone of Angoulême in the 3rd century. The administrative importance of the city was strengthened by the implementation of a County in the 6th century with Turpion (or Turpin) (839-863), adviser to Charles the Bald. However, the town was always attached to the various kingdoms of Aquitaine and the end of antiquity for the city was in 768, when Pepin the Short defeated Hunald II and linked it to the Frankish kingdom.
When held by the Visigoths, the city followed the arian version of Christianity and was besieged for the first time by Clovis in 507 after Vouillé then taken in 508; "miraculously" according to Gregory of Tours and Ademar of Chabannes.
During the battle, however, Clovis was seriously wounded in the leg - probably a fracture. The fact is reported by tradition and on a wall of a tower from the 2nd century a leg is carved called the "leg of Clovis".
In the 7th century Saint Cybard stayed secluded in a cave beneath the extension to the north wall of Angoulême called Green Garden which caused the creation of the first abbey: the Abbey of Saint-Cybard, then created the first abbey for women: the Abbey of Saint-Ausone where the tomb of the first bishop of the city is located.
In 848 Angoulême was sacked by the Viking chief Hastein. In 896 or 930 the city suffered another attack from invading Vikings but this time the Vikings faced an effective resistance. Guillaume I, third Count of Angoulême, at the head of his troops made them surrender in a decisive battle. During this engagement, he split open to the waist Stonius, the Norman chief, with a massive blow together with his helmet and breastplate.
It was this feat that earned him the name Taillefer, which was borne by all his descendants until Isabella of Angoulême who was also known as Isabelle Taillefer, the wife of King John of England. The title was withdrawn from the descendants on more than one occasion by Richard Coeur-de-Lion then the title passed to King John of England at the time of his marriage to Isabella of Angoulême, daughter of Count Aymer of Angoulême. After becoming a widow, Isabella subsequently married Hugh X of Lusignan in 1220, and the title was passed to the Lusignan family, counts of Marche. On the death of Hugh XIII in 1302 without issue, the County of Angoulême his possessions passed to the crown of France.
From the 10th to the 13th centuries the counts of Angoulême, the Taillefer, then the Lusignan strengthened the defences of the city and widened it to encompass the district of Saint-Martial.
In 1110, Bishop Girard II ordered the construction of the present cathedral.
The commune charter
On 18 May 1204 a charter was signed by King John of England to make official the creation of the commune of Angoulême. The King "grants to residents of Angoulême to keep the freedoms and customs of their fair city and defend their possessions and rights". The city celebrated their 800th anniversary throughout 2004.
The Hundred Years War
In 1360 the city, like all of Angoumois, passed into the hands of the Plantagenet English with the Treaty of Brétigny. From 16 to 22 October 1361, John Chandos, Lieutenant of King Edward III of England and the Constable of Aquitaine responsible for implementing the Treaty particularly in Angoumois, took possession of the city, its castles, and the "mostier" (monastery) of Saint-Pierre. He received oaths of allegiance to the King of England from the main personalities of the city.
The English were, however, expelled in 1373 by the troops of Charles V who granted the town numerous privileges. The County of Angoulême was given to Louis d'Orléans who was the brother of King Charles VI in 1394 and it then passed to his son Jean d'Orléans (1400-1467), the grandfather of Marguerite d'Angoulême and François I. The Good Count Jean of Angoulême greatly expanded the County castle after his return from English captivity in the middle of the 15th century.
The modern era
Angoulême, the seat of the County of Angoumois, succeeded to a branch of the family of Valois from which came François I, King of France from 1515 to 1547 who was born in Cognac in 1494. In 1524 the Italian navigatorGiovanni da Verrazzano returned from the Indies. He told François I he had discovered a new territory that he named New Angoulême in his honour. This area later became New Amsterdam then New York.
The duchy, now crown land, thereafter was passed on within the ruling house of France. One of its holders was Charles of Valois, the "natural" (or illegitimate) son of Charles IX. The last duke of Angoulême was Louis-Antoine (died 1844), eldest son of Charles X of France.
John Calvin, the promoter of Protestantism and friend of Jean du Tillet the archdeacon of Angoulême, was forced to flee Paris in 1533 and took refuge in Angoulême in the caves of Rochecorail at Trois-Palis. He wrote some of his Institutes of the Christian Religion there which first edition was published in Latin in Basel in 1536.
Angoulême was affected by the Revolt of the Pitauds peasant revolt: in 1541, the gabelle (salt tax) was imposed on Saintonge and Angoumois. These provinces did not pay the tax on salt. The revolt broke out around Angoulême and farmers from the surrounding countryside took the city in July 1548
During the first wars of religion the city took up arms: it was reconquered in 1563 by Montpensier. In 1565 Charles IX passed through the city during his royal tour of France (1564-1566) accompanied by the court. In October 1568 the city was taken by the Protestants under Coligny.
Henry III was, in his infancy, the Duke of Angoulême. He left an unflattering description: "The streets of Engolesme are twisted, houses are disordered, the walls built out of various kinds of masonry which show that it was built several times and often taken and ruined"
In 1588 the mayor of Angoulême, François Normand Lord of Puygrelier, was ordered by Henri III to arrest the Duke of Épernon, governor of Angoumois. He led the assault, was repelled, and died on 10 August 1588.
In 1619 Marie de Médicis escaped and was received by the Duke of Épernon, governor of Angoumois. At that time the castle was the residence of the governors.
During the French Revolution the city was called Mountagne-Charente. The first tree of liberty was planted on 5 July 1792.
World War II
. On 24 June 1940, the 2nd Verfügungstruppe division (special intervention troops) Das Reich supported by other units of the Wehrmacht arrived in Angoulême. These troops took prisoners and neutralized the many refugee French soldiers in the city. Their number is estimated between 10 and 20 thousand. They were released in the following days.
The Das Reich division, which became tragically famous in 1944 during the Battle of Normandy, continues their "lightning war" by quickly moving to the Spanish border to quickly set the line of demarkation to cut France in two. Angoulême was located in the occupied zone under German authority and was the seat of the Feld Kommandatur. The border with the free zone, colloquially called the zone nono (non-occupied) passed about 20 kilometres east of Angoulême through the Forest of Braconne and split the department in two.
On 20 August 1940 a convoy of Spanish Republicans were sent from Angoulême: convoy 927. This was the first convoy of the history of Deportation in Europe. Men over the age of 13 were sent to the Mauthausen camp where very few survived; women and children were sent to Franco. These refugees were gathered in camps of "Combe aux Loups" at Ruelle-sur-Touvre and "Alliers" in Angoulême. It also served as a concentration camp for Gypsies until June 1946.
On 21 October 1941 the young Gontran Labrégère, who tried with his friend Jean Pierre Rivière to set fire to a train carrying straw and munitions in Angoulême railway station, was shot by the occupiers. This was the first of a long list of 98 resistance fighters or hostages from Charente. In 1942 Mayor Guillon was dismissed and accused of belonging to an organisation outlawed by the Vichy regime. He was replaced by a notable industrialist, Pallas.
On 8 October 1942 387 people of Jewish origin were arrested and deported to Auschwitz. Only eight of them ever returned. On 19 March 1944 allied bombing caused widespread damage and one casualty at the National Explosives factory. On 15 June and 14 August 1944, the railway station was the target of American Flying Fortresses that dumped a carpet of bombs with little damage to the Germans but killing 242 civilians, destroying 400 houses, and caused 5,000 disaster victims in l'Éperon, l'Houmeau, Madeleine, and Grand-Font districts. At the end of August 1944 the Elster column, which was composed of the remains of various German units and the Indische Legion, passed through the city without incident and withdrew.
Various units of FFI from the department and reinforcements from Dordogne then began the encirclement of the city. On the evening of 31 August an attack is launched, putting to flight the remnants of the German garrison. They fortunately did not have an opportunity to reorganize the defence of the city using the numerous and formidable fortifications erected for this purpose. On the night of 31 August to 1 September the city was liberated and a Liberation Committee with a new prefect were installed. This attack, however, resulted in 51 casualties among the different units involved: Maquis de Bir Hacheim, Groupe Soleil, SSS (Special Section for Sabotage), etc.
A museum in the commune is devoted to the Resistance and the deportations of Jewish and political prisoners. A statue near the station commemorates the deportations to the concentration camps. The survivors of Operation Frankton, notable for their daring raid by canoe on the German U-boat base at Bordeaux, made their escape across country to a safe house at Ruffec just north of Angoulême. This is now the site of a shop featuring British goods. The Monument to the Resistance is in Chasseneuil to the east.
After the war, the city underwent a major expansion of its suburbs. First Grand Font and Bel-Air, following the MRU reconstruction program for war damage of the area around the station which was bombed in 1944. Then in the 1960s the districts of Basseau (ZAC) and the Grande-Garenne were built and then there was the creation of Priority Urban Zones (ZUPs) at Ma Campagne in the 1970s.
Gradually industries moved into more spacious industrial zones created in the peripheral communes between 1959 and 1975:
In 1972, the city signed a "pilot city" contract with the State (DATAR, represented by Albin Chalandon), which allowed the city to make large scale public works - e.g. the small ring road (bridge and Rue Saint-Antoine, Boulevard Bretagne, Tunnel of Gâtine) penetrating Ma Campagne and called the way to Europe, the ZUPs at Ma Campagne, the Saint-Martial town centre, underground parking at Bouillaud and Saint-Martial, Montauzier indoor swimming pools at Ma Campagne, a pedestrianized street, a one-way traffic plan with computerized management of traffic lights (Angoulême is one of the first cities in France with Bordeaux which has the Gertrude computerized system called Philibert in Angoulême), STGA urban transport (ten routes with flexible buses), development of Bouillaud square, Conservatory of Music.
In 1989 after defeat in the municipal elections, the PS deputy mayor, Jean-Michel Boucheron left a hole of 164 million francs in the finances of the city and a debt of 1.2 billion francs. This deficit has burdened the finances of the city and long served as justification for the non-involvement in the completion of public works.
The small ring road (the southwest quarter - i.e. the Aquitaine Boulevard, a second bridge over the Charente, and the connection to the way of Europe) was completed in 1995.
Following the construction of the Nautilis swimming complex at Saint-Yrieix by the urban community, the town of Angoulême closed three swimming pools in 2001 (Montauzier, Ma Campagne and the Bourgines summer pool).