CHARENTE, an inland department of south-western France, comprehending the ancient province of Angoumois, and inconsiderable portions of Saintonge, Poitou, Marche, Limousin and Périgord. It is bounded N. by the departments of Deux-Sèvres and Vienne, E. by those of Vienne and Dordogne, S. by Dordogne and W. by Charente-Inférieure. Area 2305 sq. m. Pop. (1906) 351,733. The department, though it contains no high altitudes, is for the most part of a hilly nature. The highest points, many of which exceed 1000 ft., are found in the Confolentais, the granite region of the extreme north-east, known also as the Terres Froides. In the Terres Chaudes, under which name the remainder of the department is included, the levels vary in general between 300 and 650 ft., except in the western plains—the Pays-Bas and Champagne—where they range from 40 to 300 ft. A large part of Charente is thickly wooded, the principal forests lying in its northern districts. The department, as its name indicates, belongs mainly to the basin of the river Charente (area of basin 3860 sq. m.; length of river 225 m.), the chief affluents of which, within its borders, are the Tardoire, the Touvre and the Né. The Confolentais is watered by the Vienne, a tributary of the Loire, while the arrondissement of Barbexieux in the south-west belongs almost wholly to the basin of the Gironde.
The climate is temperate but moist, the rainfall being highest in the north-east. Agriculturally, Charente is prosperous. More than half its surface is arable land, on the greater part of which cereals are grown. The potato is an important crop. The vine is predominant in the region of Champagne, the wine produced being chiefly distilled into the famous brandy to which the town of Cognac gives its name. The best pasture is found in the Confolentais, where horned cattle are largely reared. The chief fruits are chestnuts, walnuts and cider-apples. The poultry raised in the neighbourhood of Barbezieux is highly esteemed. Charente has numerous stone quarries, and there are peat workings and beds of clay which supply brick and tile-works and earthenware manufactories. Among the other industries, paper-making, which has its chief centre at Angoulême, is foremost. The most important metallurgical establishment is the large foundry of naval guns at Ruelle. Flour-mills and leather-works are numerous. There are also many minor industries subsidiary to paper-making and brandy-distilling, and Angoulême manufactures gunpowder and confectionery. Coal, salt and timber are prominent imports. Exports include paper, brandy, stone and agricultural products. The department is served chiefly by the Orlêans and Ouest-État railways, and the Charente is navigable below Angoulême. Charente is divided into the five arrondissements of Angoulême, Cognac, Ruffec, Barbezieux and Confolens (29 cantons, 426 communes). It belongs to the region of the XII. army corps, to the province of the archbishop of Bordeaux, and to the académie (educational division) of Poitiers. Its court of appeal is at Bordeaux.
Angoulême (the capital), Cognac, Confolens, Jarnac and La Rochefoucauld (q.v.) are the more noteworthy places in the department. Barbezieux and Ruffec, capitals of arrondissements and agricultural centres, are otherwise of little importance. The department abounds in churches of Romanesque architecture, of which those of Bassac, St Amant-de-Boixe (portions of which are Gothic in style), Plassac and Gensac-la-Pallue may be mentioned. There are remains of a Gothic abbey church at La Couronne, and Roman remains at St Cybardeaux, Brossac and Chassenon (where there are ruins of the Gallo-Roman town of Cassinomagus).