Angoulême (Iculisma) was taken by Clovis from the Visigoths in 507, and plundered by the Normans in the 9th century. In 1360 it was surrendered by the Treaty of Brétigny to the English; they were, however, expelled in 1373 by the troops of Charles V, who granted the town numerous privileges. It suffered much during the French Wars of Religion, especially in 1568 after its capture by the Protestants under Coligny.
The countship of Angoulême dated from the 9th century, the most important of the early counts being William Taillefer, whose descendants held the title till the end of the 12th century. Withdrawn from them on more than one occasion by Richard Coeur-de-Lion, it passed to King John of England on his marriage with Isabel, daughter of Count Adhémar, and by her subsequent marriage in 1220 to Hugh X passed to the Lusignan family, counts of Marche. On the death of Hugh XIII in 1302 without issue, his possessions passed to the crown. In 1394 the countship came to the house of Orleans, a member of which, Francis I, became king of France in 1515 and raised it to the rank of duchy in favour of his mother Louise of Savoy. The duchy afterwards changed hands several times, one of its holders being Charles of Valois, natural son of Charles IX. The last duke was Louis-Antoine, eldest son of Charles X, who died in 1844.
The town proper occupies an elevated promontory, washed on the north by the Charente and on the south and west by the Anguienne, a small tributary of that river. The more important of the suburbs lie towards the east, where the promontory joins the main plateau, of which it forms the north-western extremity.
In place of its ancient fortifications, Angoulême is encircled by boulevards known as the Remparts, from which fine views may be obtained in all directions. Within the town the streets are often dark and narrow, and, apart from the cathedral and the hôtel de ville, the architecture is of little interest.
The cathedral of St. Pierre, a church in the Byzantine-Romanesque style, dates from the 11th and 12th centuries, but has undergone frequent restoration, and was partly rebuilt in the latter half of the 18th century by the architect Paul Abadie. The façade, flanked by two towers with cupolas, is decorated with arcades filled in with statuary and sculpture, the whole representing the Last Judgment. The crossing is surmounted by a dome, and the extremity of the north transept by a fine square tower over 160 ft. high.
The hôtel de ville, also by Abadie, is a handsome modern structure, but preserves two towers of the chateau of the counts of Angoulême, on the site of which it is built. It contains museums of paintings and archaeology.
Angoulême is a centre of the paper-making industry, with which the town has been connected since the 14th century. Most of the mills are situated on the banks of the watercourses in the neighbourhood of the town. The subsidiary industries, such as the manufacture of machinery and wire fabric, are of considerable importance. Iron and copper founding, brewing, tanning, and the manufacture of gunpowder, confectionery, heavy iron goods, gloves, boots and shoes and cotton goods are also carried on. Commerce is carried on in wine, brandy and building-stone.
The main line of the Orléans railway passes through a tunnel beneath the town.
The famous Angoulême International Comics Festival takes place every year there.
Angoulême is the seat of a bishop, a prefect, and a court of assizes. Its public institutions include tribunals of first instance and of commerce, a council of trade-arbitrators, a chamber of commerce and a branch of the Bank of France. It also has a lycée, training-colleges, a school of artillery, a library and several learned societies.
Angoulême was the birthplace of:
- Melin de Saint-Gelais (1487-1558), poet
- Marguerite de Navarre (1492-1549), wife of Henry II of Navarre
- Jean-Louis Guez de Balzac (1594-1654), author.
- Marc René, marquis de Montalembert (1714-1800), military engineer and writer
- Charles Gaudichaud-Beaupré (1789-1854), botanist
- Maurice Duverger (born 1917), jurist.
- Charles-Augustin de Coulomb (1736-1806), physicist
Angoulême is twinned with:
- Bury, United Kingdom
- Chicoutimi, Quebec, Canada
- Guelendjik, Russia
- Hildesheim, Allemagne
- Hoffman Estates, Illinois, United States
- Ségou, Mali
- Turda, Romania
- Vitoria Gasteiz, Spain