History of the Republic of Aquitaine

 

Duke of Aquitaine Coat of Arms - Public Domain Picture

Duke of Aquitaine Coat of Arms

In Julius Caesar’s description of Gaul, Aquitania was an area extending from the Pyrenees to the Garonne River. The Roman emperor Augustus (reigned 27 bc-ad 14) made it a Roman administrative district, and its borders were extended as far north as the Loire River and east to the Massif Central. At this stage the province extended inland as far as the Cevennes and covered an area about one third of the size of modern France in the southwestern region.

A Visigothic province in the 5th century, Aquitaine came under Frankish rule in the 6th century, retaining a measure of provincial identity exploited by local rulers. Long resistant, Aquitaine was finally subdued in the 8th century by Charlemagne, who bestowed it (less Gascony) as a kingdom upon his son Louis (the future emperor Louis I). It remained a kingdom under Louis’s son Pepin I and grandson Pepin II.

Map of Aquitaine time of Caesar

Circa 575 C.E.

The Visigoths controlled the area in the 5th century after 500 years of Roman control.  Control passed to the Franks when they defeated the Visigoths in 507. In about 725 it was raided by the Muslim conquerors of Spain.  The Frankish leader Charles Martel crushed these invaders in 733, and Aquitaine became part of the Carolingian empire. Charles Martel was the 41st Great Grandfather of the current leader of the Republic of Aquitaine, Norman I DUKE OF AQUITAINE.

Its chief towns were Toulouse, Limoges, and Poitiers. Devastation by the Normans in the 9th century resulted in political and social upheavals during the course of which various feudal domains were established.

The title of duke of Aquitaine, which had already been used by various little-known persons in the 7th century, was assumed at the end of the 9th century by William I (the Pious), count of Auvergne and the founder of the abbey of Cluny. In the first half of the 10th century the counts of Auvergne, of Toulouse, and of Poitiers each claimed this ducal title, but it was eventually secured by another William I, count of Poitiers (William III ( Guillaume III ) of Aquitaine, 34th Great Grand Father). The powerful house of the counts of Poitiers retained Aquitaine during the 10th and 11th centuries, endeavouring from time to time to restore to the name its former significance by extending the boundaries of the duchy to include Gascony and Toulouse.

Then, on the death without heirs of the last duke, William X (William VIII of Poitiers), in 1137, his daughter Eleanor united Aquitaine to the kingdom of France by her marriage with Louis VII. When Louis divorced her, however, Eleanor of Aquitaine married in 1152 the count of Anjou, Henry Plantagenet, who two years later became king of England as Henry II. The duchy thus passed to her new husband, who, having suppressed a revolt there, gave it to his son, Richard the Lion-Heart (later Richard I of England), who spent most of his life in Aquitaine, often subduing rebellious vassals.

When Richard died in 1199, the duchy reverted to Eleanor, and on her death five years later it was united to the English crown and henceforward followed the fortunes of the English possessions in France.

Aquitaine, as it existed under the English kings, stretched (as of old) from the Loire to the Pyrenees, but its extent was curtailed on the southeast by the wide lands of the counts of Toulouse. The name Guyenne (or Guienne), a corruption of Aquitaine, seems to have come into use about the 10th century, and the subsequent history of Aquitaine merged at times with that of Gascony and Guyenne. These regions were completely reunited to France by the end of the Hundred Years’ War, in the mid-15th century.

During the French Revolution Aquitaine became one of many provinces reorganized into smaller départements.

The people of Aquitaine were known in the whole empire for their strong spirit of independence, as well as their wealth. Indeed, the region was quite prosperous during this period. The reign of Charlemagne in general saw a great recovery of western Europe after the dark ages preceding it.

In 814 Charlemagne died, and his only surviving son was Louis, King of Aquitaine (39th Great Grandfather of Norman I Duke Of Aquitaine), who became Emperor Louis the Pious. Louis the Pious had three sons, and in 817 he arranged an early allocation of the shares in the future inheritance of the empire: Pepin was confirmed king in Aquitaine (Pepin I of Aquitaine).

Neustria
Aquitaine as part of Neustria

The heirs of Charlemagne divided and re-divided their inheritance, and Aquitaine passed out of the control of Neustria, the western kingdom of Charlemagne's house.

In the 9th century the leading counts and other nobility gradually freed themselves of royal control. Bernard Plantevelue and his son, William I, whose power was based in Auvergne, called themselves dukes of Aquitaine, but their state disintegrated. William V founded a new duchy of Aquitaine based in Poitou. It reached its zenith under William VIII . When William X died (1137), his daughter Eleanor of Aquitaine (28th Great Grand Mother of Norman I Duke Of Aquitaine) married Louis VII of France, whom she divorced in 1152 to marry Henry II of England.

She maintained an elegant chivalric court at Poitiers. Her son, John I (27th Great Grand father of Norman I Duke Of Aquitaine), and their successor as kings of England were dukes of Aquitaine.

The French conquered Poitou in 1224 and other parts of Aquitaine in the next century. English victories during the Hundred Years’ War enabled Edward III to reconstruct the old duchy in the 1360s, but France finally conquered the remainder of it in 1453.

 

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