Long before any Roman settlements, Greek navigators settled in what would become Provence. The Phoceans founded important cities such as Massalia (Marseille) and Nikaia (Nice), bringing them in to conflict with the neighboring Celts and Ligurians. The Phoceans were great navigators such as Pytheas who was born in Marseille. The Celts themselves often fought with Aquitanians and Germans, and a Gaulish war band led by Brennus invaded Rome circa 393 or 388 BC following the Battle of the Allia. However Gaulish tactics would not evolve and the Romans would learn to counter them, the Gauls would from then be defeated in battles such as Sentinum and Telamon.
When Carthaginian commander Hannibal Barca fought the Romans, he recruited several Gaulish mercenaries which fought on his side at Cannae. It was this Gaulish participation that caused Provence to be annexed in 122 BC by the Roman Republic. Later, the Consul of Gaul—Julius Caesar—conquered all of Gaul. Despite Gaulish opposition led by Vercingetorix, the Overking of the Warriors, Gauls succumbed to the Roman onslaught; the Gauls had some success at first at Gergovia, but were ultimately defeated at Alesia. The Romans founded cities such as Lugdunum (Lyon) and Narbonensis (Narbonne).
Gaul was divided into several different provinces. The Romans displaced populations in order to prevent local identities to become a threat to the Roman control. Thus, many Celts were displaced in Aquitania or were enslaved and moved out of Gaul. There was a strong cultural evolution in Gaul under the Roman Empire, the most obvious one being the replacement of the Gaulish language by Vulgar Latin. It has been argued the similarities between the Gaulish and Latin languages favoured the transition. Gaul remained under Roman control for centuries and the Celtic culture was then replaced by the Gallo-Roman culture.
Gauls became better integrated with the Empire with the passage of time. For instance Marcus Antonius Primus, an important general of the Roman Empire, and Emperor Claudius were both born in Gaul, as were general Gnaeus Julius Agricola and emperor Caracalla; Antoninus Pius also came from a Gaulish family. In the decade following Valerian’s capture by the Persians in 260 Postumus established a short-lived Gallic Empire, which included the Iberian Peninsula and Britannia in addition to Gaul itself. Germanic tribes, the Franks and the Alamanni, entered Gaul at this time. The Gallic Empire ended with Emperor Aurelian's victory at Chalons in 274.
A migration of Celts appeared in the 4th century in Armorica. They were led by the legendary king Conan Meriadoc and came from Britain. They spoke the now extinct British language which evolved into the Breton, Cornish, and Welsh languages.
In 418 the Aquitanian province was given to the Goths in exchange for their support against the Vandals. Those Goths had previously sacked Rome in 410 and established a capital in Toulouse. The Roman Empire had difficulty responding to all the barbarian raids, and Flavius Aëtius had to use these tribes against each other in order to maintain some Roman control. He first used Huns against Burgundians and these mercenaries destroyed Worms, killed king Gunther, and pushed the Burgundians westward. The Burgundians were resettled by Aëtius near Lugdunum in 443. The Huns, united by Attila became a greater threat, and Aëtius used the Visigoths against the Huns. The conflict climaxed in 451 at the Battle of Chalons, in which the Romans and Goths defeated Attila.
The Roman Empire was on the verge of collapsing. Aquitania was definitely abandoned to the Visigoths, who would soon conquer a significant part of southern Gaul as well as most of the Iberian Peninsula. The Burgundians claimed their own kingdom, and northern Gaul was practically abandoned to the Franks. Aside of the Germanic peoples the Vascones entered Wasconia from the Pyrenees and the Bretons formed three kingdoms in Armorica: Domnonia, Cornouaille and Broërec.
In 486,Clovis I, leader of the Salian Franks, defeated Syagrius at Soissons and subsequently united most of northern and central Gaul under his rule. Clovis then recorded a succession of victories against other Germanic tribes such as the Alamanni at Tolbiac. In 496, he adopted Christianity. This gave him greater legitimacy and power over his Christian subjects and granted him clerical support against the Visigoths. He defeated Alaric II at Vouillé in 507 and annexed Aquitaine, and thus Toulouse, into his Frankish kingdom. The Goths retired to Toledo in what would become Spain. Clovis made Paris his capital and established the Merovingian Dynasty but his kingdom would not survive his death. The Franks treated land purely as a private possession and divided it among heirs, so four kingdoms emerged: Paris, Orleans, Soissons, and Rheims. When the majordome of Austrasia Pepin of Herstal defeated his Neustrian counterpart at Tertry the Merovingian dynasty eventually lost effective power to their successive mayors of the palace (majordomes). The House of Herstal was to become the Carolingian dynasty. By this time Muslims invaders had conquered Hispania and were threatening the Frankish kingdoms. Duke Odo the Great defeated a major invading force at Toulouse in 721 but failed to repel a raiding party in 732. The mayor of the palace, Charles Martel, defeated that raiding party at the Battle of Tours (actually the battle between Tours and Poitiers) and earned respect and power within the Frankish Kingdom. The assumption of the crown in 751 by Pippin the Short (son of Charles Martel) established the Carolingian dynasty as Kings of the Franks.
The new rulers' power reached its fullest extent under Pippin's son Charlemagne. With Charlemagne German influences become paramount in France. In 771 Charlemagne reunited the Frankish domains after a further period of division, subsequently conquering the Lombards under Desiderius in what is now northern Italy (774), incorporating Bavaria (788) into his realm, defeating the Avars of the Danubian plain (796), advancing the frontier with Islamic Spain as far south as Barcelona (801), and subjugating Lower Saxony (804) after prolonged campaigning.
In recognition of his successes and his political support for the Papacy, Charlemagne was crowned Emperor of the Romans, or Roman Emperor in the West, by Pope Leo III in 800. Charlemagne's son Louis I (emperor 814–840) kept the empire united; however, this Carolingian Empire would not survive Louis I's death. Two of his sons — Charles the Bald and Louis the German — swore allegiance to each other against their brother — Lothair I — in the Oaths of Strasbourg, and the empire was divided among Louis's three sons (Treaty of Verdun, 843). After a last brief reunification (884–887), the imperial title ceased to be held in the western realm which was to form the basis of the future French kingdom. The eastern realm, which would become Germany, elected the Saxon dynasty of Henry the Fowler.
Under the Carolingians, the kingdom was ravaged by Viking raiders. In this struggle some important figures such as Count Odo of Paris and his brother King Robert rose to fame and became kings. This emerging dynasty, whose members were called the Robertines, was the predecessor of the Capetian Dynasty, who were descended from the Robertines. Led by Rollo, the Vikings had settled in Normandy and were granted the land first as counts and then as dukes by King Charles the Simple. The people that emerged from the interactions between Vikings and the mix of Franks and Gallo-Romans became known as the Normans.
France was a very decentralised state during the middle age. The authority of the king was more religious than administrative. The eleventh century in France marked the apogee of princely power at the expense of the king when states like Normandy, Flanders or Languedoc enjoyed a local authority comparable to kingdoms in all but name. The Capetians, as they were descended from the Robertines, were former powerful princes themselves who had successfully removed the weak and unfortunate Carolingian kings. The Carolingians Kings had nothing more than a royal title when the Capetian Kings added their principality to that title. The Capetians in a way had this double status of King and Prince, as king they held the Crown of Charlemagne and as Count of Paris they held their personnal fief best known as Île-de-France. The fact the Capetians both held lands as prince as well as the title of King gave them a complicated status, thus they were involved in the struggle for power within France as princes but also gave them a religious authority over the Church of France. However and despite the fact the Capetians kings often treated other princes more as enemies and allies than subordonates his royal title was often recognised yet not often respected. The authority was so weak in some remote places that bandits were the effective power.
Some of the king's vassals would grow so powerful that they would be among the strongest rulers of western Europe. The Normans, the Plantagenets, the Lusignans, the Hautevilles, the Ramnulfids, and the House of Toulouse successfully carved lands outside of France for themselves. The most important of these conquests for French history was the Norman Conquest of England following the Battle of Hastings by William the Conqueror because it linked England to France through Normandy. Although the Normans were now both vassals of the French kings and their equals as King of England, their zone of political activity remained centered in France. These Norman nobles then commissioned the Bayeux Tapestry. An important part of the French aristocracy involved itself in the crusades. French knights founded and ruled the Crusader states. An example of legacy left in the Mideast from these nobles is the Krak des Chevaliers' enlargement by the Counts of Tripoli and Toulouse.
Hugh Capet was elected by an assembly summoned in Reims on 1 June 987. Capet was previously "Duke of the Franks" and then became "King of the Franks" (Rex Francorum). He was recorded to be recognised king by the Gauls, Bretons, Danes, Aquitanians, Goths, Spanish and Gascons. The Danes here are certainly the Normans (of Normandy), and the Spanish entry probably refers to the Carolingian Spanish marches. Hugh Capet's reign was marked by the loss of the Spanish marches as they grew more and more independent. Count Borell of Barcelona called for Hugh's help against Islamic raids, but even if Hugh intended to help Borell, he was otherwise occupied in fighting Charles of Lorraine. The loss of other Spanish principalities then followed. Hugh Capet, the first Capetian king, is not a well documented figure, his greatest achievement being certainly to survive as king and defeating the Caroligian claimant, thus allowing him to establish what would become one of Europe's most powerful house of kings.
Hugh's son — Robert the Pious — was crowned king of France before Capet's demise. Hugh Capet decided so in order to have his succession secured. Robert II, as King of France, met Emperor Henry II in 1023 on the borderline. They agreed to end all claims over each other's realm, setting a new stage of Capetian and Ottonian relationships. The reign of Robert II was quite important because it involved the Peace and Truce of God and the Cluniac Reforms. Although a weak king in power Robert II's efforts were considerable. His surviving charters imply he was heavily relying over the church to rule France, much like his father did. Although he lived with a mistress —Bertha of Burgundy— and was excommunicated because of this, he was regarded as a model of piety for monks (hence his nickname, Robert the Pious). He crowned his son —Hugh Magnus— King of France to secure his succession, however Hugh Magnus rebelled against his father and died fighting him. The next King of France —Henry I— was crowned after Robert's death, which is quite exceptional for a French king of the times.
Henry I was one of the weakest King of France, his reign saw the rise of some very powerful nobles such as William the Conqueror. However his biggest source of concerns was his brother —Robert I of Burgundy— who was pushed by his mother to the conflict. Robert of Burgundy was made Duke of Burgundy by King Henry I and had to be satisfied with that title. From Henry I onward the Dukes of Burgundy were relatives of the King of France until the end of the Duchy proper. King Philip I, named by his Kievan mother with a typically Eastern European name, was no more fortunate than his predecessor.
It is from Louis VI onward that royal authority became more accepted. Louis VI was more a soldier and warmongering king than a scholar. The way the king raised money from his vassals made him quite unpopular, he was described as greedy and ambitious and that is corroborated by records of the time. His regular attacks on his vassals, although damaging the royal image, reinforced the royal power. From 1127 onward the royal advisor was a skilled politician — Abbot Suger —. The abbot was the son of a minor family of knights however his policital advices would show extremely valuables to the king. Louis VI successfully defeated, both military and politically, many of the robber barons. Louis VI often summoned his vassals to the court, those who did not show up often had their land possessions confiscated and then military campaigns were mounted against them. This drastic policy clearly imposed some royal authority on Paris and its surrounding areas. When Louis VI died in 1137 there still was a long way to go, however a lot of efforts had been done.
Thanks to Abbot Suger's political advices King Louis VII enjoyed greater moral authority over France than his predecessors. Even more powerful vassals such as Henry Plantagenet paid homage to the French king. Abbot Suger arranged the marriage between Louis VII and Eleanor of Aquitaine in Bordeaux which made Louis VII Duke of Aquitaine and gave him considerable power. However the couple disagreed over the burning of more than a thousand people in Vitry during the conflict against the Count of Champagne. King Louis VII was deeply horrified by the event and sought penitence by going to the holy land. He later involved the Kingdom of France in the Second Crusade but his relationship with Eleanor did not improve. The marriage was ultimately annulled by the pope under the pretext of consanguinity and Eleanor soon married the Duke of Normandy —Henry Fitzempress— who would become King of England as Henry II two years later. Louis VII was once a very powerful monarch and was now facing a much stronger vassal, who was his equal as King of England and his strongest prince as Duke of Normandy and Aquitaine. Abbot Sugar's vision of construction became known as the Gothic Architecture during the later Renaissance. This style became standard for most French cathedrals built in the late middle-age.
The late direct Capetian kings were considerably more powerful and influential than the earliest ones. While Philip I could hardly control his Parisian barons Philip IV, on the other hand, could dictate popes and emperors. The late Capetians, although they often ruled for a shorter time than their earlier peers, were often much more influential. This period also saw the rise of a complex system of international alliances and conflicts opposing, through dynasties, Kings of France and England and Holy Roman Emperor.
Philip II spent an important part of his reign fighting the so-called Angevin Empire, which was probably the greatest threat to the King of France since the rise of the Capetian dynasty. During the first part of his reign Philip II tried using Henry II of England's son against him. He allied himself with the Duke of Aquitaine and son of Henry II —Richard Lionheart— and together they launched a decisive attack on Henry's castle and home of Chinon and removed him from power. Richard replaced his father as King of England afterward. The two kings then went crusading during the Third Crusade however their alliance and friendship broke down during the crusade. The two men were once again at odds and fought each others in France and Richard was on the verge of totally defeating Philip II. Adding to their battles in France the Kings of France and England were trying to install their respective allies at the head of the Holy Roman Empire. If Philip II Augustus supported Philip of Swabia, member of the House of Hohenstaufen, Richard Lionheart supported Otto IV, member of the House of Welf. Otto IV had the upper hand and became the Holy Roman Emperor at the expense of Philip of Swabia. The crown of France was saved by Richard's demise after a wound he received fighting his own vassals in Limousin. John Lackland, Richard's successor, refused to come to the French court for a trial against the Lusignans and like Louis VI often did to his rebellious vassals Philip II confiscated John's possessions in France. John's defeat was swift and his attempts to reconquer his French possession at the Battle of Bouvines showed being a complete failure. His allies, most notably Emperor Otto IV, were all defeated or captured and even as King of England he had no mean to reconquer Normandy and Anjou. Not only Philip II annexed Normandy and Anjou but he had captured the Counts of Boulogne and Flanders. Otto IV was overthrown by Frederick II, allied of Philip II of France and member of the House of Hohenstaufen. The King of France however stopped before conquering Aquitaine and Gascony who remained loyal to the Plantagenet King. In addition to defeating John of England, Philip Augustus founded the Sorbonne and made Paris a city for scholars. Prince Louis (the future Louis VIII) was involved in the subsequent English civil war as French and English (or rather Anglo-Norman) aristocracies were once one and were now split between allegiances. While the French kings were struggling against the Plantagenets, the Church called for the Albigensian Crusade. Southern France was then largely absorbed in the royal domains.
It can be said that France became a truly centralised kingdom under Louis IX, who initiated several administrative reforms. Saint Louis has often been portrayed as a one dimensional character, a flawless representant of the faith and an administrator caring for the governed ones. However his reign was far from perfect for everyone, he made unsuccessful crusades and his expanding administrations raised oppositions. His judgments were not often practical, although they seemed fair by the standards of the time. It appears Louis had a strong sense of justice and always wanted to judge people himself before applying any sentence. This was said about Louis and French clergy asking for excommunications of Louis' vassals:
For it would be against god and contrary to right and justice if he compelled any man to seek absolution when the clergy were doing him wrong.
Louis IX was only twelve years old when he became King of France, his mother —Blanche of Castile— was the effective power although the King was indeed Louis IX. Blanche's authority was strongly opposed by the French barons yet she could maintain her position as regent (although she did not formally use the title) until Louis was old enough to rule by himself. In 1229 the King had to struggle with a long lasting strike at the University of Paris, the Quartier Latin was strongly hit by these strikes. War was still going on in the County of Toulouse, the royal army was occupied fighting resistance in Languedoc and the kingdom was therefore vulnerable. Count Raymond VII of Toulouse finally signed the Treaty of Paris in 1229, in which he retained much of his lands to life, but his daughter, married to Count Alfonso of Poitou, produced him no heir and so the County of Toulouse went to the King of France. King Henry III of England had not yet recognised the Capetian overlordship over Aquitaine and still hoped to recover Normandy and Anjou and reform the Angevin Empire. He landed in 1230 at Saint-Malo with a massive force. Henry III's allies in Brittany and Normandy fell down because they did not dare fight their king who led the counterstrike himself. This evolved into the Saintonge War, Henry III was defeated and had to recognise Louis IX's overlordship although the King of France did not seize Aquitaine from Henry III. Louis IX was now the most important landowner of France, adding to his royal title. There were some opposition to his rule in Normandy, yet it proved remarkably easy to rule, especially compared to the County of Toulouse which had been brutally conquered. The Conseil du Roi, which would evolve into the Parlement, was founded in these times.
Saint Louis also supported new forms of art such as Gothic architecture; his Sainte-Chapelle became a very famous gothic building, and he is also credited for the Morgan Bible. After his conflict with King Henry III of England Louis established a cordial relation with the Plantagenet King. An amusing anecdote is about Henry III's attending the French Parlement, as Duke of Aquitaine, the King of England was always late because he liked to stop each time he met a priest to hear the mass, so Louis made sure no priest was on the way of Henry III. Henry III and Louis IX then started a long contest in who was the most faithful up to the point none ever arrived anymore on time to the Parlement which was then allowed to debate in their absence.
The Kingdom was involved in two crusades under Saint Louis: the Seventh Crusade and the Eighth Crusade. Both proved to be complete failures for the French King. He died in the Eighth Crusade and Philip III became king. Philip III took part in another crusading disaster: the Aragonese Crusade, which cost him his life.
More administrative reforms were made by Philip the Fair. This king was responsible for the end of the Templars, signed the Auld Alliance, and established the Parlement of Paris. Philip IV was so powerful that he could name popes and emperors, unlike the early Capetians. The papacy was moved to Avignon and all the contemporary popes were French such as Philip IV's puppet: Bertrand de Goth.
The tensions between the Houses of Anjou and Capet climaxed during the so-called Hundred Years' War (actually several distinct wars) when the English descendants of the former claimed the throne of France from the Valois. This was also the time of the Black Death, as well as several civil wars. The French population suffered much from these wars. It has been argued that the difficult conditions the French population suffered during the Hundred Years' War awakened French nationalism, a nationalism represented by Joan of Arc. Although this is debatable, the Hundred Years War is remembered more as a Franco-English war than as a succession of feudal struggles. During this war, France evolved politically and militarily. Although a Franco-Scottish army was successful at Baugé, the humiliating defeats of Poitiers and Agincourt forced the French nobility to realise they could not stand just as armoured knights without an organised army. Charles VII established the first French standing army, the Compagnies d'ordonnance, and defeated the English once at Patay and again, using cannons, at Formigny. The Battle of Castillon was regarded as the last engagement of this "war", yet Calais and the Channel Islands remained ruled by the English crown.
English interlude (between Charles VI and VII)
France evolved from a feudal country to an increasingly centralized state (albeit with many regional differences) organized around a powerful absolute monarchy that relied on the doctrine of the Divine Right of Kings and the explicit support of the Gallican Church. The Duke of Burgundy had assembled a large territory including his native duchy and the Burgundian Netherlands. King Louis XI faced Charles the Bold during Burgundian Wars and the French King was allied with the Old Swiss Confederacy. The Duke of Burgundy was defeated at Morat, Battle of Grandson, Héricourt and ultimately defeated at Nancy in 1477. The Duchy of Burgundy was annexed by France but the part of Burgundy that formed Franche-Comté was given to Philip I of Castile in 1493.
France engaged in the long Italian Wars (1494–1559), which marked the beginning of early modern France. Francis I faced powerful foes, and he was captured at Pavia. The French monarchy then sought for allies and found one in the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman Admiral Barbarossa captured Nice on 5 August 1543 and handed it down to Francis I. These times also gave birth to the Protestant Reformation, and John Calvin and his reformed doctrine challenged the power of the Catholic Church in France. During the 16th century, the Spanish and Austrian Habsburgs were the dominant power in Europe. In addition to Spain and Austria, they controlled a number of kingdoms and duchies across Europe. Charles Quint, as Count of Burgundy, Holy Roman Emperor, King of Aragon, Castile and Germany (among many other titles) encircled France. The Spanish Tercio was used with great success against French knights and remained undefeated for a long time. Finally on 7 January 1558 the Duke of Guise seized Calais from the English.
Despite the challenge to French power posed by the Habsburgs, French became the preferred language of Europe's aristocracy. Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (born in 1500) said this about languages:
I speak Spanish to God, Italian to women, French to men, and German to my horse.
Because of its international status, there was a desire to regulate the French language. Several reforms of the French language worked to uniformise it. The Renaissance writer François Rabelais (probably born in 1494) helped to shape the French language as a literary language, Rabelais' French is characterised by the re-introduction of Greek and Latin words. Jacques Peletier du Mans (born 1517) was one of the scholars that reformed the French language. He improved Nicolas Chuquet's long scale system by adding names for intermediate numbers (milliards instead of thousand million, etc...). During the 16th century the French kingdom also established colonies began to claim North American territories. Jacques Cartier was one of the great explorers who ventured deep into American territories during the 16th century. The largest group of French colonies became known as New France, and several cities such as Quebec City, Montreal, Detroit and New Orleans were founded by the French. The Italian navigator Giovanni da Verrazzano worked for the French crown and discovered New Angoulême which would later come to be known as New York City.
Renewed Catholic reaction headed by the powerful duke of Guise, led to a massacre of Huguenots at Vassy in 1562, starting the first of the French Wars of Religion, during which English, German, and Spanish forces intervened on the side of rival Protestant and Catholic forces. In the most notorious incident, thousands of Huguenots were murdered in the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre of 1572. The Wars of Religion culminated in the War of the Three Henrys in which Henry III assassinated Henry de Guise, leader of the Spanish-backed Catholic league, and the king was murdered in return. Following this war Henry III of Navarre became king of France as Henry IV and enforced the Edict of Nantes (1598). Religious conflicts resumed under Louis XIII when Cardinal de Richelieu forced Protestants to disarm their army and fortresses. This conflict ended in the Siege of La Rochelle (1627–1628), in which Protestants and their English supporters were defeated. The following Peace of Alais confirmed religious freedom yet dismantled the Protestant defences. This was also a time of philosophy. René Descartes sought answers to philosophical questions through the use of logic and reason and formulated what would be called Cartesian Dualism in 1641.
The religious conflicts that plagued France also ravaged the Habsburg-led Holy Roman Empire. The Thirty Years War eroded the power of the Catholic Habsburgs. Although Cardinal Richelieu, the powerful chief minister of France, had previously mauled the Protestants, he joined this war on their side in 1636 because it was the raison d'état. Imperial Habsburg forces invaded France, ravaged Champagne, and nearly threatened Paris. Richelieu died in 1642 and was replaced by Mazarin, while Louis XIII died one year later and was succeeded by Louis XIV. France was served by some very efficient commanders such as Louis II de Bourbon (Condé) and Henry de la Tour d'Auvergne (Turenne). The French forces won a decisive victory at Rocroi (1643), and the Spanish army was decimated; the Tercio was broken. The Truce of Ulm (1647) and the Peace of Westphalia (1648) brought an end to the war. But some challenges remained. France was hit by civil unrest known as the Fronde which in turn evolved into the Franco-Spanish War in 1653. Louis II de Bourbon joined the Spanish army this time, but suffered a severe defeat at Dunkirk (1658) by Henry de la Tour d'Auvergne. The terms for the peace inflicted upon the Spanish kingdoms in the Treaty of the Pyrenees (1659) were harsh, as France annexed Northern Catalonia.
The Sun King wanted to be remembered as a patron of the arts, like his ancestor Louis IX. He invited Jean-Baptiste Lully to establish the French opera. A tumultuous friendship was established between Lully and Molière. Jules Hardouin Mansart became France's most important architect of the period. Louis XIV's long reign saw France involved in many wars that drained its treasury. His reign began during the Thirty Years' War and during the Franco-Spanish war. His military architect, Vauban, became famous for his pentagonal fortresses, and Jean-Baptiste Colbert supported the royal spending as much as possible. France fought the War of Devolution against Spain in 1667. France's defeat of Spain and invasion of the Spanish Netherlands alarmed England and Sweden. With the Dutch Republic they formed the Triple Alliance to check Louis XIV's expansion. Louis II de Bourbon had captured Franche-Comté, but in face of an indefensible position, Louis XIV agreed to a peace at Aachen. Under its terms, Louis XIV did not annex Franche-Comté but did gain Lille.
Peace was fragile, and war broke out again between France and the Dutch Republic in the Franco-Dutch War (1672–1678). Louis XIV asked for the Dutch Republic to resume war against the Spanish Netherlands, but the republic refused. France attacked the Dutch Republic and was joined by England in this conflict. Through targeted inundations of polders by breaking dykes, the French invasion of the Dutch Republic was brought to a halt. The Dutch Admiral Michiel de Ruyter inflicted a few strategic defeats on the Anglo-French naval alliance and forced England to retire from the war in 1674. Because the Netherlands could not resist eternally, it agreed to peace in the Treaties of Nijmegen, according to which France would annex France-Comté and acquire further concessions in the Spanish Netherlands. On 6 May 1682, the royal court moved to the Palace of Versailles, which Louis XIV had greatly expanded. Peace did not last, and war between France and Spain again resumed. The War of the Reunions broke out (1683–1684), and again Spain, with its ally the Holy Roman Empire, was easily defeated. Meanwhile, in October 1685 Louis signed the Edict of Fontainebleau ordering the destruction of all Protestant churches and schools in France. Its immediate consequence was a large Protestant exodus from France.
France would soon be involved in another war, the War of the Grand Alliance. This time the theatre was not only in Europe but also in North America. Although the war was long and difficult (it was also called the Nine Years War), its results were inconclusive. The Treaty of Ryswick in 1697 confirmed French sovereignty over Alsace, yet rejected its claims to Luxembourg. Louis also had to evacuate Catalonia and the Palatinate. This peace was considered a truce by all sides, thus war was to start again. In 1701 the War of the Spanish Succession began. The Bourbon Philip of Anjou was designated heir to the throne of Spain. The Habsburg Emperor Leopold opposed a Bourbon succession, because of the power that such a succession would bring to the Bourbon rulers of France, and claimed the Spanish thrones for himself. England and the Dutch Republic joined Leopold against Louis XIV and Philip of Anjou. The allied forces were led by John Churchill and by Prince Eugene of Savoy. They inflicted a few resounding defeats to the French army; the Battle of Blenheim in 1704 was the first major land battle lost by France since its victory at Rocroi in 1643. Yet, after the extremely bloody battles of Ramillies and Malplaquet, Pyrrhic victories for the allies, they had lost too many men to continue the war. Led by Villars, the French forces recovered much of the lost ground in battles such as Denain. Finally, a compromise was achieved with the Ultrecht in 1713. Philip of Anjou was confirmed as Philip V, king of Spain, and Emperor Leopold did not get the throne, but Philip V was barred from inheriting France.
Louis XIV died in 1715 of gangrene. In 1718 France was, once again, at war as Philip II of Orleans's regency joined the War of the Quadruple Alliance against Spain. King Philip V of Spain had to withdraw from the conflict confronted with the reality that Spain was no longer a great power of Europe. Under Fleury's administration, peace was maintained as much as possible. However, in 1733 another war broke in central Europe, this time about the Polish succession, and France joined the war against the Austrian Empire. This time there was no invasion of the Netherlands, and Britain remained neutral. As a consequence, Austria was left alone against a Franco-Spanish alliance and faced a military disaster. Peace was settled in the Treaty of Vienna (1738), according to which France would annex, through inheritance, the Duchy of Lorraine. Two years later war broke out over the Austrian succession, and France seized the opportunity to join the conflict. The war played out in North America and India as well as Europe, and inconclusive terms were agreed to in the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle (1748). Once again, no one regarded this as a peace but rather as a mere truce. Prussia was then becoming a new threat as it had gained substantial territory from Austria. This led to the Diplomatic Revolution of 1756, in which the alliances seen during the previous war were mostly inverted. France was now allied to Austria and Russia while Britain was now allied to Prussia. In the North American theatre, France was allied with various Native American peoples during the Seven Years' War and, despite a temporary success at the battles of the Great Meadows and Monongahela, French forces were defeated at the disastrous Battle of the Plains of Abraham in Quebec. In Europe, Russia was on the verge of crushing Prussia, and the Anglo-Prussian alliance was saved by The miracle of the House of Brandenburg, while the French suffered naval defeats against British fleets at Lagos and Quiberon Bay. Finally peace was concluded in the Treaty of Paris (1763), and France lost most of its North American empire. In 1768 the French Kingdom bought Corsica from Genoa.
Having lost its colonial empire, France saw a good opportunity for revenge against Britain in assisting insurgeant troops in the American Revolutionary War. Spain, allied to France by the Family Compact, and the Netherlands also joined the war on the American side. Admiral de Grasse defeated a British fleet at Chesapeake Bay while Jean-Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau and Gilbert du Motier, marquis de La Fayette joined American forces in defeating the British at Yorktown. The war was concluded by the Treaty of Paris (1783), under which Britain lost its former American colonies.
While the state expanded, new ideas broke on the role of the king and the powers of the state. Charles de Secondat, baron de Montesquieu described the separation of powers. Many French other philosophers and intellectuals gained influence, such as: Voltaire, Denis Diderot and, most importantly, Jean-Jacques Rousseau with his The Social Contract, Or Principles of Political Right. Science, mathematics and technology also flourished. French scientists such as Antoine Lavoisier worked to replace the archaic units of weights and measures by a coherent scientific system, commissioned by king Louis XVI. Lavoisier also formulated the law of Conservation of mass and discovered Oxygen and Hydrogen.
The Early Modern period in French history spans the following reigns:
The immediate trigger for the Revolution was Louis XVI’s attempts to solve the government’s worsening financial situation. In February 1787 his finance minister, Loménie de Brienne, convened an Assembly of Notables, a group of nobles, clergy, bourgeoisie, and bureaucrats selected in order to bypass the parlements. This group was asked to approve a new land tax that would, for the first time, include a tax on the property of nobles and clergy. The assembly did not approve the tax, instead demanding that Louis XVI call the Estates-General. In August 1788 the King agreed to convene the Estates-General in May of 1789. While the Third Estate demanded and was granted "double representation" so as to balance the First and Second Estate, voting was to occur "by orders" - votes of the Third Estate were to be weighted - effectively cancelling double representation. This eventually led to the Third Estate breaking away from the Estates-General and joined by members of the other estates, proclaiming the National Assembly, an assembly not of the Estates but of "the People." In an attempt to keep control of the process and prevent the Assembly from convening, Louis XVI ordered the closure of the Salle des États where the Assembly met. After finding the door to their chamber locked and guarded, they met nearby on a tennis court and pledged the Tennis Court Oath on 20 June 1789, binding them "never to separate, and to meet wherever circumstances demand, until the constitution of the kingdom is established and affirmed on solid foundations". They were joined by some members of the second and first estates.
After the king fired his finance minister, Jacques Necker, for giving his support and guidance to the Third Estate, worries surfaced that the legitimacy of the newly-formed National Assembly might be threatened by royalists. Paris was soon consumed with riots, anarchy, and widespread looting. The mobs soon had the support of the French Guard, including arms and trained soldiers, because the royal leadership essentially abandoned the city. On 14 July 1789 the insurgents set their eyes on the large weapons and ammunition cache inside the Bastille fortress, which also served as a symbol of royal tyranny. Insurgents seized the Bastille prison, killing the governor and several of his guards. The French now celebrate July 14th each year as a symbol of the shift away from the Ancien Regime to a more modern democratic state. Gilbert du Motier, hero of American independence, took command of the National Guard, and the king was forced to recognize the Tricolour Cockade. Although peace was found, several nobles did not regard the new order as acceptable and migrated to push neighbouring kingdoms to war against the new rule. Because of this new period of instability, the state was struck for several weeks in July and August of 1789 by the Great Fear, a period of violent class conflict.
The Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen was adopted by the National Assembly in August 1789 as a first step in their effort to write a constitution. Considered to be a precursor to modern international rights instruments and using the U.S. Declaration of Independence as a model, it defined a set of individual rights and collective rights of all of the estates as one. Influenced by the doctrine of natural rights, these rights were deemed universal and valid in all times and places, pertaining to human nature itself. The Assembly also replaced France's historic provinces with eighty-three départements, uniformly administered and approximately equal to one another in extent and population. On 4 August 1789 the Assembly abolished feudalism, in what is known as the August Decrees, sweeping away both the seigneurial rights of the Second Estate and the tithes gathered by the First Estate. In the course of a few hours, nobles, clergy, towns, provinces, companies, and cities lost their special privileges. The Assembly abolished the symbolic paraphernalia of the Ancien Régime, armorial bearings, liveries, etc., which alienated the more conservative nobles. Amidst these intrigues, the Assembly continued to work on developing a constitution. A new judicial organization made all magistracies temporary and independent of the throne. The legislators abolished hereditary offices, except for the monarchy itself. Jury trials started for criminal cases. The King would have the unique power to propose war, with the legislature then deciding whether to declare war. The Assembly abolished all internal trade barriers and suppressed guilds, masterships, and workers' organizations: any individual gained the right to practice a trade through the purchase of a license; strikes became illegal.
The Revolution brought about a massive shifting of powers from the Roman Catholic Church to the state. Under the Ancien Régime, the Church had been the largest landowner in the country. Legislation enacted in 1790 abolished the Church's authority to levy a tax on crops, cancelled special privileges for the clergy, and confiscated Church property. The Assembly essentially addressed the financial crisis in part by having the nation take over the property of the Church.
The republican government also enforced the Système International d'Unités, commissioned by Louis XVI, which became known as the Metric System. Charles-Augustin de Coulomb and André-Marie Ampère's works on electricity and electromagnetism were also recognised, and their units are integrated into the Metric System.
When a mob from Paris attacked the royal palace at Versailles in October 1789 seeking address of severe poverty conditions, the royal family was forced to move to the Tuileries Palace in Paris. Later in June 1791 the royal family secretly fled Paris in disguise for Varennes near France's northeastern border to seek royalist support the king sensed he could trust, but they were soon discovered en route. They were brought back to Paris, after which they were essentially kept under house-arrest at the Tuileries.
Factions within the Assembly began to clarify. The opposition to revolution sat on the right-hand side of the Assembly. The "Royalist democrats" or monarchiens inclined toward organizing France along lines similar to the British constitutional model. The "National Party", representing the centre or centre-left of the assembly represented somewhat more extreme views. The increasingly middle-class National Guard under Lafayette also slowly emerged as a power in its own right. With most of the Assembly still favoring a constitutional monarchy rather than a republic, the various groupings reached a compromise that left Louis XVI little more than a figurehead. He had perforce to swear an oath to the constitution, and a decree declared that retracting the oath, heading an army for the purpose of making war upon the nation, or permitting anyone to do so in his name would amount to de facto abdication. Under the Constitution of 1791, France would function as a constitutional monarchy. The King had to share power with the elected Legislative Assembly, but he still retained his royal veto and the ability to select ministers.
The Legislative Assembly first met on 1 October 1791, and degenerated into chaos less than a year later. The Legislative Assembly consisted of about 165 Feuillants (constitutional monarchists) on the right, about 330 Girondists (liberal republicans) and Jacobins (radical revolutionaries) on the left, and about 250 deputies unaffiliated with either faction. Early on, the King vetoed legislation that threatened the émigrés with death and that decreed that every non-juring clergyman must take within eight days the civic oath mandated by the Civil Constitution of the Clergy. Over the course of a year, disagreements like this would lead to a constitutional crisis, leading the Revolution to higher levels.
On the foreign affairs front, in the Declaration of Pillnitz of August 1791 Emperor Leopold II, Count Charles of Artois and King William II of Prussia made Louis XVI's cause theirs. These noblemen also required the Assembly to be dissolved through threats of war, but, instead of cowing the French, it infuriated them. The borderlines were militarised as a consequence. Under the Constitution of 1791 the solution of a constitutional monarchy was adopted, and the king supported a war against Austria to increase his popularity, starting the long French Revolutionary Wars. On the night of the 10th of August the Jacobins, who had mainly opposed the war, suspended the monarchy. With the Prussian army entering France, more doubts were raised against the aristocracy, and these tensions climaxed during the September Massacres. After the first great victory of the French revolutionary troops at the Battle of Valmy on 1792 20 September, the French First Republic was proclaimed the day after on 1792 21 September. The French Republican Calendar was enforced.
When the Brunswick Manifesto of July 1792 threatened once more the French population from Austrian (Imperial) and Prussian attacks, Louis XVI was suspected of treason and taken along with his family from the Tuileries Palace in August 1792 by insurgents supported by a new revolutionary Paris Commune. The King and Queen ended up prisoners, and a rump session of the Legislative Assembly suspended the monarchy. Little more than a third of the deputies were present, almost all of them Jacobins. The King was later tried and convicted and on 21 January 1793 was guillotined. Marie Antoinette, would follow him to the guillotine on 16 October.
What remained of a national government depended on the support of the insurrectionary Commune. When the Commune sent gangs into prisons to try arbitrarily and butcher 1400 victims, and addressed a circular letter to the other cities of France inviting them to follow this example, the Assembly could offer only feeble resistance. This situation persisted until a National Convention, charged with writing a new constitution, met on 20 September 1792 and became the new de facto government of France. The next day it abolished the monarchy and declared a republic.
When war went badly, prices rose and the sans-culottes (poor labourers and radical Jacobins) rioted; counter-revolutionary activities began in some regions. This encouraged the Jacobins to seize power through a parliamentary coup, backed up by force effected by mobilising public support against the Girondist faction, and by utilising the mob power of the Parisian sans-culottes. An alliance of Jacobin and sans-culottes elements thus became the effective centre of the new government. Policy became considerably more radical. In September of 1793 a period known as the Reign of Terror ensued for approximately 12 months. The Committee of Public Safety, set up by the National Convention on April 6, 1793, formed the de facto executive government of France. Under war conditions and with national survival seemingly at stake, the Jacobins under Maximilien Robespierre centralized denunciations, trials, and executions under the supervision of this committee of twelve members. At least 18,000 people met their deaths under the guillotine or otherwise, after accusations of counter-revolutionary activities. In 1794 Robespierre had ultra-radicals and moderate Jacobins executed; in consequence, however, his own popular support eroded markedly. On 27 July 1794, the Thermidorian Reaction led to the arrest and execution of Robespierre. The new government was predominantly made up of Girondists who had survived the Terror, and after taking power, they took revenge as well by banning the Jacobin Club and executing many of its former members in what was known as the White Terror.
After the stated aim of the National Convention to export revolution, the guillotining of Louis XVI of France, and the French opening of the Scheldt, a military coalition was formed and set up against France. Spain, Naples, Great Britain and the Netherlands joined Austria and Prussia in the The First Coalition (1792–1797), the first major concerted effort of multiple European powers to contain Revolutionary France. It took shape after the wars had already begun. The Republican government in Paris was radicalised after a diplomatic coup from the Jacobins and said it would be the Guerre Totale and called for a Levée en masse. Royalist invading forces were defeated at Toulon in 1793, leaving the French republican forces in an offensive position and granting a young officer, Napoleon Bonaparte, a certain fame. Following their victory at Fleurus, the Republicans occupied Belgium and the Rhineland. An invasion of the Netherlands established the puppet Batavian Republic. Finally a peace agreement was found between France, Spain and Prussia in 1795 at Basel.
The Convention approved a new "Constitution of the Year III" on 17 August 1795; a plebiscite ratified it in September; and it took effect on 26 September 1795. The new constitution created the Directory and created the first bicameral legislature in French history. The parliament consisted of 500 representatives — le Conseil des Cinq-Cents (the Council of the Five Hundred) — and 250 senators — le Conseil des Anciens (the Council of Elders). Executive power went to five "directors," named annually by the Conseil des Anciens from a list submitted by the le Conseil des Cinq-Cents. The nation desired rest and the healing of its many wounds. Those who wished to restore Louis XVIII and the Ancien Régime and those who would have renewed the Reign of Terror were insignificant in number. The possibility of foreign interference had vanished with the failure of the First Coalition. Nevertheless, the four years of the Directory were a time of arbitrary government and chronic disquiet. The late atrocities had made confidence or goodwill between parties impossible. As the majority of French people wanted to be rid of them, they could achieve their purpose only by extraordinary means. The Convention habitually disregarded the terms of the constitution, and, when the elections went against them, appealed to the sword. They resolved to prolong the war as the best expedient for prolonging their power. They were thus driven to rely upon the armies, which also desired war and were becoming less and less civic in temper. The Directory lasted until 1799 when Napoleon staged a coup and installed the Consulate.
During the War of the First Coalition the Directoire had replaced the National Convention. Five directors then ruled France. As Great Britain was still at war with France, a plan was made to take Egypt from the Ottoman Empire, a British ally. This was Napoleon's idea and the Directoire agreed to the plan in order to send the popular general away from the mainland. Napoleon captured Malta from the Knights of Saint John on the way to Egypt. The French army met Ottoman forces during the Battle of the Pyramids and defeated them. While the land campaign was so far a success, the British fleet, led by Admiral Nelson, destroyed the French fleet at the Battle of the Nile. Hearing of the French defeat, the Ottoman Empire gathered armies to attack Napoleon in Egypt, and Napoleon again adopted a policy of attack. An invasion of Syria was planned but failed during the Siege of Acre, and Napoleon had to return to Europe, leaving a significant part of his army behind. These men were supposed to be given honourable terms by the British forces, yet Admiral Keith decided to attack them anyway with a Mameluk force, although this force was defeated at Heliopolis in March 1800. Disease had hit the French troops to such a point they were forced to surrender. The Rosetta Stone was discovered during this campaign and Champollion translated it.
When Napoleon came back to France, the Directoire was threatened by the Second Coalition. Royalists and their allies still dreamed of restoring the monarchy to power, while the Prussian and Austrian crowns did not accept their territorial losses during the previous war. The Russian army expelled the French from Italy in battles such as Cassano while the Austrian army defeated the French in Switzerland at Stockach and Zurich. Napoleon then seized power through a coup and established the Consulate in 1799. The Austrian army was defeated at Marengo in 1800 and again at Hohenlinden. While at sea Admiral Louis-René Levassor de Latouche Tréville had some success at Boulogne against a British fleet. The British Admiral Nelson would destroy an anchored Danish and Norwegian fleet at Copenhagen because the Scandinanian kingdoms were against the British blockade on France. The Second Coalition was beaten and peace was settled in two distinct treaties: The Treaty of Lunéville and the Treaty of Amiens. In 1803 Napoleon sold French Louisiana to the American government, a territory he considered indefensible.
On 21 March 1804 the Napoleonic Code was applied over all the territory under French control, and on May 18 Napoleon was titled Emperor by the senate, thus founding the French Empire. Technically Napoleon's rule was constitutional, and although autocratic, it was much more advanced than other European monarchies of the time. The proclamation of the French Empire was met by the Third Coalition. The French army was renamed the Grande Armée in 1805 and Napoleon used propaganda and nationalism to control the French population. The French army achieved a resounding victory at Ulm, where an entire Austrian army was captured. A Franco-Spanish fleet was defeated at Trafalgar and all plans to invade Britain were then made impossible. Despite this naval defeat, it was on the ground that this war would be won, Napoleon inflicted the Austrian and Russian Empires one of their greatest defeats at Austerlitz, destroying the third coalition. The peace was settled in the Treaty of Pressburg, the Austrian Empire lost the title of Holy Roman Emperor and the Confederation of the Rhine was created by Napoleon over former Austrian territories.
The destruction of the Holy Roman Empire and the dramatic Austrian defeat caused Prussia to join Britain and Russia, thus forming the Fourth Coalition. Although the Coalition was joined by other allies, the French Empire was also not alone since it now had a complex network of allies and submitted states. Largely outnumbered, the Prussian army was crushed at Jena-Auerstedt in 1806, Napoleon captured Berlin and went as far as Eastern Prussia. There the Russian Empire was defeated at the Battle of Friedland. Peace was dictated in the Treaties of Tilsit, in which Russia had to join the Continental System and Prussia handed down half of its territories to France. The Duchy of Warsaw was formed over these territorial losses, and the Polish troops entered the Grande Armée in significant numbers.
Freed from his obligation in the east, Napoleon then went back to the west, as the French Empire was still at war with Britain. Only two countries remained neutral in the war: Sweden and Portugal, and Napoleon then looked toward the latter. In the Treaty of Fontainebleau, a Franco-Spanish alliance against Portugal was sealed as Spain eyed Portuguese territories. French armies entered Spain in order to attack Portugal, but then seized Spanish fortresses and took over the kingdom by surprise. Joseph Bonaparte, Napoleon's brother, was made King of Spain after Charles IV's abdication. This occupation of the Iberian peninsula fueled local nationalism, and soon the Spanish and Portuguese would fight the French using guerilla tactics, defeating the French forces at the Battle of Bailén. Britain sent a short-lived ground support force to Portugal, and French forces evacuated Portugal as defined in the Convention of Sintra following the Allied victory at Vimeiro. France was only controlling Catalonia and Navarre and could have been definitely expelled from the Iberian peninsula had the Spanish armies attacked again, but the Spanish did not. Another French attack was launched on Spain, led by Napoleon himself, and was described as "an avalanche of fire and steel." However, the French Empire was no longer regarded as invincible by European powers. In 1808 Austria formed the War of the Fifth Coalition in order to break down the French Empire. The Austrian Empire defeated the French at Aspern-Essling, yet was beaten at Wagram while the Polish allies defeated the Austrian Empire at Raszyn. Although not as decisive as the previous Austrian defeats, the peace treaty caused Austria to lose a large amount of territories, reducing it even more.
In 1812 war broke out with Russia, engaging Napoleon in the disastrous Patriotic War. Napoleon assembled the largest army Europe had ever seen, including troops from all submitted states, to invade Russia, which had just left the continental system and was gathering an army on the Polish frontier. Following an exhausting march and the bloody but inconclusive Battle of Borodino, near Moscow, the Grande Armée entered and captured Moscow, just to find it burning, as part of the Russian scorched earth tactics. Although there still were battles such as Maloyaroslavets the Napoleonic army left Russia decimated most of all by the Russian winter, exhaustion and scorched earth warfare. On the Spanish front the French troops were defeated at Vitoria and then at the Battle of the Pyrenees. Since the Spanish guerrillas seemed to be uncontrollable, the French troops eventually evacuated Spain. France having been defeated on these two fronts, the states controlled and previously conquered by Napoleon saw a good opportunity to strike back. The Sixth Coalition was formed and the German states of the Confederation of the Rhine switched sides, finally opposing Napoleon. Napoleon was largely defeated in the Battle of the Nations and was overwhelmed by much larger armies during the Six Days Campaign, although, because of the much larger amount of casualties suffered by the allies, the Six Days Campaign is often considered a tactical masterpiece.
Napoleon abdicated on 6 April 1814, and was exiled to Elba. The conservative Congress of Vienna reversed the political changes that had occurred during the wars. Napoleon's attempted restoration, a period known as the Hundred Days, ended with his final defeat at Waterloo in 1815. The monarchy was subsequently restored and Louis XVIII became king.
This period of time is called the Bourbon Restoration and was marked by conflicts between reactionary Ultra-royalists and more liberal movements. On 12 June 1830 Polignac, King Charles X's minister, exploited the weakness of the Algerian Dey by invading Algeria and establishing French rule in Algeria. The news of the fall of Algiers had barely reached Paris when Charles X was deposed and replaced by King Louis-Philippe during the July Revolution. Louis-Philippe's "July Monarchy" (1830–1848) is generally seen as a period during which the haute bourgeoisie was dominant. Anarchism, as formulated by Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, began to take root in France. To honour the victims of the July Revolution, Hector Berlioz composed a Requiem; he also worked on what would become the French national anthem, La Marseillaise.
In 1838 the French government declared war on Mexico after a French pastry cook in Mexico accused Mexican officers of looting his shop. The Mexican government was defeated in the short Pastry War. Finally, the last King of France abdicated, and the French Second Republic was proclaimed. Louis Napoleon Bonaparte was elected president and proclaimed himself President for Life following a coup that was confirmed and accepted in a dubious referendum. Napoleon III of France took the imperial title in 1852 and held it until his downfall in 1870.
The era saw great industrialization, urbanization (including the massive rebuilding of Paris by Baron Haussmann) and economic growth, but Napoleon III's foreign policies were not so successful. In 1854, The Second Empire joined the Crimean War, which saw France and Britain opposed to the Russian Empire, who were decisively defeated at Sevastopol in 1855 and at Inkerman. In 1856 France joined the Second Opium War on the British side against China; a missionary's murder was used as a pretext to take interests in southwest Asia in the Treaty of Tientsin.
In 1859 the Second Italian War of Independence broke out between Italian states and Austria. The Second French Empire joined the war on the Italian side, which was concluded by an Austrian defeat at Solferino. In return for this intervention, the French government acquired the city of Nice, while in March 1860 Savoy was annexed by similar means. In 1861 Napoleon III largely supported Maximilian in his claim to Mexico, a move that was also supported by Britain and Spain but condemned by the U.S. This led to the French intervention in Mexico, which turned out to be a failure.
When France was negotiating with The Netherlands about purchasing Luxembourg, the Prussian Kingdom threatened the French government with war. This came as a shock to French diplomats as there previously was an agreement between the Prussian and French governments about Luxembourg. Napoleon III suffered stronger and stronger criticism from Republicans like Jules Favre, and his position seemed more fragile with the passage of time. France was looking for more interests in Asia and interfered in Korea in 1866 taking, once again, missionaries' murders as a pretext. The French finally withdrew from the war with little gain but war's booty. The next year a French expedition to Japan was formed to help the Tokugawa shogunate to modernise its army. However, Tokugawa was defeated during the Boshin War at the Battle of Toba-Fushimi by large Imperial armies.
Rising tensions about a possible Prussian succession in Spain raised the scale of animosity between the two states, and finally the Franco-Prussian War (1870–1871) broke out. German nationalism united the German states, with the exception of Austria, against Napoleon III. The French Empire was defeated decisively at Metz and Sedan. The last straw was the Siege of Paris. The newly-formed German Empire subsequently annexed Alsace-Lorraine in the Treaty of Frankfurt.
Besides this defeat, the Republican movement also had to confront counterrevolutionaries who rejected the legacy of the 1789 Revolution. Both the Legitimist and the Orleanist royalists rejected republicanism, which they saw as an extension of modernity and atheism, breaking with France's traditions. This lasted until at least the 16 May 1877 crisis, which finally led to the resignation of royalist Marshal MacMahon in January 1879. The death of Henri, comte de Chambord in 1883, who, as the grandson of Charles X, had refused to abandon the fleur-de-lys and the white flag, thus jeopardizing the alliance between Legitimists and Orleanists, convinced many of the remaining Orleanists to rally themselves to the Republic, as Adolphe Thiers had already done. The vast majority of the Legitimists abandoned the political arena or became marginalised. Some of them founded Action Française in 1898, during the Dreyfus Affair, which became an influent movement throughout the 1930s, in particular among the intellectuals of Paris' Quartier Latin. In 1891, Pope Leo XIII's encyclic Rerum Novarum brought legitimacy to the Social Catholic movement, which in France could be traced back to Hughes Felicité Robert de Lamennais' efforts under the July Monarchy.
The initial republic was in effect led by pro-royalists, but republicans (the "Radicals") and bonapartists scrambled for power. The period from 1879–1899 saw power come into the hands of moderate republicans and former "radicals" (around Léon Gambetta); these were called the "Opportunists". The newly found Republican control of the Republic allowed the vote of the 1881 and 1882 Jules Ferry laws on a free, mandatory and laic public education.
The moderates however became deeply divided over the Dreyfus Affair, and this allowed the Radicals eventually to gain power from 1899 until World War I. During this period, crises like the potential "Boulangist" coup d'état (see Georges Boulanger) in 1889, showed the fragility of the republic. The Radicals' policies on education (suppression of local languages, compulsory education), mandatory military service, and control of the working classes eliminated internal dissent and regionalisms. Their participation in the Scramble for Africa and in the acquiring of overseas possessions (such as French Indochina) created myths of French greatness. Both of these processes transformed a country of regionalisms into a modern nation state. Conflicts between the Chinese Emperor and the French Republic over Indochina climaxed during the Sino-French War, Admiral Courbet destroyed the Chinese fleet anchored at Foochow. France then put a protectorate over northern and central Vietnam, which it divided into Tonkin and Annam.
In an effort to isolate Germany, France went to great pains to woo Russia and the United Kingdom to its side, first by means of the Franco-Russian Alliance of 1894, the 1904 Entente Cordiale with the U.K, and finally, with the signing of the Anglo-Russian Entente in 1907 which became the Triple Entente and eventually led Russia and the U.K. to enter World War I as Allies. France still had interests in Asia and looked for alliances and found in Japan a possible ally. During his visit to France, Iwakura Tomomi asked for French assistance in reforming Japan. French military missions were sent to Japan in 1872–1880, in 1884–1889 and the last one much later in 1918–1919 to help modernize the Japanese army.
Distrust of Germany, faith in the army and native French anti-semitism combined to make the Dreyfus Affair (the unjust trial and condemnation of a Jewish military officer for treason) a political scandal of the utmost gravity. The nation was divided between "dreyfusards" and "anti-dreyfusards," and far-right Catholic agitators inflamed the situation even when proofs of Dreyfus' innocence came to light. The writer Emile Zola published an impassioned editorial on the injustice, and was himself condemned by the government for libel. Once Dreyfus was finally pardoned, the progressive legislature enacted the 1905 laws on laïcité, which created a complete separation of church and state and stripped churches of most of their property rights.
The period at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century is often termed the belle époque. Although associated with cultural innovations and popular amusements (cabaret, can-can, the cinema, new art forms such as Impressionism and Art Nouveau), France was nevertheless a nation divided internally on notions of religion, class, regionalisms and money, and on the international front France came repeatedly to the brink of war with the other imperial powers, including Great Britain (the Fashoda Incident). World War I was inevitable, but its human and financial costs would be catastrophic for the French.
In 1889 the Exposition Universelle took place in Paris, and the Eiffel Tower was built as a temporary gate to the fair. Meant to last only a few decades, the tower was never removed and became France's most iconic landmark.
The war on the Western Front was fought largely in France and characterized by extremely violent battles, often with new and more destructive military technology. Famous battles in France include First Battle of the Marne, Battle of Verdun, Battle of the Somme and the Second Battle of the Marne. Germany's plan (see Schlieffen Plan) was to defeat the French quickly and then shift from defense to offense against Russia on the Eastern Front. The Germans captured Brussels by August 20th and soon had taken over a large portion of northern France. The original plan was to continue southwest and attack Paris from the west. By early September they were within 40 miles of Paris, and the French government had relocated to Bordeaux. The Allies finally stopped the advance northeast of Paris at the Marne River. This was the farthest push west by the Germans during the entire war.
On the Western Front the small improvised trenches of the first few months rapidly grew deeper and more complex, gradually becoming vast areas of interlocking defensive works. The land war quickly became dominated by the muddy, bloody stalemate of Trench warfare, a form of war in which both opposing armies had static lines of defense. The war of movement quickly turned into a war of position. Attack followed counterattack after counterattack. Neither side advanced much, but both sides suffered hundreds of thousands of casualties. German and Allied armies produced essentially a matched pair of trench lines from the Swiss border in the south to the North Sea coast of Belgium. Trench warfare prevailed on the Western Front from September 1914 until the Germans launched their "Spring Offensive", Operation Michael, in March 1918. The space between the opposing trenches was referred to as "no man's land" (for its lethal uncrossability) and varied in width depending on the battlefield. On the Western Front it was typically between 100 and 300 yards (90–275 m), though sometimes much less. The common infantry soldier had four weapons to use in the trenches: the rifle, bayonet, shotgun, and hand grenade.
Britain introduced the first tanks to the war, while Renault enhanced the concept by adding a turret. The use in large quantity of these light tanks by Jean-Baptiste Estienne can be considered a decisive evolution in World War I's strategies.
When Russia exited the war in 1917 due to revolution, the Central Powers controlled all of the Balkans and could now shift military efforts to the Western Front. The U.S. had entered the war also in 1917, so the Central Powers hoped this could be achieved mostly prior to America's delivery of military support. In March 1918 Germany launched the last major offensive on the Western Front. By May Germany had reached the Marne again, as in September 1914, and was again close to Paris. In Second Battle of the Marne, however, the Allies were able to defend and then shift to offense due in part to the fatigue of the Germans and the arrival of more Americans. The Germans were ultimately pushed back toward the German border. Other Central Power strongholds in Europe had fallen, and in early October, when a new government assumed power in Germany, it asked for an armistice.
Peace terms were agreed upon in the Treaty of Versailles on November 11th, largely negotiated by Georges Clemenceau for French matters. Germany was required to take full responsibility for the war and to pay war reparations; and the German industrial Saarland, a coal and steel region, was occupied by France. The German African colonies were partitioned between France and Britain such as Cameroons. Alsace-Lorraine was returned to France, and the German Empire lost eastern territories such as the Danzig Corridor. Ferdinand Foch wanted a peace that would never allow Germany to be a threat to France again. After the peace was signed he said, This is not a peace. It is an armistice for 20 years. The war brought great losses of troops and resources. Fought in large part on French soil, the war led to approximately 1.4 million French dead including civilians (see World War I casualties), and four times as many casualties. From the remains of the Ottoman Empire, France acquired the Mandate of Syria and the Mandate of Lebanon.
The Invasion of Poland finally caused France and Britain to declare war against Germany. But the allies did not launch massive assaults and kept a defensive stance: this was called the Phoney War in Britain or Drôle de guerre—the funny sort of war—in France. It did not prevent the German army from conquering Poland in a matter of weeks with its innovative Blitzkrieg tactics. When Germany had its hands free for an attack in the west, the Battle of France began in May 1940, and the same tactics proved just as devastating there. The Wehrmacht bypassed the Maginot Line by marching through the Ardennes forest. A second German force was sent into Belgium and the Netherlands to act as a diversion to this main thrust. In six weeks of savage fighting the French lost 90,000 men. Many civilians sought refuge by taking to the roads of France: some two million refugees from Belgium and Holland were joined by between eight and ten million French civilians, representing a quarter of the French population, all heading south and west. This movement may well have been the largest single movement of civilians in history prior to 1947.
French leaders surrendered to Nazi Germany on 24 June 1940, after the British Expeditionary Force was evacuated from Dunkirk. Nazi Germany occupied three fifths of France's territory, leaving the rest in the south east to the new Vichy government. This regime sought to collaborate with Germany. It was established on 10 July 1940. The Vichy Regime was led by Philippe Pétain, the aging war hero of First World war. It was originally intended to be a temporary, care-taker regime, to supervise French administration before the soon-expected defeat of Britain. Instead, it lasted four years and imposed a tyrannical regime on the French people. It was unique among the various collaborating regimes of wartime Europe in that it was established constitutionally, through the French parliament, and not imposed by the Nazis. However, Charles de Gaulle declared himself by radio from London the head of a rival government in exile, gathering the Free French Forces around him, finding support in some French colonies and recognition from Britain and the USA.
The Vichy regime adopted violent, repressive anti-semitic policies on its own initiative, without direction from Nazi Germany, as has been highlighted by the historian Robert Paxton. During the German occupation 76,000 Jews would be deported, often with the help of the Vichy French authorities, and murdered in the Nazis' extermination camps. After the Attack on Mers-el-Kébir in 1940, where the British fleet destroyed a large part of the French navy, still under command of Vichy France, that killed about 1,100 sailors, there was nationwide indignation and a feeling of distrust in the French forces, leading to the events of the Battle of Dakar. Eventually, several important French ships such as the Richelieu and the Surcouf joined the Free French Forces. On the Eastern Front the USSR was lacking pilots and several French pilots joined the Soviet Union and fought the Luftwaffe in the Normandie-Niemen squadron. Within France proper, very few people organised themselves against the German Occupation in the summer of 1940. However, their numbers grew as Vichy's true nature became more apparent and the decline of Nazi Germany more obvious. Isolated opposers eventually formed a real movement: the Resistants. The most famous figure of the French resistance was Jean Moulin. He was tortured by Klaus Barbie (the butcher of Lyon). Increasing repression culminated in the complete destruction and extermination of the village of Oradour-sur-Glane, at the height of the Battle of Normandy. There were also Frenchmen that joined the SS, they were known as the Charlemagne Division; knowing they would not survive should Germany be defeated, they were among the last ones to surrender at Berlin.
Whilst recognising this extensive collaboration, the British historian Simon KItson has shown that the Vichy regime engaged in an extensive programme of arresting German intelligence agents in the unoccupied zone. Around 2000 were arrested and some were subsequently executed. Vichy's purpose in this respect was to preserve its sovereignty and to centralise collaboration.
In November 1942 Vichy France was finally occupied by German forces, because the war in North Africa was coming to an end; the Germans foresaw a threat in southern Europe by the allied forces.
On 6 June 1944 the allied landed on Normandy while on 15 August they landed on Provence (including the 260,000 men of the French army B). General Leclerc freed Paris and Strasbourg and later, along with the battleship Richelieu, represented France at Tokyo during the Japanese surrender. The Vichy regime fled to Germany. The 1sr French army recruited FFI fighters to continue the war until the final defeat of Germany.This army numbered 300,000 men by September 1944 and 370,000 by spring in 1945 (the 2nd DB wasn't in it).
France was liberated by allied forces in 1944. After the war ended, the West German government had to pay reparations (large sums of money) to France as compensation for invading and occupying France and to any civilians killed, being starved, sent into forced labour, or left homeless by the war. The day Germany surrendered French forces were involved in the Sétif massacre in Algeria.
Israel was established in 1948, and France was one of the fiercest supporters of the Jewish state, supplying it with extensive weaponry it used during 1948 Arab-Israeli War. The French Republic needed an alliance with Israel to secure the Suez Canal from potential threats in a context of decolonisation.
In Indochina the French government was facing the Viet Minh communist rebels and lost its Indochinese colonies during the First Indochina War in 1954 after the Battle of Dien Bien Phu. Vietnam was divided in two states while Cambodia and Laos were made independent. France left Indochina only to be replaced there by the United States, which would soon be engaged in the long Vietnam War.
In 1956 another crisis struck French colonies, this time in Egypt. The Suez Canal had been built by the French government, belonged at 56% to the French Republic and was operated by the Compagnie universelle du canal maritime de Suez. Great Britain had bought the Egyptian share from Isma'il Pasha and was the second largest owner of the canal before the crisis. The Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalised the canal despite French and British opposition; he estimated a European answer was most unlikely to happen. Great Britain and France attacked Egypt and built an alliance with Israel against Nasser. Israel attacked from the east, Britain from Cyprus and France from Algeria. Egypt, the most powerful Arab state of the time, was defeated in a mere few days. This caused an outcry of indignation in the entire Arab world and Saudi Arabia set an embargo on oil on France and Britain. The US President Dwight D. Eisenhower forced a ceasefire when he threatened to sell all American shares of British Pounds and to crash the British economy. The British forces were retired from the conflict and Israel, having seized interests in the Sinai region, withdrew soon leaving France alone in Egypt. Under stronger political pressures the French government ultimately evacuated its troops from Suez. This was a major political defeat for France and the American threats during the war were received with indignation by the French popular opinion. This led directly, and was used as a point, to the French withdrawal from the integrated military command of NATO in 1966. Another consequence of this was the French loss of geopolitical interests in the region; this meant an alliance with Israel was no longer of any use for French diplomacy. General de Gaulle was elected president in 1958 and made the French Force de Frappe, the nuclear power, a priority of the French Defence. France then adopted the dissuasion du faible au fort doctrine which meant a Soviet attack on France would only bring total destruction to both sides.
Within ten years, we shall have the means to kill 80 million Russians. I truly believe that one does not light-heartedly attack people who are able to kill 80 million Russians, even if one can kill 800 million French, that is if there were 800 million French.
The May 1958 seizure of power in Algiers by French army units and French settlers opposed to concessions in the face of Arab nationalist insurrection led to the fall of the French government and a presidential invitation to de Gaulle to form an emergency government to forestall the threat of civil war.
In May 1968 students revolted, with a variety of demands including educational, labor and governmental reforms, sexual and artistic freedom, and the end of the Vietnam War. The student protest movement quickly joined with labor and mass strikes erupted.
After the fall of the USSR and the end of the Cold War potential menaces to mainland France appeared considerably reduced. France began reducing its nuclear capacities and conscription was abolished in 2001. In 1990 France, led by François Mitterrand, joined the short lived Gulf War against Iraq, the French participation to this war would be called the Opération Daguet.
However, despite the end of the cold war and the fact future conflicts would be fought away from home, there were still menaces against mainland France in the form of terrorism. In 1994 Air France Flight 8969 was hijacked by Islamic terrorists with the suspected intent to crash the plane over Paris. The hijacking was a failure for the terrorist group, known as the GIA after an intervention from the GIGN in Marseille, where the plane was grounded. More terrorist attacks would happen and these culminated into the 1995 Paris Metro bombing. Important leaders of the GIA in France fell afterward: Khaled Kelkal was killed in Lyon by the EPIGN and Rachid Ramda was arrested in London although it took ten years for the French justice to have him extradited.
Jacques Chirac assumed office as president on 17 May 1995, after a campaign focused on the need to combat France's stubbornly high unemployment rate. While France continues to revere its rich history and independence, French leaders increasingly tie the future of France to the continued development of the European Union. In 1992 France ratified the Maastricht Treaty establishing the European Union. In 1999, the Euro was introduced to replace the French franc. Beyond membership in the European Union, France is also involved in many joint European projects such as Airbus, the Galileo positioning system and the Eurocorps.
The French have stood among the strongest supporters of NATO and EU policy in the Balkans to prevent genocide in Yugoslavia. French troops joined the 1999 NATO bombing of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. France has also been actively involved against international terrorism. In 2002 Alliance Base, an international Counterterrorist Intelligence Center, was secretly established in Paris. The same year France contributed to the toppling of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, but it strongly rejected the 2003 invasion of Iraq, even threatening to veto the US proposed resolution.
Jacques Chirac was reelected in 2002, mainly because his socialist rival Lionel Jospin was defeated by the extreme right wing candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen. France was struck by a long period of civil unrest in 2005 after the death of two teenagers. At the end of his second term Jacques Chirac chose not to run again at the age of 74.
The cabinet minister and rival Nicolas Sarkozy was elected and took office on 16 May 2007. The problem of high unemployment has yet to be resolved. In 2008, France was one of the first states to recognise Kosovo as an independent nation.
20th Century France