BELLE-ILE-EN-MER, an island off the W. coast of France, forming a canton of the department of Morbihan, 8 m. S. by W. of the peninsula of Quiberon. Pop. (1906) 9703. Area, 33 sq. m. The island is divided into the four communes of Le Palais, Bangor, Sauzon and Locmaria. It forms a treeless plateau with an average height of 130 ft. above sea-level, largely covered with moors and bordered by a rugged and broken coast. The climate is mild, the fig-tree and myrtle growing in sheltered spots and the soil, where cultivated, is productive. The inhabitants are principally engaged in agriculture and the fisheries, and in the preservation of sardines, anchovies, etc. The breed of draught horses in the island is highly prized. The chief town, Le Palais (pop. 2637), has an old citadel and fortifications, and possesses a port which is accessible to vessels drawing 13 ft. of water. Belle-Ile must have been inhabited from a very early period, as it possesses several stone monuments of the class usually called Druidic.
The Roman name of the island seems to have been Vindilis, which in the middle ages became corrupted to Guedel. In 1572 the monks of the abbey of Ste Croix at Quimperlé ceded the island to the Retz family, in whose favour it was raised to a marquisate in the following year. It subsequently came into the hands of the family of Fouquet, and was ceded by the latter to the crown in 1718. It was held by English troops from 1761 to 1763 when the French got it in exchange for Nova Scotia. A few of the inhabitants of the latter territory migrated to Belle-Ile, which is partly peopled by their descendants. In the state prison of Nouvelle Force at Le Palais political prisoners have at various times been confined.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)