France is among one of the oldest continuous territorial entities which existed on Earth before its abandonment. Surrounded by competitors and often enemies, it boasts a long and proud history which saw it rise as a superpower several times before being beaten back. In times of war, its armies were among the strongest, and its generals among the most competent in history. In times of peace, it was known as a center of the arts, culture, and philosophy.
The first permanent inhabitants of the territory now known as France were the Gallic Celt tribes which had set up permanent residence between the 5th and 3rd century. There was next to no unity among these tribes except under extremely trying times, like the invasion of Gaul by the Romans under Julius Caesar in 58 to 51 BC. Gaul eventually fell to the Romans by 51 BC, and remained under their control until it was conquered by the Frankish tribes after the collapse of the Roman Empire in the 6th century AD.
Frankish Empire Edit
At the time, ancient Gaul was divided into many Germanic Kingdoms. The pagan Franks, from whom the ancient name of "Francie" was derived, originally settled the northern part of Gaul, but under Clovis I conquered most of the other kingdoms in northern and central Gaul.
In 498, Clovis I was the first Germanic conqueror after the fall of the Roman Empire to convert to Catholic Christianity, rather than Arianism; thus France was given the title "Eldest daughter of the Church" by the papacy. and the French kings would be called "the Most Christian Kings of France."
Clovis' empire would not survive his death, however, as it was split into four. His dynasty, the Merovingians, quickly became ineffective rulers. They were eventually overthrown by Pepin the Short, who founded the Carolingian dynasty. His son, Charlemagne, reunited the Frankish kingdoms, conquered much of Germany, and was proclaimed Holy Roman Emperor by Pope Leo III in 742.
Charlemagne's empire lasted until the death of his son, Leo I and was then divided among his three sons. The three realms of West Francia, Middle Francia, and East Francia. Middle and East Francia eventually became the Holy Roman Empire, while West Francia is often considered the precursor to modern France.
Kingdom of France Edit
Over the course of the 9th and 10th centuries, France became an increasingly decentralized state. Titles became hereditary and vassals became increasingly independent and dangerous to the crown. The Carolingian kings ended up serving as religious figureheads instead of the proper monarchs they used to be. Thus feudalism became the general rule in France.
This lasted until Hugh Capet, Duke of France and Count of Paris, was crowned King of the Franks in 987. His descendants progressively unified the country through wars and dynastic inheritance, which allowed Philip II Augustus to crown himself "King of France" in 1190.
France partook in many crusades for the Holy Land between 1095 and 1291. The First Crusade succeeded in establishing the Kingdom of Jerusalem, which lasted from 1099 to 1187, when it was almost entirely subjugated by Saladin and the Arabs. The Third Crusade managed to reestablish the Kingdom in the city of Acre in 1192 and lasted until the city was destroyed in 1291.
Meanwhile, Royal authority became increasingly assertive and a strict hierarchical system was enforced. The three orders, the nobility, the clergy, and the commons, were very rigidly defined.
In 1328, Charles the Fair died without an heir. Under crown succession laws, the kingdom could not be inherited by a woman or pass through the mother's family. Therefore, the crown passed to Philip of Valois, a cousin of Charles, instead of through his mother's family, to Edward of England. Edward challenged the succession and claimed the French crown for himself, sparking the Hundred Years War. From 1337 to 1453, the English led several successful invasions of France, occupied half of it, and were subsequently repelled.
The Renaissance in Europe saw a flourishing of culture and a rebirth of the arts and the sciences. Several wars also occurred, including the Great Italian Wars, between France and the powerful Holy Roman Empire, and the French Wars of Religion, a series of jarring incidents between French Catholics and Protestants, called Huguenots. French explorers also set out for the new world, paving the way for the First French colonial empire.
Back home, the French monarchy was as strong as ever. Louis XIV, "The Sun King," effectively managed to turn France's nobility into subservient lapdogs, courtiers in his palace of Versailles. He patroned the arts and asserted the Kingdom of France as the premier European power, but left his country bankrupt and war-weary in the process.
Under Louis XV, France lost the Seven Years War, and with it most of its possessions in North America and India. His ineffective and weak rule plagued France for years after his death, and would be one of the deciding factors that sparked the French Revolution.
French Revolution Edit
In 1783, the volcano Laki in Iceland erupted for eight months, precipitating a chain of natural disasters which led to widespread famine and tens of thousands of deaths. The lack of bread and food in France was blamed on Louis XI, just as ineffective and uncharismatic a ruler as his father.
Unrest turned into widespread revolution. Led by the bourgeoisie, the French people revolted in 1789 and forced the French King to sign a constitution, turning France into a constitutional monarchy. The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen was signed, asserting that French citizens had fundamental rights without exception.
Louis XVI was a rather popular monarch under the new constitutional monarchy, though when Austria issued a manifesto in 1792 in which they threatened to destroy Paris if he was not returned to his rightful throne. In the general panic that ensued, Louis and his family were arrested for treason. War was declared on Austria on April 20, 1792. The king and Marie Antoinette were tried and executed in 1793.
The French First Republic was proclaimed the 22 September 1792, and immediately faced threats from other European powers. The British lay siege to Southern France, while the Austrians advanced through Italy and Eastern France. To make matters worse, royalists rose up in rebellion everywhere, intent on restoring the monarchy. The young republic was thrown into turmoil and fell into the Reign of Terror, a period over which many thousands of French were executed in an effort to quell the chaos.
A massive continental army was marshaled which miraculously defeated both foreign and rebel armies, and managed to greatly expand France's borders. An end was put to the terror, and a republican government called "Le Directoire" was put into place. This government proved to be grossly ineffective and was toppled in 1799 by a military coup led by General Napoleon Bonaparte. He was named First Consul of the French Republic, and later Emperor of the French Empire in 1804.
Napoleon's reign was marked by a series of coalition wars in which he conquered the better part of Europe. In 1812, he invaded Russia with his Grande Armée of 600,000 soldiers. Due to supply problems and his not being adequately prepared for the Russian winter, Napoleon was forced to retreat from Russia with 27,000 fit soldiers remaining. Europe jumped at the opportunity and invaded France. The combined armies of Russia, Austria, Prussia, and Great Britain brought the French Empire to its knees and forced Napoleon into exile on the isle of Elba. The monarchy was restored and Louis XIII crowned as king.
Napoleon would only stay for a year on Elba. Hearing of how unpopular the new monarchy had become, he seized his chance and stormed France with around 600 men in 1815. During the Hundred Days Campaign, Napoleon led an army into Belgium where he hoped to defeat the allied armies massed against him before they joined forces. He was decisively defeated at Waterloo and was permanently exiled to the isle of St. Helena off the coast of South America.
Second French Empire Edit
The discredited Bourbon dynasty was overthrown by the civil uprising of 1830, which established the constitutional July Monarchy, which lasted until 1848, when the French Second Republic was proclaimed in the wake of the 1848 European revolutions.
In 1852, the president of the French Republic Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, Napoleon I’s nephew, was proclaimed emperor of the second Empire. As Napoleon III, he multiplied French interventions abroad, especially in Crimea, in Mexico and Italy, which resulted in the annexation of Savoy and Nice. Napoleon III was eventually unseated following defeat in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870 and his regime was replaced by the Third Republic.
20th Century Edit
France had colonial possessions, in various forms, since the beginning of the 17th century to the 18th century. In the 19th and 20th centuries, its global overseas colonial empire extended greatly and culminated as the second largest in the world behind the British Empire.
France was a member of the Triple Entente when World War I broke out. A small part of Northern France was occupied, but France and its allies eventually emerged victorious against the Central Powers, at a tremendous human and material cost.
The interbellum years were marked by intense international tensions an a variety of social reforms introduced by the Popular Front government (Annual leave, working time reduction, women in Government among others).
France was occupied following the German Blitzkrieg campaign in World War II, with metropolitan France divided into a German occupation zone in the north and Vichy France, a newly established authoritarian regime collaborating with Germany, in the south. The Allies and the French Resistance eventually emerged victorious from the Axis powers and French sovereignty was restored.
The Fourth Republic was established after World War II and saw spectacular economic growth. Suffrage was extended to women in 1944. France was one of the founding members of NATO in 1949, which was the Western counterpart of the Soviet Warsaw Pact. France attempted to regain control of French Indochina but was defeated by the Viet Minh at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954. Only months later, France faced a new conflict in Algeria. The debate over whether or not to keep control of Algeria, then home to over one million European settlers, wracked the country and nearly led to civil war.
In 1958, Charles de Gaulle led a coup against the weak and ineffective French Fourth Republic and established the Fifth. As president, he managed to keep the country together while taking steps to end the war. The Algerian War was concluded with peace negotiations in 1962 that led to Algerian independence. France led go of its colonies progressively over the latter half of the twentieth century. A vestige of the colonial empire are the French overseas departments and territories on Earth.
France's time as a global power had come to an end, and it spent the remainder of the century actively participating in the European Union, and acting as an obscure belligerent in the conflicts of other powers, like the American-led Korean and Gulf Wars.