Saintonge (French pronunciation: [sɛ̃tɔ̃ʒ]), historically spelled Xaintonge and Xainctonge, is a former province of France located on the west central Atlantic coast. The capital city was Saintes (Xaintes, Xainctes). Other principal towns include Saint-Jean-d'Angély, Jonzac, Frontenay-Rohan-Rohan, Royan, Marennes, Pons, and Barbezieux-Saint-Hilaire. The borders of the province slightly shifted through history, and some mapmakers, such as Nicolas Sanson (1650), Johannes Blaeu (1662), and Bernard Antoine Jaillot (1733), show it extending into Cognac, traditionally part of Angoumois, and to the parishes of Braud-et-Saint-Louis and Étauliers, part of the Pays Gabay on the right bank of the Gironde River.
Modern map showing the extent of
the historical Saintonge province
Location of Saintonge in France
Today, four fifths of the historical Saintonge province occupies the modern département of Charente-Maritime. Most of the other fifth is in Charente, and a small section extends north into Deux-Sèvres, all within the administrative region of Nouvelle-Aquitaine.
The province derives its name from the Santones, an ancient Gallic tribe that once inhabited the area. During antiquity, Saintonge was part of the Roman province of Gallia Aquitania, and Saintes became its first capital. The region fell under the control of the kings and dukes of Aquitaine, the counts of Anjou, then the counts of Poitiers, before becoming integrated for centuries in the new Duchy of Aquitaine. Occupying the frontier between Capetian and Plantagenet-controlled areas during the late Middle Ages, between 1152 and 1451, it was the site of constant struggles between lords torn between their allegiance to Anglo-Aquitaine and those linked to Paris.
Saintonge was primarily attached to Anglo-Aquitaine until the mid-fourteenth century. However, errors by Henry of Grosmont, 1st Duke of Lancaster and Edward, the Black Prince gradually contributed to weakening English power, and the province ultimately came under the control of the King of France, Charles VII, "the Victorious", in 1451.
Saintonge was the birthplace of French explorer Jean Allefonsce (or Alfonse) in 1484, and Samuel de Champlain in 1574, who explored the New World and founded Quebec. It also was one of the centers of French Huguenots, Protestants.
This area is famous for its medieval pottery, which was widely exported. Sherds of it have been found in large quantities in medieval excavations throughout Ireland and other European countries. These shards are from vessels made and exported as a by-product of the Bordeaux wine trade (Deroeux and Dufournier, 1991). This ware has been found on Irish excavations from the later 12th century but it is most commonly uncovered in 13th-century contexts. They consist of an off-white micaceous fabric with moderate amounts of quartz and sparse inclusions of haematite. They are glazed on the external surface only, with a clear lead glaze. In Saintonge Green wares, the addition of copper filings, or copper oxide to the clear lead glaze, produced a mottled mid-green colouring. Many forms of Saintonge wares were produced, including Saintonge Polychrome, Saintonge Green, and in some cases unglazed wares. Slipped Saintonge is more consistent in colour and appearance than unslipped, having the benefit of an undercoating to regulate the process.
The most common forms of vessel produced in this ware were wine jugs. These were characteristically tall, with slightly ovoid bodies, flat bases, parrot-beak spouts and strap handles.
Saintonge was exported well through the 17th century. Acadians and French colonists in Quebec and Eastern Canada imported many Saintonge ceramics, including bowls, plates, mugs and other types. Many Saintonge ceramic fragments have been found in context with 17th-century colonists and are often used as evidence of pre-British occupation of these areas.
- Who Was Who in America, Historical Volume, 1607–1896. Chicago: Marquis Who's Who. 1963.
- Derœux, D. & Dufournier, D. 1991. "Réflexions sur la diffusion de la céramique très decorée d’origine française en Europe du nord-ouest XIII-XIVe siècles", Archéologie médiévale 21, pp. 163–77.