During 2000 years Poitiers has often shared its history with that of great figures and events. Common memory often associates the city's name with the great battles of history -those against the Visigoths, the Saracens or the English- evoking the names of Clovis, Charles Martel or the Black Prince.
Several other important historical figures left their imprint through the centuries.
Saint Hilary, the first known bishop of Poitiers in the 4th century. Born in the year 315 in a comfortable and cultured family, Hilary converted himself to Christianity around the age of 30, shortly before climbing the episcopal throne. A noble-minded man and a scholarly theologian, his influence on the Gallic Episcopate was considerable. He is accountable for the arrival of saint Martin, future bishop of Tours, in a hermitage in Ligugé around 361. When saint Hilary died, in 367 or 368, the emplacement of his burial rapidly attracted pilgrimages. The present-day church of Saint-Hilaire-le-Grand, is the final state of a number of reconstructions on the supposed site of the tomb.
Saint Radegund, who founded the first female monastery in Poitiers. A young princess from Thuringia (a former Germanic kingdom), born around 520, who was kidnapped by and became the wife of Clotaire, on of the sons of Clovis. After a few years of marital life, Radegund left her imposed spouse and came to Poitiers where she founded a community of women in the 550s. When she died in 587, her tomb was placed in a church she had built for the nuns' burials, which became afterwards the church of Saint-Radegund. Venantius Fortunatus wrote the Vita, or life of Saint Radegund in the late 6th century. A fine Romanesque manuscript version of this text is conserved in the city Media-library.
Eleanor of Aquitaine, the last descendant of the counts of Poitou-Dukes of Aquitaine. A thirteen year old orphan, Eleanor married the future king of France Louis the 7th, bringing him a dowry and an enormous and powerful territory. Their union is cancelled by the Church in 1152, barely a few weeks before Eleanor contracted a new wedding with Henri of Anjou, known as Plantagenet. He is crowned king, as Henri II of England, two years later. Queen for the second time in her life, Eleanor leads an itinerant life between her English Kingdom and her continental possessions. The middle of her life is darkened by the quarrels that divided her family : her sons rebel against their father's authority, provoking rebellions amongst the Aquitanian vassals. Accused of promoting these disorders, Eleanor is kept in captivity by her husband for fifteen long years. Her later years are essentially consecrated to the accession of her sons on the throne of England (Richard the Lion-Heart first, then King John), when she wasn't retired to Fontevraud Abbey, where she died in 1204.
Jean de Berry, count and patron in the end of the 14th century. Son of Jean le Bon, brother of Charles V and uncle of Charles VI, Jean received the county of the Poitou as an appanage in 1369. He embellished the Poitevan capital, built a huge belfry to contain the first clocks in the county, rearranged the castle by the Clain into a comfortable residence, completed the former ducal palace with private apartments, and added a splendid gabled wall to the great hall. Above the fireplaces on this wall is his statue, along with that of his wife Jeanne de Boulogne, both framing the royal couple of Charles VI and Isabeau de Bavière.
Joan of Arc, who has her mission confirmed in Poitiers in 1429. In Chinon, the young girl from Lorraine had met the king. He decided to have her submitted to the discernment of an assembly of clergymen, who had taken refuge in Poitiers. This event shortly precedes the period of reconquest of the territory fallen into English hands. In Notre-Dame-la-Grande, a stained-glass window from 1910 illustrates one of her interrogatories, recalling the popular devotion given to Joan of Arc in turn-of-the-twentieth-century Poitiers.
Rabelais, whose passage in the Poitou is attested by numerous mentions in his books. Originally from Chinon, François Rabelais came to Poitiers during the 1520s, as a member of the company of Geoffroy d'Estissac. The latter was a brilliant man with several religious charges, amongst which he was dean for the chapter of Saint-Hilary. Later on, more than 50 mentions of Poitevan locations appear in both Gargantua and Pantagruel, as well as the description of certain student traditions, like feasting around the Pierre Levée dolmen.