Before I begin, France has A LOT of history. I can’t cover it in detail (this is, after all, only one blog post), but I’ll do my best to do it justice. This will be a very brief sum up of France’s history. If anything interests you, I encourage you to look deeper into it. I encourage it in general. And please, if you feel like anything in this post needs a follow up, post it in the comments below! I would love to read it!
During BCE (before common era), France is split into several groups: the Gauls, the Aquitani, the Greeks, and the Belgae. The Romans, under Julius Caesar, conquered the Gallic region of France in the Gallic Wars. The war lasted from 58-51 BCE. France went through several wars in which they gained and lost land under several leaders. One of the more significant conflicts is the Hundred Year’s War, a series of wars that lasted from 1337-1453. It began after Charles IV of France died, leaving no blood heir other than Edward III of England. Edward III was Charles IV’s nephew and Phillip IV of France’s grandson which made him the last living male member of the House of Capet (aka House of France). Edward III’s Mother Isabella of France was unable to claim the throne due to a principle established in 1316 that made it impossible for women to succeed the throne so Isabella claimed it for her son. The French rejected this claim, stating that Isabella didn’t have the right to assert a ruler of France. The French wanted the House of Valois to control France, and so the House of Valois and the House of Plantagenet went to war to decide who would rule over France. Joan of Arc entered the war in 1429, helped retake the city of Orléans, France, inspired the takeback of several other cities, and then was killed by the English in 1430. In the end, the French won, and Charles VII (aka Charles the Victorious) remained King of France. The most notable changes that came from the Hundred Year’s War were: the democratization of the French army, the modernization of weapons and the creation of French nationalism. During the Hundred Year’s War, the Black Death broke out (between 1348-1353). The Black Death is one of the most catastrophic pandemics; a plague that resulted in the death of something between 75-200 million people (worldwide).
More wars over land and religion ensued. One of those was a war with Italy, the First Italian War (over land and power), in which they lost but became inspired by the Italian Renaissance so they came home and started the French Renaissance. The French Renaissance was a cultural and artistic movement in France between the 15th-17th centuries. Most notably what came from the French Renaissance was the spread of humanism, exploration of the “New World,” the development of art, an elaboration of etiquette and the urbanization of Paris. More wars happened. Louis XIV created the idea of an absolute monarchical rule, known as the divine right of kings, which made the monarch more powerful than everyone, except for God. This means he was better than, and therefore didn’t have to listen to the people, the aristocracy, or even the church. More wars followed that made France the primal power in Europe.
In 1754, conflicts over territories in North America with the English led to the Seven Year War. The English won in 1763 which led to the French losing “New France” which consisted of territories in North America, Spanish Florida, several islands in the West Indies, the colony of Senegal on the West African coast, and superiority over the French trading outposts in India. This loss also meant that France was no longer the primal power in Europe anymore. Upset about this, the French assisted the Americans in their upheaval against the British in the American Revolutionary War. They did this hoping that it would help them gain back some of the land they lost in the Seven Year War, however it left them in further debt, and they gained very little from it.
After the recent wars (Seven Year War and American Revolutionary War) left the French bankrupt, a highly inefficient tax system screwed over the poor, years of bad harvests lead to increased food prices, malnutrition, and hunger, the rich couldn’t give a damn about the majority of France’s problems. All of which led to the French Revolutionary War. Notable events that occurred during the French Revolutionary War were: the storming of the Bastille (will cover in greater detail later), the curtailment of the church powers (this law reorganized the French Catholic Church, made it so the salaries of the priests would be paid by the state, abolished the Church’s authority to levy a tax on crops, and again cancelled some privileges for the clergy), and the creation of a constitutional monarchy (the King has to share power with an elected legislative assembly). Napoleon Bonaparte was a military and political figure that came to rise during the French Revolutionary War. Napoleon did a lot, however, the biggest impacts he had were: he shifted more power to Paris so that all decisions about France would be made in Paris, decreased hostility between the government and the church, came up with a modernized, more efficient tax system, made it so any man could serve in the army rather than the aristocrats choosing for them, and most importantly, helped create the Napoleonic Code (According to Wikipedia: “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.”). After Napoleon died, France became politically unstable with the government changing every few months (even during peaceful times).
And you know what happened next! More wars over land and religion! Eventually the French railway system became popular which led to the modernization of French rural cities, and helped facilitate the rise of the industrial revolution. In 1869, the French said “NON” to the possible candidate to the throne of Spain, Prince Leopold von Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen. The war over that (the Franco-Prussian War) ended with the Treaty of Frankfurt which meant the newly formed German Empire could keep Alsace and Lorraine (previously French provinces). Franz Ferndinand, an Austrian archduke, was shot and a shit ton of countries went to war with each other (World War I). Eventually France joined in, partly out of obligation, partly because they were hoping to get the provinces back that they had lost in the Franco-Prussian War. The Great Depression finally hit France around 1931, though not nearly as hard as it hit some other countries.
Germany invaded Poland in 1939 which forced Britain and France to declare war on Germany even though they REAAAAAALLLLLLLYYYY didn’t want to. In 1940, Germany defeated and occupied France but the Allies (the side France was on) won in 1945. After World War II, France was financially and socially messed up. Charles de Gaulle stepped up to put France’s shit back in order. He founded the fifth republic (France’s current system of government), initiated the “Politics of Grandeur” which stated that France shouldn’t rely on other countries for national protection and prosperity, withdrew the French military from NATO, and restored Franco-German relations.
The dissolution of the Soviet Union lessened tension in France leading to the reduction in their nuclear arsenal. Although nuclear threat went down, terrorism became more prevalent. To this day, terrorism in France remains a highly controversial topic. But when it does happen, the French remain strongly unified. Vive la France!
Or if watching videos is more your thing, check out Suibhne’s sum up of French history! It’s magnificent!:
And if you want to hear more about World War II, feel free to watch Eddie Izzard’s bit about it (he curses a lot):