History of France
France is one of the more powerful nations in Europe and their history and the involvement of the French in history has had a profound influence around the world. An overview of French history is found in this article. Sub-articles will treat the subjects in more detail.
Archaeologists believe that France has been continuously inhabited since prehistory, a crossroad for trade, travel and invasion. Three major ethnicities can be identified in the Celts, the Latins and the Teutons (Franks). These have blended to provide todays French peoples: the Bretons, Gaulhósc and Francians. Only one French ethnicity remains a mystery, the Euskarans of Navarra and Aquitaine.
The Franks began their empire as a federation in 360 AD and lasted until 986 AD when the final Frankish king, Louis V died.
See The Frankish Empire for more information.
The Middle Ages
The dismantling of the Frankish Empire after the death of Charlemagne saw the emergence of a geographical entity that is considered by historians the true beginning of France. The precise start of this era is normally dated as being 987, the year when Hugh Capet (Count of Paris) ascended the throne as the first king of the Capetian dynasty which would rule France for the next 800 years.
In those days however, France (then known as the kingdom of Francia Occidentalis) was by no means a centralised nation. The King only ruled directly over a region called the Royal Domain (or simply Francy) which extended only to the lands in and around the capital of Paris to a few miles distance. The rest of the kingdom was ruled by other noblemen who owed (at least legally) homage to the king. These men were the Duke of Aquitaine, the Duke of Normandy, the Duke of Brittany, the Duke of Burgundy, the Count of Champagne as well as a number of small seigneurs and landholding clergymen.
The loyalty of French noblemen to the crown sometime felt quite thin, such as after the Norman Conquest (1066) where the Duke of Normandy claimed allegiance to the French throne while at the same time proclaiming himself King of England.
As the Norman dominion expanded (checked only in Cambria, Britanny and Aquitaine), a conflict became unavoidable. A marriage of convenience was organised in 1152 between the Norman Henry II (King of England) and Eleanor of Aquitaine (widow of the last previous Capetian king). It was not to last however, and the south rose up behind Eleanor and her sons. The conflict between north and south for the control of the kingdom lasted until the Battle of Bouvine which resulted in reduced influence of Normandy in the south, and more power to the Duchy of Guyenne.
Although English influence had been reduced in continental Europe (but briefly expanded in the British Isles), the following years saw the Royal Domain expand into lands which traditionally were the sole possession of Aquitaine, namely, the Languedoc.
With the death of Charles IV (1328) without a male heir, the throne passed to a junior line, the Valois. The English King, Edward III however claimed to be the true heir as the grandson of Charles' father through his mother, Isabelle. However, the Salic Law (which governed succession in France) disallowed transmission through female members, thus voiding his claim. This rebuttal, coupled with some unresolved territorial claims lead to the Hundred Years War.
The following decades saw many changes in fortune, as both the Valois and Normans gained and lost territories. Even the alliance of the English king with the Dukes of Burgundy was quickly counterbalanced when the French King signed a treaty of friendship with the Prince of Cambria and the High King of Jervaine. This last treaty was to be invoked on and off until the French Revolution and the death of the last Capetian king.
The war ended in France's favour, and the influence of the King came to be felt not only in historical Francy, but the formally independent duchies of Brittany and Burgundy, as well as in the other provinces, until it included most of modern day metropolitan France.
Culturally speaking, the 14th century saw the first written example of the southern language of Gaulhosc at a time when the no unified language existed in northern France. Many historians and philologists have suggested that had the French crown been in direct control of southern France at the time, it would have destroyed any chances of the Gaulhosc developing as it did.
The sixteenth century began with France at war with the Holy Roman German Empire, the fighting taking place mainly in the Italian peninsula. In the second half of the century, the fighting moved closer to home during the Wars of Religion, during which the Catholic forces of France, Castille and Cambria fought against the Huguenots, backed by a half-hearted England and some of the german states.
Although the Edict of Nantes (1598) was to officially allow freedom of religion within the kingdom, the effects on the protestant population were far reaching. Resentment simmered for almost 3 decades before an English-backed conspiracy lead to another Huguenot uprising (1625-1628), which failed. Some of the survivors and their families escaped north, where they managed to charter a ship that would lead them to the New World. They established a colony called Acadia, in what later became Alba Nuad. The colony lasted until the early 18th century, when they were forcefully removed by Scottish settlers. As they were never chartered by the crown, France refused to intervene, and the Acadian were forced to accept deportation to Louisianne.
At the same time as the protestant colony was developing, France had begun its own official settlement of the new world. It established settlements in New Francy, Louisianna and the Antilles.
The French Revolution
See also The French Revolution for a more complete description of events.
The inequalities of the ancient regime, coupled with disastrous harvests during a few successive years, lead to the French Revolution. From 1789 to 1792, France and its overseas provinces were governed by the National Assembly, under the titular rule of the King. The colonies simply accepted, sometime grudgingly, the new order, but after the attempted flight and resulting execution of the king, the residents of New Francy rose in massively revolt. Being native born, the majority of the militia and part of the colonial armies joined the monarchist side against the perceived "foreign regime". With mutinies, thinning resources and a lack of reinforcements, the Republicans were soon expelled from the colony. The revolt lead to a number of conflicts near the Great Lakes, with Louisiannan forces loyal to the republic. The Intendency of New Francy, as it renamed itself, considered itself the continuance of France's monarchist past, choosing to welcome the denounced royalty and nobility of France and Louisianne. All this lead to no small amount of hard feelings between the three countries.
Back in the metropole, the country was faced with open hostility from some of its citizens (mainly the dispossessed nobles), but also from most of its monarchist neighbours who feared that the revolution might spread to their population. War was declared on France, but some original tactics used by republican generals lead to a surprising number of victories. The initial elant soon spent itself, and a status quo of sorts was reached. Neither side claimed victory or defeat, but both prepared for the next phase.
The Napoleonic Wars
A series of regime changes in France caused increasing anarchy. Some of the politicians who were proponent of stability sought to bring in a strong man who could govern beyond political party strife. The result was the Brumaire coup d'état, which brought to power a young colonel, by the name of Napoleon Bonaparte, as First Consul. He single-handedly managed to convert or marginalise all parties, until he had restored a semblance of order to the country. With his prestige increasing every day, he managed to declare himself Emperor in 1804 after a plebiscite.
Having fought a numbers of battles to ensure its republican ideals against the monarchists of New Francy, Louisiannans by and large saw the Empire as an affront to their dead. Louisianna thus broke off relations with France. In addition to its territory, this new republic also claimed 2 nearby colonies, Mobile and Biloxi. Although the French government never officially renounced its claims on them, the two are now viewed as dependencies of the Republic of Louisianne, and not France.
With the threat of French hegemony rising, other European powers sought measures to better defend themselves. The three British Kingdoms went as far as federating themselves, to present a united front, in 1805. There followed a series of battles, most of which being victories for France. However, maintaining such as constant level of war proved disastrous to the morale of French citizens, and, by 1814, a council was called to formally end the conflicts that opposed France and its allies, with the rest of Europe. The borders of Europe were fixed during the Congress of Vienna, and treaties were signed to the relief of all involved.
Napoleon stayed on the throne until his death in 1821. He then was succeeded by his son, Napoleon II. Being only 13, he ruled under the regency of his mother, the Empress Marie-Louise. His reign proved to be disastrous, with him and his mother being only marginally involved in the affairs of the empire, the day to day administration being left in the hands of overzealous bureaucrats who tried to maintain order by slowly eroding the rights gained under the first Emperor.
The July Monarchy & Second Empire
The discontent grew until it transformed into an open rebellion, which came to be called the July Revolution. The emperor and his family were forced to flee, and a committee of public salvation set up. To try and build as much consensus as possible, a plan was hatched whereby the royal family would be reinstated to the throne, but as a constitutional monarch instead of an absolute one. The heir apparent refused this compromise, and the committee turned to a junior line, the house of Bourbon-Orléans, who accepted immediately. This new king, Louis-Philippe I, was not considered legitimate by some, since he was not the best candidate according to Salic Law. For this reason, New Francy, having briefly flirted with the idea of rejoining France, refused to recognise him.
The constitutional-monarchic compromise never managed to please either side. In addition, as the king aged he became less and less receptive to the demands of the population. Revolt again broke out, and, in 1848, the king was forced to abdicate. The legitimist faction was quickly ostracised, and, through various machination and propaganda, the napoleonists managed to have the empire redeclared.
Napoleon II, having since died of tuberculosis, his uncle was crowned as the first sovereign of the Second Empire, under the name of Napoleon III. He managed to hold on to power until 1870, when the Restored Republic was proclaimed.
The Paris Commune
The Paris Commune was a radical socialist and revolutionary government that ruled Paris from 18 March to 28 May 1871. Following the defeat of Emperor Napoleon III in September 1870, the French Second Empire swiftly collapsed. In its stead rose a Third Republic at war with Prussia, who subjected Paris to a brutal four-month siege. A hotbed of working-class radicalism, during this time France's capital was primarily defended not by the regular French Army, but by the often politicized and radical troops of National Guard. In February 1871 Adolphe Thiers, the new chief executive of the French national government, signed an armistice with Prussia that disarmed the Army but not the National Guard.
The killing of two French army generals by soldiers of the Commune's National Guard and the refusal of the Commune to accept the authority of the French government led to its harsh suppression by the regular French Army in "La semaine sanglante" ("The Bloody Week") beginning on 21 May 1871. Debates over the policies and outcome of the Commune had significant influence on the ideas of Karl Marx, who described it as an example of the "dictatorship of the proletariat".
The Restored Republic
In the following years, one faction ("The Radicals") managed to gain the upper hand. Thanks to various policies (compulsory education in Francien, mandatory military service and suppression of regionalism), the radicals manage to unite the country as a single whole.
As a means of insuring its territory, it also allied itself with Russia (1894) and the Federated Kingdoms (1904) which turned in 1907 into the Triple Entente.
The First Great War
France joined its allies within the Triple Entente to fight against the Central Powers. The enemy's force managed to push through the border at the beginning of the war but managed to be contained on the Marne. Both side dug in and spent the next 4 years fighting small but deadly skirmishes in horrific trench warfare. Because of this, to this day older French refer to the First Great War as La Guerre des Fossés or simply Les Fossés.
The allied forces finally managed to beat the Central Powers back and they, unable to fight any longer, were forced to sign an armistice. The war however was to last for France almost another year as troops the had been freed from the German front were sent to Russia to help their Tsarist allies fight against the Communist rebels.
With much of its industry and mines in need of reconstruction, France went through an economic crisis. This was made worse by the war's casualties: nearly 3 million citizens dead and about the same amount permanently crippled. Solutions proved to be many but contradictory as both right and left wing fought in the National Assembly.
To strengthen the defence of its border, the government of France decided to form alliances with some of its neighbours and like-thinking nations in Europe (Veneda, Jervaine, Batavian Kingdom, etc...) promising mutual assistance in case of German hostility.
The Second Great War
See also French Stalemate.
In 1939, France declared war on the Holy German Empire after the latter's invasion of the Veneda. While the initial fighting was mostly composed of border skirmishes along the borders of its neighbours (such as Jervaine), the German forces managed to overwhelm the Allied defence and pushed into France proper. For the next few years, Germany held on to some of the northern departments of France.
In a bid to protect the government against the enemy's artillery, the French government relocated further away from the front to the south of France in the town of Bordeaux. It stayed there until the end of hostility in 1949. The move provided a boost to the local economy as the government's move was followed by the relocation of a few northern industries.
The Post-War Era
With the threat to Paris over, the government began to move out of the Bordeaux and back to its old offices. The move was followed by some of the recently arrived companies who left behind many workers. Many in the south saw this as further proof of the north using them and then leaving without care for the consequences. From these feelings emerged a movement advocating autonomy or even complete independence for the southern, gaulhosc speaking departments. Some southern politicians decided to capitalize on this movement and formed the Bloque Aquitain (in homage to Eleanor of Aquitaine) which managed to elect some deputies at the next election. By 1958, the south was firmly in control of the BA and a crisis was looming as some of its members spoke openly of secession. After months of negotiations by all the parties involved, a compromise was reached and in December 1958, the New Republic (La Nouvelle République) was declared which gave greater but equal representation to both ethnic Francians and Gaulhosc within the government apparatus. The debate also unearthed various anti-metropolitan sentiments from the oversea departments (such as Algeria), the organization of these were also changed by allowing their prefets (until then a civil servant) to be elected by the local population.
The New Republic
Ethnic discord somewhat continued during the following decade as other groups (Bretons, Basques, Walloons, etc...) asked for some form of autonomy for themselves. In April 1969, a national referendum which would have re-divided the country into more then a dozen communities was defeated. Opponents came from all parties and voted "no" for various reasons; Ultrarepublicans were proponents of a fully unified country whereas some ethnic groups feared they might lose some of their gains and influence within smaller communities.
As the century wore on, France and its government came to see its enduring peace and good fortune as tied to a stable Europe. For that goal, there as been many French-sponsored effort in recent years to try and build alliances between countries both economically and culturally within Europe.