History of France
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Stone tools indicate that early man was present in France at least 1.57 million years ago. The first modern humans appeared in the area 40,000 years ago. The first written records for the History of France appear in the Iron Age. What is now France made up the bulk of the region known to the Romans as Gaul. Roman writers noted the presence of three main ethno-linguistic groups in the area: the Gauls, the Aquitani, and the Belgae. The Gauls, the largest and best attested group, were a Celtic people speaking what is known as the Gaulish language.
Over the course of the first millennium BC the Greeks, Romans, and Carthaginians established colonies on the Mediterranean coast and the offshore islands. The Roman Republic annexed southern Gaul as the province of Gallia Narbonensis in the late 2nd century BC, and Roman forces under Julius Caesar conquered the rest of Gaul in the Gallic Wars of 58–51 BC. Afterwards a Gallo-Roman culture emerged and Gaul was increasingly integrated into the Roman Empire.
In the later stages of the Roman Empire, Gaul was subject to barbarian raids and migration, most importantly by the Germanic Franks. The Frankish king Clovis I united most of Gaul under his rule in the late 5th century, setting the stage for Frankish dominance in the region for hundreds of years. Frankish power reached its fullest extent under Charlemagne. The medieval Kingdom of France emerged out of the western part of Charlemagne's Carolingian Empire, known as West Francia, and achieved increasing prominence under the rule of the House of Capet, founded by Hugh Capet in 987.
A succession crisis following the death of the last Capetian monarch in 1337 led to the series of conflicts known as the Hundred Years' War between the House of Valois and the House of Plantagenet. The wars ended with a Valois victory in 1453, solidifying the power of the Ancien Régime as a highly centralized absolute monarchy. During the next centuries, France experienced the Renaissance and the Protestant Reformation, as well as recurring religious conflicts and wars with other powers. A burgeoning worldwide colonial empire was established from the 16th century.
In the late 18th century the monarchy and associated institutions were overthrown in the French Revolution, which forever changed French and world history. The country was governed for a period as a Republic, until the French Empire was declared by Napoleon Bonaparte. Following Napoleon's defeat in the Napoleonic Wars France went through several further regime changes, being ruled as a monarchy, then briefly as a Second Republic, and then as a Second Empire, until a more lasting French Third Republic was established in 1870.
France was one of the Triple Entente powers in World War I, fighting alongside the United Kingdom, Russia, and their allies against the Central Powers.
France was one of the Allied Powers in World War II, but was conquered by Nazi Germany in 1940. The Third Republic was dismantled, and most of the country was controlled directly by the Axis Powers, while the south was controlled by the collaborationist Vichy government. Following liberation in 1944, a Fourth Republic was established.
This was succeeded in 1958 by the French Fifth Republic, the country's current government. After the war decolonization saw most of the French colonial empire become independent, while other parts were incorporated into the French state as overseas departments and collectivities. Since World War II France has been a leading member in the UN, the European Union and NATO, and remains a strong economic, cultural, military and political influence in the 21st century.
Stone tools discovered at Chilhac (1968) and Lézignan-la-Cèbe in 2009 indicate that early man was present in France at least 2 million years ago.
Neanderthal man was present in Europe from about 200,000 BC, but died out about 30,000 years ago, possibly out-competed by the modern humans during a period of cold weather. The earliest modern humans – Homo sapiens – entered Europe by 43,000 years ago (the Upper Palaeolithic). The cave paintings of Lascaux and Gargas (Gargas in the Hautes-Pyrénées) as well as the Carnac stones are remains of the local prehistoric activity.
In 600 BC, Ionian Greeks from Phocaea founded the colony of Massalia (present-day Marseille) on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, making it the oldest city of France. At the same time, some Celtic tribes penetrated the eastern parts ( Germania superior) of the current territory of France, but this occupation spread in the rest of France only between the 5th and 3rd century BC.
Covering large parts of modern-day France, Belgium, northwest Germany and northern Italy, Gaul was inhabited by many Celtic and Belgae tribes whom the Romans referred to as Gauls and who spoke the Gaulish language roughly between the Seine and the Garonne (Gallia Celtica). On the lower Garonne the people spoke Aquitanian, an archaic language related to Basque whereas a Belgian language was spoken north of Lutecia. The Celts founded cities such as Lutetia Parisiorum (Paris) and Burdigala (Bordeaux) while the Aquitanians founded Tolosa (Toulouse).
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. Some Phocean great navigators, such as Pytheas, were born in Marseille. The Celts themselves often fought with Aquitanians and Germans, and a Gaulish war band led by Brennus invaded Rome c. 393 or 388 BC following the Battle of the Allia.
However, the tribal society of the Gauls did not change fast enough for the centralized Roman state, who would learn to counter them. The Gaulish tribal confederacies were then defeated by the Romans in battles such as Sentinum and Telamon during the 3rd century BC. In the early 3rd century BC, the Belgae conquered the surrounding territories of the Somme in northern Gaul after a battle supposedly against the Armoricani near Ribemont-sur-Ancre and Gournay-sur-Aronde, where sanctuaries were found.
When Carthaginian commander Hannibal Barca fought the Romans, he recruited several Gaulish mercenaries who 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, the Gauls succumbed to the Roman onslaught. The Gauls had some success at first at Gergovia, but were ultimately defeated at Alesia in 52 BC. The Romans founded cities such as Lugdunum (Lyon), Narbonensis (Narbonne) and allow in a correspondence between Lucius Munatius Plancus and Cicero to formalize the existence of Cularo (Grenoble).
Gaul was divided into several different provinces. The Romans displaced populations to prevent local identities from becoming a threat to 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 Celtic culture was then gradually replaced by Gallo-Roman culture.
The Gauls became better integrated with the Empire with the passage of time. For instance, generals Marcus Antonius Primus and Gnaeus Julius Agricola were both born in Gaul, as were emperors Claudius and Caracalla. Emperor 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 Châlons 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 same 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 the Huns against the 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 Châlons, 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 from the Germanic peoples, the Vascones entered Wasconia from the Pyrenees and the Bretons formed three kingdoms in Armorica: Domnonia, Cornouaille and Broërec.
Frankish kingdoms (486–987)
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, pagan Clovis adopted Catholicism. This gave him greater legitimacy and power over his Christian subjects and granted him clerical support against the Arian 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 in 511. Under Frankish inheritance traditions, all sons inherit part of the land, so four kingdoms emerged: centered on Paris, Orléans, Soissons, and Rheims. Over time, the borders and numbers of Frankish kingdoms were fluid and changed frequently. Also during this time, the Mayors of the Palace, originally the chief advisor to the kings, would become the real power in the Frankish lands; the Merovingian kings themselves would be reduced to little more than figureheads.
By this time Muslim 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 (although the battle took place between Tours and Poitiers) and earned respect and power within the Frankish Kingdom. The assumption of the crown in 751 by Pepin the Short (son of Charles Martel) established the Carolingian dynasty as the Kings of the Franks.
Carolingian power reached its fullest extent under Pepin's son, Charlemagne. 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 after a prolonged campaign (804).
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 the Pious (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, were the predecessors of the Capetian Dynasty. Led by Rollo, some Vikings had settled in Normandy and were granted the land, first as counts and then as dukes, by King Charles the Simple, in order to protect the land from other raiders. The people that emerged from the interactions between the new Viking aristocracy and the already mixed Franks and Gallo-Romans became known as the Normans.
State building into the Kingdom of France (987–1453)
Kings during this period
- Capetian Dynasty ( House of Capet):
- Hugh Capet, 940-996
- Robert the Pious, 996-1027
- Henry I, 1027-1060
- Philip I, 1060–1108
- Louis VI the Fat, 1108–1137
- Louis VII the Young, 1137–1180
- Philip II Augustus, 1180–1223
- Louis VIII the Lion, 1223–1226
- Saint Louis IX, 1226–1270
- Philip III the Bold, 1270–1285
- Philip IV the Fair, 1285–1314
- Louis X the Quarreller, 1314–1316
- John I the Posthumous, five days in 1316
- Philip V the Tall, 1316–1322
- Charles IV the Fair, 1322–1328
- House of Valois:
France was a very decentralised state during the Middle Ages. The authority of the king was more religious than administrative. The 11th 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 Robertians, were formerly powerful princes themselves who had successfully unseated the weak and unfortunate Carolingian kings.
The Carolingian kings had nothing more than a royal title when the Capetian kings added their principality to that title. The Capetians, in a way, held a dual status of King and Prince; as king they held the Crown of Charlemagne and as Count of Paris they held their personal fiefdom, best known as Île-de-France.
The fact that the Capetians both held lands as Prince as well as in the title of King gave them a complicated status. Thus they were involved in the struggle for power within France as princes but they also had a religious authority over Roman Catholicism in France as King. However, and despite the fact that the Capetian kings often treated other princes more as enemies and allies than as subordinates, their royal title was often recognised yet not often respected. The royal authority was so weak in some remote places that bandits were the effective power.
Some of the king's vassals would grow sufficiently powerful that they would become some of 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 by William the Conqueror, following the Battle of Hastings and immortalised in the Bayeux Tapestry, because it linked England to France through Normandy. Although the Normans were now both vassals of the French kings and their equals as kings of England, their zone of political activity remained centered in France.
An important part of the French aristocracy also involved itself in the crusades, and French knights founded and ruled the Crusader states. An example of the legacy left in the Middle East by these nobles is the Krak des Chevaliers' enlargement by the Counts of Tripoli and Toulouse.
Rise of the monarchy
The history of the monarchy is how it overcame the powerful barons over ensuing centuries, and established absolute sovereignty over France in the 16th century. A number of factors contributed to the rise of the French monarchy. The dynasty established by Hugh Capet continued uninterrupted until 1328, and the laws of primogeniture ensured orderly successions of power. Secondly, the successors of Capet came to be recognised as members of an illustrious and ancient royal house and therefore socially superior to their politically and economically superior rivals. Thirdly, the Capetians had the support of the Church, which favoured a strong central government in France. This alliance with the Church was one of the great enduring legacies of the Capetians. The First Crusade was composed almost entirely of Frankish Princes. As time went on the power of the King was expanded by conquests, seizures and successful feudal political battles.
The history of France starts with the election of Hugh Capet (940-996) by an assembly summoned in Reims in 987. Capet was previously "Duke of the Franks" and then became "King of the Franks" (Rex Francorum). Hugh's lands extended little beyond the Paris basin; his political unimportance weighed against the powerful barons who elected him. Many of the king's vassals (who included for a long time the kings of England) ruled over territories far greater than his own. He was recorded to be recognised king by the Gauls, Bretons, Danes, Aquitanians, Goths, Spanish and Gascons.
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, as the Spanish marches grew more and more independent. Hugh Capet, the first Capetian king, is not a well documented figure, his greatest achievement being certainly to survive as king and defeating the Carolingian 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 the Franks before Capet's demise. Hugh Capet decided so in order to have his succession secured. Robert II, as King of the Franks, 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. Although a king weak in power, Robert II's efforts were considerable. His surviving charters imply he relied heavily on 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). The reign of Robert II was quite important because it involved the Peace and Truce of God (beginning in 989) and the Cluniac Reforms.
Robert II crowned his son — Hugh Magnus — as King of the Franks at age 10 to secure the succession, but Hugh Magnus rebelled against his father and died fighting him in 1025.
The next King of the Franks was Robert II's next son, Henry I (reigned 1027-1060). Like Hugh Magnus, Henry was crowned as co-ruler with his father (1027), in the Capetian tradition, but he had little power or influence as junior king while his father still lived. Henry I was crowned after Robert's death in 1031, which is quite exceptional for a French king of the times. Henry I was one of the weakest kings of the Franks, and his reign saw the rise of some very powerful nobles such as William the Conqueror. Henry I's 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 the Franks 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 although the kingdom did enjoy a modest recovery during his extraordinarily long reign (1060–1108). His reign also saw the launch of the First Crusade to regain the Holy Land, which heavily involved his family although he personally did not support the expedition.
It is from Louis VI (reigned 1108–1137) 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 Louis had the assistance of a skilled religious statesman, Abbot Suger. The abbot was the son of a minor family of knights, but his political advice was extremely valuable to the king. Louis VI successfully defeated, both military and politically, many of the robber barons. Louis VI frequently summoned his vassals to the court, and those who did not show up often had their land possessions confiscated and military campaigns mounted against them. This drastic policy clearly imposed some royal authority on Paris and its surrounding areas. When Louis VI died in 1137, much progress had been made towards strengthening Capetian authority.
Thanks to Abbot Suger's political advice, King Louis VII (junior king 1131–1137, senior king 1137–1180) enjoyed greater moral authority over France than his predecessors. Powerful vassals paid homage to the French king. Abbot Suger arranged the 1137 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 Suger's vision of construction became what is now known as Gothic architecture. This style became standard for most European cathedrals built in the late Middle Ages.
The late Capetians (1165–1328)
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 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 Augustus
The reign of Philip II Augustus (junior king 1179–1180, senior king 1180–1223) marked an important step in the history of French monarchy. His reign saw the French royal domain and influence greatly expanded. He set the context for the rise of power to much more powerful monarchs like Saint Louis and Philip the Fair.
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 other in France until 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, then 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, as Louis VI had done often 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 decisive Battle of Bouvines (1214) resulted in complete failure. Philip II had annexed Normandy and Anjou, plus capturing the Counts of Boulogne and Flanders, although Aquitaine and Gascony remained loyal to the Plantagenet King. In an additional aftermath of the Battle of Bouvines, John's ally Holy Roman Emperor Otto IV was overthrown by Frederick II, member of the House of Hohenstaufen and ally of Philip. Philip II of France was crucial in ordering Western European politics in both England and France.
Philip Augustus founded the Sorbonne and made Paris a city for scholars.
Prince Louis (the future Louis VIII, reigned 1223–1226) 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.
Saint Louis (1226–1270)
France became a truly centralised kingdom under Louis IX (reigned 1226–1270). Saint Louis has often been portrayed as a one dimensional character, a flawless representant of the faith and an administrative reformer who cared for the governed ones. However, his reign was far from perfect for everyone: he made unsuccessful crusades, his expanding administrations raised opposition, and he burned Jewish books at the Pope's urging. 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:
Louis IX was only twelve years old when he became King of France. His mother — Blanche of Castile — was the effective power as regent (although she did not formally use the title). Blanche's authority was strongly opposed by the French barons yet she maintained her position 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.
The kingdom was vulnerable: war was still going on in the County of Toulouse, and the royal army was occupied fighting resistance in Languedoc. Count Raymond VII of Toulouse finally signed the Treaty of Paris in 1229, in which he retained much of his lands for 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 recognized 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 (1242).
Ultimately, 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.
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; however, 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 for who was the most faithful; this evolved to the point that none ever arrived on time to the Parlement, which was then allowed to debate in their absence.
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.
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 and Philip IV (1270–1314)
Philip III became king when Saint Louis died in 1270 during the Eighth Crusade. Philip III was called "the Bold" on the basis of his abilities in combat and on horseback, and not because of his character or ruling abilities. Philip III took part in another crusading disaster: the Aragonese Crusade, which cost him his life in 1285.
More administrative reforms were made by Philip IV, also called Philip the Fair (reigned 1285–1314). This king was responsible for the end of the Knights Templar, 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, Pope Clement V.
The early Valois Kings and the Hundred Years' War (1328–1453)
The tensions between the Houses of Plantagenet and Capet climaxed during the so-called Hundred Years' War (actually several distinct wars over the period 1337 to 1453) when the Plantagenets 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. In 1420 by the Treaty of Troyes Henry V was made heir to Charles VI. Henry V failed to outlive Charles so it was Henry VI of England and France who consolidated the Dual-Monarchy of England and France.
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 (1412–1431). 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 the Battle of Baugé (1421), the humiliating defeats of Poitiers (1356) and Agincourt (1415) forced the French nobility to realise they could not stand just as armoured knights without an organised army. Charles VII (reigned 1422–1461) established the first French standing army, the Compagnies d'ordonnance, and defeated the Plantagenets once at Patay (1429) and again, using cannons, at Formigny (1450). The Battle of Castillon (1453) was regarded as the last engagement of this "war", yet Calais and the Channel Islands remained ruled by the Plantagenets.
Early Modern France (1453–1789)
Kings during this period
The Early Modern period in French history spans the following reigns, from 1461 to the Revolution, breaking in 1789:
- House of Valois
- Louis XI the Prudent, 1461−1483
- Charles VIII the Affable, 1483–1498
- Louis XII, 1498–1515
- Francis I, 1515–1547
- Henry II, 1547–1559
- Francis II, 1559–1560
- Charles IX, 1560–1574 (1560–1563 under regency of Catherine de' Medici)
- Henry III, 1574–1589
- House of Bourbon
- Henry IV the Great, 1589–1610
- the Regency of Marie de Medici, 1610–1617
- Louis XIII the Just and his minister Cardinal Richelieu, 1610–1643
- the Regency of Anne of Austria and her minister Cardinal Mazarin, 1643–1651
- Louis XIV the Sun King and his minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert, 1643–1715
- the Régence, a period of regency under Philip II of Orléans, 1715–1723
- Louis XV the Beloved and his minister Cardinal André-Hercule de Fleury, 1715–1774
- Louis XVI, 1774–1792
Life in the Early Modern period
France in the Ancien Régime covered a territory of around 200,000 square miles (520,000 km2). This land supported 13 million people in 1484 and 20 million people in 1700. France had the second largest population in Europe around 1700. Britain had 5 or 6 million, Spain had 8 million, and the Austrian Habsburgs had around 8 million. Russia was the most populated European country at the time. France's lead slowly faded after 1700, as other countries grew faster.
The sense of "being French" was uncommon in 1500, as people clung to their local identities. By 1600, however, people were starting to call themselves "bon françois."
Estates and power
Political power was widely dispersed. The law courts ("Parlements") were powerful, especially that of France. However, the king had only about 10,000 officials in royal service — very few indeed for such a large country, and with very slow internal communications over an inadequate road system. Travel was usually faster by ocean ship or river boat. The different estates of the realm – the clergy, the nobility, and commoners – occasionally met together in the " Estates General", but in practice the Estates General had no power, for it could petition the king but could not pass laws.
The Catholic Church controlled about 40% of the wealth, tied up in long-term endowments that could be added to but not reduced. The king (not the pope) nominated bishops, but typically had to negotiate with noble families that had close ties to local monasteries and church establishments.
The nobility came second in terms of wealth, but there was no unity. Each noble had his own lands, his own network of regional connections, and his own military force.
The cities had a quasi-independent status, and were largely controlled by the leading merchants and guilds. Paris was by far the largest city with 220,000 people in 1547 and a history of steady growth. Lyons and Rouen each had about 40,000 population, but Lyon had a powerful banking community and a vibrant culture. Bordeaux was next with only 20,000 population in 1500.
Peasants made up the vast majority of population, who in many cases had well-established rights that the authorities had to respect. In 1484, about 97% of France's 13 million people lived in rural villages; in 1700, at least 80% of the 20 million people population were peasants.
In the 17th century peasants had ties to the market economy, provided much of the capital investment necessary for agricultural growth, and frequently moved from village to village (or town). Geographic mobility, directly tied to the market and the need for investment capital, was the main path to social mobility. The "stable" core of French society, town guildspeople and village labourers, included cases of staggering social and geographic continuity, but even this core required regular renewal.
Accepting the existence of these two societies, the constant tension between them, and extensive geographic and social mobility tied to a market economy holds the key to a clearer understanding of the evolution of the social structure, economy, and even political system of early modern France. Collins (1991) argues that the Annales School paradigm underestimated the role of the market economy; failed to explain the nature of capital investment in the rural economy; and grossly exaggerated social stability.
Although most peasants in France spoke local dialects, an official language emerged in Paris and the French language became the preferred language of Europe's aristocracy. Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (born in 1500) quipped, "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 make it more uniform. The Renaissance writer François Rabelais (b. 1494) helped to shape French 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 who reformed the French language. He improved Nicolas Chuquet's long scale system by adding names for intermediate numbers ("milliards" instead of "thousand million", etc.).
Consolidation (15th and 16th centuries)
With the death in 1477 of Charles the Bold, France and the Habsburgs began a long process of dividing his rich Burgundian lands, leading to numerous wars. In 1532, Brittany was incorporated into the Kingdom of France.
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 in 1543 and handed it down to Francis I.
During the 16th century, the Spanish and Austrian Habsburgs were the dominant power in Europe. The many domains of Charles V encircled France. The Spanish Tercio was used with great success against French knights. Finally, on 7 January 1558, the Duke of Guise seized Calais from the English.
"Beautiful" 16th century
Economic historians call the era from about 1475 to 1630 the "beautiful 16th century" because of the return of peace, prosperity and optimism across the nation, and the steady growth of population. Paris, for example, flourished as never before, as its population rose to 200,000 by 1550. In Toulouse the Renaissance of the 16th century brought wealth that transformed the architecture of the town, such as building of the great aristocratic houses.
French Wars of Religion (1562–98)
The Protestant Reformation, inspired in France mainly by John Calvin, began to challenge the legitimacy and rituals of the Catholic Church. It reached an elite audience. After 1630, came new wars and deep pessimism, because of the Protestant challenge, heresy persecutions by Catholic bishops, and civil war.
The two Calvinist main strongholds were southwest France and Normandy, but even in these districts the Catholics were a majority. Renewed Catholic reaction – headed by the powerful Francis, 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.
King Henry II had died in 1559 in a jousting tournament, he was succeeded in turn by his three sons, each of which assumed the throne as minors or were weak, ineffectual rulers. In the power vacuum entered Henry's widow, Catherine de' Medici, who became a central figure in the early years of the Wars of Religion. At her instigation, 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 (1584–1598),at the height of which bodyguards of the King Henry III assassinated Henry de Guise, leader of the Spanish-backed Catholic league. In revenge, a priest assassinated Henry III. This led to the ascension of the Huguenot Henry IV; in order to bring peace to a country beset by religious and succession wars, he converted to Catholicism. He issued the Edict of Nantes in 1598, which guaranteed religious liberties to the Protestants, thereby effectively ending the civil war. The main provisions of the Edict of Nantes were as follows: a) Huguenots were allowed to hold religious services in certain towns in each province, b) They were allowed to control and fortify eight cities (including La Rochelle and Montauban), c) Special courts were established to try Huguenot offenders, d)Huguenots were to have equal civil rights with the Catholics.
When in 1620 the Huguenots proclaimed a constitution for the 'Republic of the Reformed Churches of France', the chief minister Cardinal Richelieu (1585–1642) invoked the entire powers of the state to stop it. Religious conflicts therefore resumed under Louis XIII when 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 (1629) confirmed religious freedom yet dismantled the Protestant military defences.
In the face of persecution, Huguenots dispersed widely throughout Protestant kingdoms in Europe and America.
Thirty Years' War (1618–1648)
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 in the raison d'état (national interest). Imperial Habsburg forces invaded France, ravaged Champagne, and nearly threatened Paris.
Richelieu died in 1642 and was succeeded by Cardinal 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.
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.
Amidst this turmoil, René Descartes sought answers to philosophical questions through the use of logic and reason and formulated what would be called Cartesian Dualism in 1641.
Colonies (16th and 17th centuries)
During the 16th century, the king began to claim North American territories and established several (unsuccessful) colonies. Jacques Cartier was one of the great explorers who ventured deep into American territories during the 16th century.
The early 17th century saw the first successful French settlements in the New World with the voyages of Samuel de Champlain. The largest settlement was New France, with the towns of Quebec City (1608) and Montreal (fur trading post in 1611, Roman Catholic mission established in 1639, and colony founded in 1642).
Louis XIV (1643–1715)
Louis XIV, known as the "Sun King", reigned over France from 1643 until 1715 although his strongest period of personal rule did not begin until 1661 after the death of his Italian chief minister Cardinal Mazarin. Louis believed in the divine right of kings, which asserts that a monarch is above everyone except God, and is therefore not answerable to the will of his people, the aristocracy, or the Church. Louis continued his predecessors' work of creating a centralized state governed from Paris, sought to eliminate remnants of feudalism in France, and subjugated and weakened the aristocracy. By these means he consolidated a system of absolute monarchical rule in France that endured until the French Revolution. However, 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. French dominated League of the Rhine fought against the Ottoman Turks at the Battle of Saint Gotthard in 1664. The battle was won by the Christians, chiefly through the brave attack of 6,000 French troops led by La Feuillade and Coligny.
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 indefinitely, 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 lavish Palace of Versailles, which Louis XIV had greatly expanded. Over time, Louis XIV compelled many members of the nobility, especially the noble elite, to inhabit Versailles. He controlled the nobility with an elaborate system of pensions and privileges, and replaced their power with himself.
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. The two massive famines struck France between 1693 and 1710, killing over two million people.
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 as Philip V. The Habsburg Emperor Leopold opposed a Bourbon succession, because the power that such a succession would bring to the Bourbon rulers of France would disturb the delicate balance of power in Europe. Therefore, he 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, 1st Duke of Marlborough, 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, the extremely bloody battles of Ramillies (1706) and Malplaquet (1709) proved to be Pyrrhic victories for the allies, as they had lost too many men to continue the war. Led by Villars, French forces recovered much of the lost ground in battles such as Denain (1712). Finally, a compromise was achieved with the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. Philip of Anjou was confirmed as Philip V, king of Spain; Emperor Leopold did not get the throne, but Philip V was barred from inheriting France.
Louis XIV 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, and a tumultuous friendship was established between Lully and playwright and actor Molière. Jules Hardouin Mansart became France's most important architect of the period, bringing the pinnacle of French Baroque architecture.
Major changes in France, Europe, and North America (1718–1783)
Louis XIV died in 1715 and was succeeded by his five-year-old great grandson who reigned as Louis XV until his death in 1774. In 1718, France was once again at war, as Philip II of Orléans'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 Cardinal Fleury's administration, peace was maintained as long 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, in 1740, 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, repeated French attempts to overwhelm Hanover failed. In 1762 Russia, France and Austria were on the verge of crushing Prussia, when the Anglo-Prussian Alliance was saved by the Miracle of the House of Brandenburg. At sea naval defeats against British fleets at Lagos and Quiberon Bay in 1759 and a crippling blockade forced France to keep its ships in port. Finally peace was concluded in the Treaty of Paris (1763), and France lost its North American empire.
Britain's success in the Seven Years War had allowed them to eclipse France as the leading colonial power. France sought revenge for this defeat, and under Choiseul France started to rebuild. In 1766 the French Kingdom annexed Lorraine and the following year bought Corsica from Genoa.
Having lost its colonial empire, France saw a good opportunity for revenge against Britain in signing an alliance with the Americans in 1778, and sending an army and navy that turned the American Revolution into a world war. Spain, allied to France by the Family Compact, and the Dutch Republic also joined the war on the French 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); the United States became independent. The British Royal Navy scored a major victory over France in 1782 at the Battle of the Saintes and France finished the war with huge debts and the minor gain of the island of Tobago.
While the state expanded, new Enlightenment ideas flourished. Charles de Secondat, baron de Montesquieu proposed the separation of powers. Many other French philosophes (intellectuals) exerted philosophical influence on a continental scale, including Voltaire, Denis Diderot and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whose essay The Social Contract, Or Principles of Political Right was a catalyst for governmental and societal reform throughout Europe. Diderot's great Encyclopédie reshaped the European world view.
Astronomy, chemistry, mathematics and technology flourished. French scientists such as Antoine Lavoisier worked to replace the archaic units of weights and measures by a coherent scientific system. Lavoisier also formulated the law of Conservation of mass and discovered oxygen and hydrogen.
The " Philosophes" were 18th century French intellectuals who dominated the French Enlightenment and were influential across Europe. Their interests were diverse, with experts in scientific, literary, philosophical and sociological matters. The ultimate goal of the philosophers was human progress; by concentrating on social and material sciences, they believed that a rational society was the only logical outcome of a freethinking and reasoned populace. They also advocated Deism and religious tolerance. Many believed religion had been used as a source of conflict since time eternal, and that logical, rational thought was the way forward for mankind.
The philosopher Denis Diderot was Editor in Chief of the famous Enlightenment accomplishment, the 72,000 article Encyclopédie (1751–1772). It sparked a revolution in learning throughout the enlightened world.
In the early part of the 18th century the movement was dominated by Voltaire and Montesquieu, but the movement grew in momentum as the century moved on. Overall the philosophers were inspired by the thoughts of René Descartes, the skepticism of the Libertins and the popularization of science by Bernard de Fontenelle. Sectarian dissensions within the church, the gradual weakening of the absolute monarch and the numerous wars of Louis XIV allowed their influence to spread. Between 1748 and 1751 the Philosophes reached their most influential period, as Montesquieu published Spirit of Laws (1748) and Jean Jacques Rousseau published Discourse on the Moral Effects of the Arts and Sciences (1750).
The leader of the French Enlightenment and a writer of enormous influence across Europe, was Voltaire (1694–1778). His many books included poems and plays; works of satire ( Candide ); books on history, science, and philosophy, including numerous (anonymous) contributions to the Encyclopédie; and an extensive correspondence. A witty, tireless antagonist to the alliance between the French state and the church, he was exiled from France on a number of occasions. In exile in England he came to appreciate British thought and he popularized Isaac Newton in Europe.
Revolution and Napoleon (1789–1815)
The French Revolution
The immediate trigger for the Revolution was Louis XVI's attempts to solve the government's worsening financial situation. Recent wars, such as support of the American Revolutionary War, compounded by the loss of the North American colonies, had effectively bankrupted the state. Several years of bad harvests and an inadequate transportation system had caused rising food prices, hunger, and malnutrition; the country was further destabilized by the lower classes' increased feeling that the royal court was isolated from, and indifferent to, their hardships.
In February 1787 his finance minister, Charles Alexandre de Calonne, convened an Assembly of Notables, a group of nobles, clergy, bourgeoisie, and bureaucrats selected in order to bypass the local parliaments. 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 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 canceling 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 creation of 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, the Assembly 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 sympathetic 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. Because the royal leadership essentially abandoned the city, the mobs soon had the support of the French Guard, including arms and trained soldiers. 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 14 July each year as a symbol of the shift away from the Ancien Régime to a more modern, democratic state. Gilbert du Motier, a hero of the War of American Independence, took command of the National Guard, and the king was forced to recognize the Tricolour Cockade. Although peace was made, several nobles did not regard the new order as acceptable and emigrated in order to push the neighboring, aristocratic kingdoms to war against the new democratic regime. Because of this new period of instability, the state was struck for several weeks in July and August 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 departments, uniformly administered and approximately equal to one another in extent and population.
Abolition of feudalism
On 4 August 1789, the Assembly abolished feudalism, in what became known as the August Decrees, sweeping away both the seigneurial rights of the Second Estate (nobility) and the tithes gathered by the First Estate (clergy). 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. Consequently, an individual could only gain the right to practice a trade through the purchase of a license, and worker 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 (International System of Units), 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.
Royal family captured
When a mob from Paris attacked the royal palace at Versailles in October 1789 seeking redress for their severe poverty, 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 in order to seek royalist support the king believed 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. Under the Constitution of 1791, France would function as a constitutional monarchy with Louis XVI as little more than a figurehead. The King had to share power with the elected Legislative Assembly, although he still retained his royal veto and the ability to select ministers. 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.
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) in the centre, a vocal group of Jacobins (radical revolutionaries) on the left, and about 250 deputies unaffiliated with any of those factions. 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 result in a constitutional crisis, leading the Revolution to higher levels.
On the foreign affairs front, in the Declaration of Pillnitz of August 1791, Holy Roman Emperor Leopold II, Count Charles of Artois, and King Frederick William II of Prussia made Louis XVI's cause their own. These noblemen also required the Assembly to be dissolved through threats of war, but, instead of cowing the French, it infuriated them. The borders 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 in order to increase his popularity, starting the long French Revolutionary Wars. On the night of the 10 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 20 September 1792, the French First Republic was proclaimed the next day, on 21 September 1792. The new French Republican Calendar was then legally enforced.
Factionalism amongst revolutionaries
The National Convention was fractured into factions, the most dangerous of which became the Montagnards. The Montagnards and the Girondins were both originally Jacobins, a political club which was founded according to republican beliefs and whose members wanted a French democratic republic. The Jacobin Club, however, encountered political tension beginning in 1791 due to conflicting viewpoints in response to several revolutionary events and how to best achieve a democratic republic. Members of "The Mountain" (French: La Montagne) sided with the Parisian militants, also known as the sans-culottes, who aimed for a more repressive form of government that would institute a price maximum on essential consumer goods and would punish all traitors and enemies of the Republic.
Additionally, between war and political differences, the Montagnards believed these crises required emergency solutions. The Montagnards considered themselves the true patriots of the French Revolution. The Mountain had 302 members during its reign in 1793 and 1794, including committee members and deputies who voted with the faction. Most of its members came from the middle class and tended to represent the Parisian population. Its leaders included Maximilien Robespierre, Jean-Paul Marat, and Georges Danton. This party eventually gained overwhelming power in the Convention and governed France during the Reign of Terror.
Possibly the two most significant factors in the quarrel and consequential split between the Montagnards and the Girondins include the September Massacres and the trial of Louis XVI, both in 1792. The official fall of the monarchy came on 10 August 1792 after Louis XVI refused to rescind his veto of the National Assembly's constitution. The Mountain argued for immediate execution of the king by military court-martial, insisting that he was undermining the Revolution. Because a trial would require the "presumption of innocence," such a proceeding would contradict the mission of the National Convention. The Girondins, in contrast, agreed that the king was guilty of treason but argued for his clemency and favored the option of exile or popular referendum as his sentence. However, the trial progressed and Louis XVI was executed by guillotine on 21 January 1793.
The second key factor in the split between the Montagnards and the Girondins was the September Massacres of 1792. Radical Parisians, members of the National Guard, and fédérés were angry with the poor progress in the war against Austria and Prussia and the forced enlistment of 30,000 volunteers. On 10 August, radicals went on a killing spree, slaughtering roughly 1,300 inmates in various Paris prisons, many of whom were simply common criminals, not the treasonous counterrevolutionaries condemned by the Mountain. The Girondins did not tolerate the massacres, but neither the Montagnards of the Legislative Assembly nor the Paris Commune took any action to stop or condemn the killings. Members of the Girondins later accused Marat, Robespierre, and Danton as inciters of the massacres in an attempt to further their dictatorial power.
Execution of Louis XVI
When the Brunswick Manifesto of July 1792 once more threatened the French population with 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 executed by the guillotine. 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 arbitrarily adjudicate and butcher 1400 victims, and then 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.
Members of the Mountain went on to establish the Committee of Public Safety in April 1793 under Robespierre, which would be responsible for The Terror (5 September 1793 – 28 July 1794), the bloodiest and one of the most controversial phases of the French Revolution. The time between 1792 and 1794 was dominated by the ideology of the Mountain until the execution of Robespierre on 28 July 1794.
The war went badly. Prices rose, the sans-culottes (poor labourers and radical Jacobins) rioted, and 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.
The Reign of Terror
Starting in September 1793, a period known as the Reign of Terror ensued for approximately 12 months, the bloodiest and one of the most controversial phases of the French Revolution. The Committee of Public Safety, set up by the National Convention on 6 April 1793, formed the twelve-member de facto executive government of France. Under war conditions and with national survival seemingly at stake, the Montagnard Jacobins under Maximilien Robespierre centralized denunciations, trials, and executions. 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. As a consequence of these actions, however, Robespierre's 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 – including Robespierre – 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 European military coalition was formed and set up against France. Spain, Naples, Great Britain, and the Netherlands joined Austria and Prussia in 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 said it would be the Guerre Totale ("total war") and called for a Levée en masse (mass conscription of troops). Royalist invasion 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 concluded between France, Spain, and Prussia in 1795 at Basel.
The Convention approved a new " Constitution of the Year III" on 17 August 1795; it was ratified by a national plebiscite and took effect on 26 September 1795. The new constitution created the Directory and 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 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.
The four years of the Directory were a time of arbitrary government and chronic disquiet. The late atrocities had made confidence or goodwill between the 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, resorted 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 increasingly less civic in temper.
The Directory lasted until 1799 when Napoleon staged a coup and installed The Consulate. The Consulate still operated within the First Republic. The Consulate was replaced by the First Empire, established by Napoleon in 1804.
The Napoleonic Era
During the War of the First Coalition (1792–1797), 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 defeated the Ottoman forces during the Battle of the Pyramids (21 July 1798) and sent hundreds of scientists and linguists out to thoroughly explore modern and ancient Egypt. Only a few weeks later the British fleet under Admiral Horatio Nelson unexpectedly destroyed the French fleet at the Battle of the Nile (1–3 August 1798). Napoleon planned to move into Syria but was defeated and he returned to France without his army, which surrendered.
The Directoire was threatened by the Second Coalition (1798–1802). 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. In 1799 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 the Battle of Marengo (1800) and again at the Battle of Hohenlinden (1800).
While at sea the French had some success at Boulogne but Nelson's Royal Navy destroyed an anchored Danish and Norwegian fleet at the Battle of Copenhagen (1801) because the Scandinavian kingdoms were against the British blockade of France. The Second Coalition was beaten and peace was settled in two distinct treaties: the Treaty of Lunéville and the Treaty of Amiens. A brief interlude of peace ensued in 1802-3, during which Napoleon sold French Louisiana to the United States because it was indefensible.
In 1801 Napoleon concluded a "Concordat" with Pope Pius VII that opened peaceful relations between church and state in France. The policies of the Revolution were reversed, except the Church did not get its lands back. Bishops and clergy were to receive state salaries, and the government would pay for the building and maintenance of churches. Napoleon reorganized higher learning by dividing the Institut National into four (later five) academies.
The Napoleonic Code
Of permanent importance was the Napoleonic Code created by eminent jurists under Napoleon's supervision. Praised for its Gallic clarity, it spread rapidly throughout Europe and the world in general, and marked the end of feudalism and the liberation of Jews where it took effect. The Code recognized the principles of civil liberty, equality before the law, and the secular character of the state. It discarded the old right of primogeniture (where only the eldest son inherited) and required that inheritances be divided equally among all the children. The court system was standardized; all judges were appointed by the national government in Paris.
In 1804 Napoleon was titled Emperor by the senate, thus founding the First French Empire. Napoleon's rule was constitutional, and although autocratic, it was much more advanced than traditional European monarchies of the time. The proclamation of the French Empire was met by the Third Coalition. The French army was renamed La Grande Armée in 1805 and Napoleon used propaganda and nationalism to control the French population. The French army achieved a resounding victory at Ulm (16–19 October 1805), where an entire Austrian army was captured.
A Franco-Spanish fleet was defeated at Trafalgar (21 October 1805) 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 (also known as the "Battle of the Three Emperors" on 2 December 1805), destroying the Third Coalition. 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.
Pan-European efforts to contain Napoleon
Prussia joined 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 (14 June 1807). 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 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 (1807), 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 abdicated.
This occupation of the Iberian peninsula fueled local nationalism, and soon the Spanish and Portuguese fought the French using guerilla tactics, defeating the French forces at the Battle of Bailén (June and July 1808). 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 (21 August 1808). 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 (April 1809). Although not as decisive as the previous Austrian defeats, the peace treaty in October 1809 stripped Austria of a large amount of territories, reducing it even more.
In 1812 war broke out with Russia, engaging Napoleon in the disastrous French invasion of Russia (1812). 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, only 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 in late 1812 annihilated, most of all by the Russian winter, exhaustion, and scorched earth warfare. On the Spanish front the French troops were defeated at Vitoria (June 1813) and then at the Battle of the Pyrenees (July–August 1813). Since the Spanish guerrillas seemed to be uncontrollable, the French troops eventually evacuated Spain.
Since France had been defeated on these two fronts, states previously conquered and controlled 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 outside Leipzig in October 1813, and was overwhelmed by much larger armies during the Six Days Campaign (February 1814), although, the Six Days Campaign is often considered a tactical masterpiece because the allies suffered much higher casualties.
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 the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.
The monarchy was subsequently restored and Louis XVIII became king.
Long 19th century, 1815–1914
France remained basically Catholic. The 1872 census counted 36 million people, of whom 35.4 million were listed as Catholics, 600,000 as Protestants, 50,000 as Jews and 80,000 as freethinkers. The Revolution failed to destroy the Catholic Church, and Napoleon's concordat of 1801 restored its status. The return of the Bourbons in 1814 brought back many rich nobles and landowners who supported the Church, seeing it as a bastion of conservatism and monarchism. However the monasteries with their vast land holdings and political power were gone; much of the land had been sold to urban entrepreneurs who lacked historic connections to the land and the peasants.
Few new priests were trained in the 1790-1814 period, and many left the church. The result was that the number of parish clergy plunged from 60,000 in 1790 to 25,000 in 1815, many of them elderly. Entire regions, especially around Paris, were left with few priests. On the other hand some traditional regions held fast to the faith, led by local nobles and historic families.
The comeback was very slow in the larger cities and industrial areas. With systematic missionary work and a new emphasis on liturgy and devotions to the Virgin Mary, plus support from Napoleon III, there was a comeback. In 1870 there were 56,500 priests, representing a much younger and more dynamic force in the villages and towns, with a thick network of schools, charities and lay organizations. Conservative Catholics held control of the national government, 1820-1830, but most often played secondary political roles or had to fight the assault from republicans, liberals, socialists and seculars.
The Bourbon restoration: (1814–1830)
This period of time is called the Bourbon Restoration and was marked by conflicts between reactionary Ultra-royalists, who wanted to restore the pre-1789 system of absolute monarchy, and liberals, who wanted to strengthen constitutional monarchy. Louis XVIII was the younger brother of Louis XVI, and reigned from 1814 to 1824. On becoming king, Louis issued a constitution known as the Charter which preserved many of the liberties won during the French Revolution and provided for a parliament composed of an elected Chamber of Deputies and a Chamber of Peers that was nominated by the king.
The right to vote in elections to the Chamber of Deputies was restricted to only the wealthiest men. Louis was succeeded in turn by a younger brother, Charles X, who reigned from 1824 to 1830. 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 a new revolution broke out and quickly resulted in a change of regime.
July Monarchy (1830–1848)
Protest against the absolute monarchy was in the air. The elections of deputies to the 16 May 1830 had gone very badly for King Charles X. Charles X reacted by proroguing the Chamber of Deputies and sending them all packing, and then unilaterally changed the electoral laws in an attempt to create a new Chamber of Deputies more favorable to him, and muzzled the press. Opposition to the absolute monarchy was immediately expressed in the streets of Paris as suppressed deputies, gagged journalists, students from the University and many working men of Paris poured into the streets and erected barricades during the "three glorious days" (French Les Trois Glorieuses) of 26–29 July 1830.
Charles X was deposed and replaced by King Louis-Philippe in what is known as the July Revolution. The July Revolution is traditionally regarded as a rising of the bourgeoisie against the absolute monarchy of the Bourbons. Participants in the July Revolution included Marie Joseph Paul Ives Roch Gilbert du Motier, marquis de Lafayette. Working behind the scenes on behalf of the bourgeois propertied interests was Louis Adolphe Thiers.
Thiers was perfectly willing to see changes made in the government so long as property was not harmed. Thiers wanted the "middle class accommodated" with the vote, realizing that the petty bourgeoisie (owners of small business ventures) supported property interests, in spite of their being ruined by the rise of the larger bourgeoisie. Lafayette believed the Orleanist constitutional monarchy was the safest course for the propertied interests and so Lafayette and Thiers became supporters of the Orleanist "Citizen King"-- Louis-Philippe. Consequently, Louis-Philippe became "king by the grace of the barricades."
Louis-Philippe's " July Monarchy" (1830–1848) was dominated by the haute bourgeoisie (high bourgeoisie) of bankers, financiers, industrialists and merchants.
During the reign of the July Monarchy, the Romantic Era was starting to bloom. Driven by the Romantic Era, an atmosphere of protest and revolt was all around in France. On 22 November 1831 in Lyon (the second largest city in France) the silk workers revolted and took over the town hall in protest of recent salary reductions and working conditions. This was one of the first occasions of a workers revolt in the entire world.
The revolt was vigorously put down by Casimir Perier. The Right was also unhappy with the July Monarchy. On 28 October 1836, Prince Louis-Napoleon, son of Napoleon's brother, Louis, King of Holland attempted to overthrow the July Monarchy in a coup d'état. It failed but in August 1840, Prince Louis Napoleon tried another coup at Boulogne with hired soldiers. It failed as well.
Because of the constant threats to the throne, the July Monarchy began to rule with a stronger and stronger hand. Soon political meetings were outlawed. However, "banquets" were still legal and all through 1847, there was a nation-wide campaign of democracy and/or republican banquets. The climaxing banquet was scheduled for 22 February 1848 in Paris but the government banned it. In response citizens of all classes poured out onto the streets of Paris in a revolt against the July Monarchy. Demands were made for abdication of "Citizen King" Louis-Philippe and for establishment of a representative democracy in France.
Representative classes in this revolt included the full range of French society from the industrial bourgeoisie (who had been excluded from the "finance aristocracy" that formed the major part of the bourgeoisie that supported the July Monarchy), the petty bourgeoisie and the workers. Louis-Philippe abdicated, and the French Second Republic was proclaimed. A Constituent Assembly was elected which was seated in Paris. Alphonse Marie Louis de Lamartine, who had been a leader of the moderate republicans in France during the 1840s became the Minister of Foreign Affairs in the Provisional Government that was established by this Assembly. In reality Lamartine was the virtual head of government in 1848.
Second Republic and Second Empire (1848–71)
Frustration among the laboring classes arose when the Constituent Assembly did not address the concerns of the workers. Strikes and worker demonstrations became more common as the workers gave vent to these frustrations. These demonstrations reached a climax when on 15 May 1848, workers from the secret societies broke out in armed uprising against the anti-labor and anti-democratic policies being pursued by the Constituent Assembly and the Provisional Government. Fearful of a total breakdown of law and order, the Provisional Government invited General Louis Eugene Cavaignac back from Algeria, in June 1848, to put down the worker's armed revolt. From June 1848 until December 1848 General Cavaignac became head of the executive of the Provisional Government.
Louis Napoleon Bonaparte was elected president on 10 December 1848 by a landslide. His support came from a wide section of the French public. Various classes of French society voted for Louis Napoleon for very different and often contradictory reasons. Louis Napoleon, himself encouraged this contradiction by "being all things to all people." One of his major promises to the peasantry and other groups was that there would be no new taxes.
The new National Constituent Assembly was heavily composed of royalist sympathizers of both the Legitimist (Bourbon) wing and the Orleanist (Citizen King Louis Phiippe) wing. Because of the ambiguity surrounding Louis Napoleon's political positions, his agenda as president was very much in doubt. For prime minister, he selected Odilon Barrot, an unobjectionable middle-road parliamentarian, who had led the "loyal opposition" under Louis-Philippe. Other appointees represented various royalist factions.
The Pope had been forced out of Rome as part of the Revolutions of 1848, and Louis Napoleon sent a 14,000 man expeditionary force of troops to the Papal State under General Nicolas Charles Victor Oudinot to restore him. In late April 1849, it was defeated and pushed back from Rome by Giuseppi Garibaldi's volunteer corps, then recovered and recaptured Rome.
In the "June Days" of 1849, demonstrations against the government broke out and were suppressed. Leaders were arrested, including prominent politicians. The government banned several democratic and socialist newspapers in France; the editors were arrested. Karl Marx was at risk so he moved to London in August.
The government sought ways to balance its budget and reduce its debts. Toward this end, Hippolyte Passy was appointed Finance Minister. When the Legislative Assembly met at the beginning of October 1849, Passy proposed an income tax to help balance the finances in France. The bourgeoisie, who would pay most of the tax, protested. The furor over the income tax caused the resignation of Barrot as prime minister, but a new wine tax also caused protests.
The 1850 elections resulted in a conservative body. It passed the Falloux Laws, giving education into the hand of the Catholic clergy. It opened an era of cooperation between Church and state that lasted until the Jules Ferry laws reversed course in 1879. The Falloux Laws provided universal primary schooling in France and expanded opportunities for secondary schooling. In practice, the curricula were similar in Catholic and state schools. Catholic schools were especially useful in schooling for girls, which had long been neglected. Although a new electoral law was passed that respected the principle of universal (male) suffrage, the stricter residential requirement of the new law actually had the effect of disenfranchising 3,000,000 of 10,000,000 voters.
As 1851 opened, Louis Napoleon was not allowed by the Constitution of 1848 to seek re-election as President of France. Instead he proclaimed himself President for Life following a coup in December 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, which was decisively defeated at Sevastopol in 1854-1855 and at Inkerman (1854). 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 the northern Italian kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia 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, Piedmont ceded the County of Nice (which included the city of Nice and the rugged Alpine territory to its north and east) and the Duchy of Savoy.
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. Republicans took the capital and executed Maximilian in 1867, depriving France of the hoped-for Roman Catholic ally in North America.
When France was negotiating with the Netherlands about purchasing Luxembourg in 1867, the Prussian Kingdom threatened the French government with war. This " Luxembourg Crisis" 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. The country 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 modernize its army. However, Tokugawa was defeated during the Boshin War at the Battle of Toba-Fushimi by large Imperial armies.
Franco-Prussian War (1870-71)
Rising tensions in 1869 about the possible candidacy of Prince Leopold von Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen to the throne of Spain caused a rise in the scale of animosity between France and Germany. Prince Leopold was a part of the Prussian royal family. He had been asked by the Spanish Cortes to accept the vacant throne of Spain.
Such an event was more than France could possibly accept. Relations between France and Germany deteriorated, 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. Indeed, Emperor Louis Napoleon III surrendered himself and 100,000 French troops to the German troops at Sedan on 1–2 September 1870.
Two days later, on 4 September 1870, Leon Gambetta proclaimed a new republic in France. Later when Paris was encircled by German troops, Gambetta fled Paris by means of a hot air balloon and he became the virtual dictator of the war effort which was carried on from the rural provinces. Metz remained under siege until 27 October 1870, when 173,000 French troops who were located there finally surrendered. Surrounded, Paris was forced to surrender on 28 January 1871. The Treaty of Frankfurt allowed the newly formed German Empire to annex the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine.
Modernisation and railways (1870 to 1914)
The seemingly timeless world of the French peasantry swiftly changed from 1870 to 1914. French peasants had been poor and locked into old traditions until railroads, republican schools, and universal military conscription modernized rural France. The centralized government in Paris had the goal of creating a unified nation state, so it required all students be taught standardized French. In the process a new national identity was forged.
Railways became a national medium for the modernization of traditionalistic regions, and a leading advocate of this approach was the poet-politician Alphonse de Lamartine. In 1857 an army colonel hoped that railways might improve the lot of "populations two or three centuries behind their fellows" and eliminate "the savage instincts born of isolation and misery." Consequently, France built a centralized system that radiated from Paris (plus in the south some lines that cut east to west). This design was intended to achieve political and cultural goals rather than maximize efficiency. After some consolidation, six companies controlled monopolies of their regions, subject to close control by the government in terms of fares, finances, and even minute technical details. The central government department of Ponts et Chaussées (roads and bridges) brought in British engineers, handled much of the construction work, provided engineering expertise and planning, land acquisition, and construction of permanent infrastructure such as the track bed, bridges and tunnels. It also subsidized militarily necessary lines along the German border. Private operating companies provided management, hired labor, laid the tracks, and built and operated stations. They purchased and maintained the rolling stock—6,000 locomotives were in operation in 1880, which averaged 51,600 passengers a year or 21,200 tons of freight. Much of the equipment was imported from Britain and therefore did not stimulate machinery makers. Although starting the whole system at once was politically expedient, it delayed completion, and forced even more reliance on temporary experts brought in from Britain. Financing was also a problem. The solution was a narrow base of funding through the Rothschilds and the closed circles of the Bourse in Paris, so France did not develop the same kind of national stock exchange that flourished in London and New York. The system did help modernize the parts of rural France it reached, but it did not help create local industrial centers. Critics such as Emile Zola complained that it never overcame the corruption of the political system, but rather contributed to it. The railways probably helped the industrial revolution in France by facilitating a national market for raw materials, wines, cheeses, and imported manufactured products. Yet the goals set by the French for their railway system were moralistic, political, and military rather than economic. As a result, the freight trains were shorter and less heavily loaded than those in such rapidly industrializing nations such as Britain, Belgium or Germany. Other infrastructure needs in rural France, such as better roads and canals, were neglected because of the expense of the railways, so it seems likely that there were net negative effects in areas not served by the trains.
The Third Republic and the Belle Epoque: 1871–1914
Third Republic and the Paris Commune
Following the defeat of France in the Franco-Prussian War (1870–1871), German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck proposed harsh terms for peace — including the German occupation of the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine. A new French National Assembly was elected to consider the German terms for peace. Elected on 8 February 1871, this new National Assembly was composed of 650 deputies.
Sitting in Bourdeaux, the French National Assembly established the Third Republic. However, 400 members of the new Assembly were monarchists. ( Leon Gambetta was one of the "non-monarchist" Republicans that were elected to the new National Assembly from Paris.) On 16 February 1871 Adolphe Thiers was elected to be the chief executive of the new Republic. Because of the revolutionary unrest in Paris, the centre of the Thiers government was located at Versailles.
In late 1870 to early 1871, the workers of Paris rose up in premature and unsuccessful small-scale uprisings. The National Guard within Paris had become increasingly restive and defiant of the police, the army chief of staff, and even their own National Guard commanders. Thiers immediately recognized a revolutionary situation and, on 18 March 1871, sent regular army units to take control of artillery that belonged to the National Guard of Paris. Some soldiers of the regular army units fraternized with the rebels and the revolt escalated.
The barricades went up just as in 1830 and 1848. The Paris Commune was born. Once again the Hotel de Ville, or Town Hall, became the centre of attention for the people in revolt; this time the Hotel de Ville became the seat of the revolutionary government. Other cities in France followed the example of the Paris Commune, as in Lyon, Marseille, and Toulouse. All of the Communes outside Paris were promptly crushed by the Thiers government.
An election on 26 March 1871 in Paris produced a government based on the working class. Louis Auguste Blanqui was in prison but a majority of delegates were his followers, called " Blanquists." The minority comprised anarchists and followers of Pierre Joseph Proudhon (1809–1855); as anarchists, the "Proudhonists" were supporters of limited or no government and wanted the revolution to follow an ad hoc course with little or no planning. Analysis of arrests records indicate the typical communard was opposed to the military, the clerics, the rural aristocrats. He saw the bourgeoisie as the enemy.
After two months the French army moved in to retake Paris, with pitched battles fought in working-class neighbourhoods. Hundreds were executed in front of the Communards' Wall, while thousands of others were marched to Versailles for trials. The number killed during La Semaine Sanglante ("The Bloody Week" of 21–28 May 1871) was perhaps 30,000, with as many as 50,000 later executed or imprisoned; 7,000 were exiled to New Caledonia; thousands more escaped to exile. The government won approval for its actions in a national referendum with 321,000 in favour and only 54,000 opposed.
The Republican government next had to confront counterrevolutionaries who rejected the legacy of the 1789 Revolution. Both the Legitimists (embodied in the person of Henri, Count of Chambord, grandson of Charles X) and the Orleanist royalists rejected republicanism, which they saw as an extension of modernity and atheism, breaking with France's traditions. This conflict became increasingly sharp in 1873, when Thiers himself was censured by the National Assembly as not being "sufficiently conservative" and resigned to make way for Marshal Patrice MacMahon as the new president. Amidst the rumors of right-wing intrigue and/or coups by the Bonapartists or Bourbons in 1874, the National Assembly set about drawing up a new constitution that would be acceptable to all parties.
The new constitution provided for universal male suffrage and called for a bi-cameral legislature, consisting of a Senate and a Chamber of Deputies. The initial republic was in effect led by pro-royalists, but republicans (the " Radicals") and Bonapartists scrambled for power. The first election under this new constitution – held in early 1876 – resulted in a republican victory, with 363 republicans elected as opposed to 180 monarchists. However, 75 of the monarchists elected to the new Chamber of Deputies were Bonapartists.
The "Bonapartist threat" of a coup d'état was an ever-present danger in these early days of the Republic. Under the constitution, President MacMahon was required to pick a "premier" to actually lead the day-to-day affairs of the government. The most natural leader to pick following this republican victory at the polls would have been Leon Gambetta. However, the old Marshal was dead set against Gambetta and chose, instead, moderate Armand Dufaure.
Dufaure tried to form a government but he was quickly overthrown. Next, Marshall MacMahon chose conservative Jules Simon. He was too conservative for the Chamber of Deputies and Simon was forced to resign on 16 May 1877, setting the stage for the "Crisis of the Sixteenth of May."
The 16 May 1877 crisis eventually led to the resignation of royalist Marshal MacMahon in January 1879. During his life Henri, comte de Chambord, as the grandson of Charles X, had refused to abandon the fleur-de-lys and the white flag. Thus, Henri's own short-sightedness in this regard jeopardized the alliance between Legitimists (Bourbons) and Orleanists. Therefore, the monarchist cause remained divided and did not present as strong a threat to the Third Republic as might have been the case had they been unified. Because of this division, many remaining Orleanists rallied themselves to the Republic, behind Adolphe Thiers. The vast majority of the Legitimists abandoned the political arena or became marginalised. Still they remained a potent threat of trouble for the young Third Republic; Count Henri's death on 24 August 1883 removed a large threat to the Third Republic. Marshal MacMahon's successor as President of the Republic on 30 January 1879 was Jules Grevy. In January 1886, Georges Boulanger became Minister of War. Georges Clemanceau was instrumental in obtaining this appointment for Boulanger. This was the start of the Boulanger era and another time of threats.
Following the death of Henri Count of Chabord, the Legitimist (Bourbon) party was limited within the political arena within France. Some of them founded Action Française in 1898, during the Dreyfus Affair; it became an influential movement throughout the 1930s, in particular among the conservative Catholic intellectuals.
The period from 1879 to 1899 saw power in the hands of moderate republicans and former "radicals" (around Léon Gambetta); these were called the "Opportunists".
French foreign policy was based on a fear of Germany—whose larger size and fast-growing economy could not be matched—combined with a revanchism that demanded the return of Alsace and Lorraine. At the same time, in the midst of the Scramble for Africa, French and British interest in Africa came into conflict. The most dangerous episode was the Fashoda Incident of 1898 when French troops tried to claim an area in the Southern Sudan, and a British force purporting to be acting in the interests of the Khedive of Egypt arrived. Under heavy pressure the French withdrew securing Anglo-Egyptian control over the area. The status quo was recognised by an agreement between the two states acknowledging British control over Egypt, while France became the dominant power in Morocco, but France suffered a humiliating defeat overall.
The Suez Canal, initially built by the French, became a joint British-French project in 1875, as both saw it as vital to maintaining their influence and empires in Asia. In 1882, ongoing civil disturbances in Egypt prompted Britain to intervene, extending a hand to France. France's leading expansionist Jules Ferry was out of office, and the government allowed Britain to take effective control of Egypt.
France had colonies 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. Conflicts between the Chinese Emperor and the French Republic over Indochina climaxed during the Sino-French War (1884–1885). Admiral Courbet destroyed the Chinese fleet anchored at Foochow. The treaty ending the war, put France in 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 Great Britain, first by means of the Franco-Russian Alliance of 1894, then the 1904 Entente Cordiale with Great Britain, and finally the Anglo-Russian Entente in 1907 which became the Triple Entente. This alliance with Britain and Russia against Germany and Austria eventually led Russia and Britain to enter World War I as France's Allies.
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 in 1894) a political scandal of the utmost gravity. For a decade, the nation was divided between "dreyfusards" and "anti-dreyfusards", and far-right Catholic agitators inflamed the situation even when proofs of Dreyfus's innocence came to light. The writer Emile Zola published an impassioned editorial on the injustice, and was himself condemned by the government for libel. Dreyfus was finally pardoned in 1906. The upshot was a weakening of the conservative element in politics. Moderates were deeply divided over the Dreyfus Affair, and this allowed the Radicals to hold power from 1899 until World War I. During this period, crises like the threatened "Boulangist" coup d'état (1889) showed the fragility of the republic.
Throughout the lifetime of the Third Republic there were battles over the status of the Catholic Church. The French clergy and bishops were closely associated with the Monarchists and many of its hierarchy were from noble families. Republicans were based in the anticlerical middle class who saw the Church's alliance with the monarchists as a political threat to republicanism, and a threat to the modern spirit of progress. The Republicans detested the church for its political and class affiliations; for them, the church represented outmoded traditions, superstition and monarchism.
The Republicans were strengthened by Protestant and Jewish support. Numerous laws were passed to weaken the Catholic Church. In 1879, priests were excluded from the administrative committees of hospitals and of boards of charity. In 1880, new measures were directed against the religious congregations. From 1880 to 1890 came the substitution of lay women for nuns in many hospitals. Napoleon's 1801 Concordat continued in operation but in 1881, the government cut off salaries to priests it disliked.
The 1882 school laws of Republican Jules Ferry set up a national system of public schools that taught strict puritanincal morality but no religion. For a while privately funded Catholic schools were tolerated. Civil marriage became compulsory, divorce was introduced and chaplains were removed from the army.
When Leo XIII became pope in 1878 he tried to calm Church-State relations. In 1884 he told French bishops not to act in a hostile manner to the State. In 1892 he issued an encyclical advising French Catholics to rally to the Republic and defend the Church by participating in Republican politics. This attempt at improving the relationship failed.
Deep-rooted suspicions remained on both sides and were inflamed by the Dreyfus Affair. Catholics were for the most part anti-dreyfusard. The Assumptionists published anti-Semitic and anti-republican articles in their journal La Croix. This infuriated Republican politicians, who were eager to take revenge. Often they worked in alliance with Masonic lodges. The Waldeck-Rousseau Ministry (1899–1902) and the Combes Ministry (1902–05) fought with the Vatican over the appointment of bishops.
Chaplains were removed from naval and military hospitals (1903–04), and soldiers were ordered not to frequent Catholic clubs (1904). Combes as Prime Minister in 1902, was determined to thoroughly defeat Catholicism. He closed down all parochial schools in France. Then he had parliament reject authorisation of all religious orders. This meant that all fifty four orders were dissolved and about 20,000 members immediately left France, many for Spain.
In 1905 the 1801 Concordat was abrogated; Church and State were separated. All Church property was confiscated. Public worship was given over to associations of Catholic laymen who controlled access to churches. In practise, Masses and rituals continued. The Church was badly hurt and lost half its priests. In the long run, however, it gained autonomy—for the State no longer had a voice in choosing bishops and Gallicanism was dead.
The belle époque
The end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century was the belle époque because of peace, prosperity and the cultural innovations of Monet, Bernhardt, and Debussy, and popular amusements – cabaret, can-can, the cinema, new art forms such as Impressionism and Art Nouveau.
In 1889 the Exposition Universelle showed off newly modernised Paris to the world, which could look over it all from atop the new Eiffel Tower. Meant to last only a few decades, the tower was never removed and became France's most iconic landmark.
France was nevertheless a nation divided internally on notions of ideology, religion, class, regionalisms, and money. On the international front, France came repeatedly to the brink of war with the other imperial powers, such as the 1898 Fashoda Incident with Great Britain over East Africa.
World War I
Preoccupied with internal problems, France paid little attention to foreign policy in the 1911-14 period, although it did extend military service to three years from two over strong Socialist objections in 1913. The rapidly escalating Balkan crisis of 1914 caught France unawares, and it played only a small role in the coming of World War I. The Serbian crisis triggered a complex set of formal and secret military alliances between European states, causing most of the continent, including France, to be drawn into war within a few short weeks.
Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia in late July, triggering Russian mobilization. On 1 August both Germany and France ordered mobilization. Germany was much better prepared militarily than any of the other countries involved, including France.
Later on that day, the German Empire, as an ally of Austria, declared war on Russia. France was allied with Russia and so was ready to commit to war against the German Empire. On 3 August Germany declared war on France, going through Belgium. Britain entered the war on 4 August, and started sending in troops on 7 August.
Germany's plan was to quickly defeat the French. They captured Brussels by 20 August and soon had captured 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 (5–12 September 1914).
The war now became a stalemate — the famous "Western Front" was fought largely in France and was characterized by very little movement despite extremely large and violent battles, often with new and more destructive military technology. 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 others 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.
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, but the only defense against machine guns and artillery was to stay low in the trenches. Trench warfare prevailed on the Western Front from September 1914 until March 1918. Famous battles in France include Battle of Verdun (spanning 10 months from 21 February to 18 December 1916), Battle of the Somme (1 July to 18 November 1916), and five separate conflicts called the Battle of Ypres (from 1914 to 1918).
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 victory could be achieved mostly prior to America's delivery of full 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. However, in the Second Battle of the Marne (15 July to 6 August 1918), the Allies were able to defend and then shift to offense due in part to German fatigue and the arrival of more Americans.
The Germans, out of reinforcements, were overwhelmed day after day and the high command saw it was hopeless. Austria and Turkey collapsed, and the Kaiser's government fell. Germany signed a surrender – " The Armistice" – that ended the fighting effective 11 November 1918, "the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month."
Peace terms were imposed by the Big Four, meeting in Paris in 1919: David Lloyd George of Britain, Vittorio Orlando of Italy, Georges Clemenceau of France, and Woodrow Wilson of the United States. Clemenceau demanded the harshest terms and won most of them in the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. Germany was forced to admit its guilt for starting the war, and was permanently weakened militarily. Germany had to pay huge sums in war reparations to the Allies (who in turn had large loans from the U.S. to pay off).
France regained Alsace-Lorraine. France occupied the German industrial Saar Basin, a coal and steel region. The German African colonies were put under League of Nations mandates, and were administered by France and other victors. From the remains of the Ottoman Empire, France acquired the Mandate of Syria and the Mandate of Lebanon. French Marshal Ferdinand Foch wanted a peace that would never allow Germany to be a threat to France again, but after the Treaty of Versailles was signed he said, This is not a peace. It is an armistice for 20 years.
The war was fought in large part on French soil, with 1.4 million French dead including civilians, and four times as many military casualties.
France was part of the Allied force that occupied the Rhineland following the Armistice. Foch supported Poland in the Greater Poland Uprising and in the Polish-Soviet War and France also joined Spain during the Rif War. From 1925 until his death in 1932, Aristide Briand, as prime minister during five short intervals, directed French foreign policy, using his diplomatic skills and sense of timing to forge friendly relations with Weimar Germany as the basis of a genuine peace within the framework of the League of Nations. He realized France could neither contain the much larger Germany by itself nor secure effective support from Britain or the League.
As a response to the failure of the Weimar Republic to pay reparations in the aftermath of World War I, France occupied the industrial region of the Ruhr as a means of ensuring repayments from Germany.
In the 1920s, France established an elaborate system of border defences called the Maginot Line, designed to fight off any German attack. (Unfortunately, the Maginot Line did not extend into Belgium, where Germany attacked in 1940.) Military alliances were signed with weak powers in 1920–1921, called the " Little Entente".
The French economy fell into the doldrums during the worldwide Great Depression after 1929. Leon Blum, leading the Popular Front, brought together Socialists and Communists to become Prime Minister from 1936 to 1937; he was the first Jew to lead France. During the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939) he did not support the Spanish Republicans because of the French internal political context of complex alliances and risk of war with Germany and Italy.
Appeasement of Germany, in cooperation with Britain, was the policy after 1936, as France sought peace even in the face of Hitler's violations of the Versailles treaty and his escalating demands. Édouard Daladier refused to go to war against Germany and Italy without British support as Neville Chamberlain wanted to save peace at Munich in 1938.
World War II
Germany's Invasion of Poland in 1939 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 and helped by the Soviet Union's attack on Poland.
When Germany had its hands free for an attack in the west, the Battle of France began in May 1940, and the same Blitzkrieg 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 2 million refugees from Belgium and Holland were joined by between 8 and 10 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.
Paris fell to the Germans on 14 June 1940, and the French leaders surrendered 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 southeast to the new Vichy government.
Vichy France was established on 10 July 1940 to govern the unoccupied part of France and its colonies. The Vichy Regime – led by Philippe Pétain, the aging war hero of the First World War – 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. It was unique among the various collaborating regimes of wartime Europe in that it was established constitutionally, through the French parliament.
The Vichy regime sought to collaborate with Germany, keeping peace in France to avoid further occupation although at the expense of personal freedom and individual safety. For example, 76,000 Jews would be deported during the German occupation, often with the help of the Vichy French authorities, and murdered in the Nazis' extermination camps. There were also Frenchmen who joined the German SS and served in the Charlemagne Division. Yet despite extensive collaboration, the Vichy regime engaged a programme of arresting German intelligence agents in the unoccupied zone, with the purpose of preserving Vichy's sovereignty; around 2,000 were arrested and some were subsequently executed.
French brigadier general Charles de Gaulle declared himself on Radio Londres to be the head of a rival government in exile, and gathered the Free French Forces around him, finding support in some French colonies and recognition from Britain and the USA. 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 organized themselves against the German Occupation in the summer of 1940. However, their numbers grew as the Vichy regime resorted to more strident policies in order to fulfill the enormous demands of the Nazis and the eventual decline of Nazi Germany became more obvious. Isolated opposers eventually formed a real movement: the Resistance. The most famous figure of the French resistance was Jean Moulin, sent in France by de Gaulle in order to link all resistance movements; he was captured and 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 (June 1944).
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 Allies landed in Normandy; on 15 August Allied forces landing in Provence included 260,000 men of the French First Army. All that summer, Allied forces fought their way through France. General Leclerc liberated Paris between 19 and 25 August 1944. The Alsace capital of Strasbourg was liberated by Leclerc's French troops on 23 November 1944. The French army recruited French Forces of the Interior (de Gaulle's formal name for resistance 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 1945.
The Vichy regime flew to Germany when Paris was freed, and the interim Provisional Government of the French Republic was quickly put into place by the Free French. The gouvernement provisoire de la République française, or GPRF, operated under a tripartisme alliance of communists, socialists, and democratic republicans. The GPRF governed France only from 1944 to 1946, when it was replaced by the French Fourth Republic. However, it had a lasting impact on late-war and post-war France. Key legislative actions included declaration of the Vichy laws and acts as unconstitutional and therefore illegal, re-establishment of republican legality throughout metropolitan France, election of replacement local governments that had been suppressed by the Vichy regime, voting for women, and implementation of labour laws.
Germany surrendered effective 8 May 1945 with the German Instrument of Surrender, ending the European theatre of World War II. General Leclerc later, along with the battleship Richelieu, represented France at Tokyo during the Japanese surrender, ending World War II completely.
On 13 October 1946, a new constitution established the Fourth Republic. The Fourth Republic comprised under a parliamentary form of government controlled by a series of coalitions. During the next 16 years the French Colonial Empire would disintegrate.
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 the 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.
Suez crisis (1956)
In 1956 another crisis struck French colonies, this time in Egypt. The Suez Canal, having been built by the French government, belonged 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 nationalized 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.
The Suez crisis 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. The new constitution of the French Fifth Republic, introduced on 5 October 1958, gave greater powers to the presidency. Algeria became independent in 1962.
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 in unruly movements quickly joined with labor, and mass strikes erupted. De Gaulle responded by calling a legislative election for 23 June, in which his UDR party increased their vote, and the protests faded away during the summer.
Post Cold War
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 Centre, 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 in central coners in 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.
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.
In 2012 Sarkozy ran for re-election but was defeated by François Hollande who advocated a growth policy in contrast to the austerity policy advocated by Germany's Angela Merkel as a way of tackling the European sovereign debt crisis.