FONTENAY-LE-COMTE, a town of western France, capital of an arrondissement in the department of Vendee 30 m. N.E. of La Rochelle on the State railway between that town and Saumur. Pop. (1906) town, 7639; commune, 10,326. Fontenay, an ancient and straggling town, is situated a few miles south of the forest of Vouvant and on both banks of the Vendee, at the point where it becomes navigable. The church of Notre-Dame (15th to 18th centuries), which has a fine spire and a richly sculptured western entrance, and the church of St Jean (16th and 17th centuries) are the chief religious buildings. The town has several houses of the 6th and 17th centuries. The most remarkable of these is the Hotel de Terre Neuve (1595-1600), which contains much rich decoration together with collections of furniture and tapestry. Fontenay was the birthplace of many prominent men during the ,5th and 16th centuries, and the Fontaine des Quatre-Tias, a fountain in the Renaissance style, given to the town by King Francis I., commemorates the fact. The chief square is named after Francois Viete, the great mathematician, who was born at Fontenay in 1540. The public institutions of the town include a tribunal of first instance and a communal college. Among its industries are the manufacture of felt hats, oil and soap and timber-sawing, flour-milling and tanning. There is trade in horses, mules, timber, grain, fruit, &c.
Fontenay was in existence as early as the time of the Gauls. The affix of "comte" is said to have been applied to it when it was taken by King Louis IX. from the family of Lusignan and given to his brother Alphonse, count of Poitou, under whom it became capital of Bas-Poitou. Ceded to the English by the treaty of Bretigny in 1360 it was retaken in 1372 by Duguesclin. It suffered repeated capture during the Religious Wars of the 16th century, was dismantled in 1621 and was occupied both by the republicans and the Vendeans in the war of 1793. From 1790 to 1806 it was capital of the department of Vendee.
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