France is the classic country for the exploration of the oldest human cultures in Europe (Paleolithic Age). Findings there have often given names to cultures and periods. Good conditions have been found for making stratigraphic observations in caves and on river terraces, among other things. in Sommedalen. The oldest traces of humans come from the Vallonnet find site, a small cave on the Mediterranean coast near Menton, where hunters stayed during a warm-up period of 900,000 (or perhaps 700,000) years ago. An equally old hunt for hunters on an ancient lake is known from Soleihac in the Central Massif. Evidence for developed and versatile human activity is later and can be attributed to a different site of discovery, an approximately 400,000-year-old abode with Terra Amata, Nice (mind-ice age, acheulene culture) with simple tools such as hand wedges; a footprint has also been observed.
About 300,000 years old (Riss ice age) is a skull (Homo sapiens) from the Arago cave at Tautavel in the Pyrenees. Findings of Neanderthal people and their tools in the form of slices and tips (moustérien culture, Würm ice age) are known from France. To see more information other than history, please visit Abbreviationfinder to learn more about climate, population, government, and economy for the country of France. The younger Paleolithic culture of the later Würm Ice Age (c. 38,000-10,000 BC) had a rich development in the area (the periods of Aurignacia, Solutree, Magdalenia) with tools of broken flint, various bone implements and Paleolithic art such as carvings, paintings and sculptures. Settlements in caves are well known. In France there are paleolithic finds of people of the current human type (Homo sapiens sapiens), e.g. cromagnon man and grimaldim man.
Mesolithic time is characterized by small flint implements (microliters) and new forms of bone harpoon. Azile is estimated to begin around 10,000 BC and is followed by other periods (the cultures Sauveterria, the Tardenoisia), which then gradually slide into Neolithic times, in the south about 5,000 BC. and in the north about 3,500. Early in Provence there were cave settlements, showing the combination of hunting and arable farming. Obsidian for gear indicates connection with the Mediterranean. In the north one can trace Central European cultures of the Danube type. In the east, pile buildings in the lakes were built under the influence of Swiss territory, a form that remained during the Bronze Age.
Characteristic of the Neolithic era are numerous megalithic monuments: dozes and tombs (dolmens à couloir), stone coffins (allées couvertes), erected stones in alignments as in Carnac (Morbihan) and erected stones (menhirs), to a large extent with figures. One center is Brittany, another Provence, but they have further spread. During the latter part of the Neolithic period, the cultures are metal-carrying (copper stone age); This belongs to the bell-cup culture, which characterized large parts of the country during the latter part of the 2000s BC.
The Bronze Age culture (1800–700 BC) arose through a fusion of various elements, in which metal-carrying bell-shaped culture was of great importance, but also where the battle ax culture left traces. In the west, megalithic monuments were still used during the Bronze Age. During the Middle Bronze Age, rich eastern ranges of ornamented weapons, needles, etc. are found in the eastern depots. In the late Bronze Age came from the east fire burial condition with earthenware and small bronze (urn burial culture). Then there were villages on the shores of the alpine lakes with contact to the east. In the south you can see connections with Italy. Noteworthy are rock carvings in Monte Bego, about 80 km north of Nice, with about 100,000 images of animals, weapons, etc. The late Bronze Age forms the transition to the hall state culture and coincides with its older phases.
With the Hallstatt culture came the Iron Age, which first appeared in Burgundy about 700 BC. and gained rich development under the influence of Central Europe with connections to the east and to Italy. From the east and on trade routes from the Mediterranean, Etruscan-Italian influences were mediated, such as in the tombs with four-wheeled wagons. Well-known trenches with rich equipment were found in Sainte-Colombe and Vix at the fortified settlement of Mont-Lassois in the area between Upper Seine and Rhone. Others are the relatively new found Apremont (Haute-Saône) and Gurgy (Picardie). Greek vases came in via it about 600 BC. founded Massalia on the Mediterranean.
The Hallstatt culture had a wide spread in the country. It was replaced by the Latin culture, supported by the Celts. These invaded the country from the north, settled and merged with indigenous tribes. They brought up the tradition of the hall state culture with rich tombs with wagons and import items.
Latin culture characterized the development from the 400s BC. to the Roman conquest. Typical are fortified settlements, upside down, which often goes back to the hall state culture, and the vibrant ornamental style that adorned weapons and jewelry. Distinct shrines with sacrificial finds can have monumental sculpture with cultic content as in Entremont. The Celts had long-distance contacts and began to model coins with Greek coins. The Latin culture was given way to the Romans, who gradually conquered the country beginning in the south, where, for example, Entremont was invaded in 124 BC. Other Celtic strongholds were Ensérune in the south, Bibracte – found at Mont Beuvray in Saône-et-Loire – and Alésia in Côte-d’Or, the latter known for crucial battles between Celts and Romans.
After being in the 300s and 200s BC having mastered Gaul became the Celts during the last century BC displaced but left strong cultural traces. When the Romans and the provincial Roman culture released their hold over Gaul, the Franks and Germanic culture entered the beginning of the 400s AD.
The Roman period
After the Second Punic War (218–201 BC), the Romans abandoned trade with southern France and began to show political and military interest in the area. After the war against the allobrews in the 120s BC the province of Gallia Narbonensis was established. Regarding the continued Roman conquest, as well as the administrative development of the provinces, see Gaul.
Despite major Gallic insurgency movements in 21 and 69-70 AD the novelization was successful. Retreat schools were set up in major cities, and the local aristocracy quickly became Latinized. Already in the first century AD made a number of Gallic great men’s political careers in Rome, and in the following one of their descendants reached the emperor’s throne (Antoninus Pius, reigned 138–161). Latin was widely spread through the army and trade, but in the countryside the Celtic survived until the 300s.
For the Roman Empire, France was an important agricultural area that exported grain, wine, olive oil and animal products. With the help of its well-functioning waterways, France soon developed to the core of a lively trade area comprising mainly the Iberian Peninsula, Britannia and Germania. The economic expansion also included extensive production and export of fine ceramics (terra sigillata), glass and bronze products.
France was badly affected by the peasant uprisings (compare backwards) and the Germanic invasions of the 20th century; lands were destroyed, urban areas decreased and trade slowed.
The following century brought about a certain recovery, but after 406, when a number of Germanic tribes crossed the Rhine, the central power never regained full control of the area. Visigoths and Burgundians established kingdoms in the south, and the Franks spread from their homelands between the Rhine and Schelde south and west towards Loire and the Atlantic coast. The last remainder of Roman administration was crushed at Soisson in 486, when the self-ruler Syagrius was defeated by the French king Klodvig I.
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The Merovings (486–751). For the next fifty years, Klodvig and his closest successors in the Merovingian royal kingdom laid the foundations for a Frankish empire from the North Sea to the Mediterranean by defeating the Burgundians and Visigoths. This France was not a unified state formation. It was repeatedly shared between the Merovingian kings, which led to numerous fraternity battles with ever-changing coalitions.
The kingdom of France was a sparsely populated, mostly wooded country. Agriculture was extremely primitive and yielded such a low yield that large earthenware was required to provide for a gentleman or a monastery. In addition, during the period up to the mid-seventies, Western Europe was ravaged by several devastating pest epidemics, which further decimated the population. The troubled conditions left their mark on society as a whole. The free Franks (the word franc was synonymous with ‘free’ in medieval French) were warriors and the rest of the population were mostly slaves or free peasants (serfs). The latter had submitted to some local stormman to enjoy his patronage. The classical culture was kept alive for a few generations, mainly in the cities in the south, but gradually the ruling elite ceased to be literate. Only within the church was the literary tradition passed on.
Klodvig had been baptized, and the following merovings became eager protectors of the church. Several large monasteries were founded by kings and great men in the Franconian main area north of the Loire, including Corbie and Saint-Denis in Paris.
After the middle of the 600s, the Frankish kings lost political control. Local chiefs at the forefront of the armed corps ruled almost unrestricted in their territories and were able to set conditions to participate in the annual wars against aliens, bajuas and other enemies. The royal domain was reduced by gifts and grants to these great men, but also to churches and monasteries. Even at the court, the last merovings lost all real power, which instead fell into the hands of a sort of prime minister called the mayor domus (actually ‘house manager’). This dignity came to be inherited within one family, the future Carolingians. Among their ancestors were Pippin of Héristal, who in 680 became a major domus at the court in Austrasia, ie. the Franconian mainland in the north.
Pippin’s son, Karl Martell, carried out the reunification of the Frankish Empire from the 710s. He defeated one after the other by the country’s external enemies, the scissors, the Bajuas, the Alemans and finally the prominent Arabs in the historic battle of Poitiers 732. Since Karl died in 741, his energetic war policy was continued by his son Pippin, called the little one (Pépin le Bref). He soon deposed Childerik III, the last Meroving, and allowed himself to be elected king by a national assembly in Soissons (751).
The Carolingians (751–987). Before he died in 768, Pippin had subdued Aquitaine and brought his troops to the Langobards Italy. The kingdom his son Karl inherited thus covered large areas far away from the original Franconian core region. Karl, who was later nicknamed the Great (Charlemagne), further expanded the kingdom. He waged war against the rebellious scissors and the Frisians in the north as well as against the Bajuis in the east, and in 774 he conquered large parts of the Langobardian kingdom. Four years later he crossed the Pyrenees towards Catalonia. On their way home from that expedition, the Frankish succession happened in the ambush of Roncesvalles singing. in the Roland song.
Like their predecessors the Merovings, the Carolingians first and foremost built their position on the successes they could achieve as leaders of the war offering. The incessant conquests in Saxony, Thuringia, Bavaria and Italy provided rich bargains and large earthen goods to lend to the Frankish great men who, with their companions, were at the heart of the armed forces.
King Charles the Great. No “France” existed yet. The core country of France, Austrasia, extended to a region that today covers both northern France, Belgium and northwestern Germany. Nor were the Frankish kings, whether merovings or Carolingians, intended to create a nation-state in the modern sense. The territory was for them a resource, not an organic whole. They did not hesitate to divide it time and time again among their heirs.
Major men from other peoples such as the Bajuvar and Langobards were ordained in the Carolingian elite, although the key posts were retained by members of the old Frankish main man circle who had already supported the Carolingian monarchy from the beginning. Thus the kingdom of Karl the Great had a cosmopolitan character, where Roman and Germanic existed side by side without merging everywhere. To the extent that a national thought at all existed, it did not have a national content but instead linked to the ancient Roman or the existing Byzantine empire. One expression of this was when Karl Christmas Day in 800 was crowned Emperor of the Pope in Rome.
The national unit also came to be only temporary. The centrifugal forces were strong, and after the middle of the 8th century, an order was established throughout the Frankish empire where almost all political and economic power was reassembled in the hands of local and regional officials and church leaders. Karl the Great had built up a state administration, where the kingdom was divided into counties. The counties had both military and civilian functions, and they took their income directly from the province. Although they were supervised by special imperial agents (missions), they nevertheless gained an increasingly independent position. The county soon became hereditary. It is from this fusion of public authority and private land that feudalism emerges at this stage and takes on its classic form.
The disintegration of the kingdom. Karl had also intended to divide the kingdom between his sons, but only one of them, Louis I (the pious), survived the father and inherited the emperor’s dignity. During his reign the cultural flourishing that was called the Carolingian Renaissance developed, but then the kingdom also began to be employed by dangerous external enemies such as Saracens, Magyars and Vikings. At Ludwig’s death, there was a dispute over the inheritance between his sons, and they met on several occasions, including in Verdun 843, to divide the kingdom of France between them. From the end of the 8th century, a more permanent division of the Carolingian kingdom appeared. The westernmost region, which, in 843, fell to Charles the Bald, became the foundation of the future France. It stretched from Flanders in the north to Barcelona in the south.
The last kings of the Carolingian lineage lost direct control over both national institutions such as the Franciscan war encroachment and over large parts of the territory. In practice, a number of duchies and counties achieved complete independence from the king. Among them were Catalonia, Gascony and Toulouse in the south, Anjou and Brittany in the west, Normandy and Flanders in the north, Champagne and Burgundy in the east. With the election of 987 by the Frankish duke Hugo Capet, a new one was founded and as it would prove a viable royal dynasty.
The breakthrough of feudalism. However, the mutual fighting between the chiefs continued and created, as well as the attacks on the basis of generally unsafe conditions. This led to a further disintegration of political power. Farmers and peoples had to try to get by standing under the patronage of a local storm. The feudal lords surrounded themselves with the followers of faithful (fideles), often sons of men of slightly lower dignity, warriors and churchmen. They exercised power in their territories with weapons in hand and at their own discretion. To the people of today, society appeared as divided into three positions: the many who worked, the few who prayed or waged war.
France was still a primitive and violent society. External attacks did end at the end of the 9th century, but the uncertainty among ordinary people was nevertheless great. The gentlemen’s fortified house, which from this time began to be erected in stone, became the peasants’ refuge when the ambitious army corps appeared to ravage and plunder. The Church, with the support of kings and dukes, sought to alleviate the customs through their preaching and by ordering special periods of peace, the so-called god’s peace (treugae Dei), in connection with the great ecclesiastical feasts.
Better times. Some signs also indicate a beginning of economic growth. New land was broken on the outskirts of the old villages. Water mills were built, and agricultural productivity was increased through increased use of the heavy wheel plow and of the horse – instead of the ox or donkey – as draft animals. These tendencies were still only in the making and were fully realized only in the 12th century.
It was in the individual principalities that the decentralizing forces of feudalism were first halted. As the pressure from the outside eased, the chiefs could devote their resources to consolidating their own domains. Most successful in that regard were the dukes of Normandy. Over the course of the 11th century, they achieved unquestioned personal authority and were able to build up a state administration and a uniform legal system, which had strikingly modern features. Similar, albeit less pronounced, trends can be found in Anjou, Flanders and Île-de-France. The latter was the core country in the territory of the Capetian kings.
The royal power is consolidated. The Capetins could derive some prestige from the kingdom itself. Through the Church’s participation, this was even granted a feature of holiness. It soon became customary for the kings to be crowned and anointed with holy oil in the cathedral of Reims with the help of archbishops and abbots. They also still had the formal feudal supremacy of dukes and counties. But in practice, they had little opportunity to make this claim. When they finally succeeded in creating a national kingdom, it was partly due to a combination of luck and calculating caution. Hugo Capet’s first six successors (up to 1223) had reigns on average close to forty years, and they also all came to power as ordinary men. This provided a continuity and statute for the monarchy that was lacking in other countries with less robust dynasties.
The first capitals devoted themselves to consolidating and gradually expanding their domain around Paris and Orleans. Their freedom of movement was significantly hampered by neighboring large counties such as Flanders and Champagne. In addition, from 1066, they were confronted with the dangerous threat from the Norman kings of England, who also ruled in Normandy.
In the middle of the 12th century, the English crown passed to the Plantagenet house, which by inheritance and marriage laid Anjou, Auvergne and Aquitaine, ie. most of western and central France, under English control. It was in settlements with these powerful princes that the latter capitals laid the foundation for a strong French royal power. Philip II was particularly successful (King 1180–1223). He married Artois in the north and conquered from his English rivals Normandy, Anjou, Maine and Touraine. He also cleared the way for his successors’ acquisition of Languedoc and Toulouse. Up to about 1230 there was thus a dramatic increase in the royal domain in western and southern France.
As the large counties returned to the crown, it became common for kings to set aside some of them as a maintenance land (apanage) for a younger brother or cousin. After a few generations, this had led to many of the kingdom’s great-natives being closely related to the royal house.
Under Philip August’s closest successor, the central power was further strengthened. Louis IX (the saint; 1226–70) organized local government to give the king greater control even in those counties that had not yet been returned to the crown. The state’s increasingly extensive data made insufficient income from the krone domain. Philip IV (the beautiful; 1285-1314) therefore took the right to tax church property and thus came into conflict with the papacy.
A flowering time. In many respects, the 12th and 13th centuries were the pinnacle of medieval culture. There was a sharp increase in population. A tax registration of all fireplaces (households) from 1328 indicates a crowd of at least seventeen million. France was thus Europe’s largest nation. New crops continued, and the demand for labor in agriculture led to the disappearance of the feudal quality of life. Cities became increasingly important as commercial and industrial centers. A bourgeoisie, but also a city proletariat, emerged. The annual markets in Champagne became the centers of international trade.
One sign of prosperity was the construction of the new Gothic-style cathedrals, which from the 11th century spread from the Paris area (Saint-Denis) all over Western Europe. Another evidence of the vital dynamics of society was the Crusades, which were largely French companies. The contemporary also called them “the work of God through the French” (Gesta Dei per Francos).
The royal power and the church. The cathedral buildings and crusades were an expression of the central role played by religion and the church. The kings could long benefit from the conflict between the German-Roman emperors and the pope (the investiture struggle) and govern the French church in their own minds. When a conflict over the church tax finally broke out in the early 1300s, Philip IV wasstrong enough to be able to resort to brusque methods. He moved the pope’s residence from Rome to Avignon. However, the unity of the Church had already been threatened from within. In the southern parts of the country, especially in Languedoc, since the 12th century, heretical movements, electoral deeds and albigenses, were widespread. They rejected the Catholic Church as too worldly and chose to live in chastity and Christian denial. They were eagerly fought both by the church and the state. The Inquisition was set up and placed in the hands of the new Dominican Order. It was through crusades against this heretical landowner that southern France in the 1220s was incorporated into the royal domain.
Kris Character. The feudal economy of the Middle Ages had finally reached the limit of its growth ability. The increase in population and colonization had led to marginal land being laid under the plow. It gave in the long run for poor returns and had to be abandoned. The first signs of difficulties were that many of the large noble estates, especially in Brittany and Normandy, had from the end of the 13th century lower interest income. At the same time, industrial cities such as Ghent and Bruges began to feel food shortages. However, it is not until the 13th century that the crisis becomes more general. The years 1315-17 were characterized by severe famine throughout northwestern Europe.
The house Valois (1328–1589)
Philip IV ‘s three sons reigned after the other, but all died without male heirs. Their older sister Isabella was married to Edward II of England, and her descendants, especially the future Edward III, were able to claim the French crown on behalf of England. This was a major reason for excluding women from the throne, citing the old Frankish (“Salian”) law. With Philip VI (1328–50) the crown instead went to the house Valois.
Hundred. The dispute with the English kings about the French succession, as well as Philip’s hard-handed policy in Flanders, led to the outbreak of the centenary war in 1337. It started with English successes both at sea (Sluys 1340) and ashore (Crécy 1346), thereby establishing a permanent support point in Calais. But otherwise, the French defeats did not have any significant territorial consequences.
However, the war was also continued on French soil and, together with the great pestilence epidemic “black death” (the death of poets) in 1348–49, led to a sharp decline in both population and production. The countryside was devastated by the two royal armies, but also by freely ambitious companies, which served where it suited them. Lawlessness and violence led to a re-weakening of the royal power. A group of great men along with the bourgeoisie in Paris under the leadership of the elder Étienne Marcel demanded peace and increased political influence. When the latter sought attachment to rebellious groups in the Flemish cities and among the peasants in the northern French countryside (la jacquerie), he lost the support of the superiors, and the entire opposition movement could be suppressed. However, it was a sign of the times.
With the war as direct motivation, the foundation had been laid for new and important institutions for the future: a modern tax system linked to a representative national assembly. The declining tax base during the recession already wanted Filip VI to compensate by introducing commodity taxes. Most important and most hated was the tax on salt (la gabelle). His successor also sought political support for the goods tax by summoning general states (états généraux), which included both noblemen, priests and gentlemen.
After 1360, a period of relative peace and recovery began. The countryside was cleared of military robberies by engaging in war trains in Spain. King Karl V (1364–80) also succeeded in offering effective resistance when the war in the 1370s broke out again. But under his son and successor came new difficulties. Charles VI (1380–1422) was impotent at the death of his father and soon came under the influence of his powerful cousins, the dukes of Burgundy and Orleans. The latter’s power of power was later taken over by the Armagnac house.
Since Karl VI 1392 had become insane, the fighting between the two parties (bourguignons and armagnacs) came to characterize the political events for a long time. The Duke of Burgundy allied himself with the English king, and they both acquired dominion over Paris and Northern France. The confused Karl VI was forced to relinquish the throne of the English king Henry V, who married his daughter (1420). When the two monarchs died shortly thereafter, an English-French staff union arose during the incapable Henry VI of England. However, it was short-lived.
Deputy Karl Karl of Valois ruled the southern part of the country and had settled in Bourges. In 1429, the young girl Jeanne d’Arc appeared at his court. She said she had God’s mission to save France and immediately became the symbol of a new will. In April of that year, she led the storming of Orléans, from where the French troops pushed further north. In the summer, Karl was crowned and anointed by Valois as Karl VII of Reims. This became the turning point. Jeanne was captured shortly afterwards and burned as a witch by the English, and the war continued for a few more decades, but now in the form of French recaptures in the West. When the fighting ended in 1453, England had Calais as the only support point on the mainland.
The period of the Hundred Years War has generally been negatively assessed in national French historical writing. The military defeats, the degradation of the royal power and the country’s destruction through warfare and pestilence epidemics have been highlighted. It is true that both population and population decreased sharply. But those who remained probably got it better, as prices fell when agricultural productivity again increased.
Although the royal central power was weakened for long periods, the war also laid the first foundation for a more modern administration based on annual taxes, a civil service and a standing army. These changes were still quite limited and mostly just a prediction of the strong royal power that would emerge in the latter part of the 15th century, but they were nevertheless the result of the social transformation brought by the wars, the Potshots and the economic crises.
Recovery. After 1450, the entire Western European economy was emerging from its more than 100-year depression. The French peasant population increased again, food prices rose and cities flourished. Together with the peace, this gave the royal power new resources. Dependence on Standing Assemblies gradually diminished. The central provinces were made into pays d’élections, where taxes were set directly by the king. Only in the large newly-invented regions at the borders of the kingdom such as Brittany, Normandy and Languedoc, which were pays d’états, the states retained at least the formal decision-making power on the annual tax collection.
Central control also increased over the military organization. During the centennial war, the army had been assembled in regional units under the command of the local chiefs. Now professional groups were recruited, which were held together in uniformly organized royal infantry companies. Their loyalty was to a greater extent directed at their royal master. Added to this was a cavalry with volunteer nobles as a core troop. These compagnies d’ordonnance, together with the new infantry of about 30,000 men, constituted a powerful instrument for the expansive policy both in the country and in Italy initiated by the French kings towards the end of the 14th century.
The regional chiefs, including the princes with royal blood and their own apanages, were still influential, both militarily and politically. A real threat to the national unit was the Duchy of Burgundy, which at that time had been extended with Flanders and the Netherlands. It became a major task for Charles VII ‘s successors to keep the powerful Burgundian dukes afloat. A decisive event occurred in 1477, when Louis XIin coalition with Austria and the Swiss cantons, Karl the bold of Burgundy defeated and killed Nancy. A few years later, the great legacy after the Anjou house returned to the crown. This included, besides the county of Anjou, the whole of Provence and the claims of the royal crown in Naples-Sicily. The latter became the pretext for the numerous warships against Italy begun in 1494 by Charles VIII. They soon continued with the cape against the Habsburg Empire in Italy and Spain, until the middle of the following century.
Renaissance culture and religious war. The Italian wars became unsuccessful in the sense that French influence south of the Alps in the long run could not be asserted. However, the campaigns helped keep the Habsburg power development somewhat in check. During the long reign of Francis I (1515–47), contacts with Italy also led to a cultural flourishing in the spirit of Renaissance and humanism.
In the shadow of the war, a thorough restructuring of French society took place. Centralization continued, and the need for royal officials was increasingly fulfilled by selling the higher offices to wealthy citizens. The system meant the Church’s final separation from the political administration. The office could be made hereditary and brought nobility. This new office saddle, noblesse de robe, at least initially became a counterweight to the older warrior and landowner noble (noblesse d’epée) but gradually tended to merge with it. In any case, the system gave rise to a secularization of the administration and a social movement that helped to dampen the contradictions.
However, there were plenty of them. Religious issues came to the fore again through the Reformation. During the reign of Henry II (1547–59), large population groups, especially in the southern parts of the country, joined the teachings of Calvin. They were called Huguenots and soon came into open conflict with all those who remained faithful to Catholicism. Especially after 1560, when the war against Habsburg ended and the counter-reform had started, the religious parties were against each other, often in open and bloody conflict (cf. Bartolomein Night). Henry II ‘s three sons (Frans II, Karl IX, Henry III), who ruled one after another, were unable to control development. Instead, high-ranking families such as Guise, Condé and Bourbon emerged as leaders of the parties. The religious conflict was increasingly characterized by a power struggle within the elite.
This was emphasized by the emergence of theorists such as les politiques, who advocated a rational political solution; or like Jean Bodin, who called for support behind a unifying royal power. Elements of both of these strategies were included in the program introduced by the Huguenots leader Henrik of Navarre in the 1580s. He belonged to the Bourbon family, which was closely related to the royal house. When Henry III, the last Valois king, was assassinated in 1589, Henry of Navarre stood closest to the succession and ascended the throne as Henry IV. Soon, in the name of unity, he transitioned to Catholicism, which he acknowledged as the majority’s belief. But he also gradually exploited his increasingly powerful political position by securing in the famous edict of Nantes (1598) certain limited freedoms of the Huguenots.
The Bourbon House (1589–1789)
Henry IV (1589–1610) had created both inner and outer peace. In later and darker times, in the memory of the people, the good King Henry’s days shone: then every Frenchman had a chicken in his pot. But the problems that led to the war were not solved. Religious issues were still at the forefront, especially since the King began to pursue a foreign policy with the Cape against the Catholic superpowers, Spain and the Habsburg emperor. That line came to dominate French politics also under his successor Louis XIII (1610–43). It provided support for the Dutch freedom struggle and later for the Protestant states, including Sweden, which were involved in the Thirty Years War.
The large and self-reliant Prince families like Condé and Guise were kept out of government. Instead, the king relied on low-minded advisers, including Huguenot Sully. This, as the Minister of Finance, gave the system of sale of state offices a firmer form by demanding from the holders an annual interest charge (la paulette).
Ministerial Government (1624–61). For nearly four decades, the French government came to be dominated by two almost single royal advisers, first Cardinal Richelieu, who was the first minister from 1624 to his death in 1642; then Mazarin, also his cardinal, who died in 1661. Both were tirelessly active in strengthening the king’s power, especially by blocking the political ambitions of the princes and the other nobles, but in Richelieu’s case also by abolishing the right of the Huguenots to arms and fortifications.
Outwardly, Henry IV ‘s policy of countering Habsburgs in Germany, Spain and Italy was followed. From the middle of the 1630s France actively participated in the Thirty Years War and contributed to the settlement of the Westphalian Peace in 1648. Against Spain, the war continued for another decade (Pyrenees peace in 1659). During these long wars, the old system of acquiring private companies under noble management had to a large extent been forced to resume. When peace came, however, a major expansion and modernization of the royal army that had been created in the 1400s began in the 1660s. The civil administration also got a firmer organization, among other things through the commissioners, powerful officials who represented royal politics everywhere in the provinces.
One last time before the Great Revolution, large-scale groups tried to stop the expansion of central power during the uprisings between 1648 and 1653 called the fronde (la fronde) and which targeted the Mazarin regime. But they were suppressed, and the leaders, including the prince of Condé, were forced into exile. The old feudal elite, with its armed followers and rebellious tendencies, eventually gave way to a bureaucratic nobility, whose interests were closely associated with the monarchical state power embodied in the king and until now represented by his prime minister.
The Age of Louis XIV (1661-1715). At Mazarin’s death in 1661, Louis XIV announced his intention to lead the government himself. His energy, willpower and immense self-esteem made the company easier for him. But the complicated government apparatus could not do without ministers, and among the many king came to his aid, Finance Minister Colbert was the most prominent. Through his efforts, the tax collection was streamlined, so that the great wars, the foreign subsidies and the extravagant castle buildings could be financed. This did not succeed in the long run. When Ludvig died in 1715, he left behind a national debt estimated at 2 billion livres.
Louis waged four major wars: the devolution war of 1667-68 against Spain in exchange gave fortresses in the Spanish Netherlands; the coalition war of 1672–79 against the Netherlands, Spain and the emperor gave Franche-Comté and Haiti; the Palatinate succession war of 1688–97 against most of the states of Western Europe led to extensive losses at the Rhine border, including the bulk of Lorraine; and the Spanish war of succession in 1701–14 against roughly the same enemies had the result that a Bourbon was put on the Spanish throne but was otherwise a bad deal for Ludvig.
The indomitable wars at all borders of the kingdom have long been interpreted as an expression of the king’s reckless indignation and lack of political judgment. Such elements have certainly been included in the picture. However, recent research has also emphasized the continuity of Henry IV ‘s and thirty-year war: the Rhine campaigns against both the Netherlands and the German states have had security policy aspects and aimed at creating shorter and more easily defended borders. In any case, the war was a constant strain on the French people. The burdens became so much more noticeable that the long economic cycle in the middle of the 17th century had again turned downwards.
France now emerged not only as the leading continental power but also as a shipping nation with colonial ambitions. In Asia, support points were acquired on the Indian East Coast. French settlements were established in Canada and around lower Mississippi, and in the Caribbean, sugar plantations were built with slave labor. This paved the way for conflicts on the world seas, especially with the other major naval powers of England and the Netherlands.
During Louis XIV – King Sol – France won a cultural hegemony in Europe that was unprecedented and which would last throughout the 18th century. The French became everywhere the language of diplomacy and the upper class, and from Paris and Versailles the style was dictated in all arts. But under the glossy surface, deep-seated problems were hidden. The social system with a single state power and a privileged upper class that has gone to history under the name l’ancien régimewas full of contradictions, which foretold its doom. Economically, there seemed to be no development opportunities. Agricultural productivity was still so low and the transportation system so underdeveloped that only a couple of years of growth led to widespread famine. The capital formation that took place in successful bourgeois circles was mostly invested in land properties, which yielded low returns but social prestige. The contrast between the luxury of the elite and the poverty of the people was underlined by the arrogance by which the noble gentlemen treated the nobility, whether they were wealthy citizens or ordinary craftsmen and peasants.
The Age of Enlightenment (1715–89). The period between Louis XIVThe death and the outbreak of the revolution are characterized outwardly by France’s commitment as a European great power in equilibrium politics and dynastic wars (Polish War of Succession 1733-38, Austrian War of Succession 1740-48 and Seven Years’ War 1756-63). Of pervasive importance was the great conflict with Britain which during the Seven Years’ War mainly took place on the world seas and in the colonies, Canada and India. It ended with France being forced to withdraw on both fronts and meant the dismantling of large parts of the French colonial empire. In the North American War of Independence (1775–83), they engaged on the side of the insurgency. All these war companies contributed more than the waste of the court and the nobility to further undermine government finances. The smallest war cost considerably more than the largest castle building.
During his long reign, Louis XV (1715-74) made half-hearted attempts to change the old system from above as an enlightened despot. One obstacle to the reforms was the resistance of the civil servant. In particular, the parliaments, higher courts with the power to review and register new laws, sat down. The king could, of course, force them to give in by introducing himself to the sessions (lit de justice). On the other hand, he was unable to set aside unfavorable judges, as they held their posts as hereditary offices. General states (les états généraux) had not been convened since the beginning of the 17th century. Political dissatisfaction increased.
France’s population had steadily increased following the great decline of the late Middle Ages. It now exceeded twenty million, and the countryside was severely overcrowded by poorer peasant and farmer groups. The traditional organization of agriculture with family use in village co-operation was an obstacle to technological development, and the yield per unit was still very low compared to conditions in e.g. Great Britain and the Netherlands. Louis XVI(1774–92) sought to gain popularity by withdrawing some of his representative’s reforms and reconciling himself with the mighty Paris Parliament. This step back gave him few sympathizers and aggravated the already difficult situation. One finance minister after another made fruitless attempts to decontaminate government finances so that they could start repaying the huge government debt. After the middle of the 1780s, the demands for political and economic reform became so widespread both within the nobility and among unruly groups that the king was eventually forced to give in and summon the general states until the spring of 1789.
The Great Revolution (1789–99)
The first revolutionary step was taken in the summer of 1789, when the general states, against the king’s will, abolished the division and transformed themselves into the Constituent National Assembly. (For a more detailed treatment of the background of the revolution, progress, etc., see the French Revolution.) At the same time, widespread unrest in both cities and rural areas gave the revolution a popular touch, which would exert a push on the more cautious of the politicians.
The National Assembly abolished the feudal rights in August but at the same time gave the old gentlemen legal right to compensation for their losses. The right to vote was limited to the so-called active citizens, ie. those who owned real estate and paid direct taxes. Already these measures cleared the tension between radical and more conservative elements among the legislators. The contradictions would deepen over the next few years and, step by step, lead to a radicalization of the revolution. One such step was when nationalizing the church property (fall 1789) and putting the priests under civil administration (summer 1790), which caused a break with the papacy.
The Constituent National Assembly was followed in October 1791 by the so-called Legislative Assembly. In April 1792, France declared war on Austria, on whose side Prussia soon dissolved. (For wars and coalitions 1792-1815, see also the Revolutionary Wars.) When the enemy invaded the country, a national uprising again took place, and the masses captured the royal family. A new National Assembly, the Convention, was convened and unanimously decided on September 21 to abolish the monarchy. Later, Louis XVI was brought to trial, sentenced to death and sent to guillotine in January 1793.
Within the Convention, the radical groups, the Jacobins or the mountain, played an important role. The moderate Republicans, the Girondists, were pushed aside in the summer of 1793, and power was taken over by the Jacobins. The situation was then extremely difficult, with food shortages, inflation, threats from external enemies and counter-revolutionary peasant revolts. The horror that now followed may be seen against this background.
Finally, however, the Jacobin leaders themselves fell victim to the terror. From the summer of 1794, a return to a more right-wing policy occurred. In 1795 the so-called directorial constitution was introduced, an oligarchic form of government with a very limited voting right. The directors had to fight on with the economic and military difficulties and saw their position becoming increasingly weakened. Instead, the initiative went to the army, led by the young General Napoléon Bonaparte, who had had brilliant successes during a campaign in Italy. In September 1797, Bonaparte participated in a coup d’état (the fructidor coup), which made the government even more dependent on the support of the army. Two years later, he took the step fully and replaced the Board of Directors with three consuls, among which he himself, as the first consul, exercised one in the near monarchical power (the brumair coup on November 9-10, 1799).
Napoleonic period (1799–1815)
Bonaparte was able to further strengthen his position as first consul in two rounds: in 1802 he became consul for life, and in 1804 he was crowned emperor as Napoleon I. During these years he also acquired a wide popular support for his regime. To this end, not least, he successfully ended the war against the last remaining enemies of Austria and Britain through the Peace of Lunéville in 1801 and Amiens in 1802.
The period of peace now entering was short-lived by Britain resuming hostilities as early as 1803, but it was nevertheless utilized by Napoleon for extensive internal reform activities. The finances were put in order, so that at least in peacetime the state budget was balanced. The municipal autonomy introduced during the revolution was abolished everywhere and replaced with the hard central government with the help of regional prefects that still characterize the country today.
The great revolutionary legislative work was completed by the promulgation in 1804 of Code Civil, an anti-feudal and bourgeois legal order that, with the conquests of France in the following years, was carried out to Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands and Poland. Napoleon himself had long held deep sympathies for the revolutionary legacy, but his liberal reforms gradually took the form of authoritarian Ukases from the top. The political assemblies soon became pure decorations. To further the revolution’s ideals also contributed to the creation of a new imperial aristocracy through the establishment of the Legion of Honor, whose holders were provided with generous annual interest. The emigrants of the old nobility were invited early during the consulate to return home, but Napoleon’s hopes of a merger of the two elites were largely to shame.
Strengthened by the internal consolidation, the new emperor was able to deal with the external enemies, who in a series of changing coalitions opposed the expansive France. In a series of rapid campaigns, culminating in the great and victorious battles at Austerlitz (the so-called three-reel battle in 1805) and Jena (1806), Napoleon defeated his Austrian and Prussian opponents. Since Russia was also defeated in the Battle of Friedland (1807) and forced to peace in Tilsit (the same year), Napoleon stood as the uncontested ruler of continental Europe. Only Britain continued the resistance.
Napoleon’s continental new order was expressed in the creation of the Rhine League in western Germany and the Grand Duchy of Warsaw, and in particular the completely French-dominated sound kingdoms in Spain, Italy, the Netherlands and Westphalia. The old German-Roman Empire was buried (1806), and the Habsburg Empire was confined to the Austro-Hungarian heritage countries. In 1809 all resistance was broken except in Spain, where a bloody guerrilla war had begun, as well as on the world seas, where the British had taken over, especially after the 1805 victory in the great naval battle at Trafalgar.
By banning all trade between the European mainland and Britain (the continental system), Napoleon hoped to starve his last enemy, but the measure failed due to the reluctance of the forced allies and extensive smuggling traffic. Disbelief against Russia’s intentions, especially after an agreement between Tsar Alexander and the Swedish successor Bernadotte, led Napoleon to lead his international half-million army against Moscow in the summer of 1812, which he could conquer but without defeating the Russian armed forces. In the fall of that year he was forced to order a retreat, which led to a general dissolution of the great army. His old enemies merged again and succeeded in October 1813 for the first time to add him to a decisive defeat at Leipzig. A campaign in French territory the following year, Napoleon admittedly led with his old skill, but in the long run he could not resist the coalition army, which on March 31, 1814, captured Paris. A week later, the emperor abdicated and withdrew as prince of the small Italian kingdom of Elba.
The victorious forces with Britain, Austria, Prussia and Russia in the lead deployed the Bourbon pretend, Count of Provence and brother of the executed Louis XVI, on the French royal throne. Under the name of Louis XVIII, he gave his consent to a constitution that created dissatisfaction both among reactionary royalists and old republicans. The immediate failure of the new regime created the conditions for Napoleon’s return. In March 1815 he took power in Paris and established an imperial regime, which came to history as “the hundred days”. The Allies immediately turned against him, and the French troops were again defeated at Waterloo (June 18). Napoleon was exiled to the island of St. Helena in the South Atlantic, and Louis XVIII was able to return for the second time as a result of his aristocratic emigrants.
Reactionaries and Citizens (1815-48)
The bourbon restoration brought arch ovalist groups to power. Although Louis XVIII (1815-24) initially surrounded himself with moderate ministers, after the 1820 assassination of the Duke of Berry, the king’s nephew, politics became increasingly reactionary. Karl X (1824-30) compensated the nobles for their losses during the revolution, a measure that cost taxpayers about one billion francs. The church regained its old position, especially in the educational system, where the Jesuits were again allowed to work.
A bourgeois liberal opposition emerged and was given a speech tube in Adolphe Thiers magazine Le National. When the government in July 1830 tried to suppress the opposition by dissolving the newly elected Chamber of Deputies, in which the Liberals had a majority, this led to an open revolution, the July Revolution. During the three days July 27-29 (les Trois Glorieuses) workers, petty bourgeois and students took up arms and built barricades. When the military began to transition to the rebellious, Karl X gave up and abdicated.
Among the bourgeois politicians who now took the lead, old Republicans opposed constitutional monarchists. The latter belonged to Thiers, who through his prestige succeeded in persuading the Chamber of Deputies to appoint Karl X ‘s cousin Louis Philippe of Orleans as a new monarch under the 1814 Constitution.
The July Monarchy (1830–48). This stage has rightly been called a bourgeois kingdom. It was then that industrial capitalism broke through in earnest in France and the regime came into the hands of a small elite made up of conservative officials and big capitalists. Strongly plutocratic voting rights constrained the electoral votes to around 200,000. The large masses of peasants and workers were completely barred from political influence. The social and political contradictions led to a long series of riots and unrest. It was these years that saw a socialist labor movement be born and get its theoretical foundations through men such as Louis Blanc, Louis Auguste Blanqui, Charles Fourier and Pierre Joseph Proudhon.
In the 1840s, France laid the foundations for a colonial empire in North Africa through the conquest of Algeria. The government was now led by historian François Guizot, who was staunch opponent of all political reforms. Dissatisfaction with the increasingly conservative regime intensified after the middle of the decade, when a couple of years of growth and industrial recession led to rising food prices and widespread unemployment. In order to circumvent the ban on political assemblies, the opposition began organizing reform banquets. One was announced until February 22, 1848, and when it was banned by the government, this became the signal for a new revolution, the February Revolution, which threw the monarchy over.
Second Republic (1848–52)
A provisional revolutionary government with bourgeois Republicans and a couple of workers’ representatives, including Louis Blanc, proclaimed the Republic and announced new elections with universal suffrage for men. To mitigate unemployment, state workshops (ateliers nationaux) were set up. In the election, however, the radicals disappointed moderate and conservative groups, which immediately began to shut down national workshops. This led to a workers’ uprising at the end of June, which was immediately suffocated in blood by the army.
Thus, the revolution had not led to any solution of the class contradictions. In the presidential election at the end of the year, victory went unexpectedly and with an overwhelming majority to Emperor Napoleon’s nephew Louis Napoléon Bonaparte, who returned from his exile in England. He had previously expressed radical ideas, but was now seeking to join the Conservatives, among others. by intervening in the pope’s help against the revolutionaries in Rome. When his term as president was about to expire, he extended it through a coup d’etat in December 1851. A year later, he allowed himself to be proclaimed emperor by the name of Napoleon III. The change of regime was subsequently confirmed by a referendum, where only three percent voted against.
Second Empire (1852–70)
Napoleon III established a strong authoritarian regime, which was sparked by democratic transparency through the skilful use of referendums. These, like the elections to the Legislative Assembly, controlled the emperor with the help of a faithful staff of powerful prefects in the country. Europe was now favored by a general industrial and economic recovery after the crisis in the middle of the century. Napoleon was also able to increase his prestige through France’s successful participation in the Crimean War (1853–56); the peace conference that ended the war was held in Paris. Towards the end of the decade Napoleon became militarily engaged in Italy’s liberation from Austria, which in 1859 was defeated by Magenta and Solferino.
An agreement in 1860 with Britain marked the transition from protectionism to a more liberal trade policy, at the same time as economic activity again pointed downwards. This caused Napoleon to lose the support of the powerful big companies. But the opposition also grew from the left. Old Thiers was still the leader of the Orléanists, and the Republicans got an energetic spokesman in Jules Favre. The Emperor made some concessions under the impression of these moods. Among other things, the workers were allowed to form trade unions, and the freedom of the press increased. Notwithstanding this, the opposition in the 1869 election could more than double its vote.
During the 1860s, France was concerned to witness how Bismarck’s Prussia, through victories over Denmark and Austria, developed into a continental superpower. Napoleon planned to meet the threat through a military upgrading with increased discharge, but had to give way to the compact resistance both in the Chamber of Deputies and in public opinion. France was therefore inadequately prepared when the foreign policy crisis became acute in the summer of 1870. The conflict involved the Spanish succession, in which Prussia and France had conflicting interests. Bismarck skilfully maneuvered Napoleon into a diplomatic position where the emperor felt compelled to declare war. The Prussian army immediately crossed the border and on September 1, the French inflicted a humiliating defeat on the Sedan (see French-German War). Napoleon himself was captured, and on September 4, the republic in Paris was proclaimed without any real opposition from the imperial administration.
Third Republic (1870–1940)
A provisional government was given its first task to end the war with Prussia, and disagreement immediately arose as to how this would happen. The radical groups wanted to offer continued resistance, but the government’s majority, with Thiers at the forefront, chose to submit to Bismarck’s terms. Their line also received indirect support in the elections of New Year 1871, where the monarchists with their peace program won an overwhelming victory. In the peace agreement with Germany, France renounced Alsace and parts of Lorraine and undertook to pay francs of 5 billion in war damages.
Paris Commune. The internal divide further intensified when, a few weeks after the end of the peace, the government announced its intention to disarm the National Guard, which had been restored in connection with the fall of the empire. The troops who were in Paris were fighting back, two generals were killed and the civil war was a fact. The rebels in Paris (and for a short time also in Lyon, Marseille and Toulouse) organized themselves as during the great revolution in a municipality led by various leftist groups. Thiers’ government in Versailles mobilized the army, and during the “bloody week” May 21-28, Paris was captured, killing 20,000 communards in battle or in front of execution patrols. The left was crushed, and its leaders were forced into exile.
Opportunists and radicals. The republican constitution, which took its final form in 1875, became gradually entrenched in the electoral opinion but was seriously threatened on two occasions. The strong position of the monarchists in the Chamber of Deputies in the 1870s meant that a bourbonous or Orléanist restoration was within political reach, but these sentiments ebbed toward the end of the decade, when the moderate Republicans, the “opportunists,” assumed government responsibility. Ten years later, reactionary and populist movements were joined in support of General Georges Boulanger, who gained enormous but short-lived popularity by acting as a “strong man” and promising revenge on the Germans.
In foreign policy, Republican France was for a long time fairly isolated and devoted itself primarily to building a colonial empire in Africa and Indochina. With the fall of Bismarck in 1890, the ties between Russia and Germany weakened. Instead, French interests began to assert themselves in Saint Petersburg, first through extensive capital investment, from 1894 in the form of a Russian-French military alliance.
The years around the turn of the century were largely marked by the Dreyfus affair, a legal scandal with anti-Semitic overtones that divided France into two opposite camps: one conservative and nationalist with anchoring in the army and the church, one liberal and critical within the left and among the intellectuals. The deal helped to bring together the fragmented labor movement in 1905 in a united socialist party, which initiated parliamentary cooperation with the bourgeois left. Together, these groups guarded the radical reforms, e.g. the secularisation of the school system, which had already been carried out earlier.
In 1905 the church was definitely separated from the state, and the concordate with the Pope from 1801 was abolished. Alarms in the labor market with numerous strikes already led in 1906 to a rift between socialists and radicals. It was the latter who, under the leadership of Georges Clemenceau, assumed government responsibility. From 1909 until the war, the parliamentary situation was uncertain with numerous changes of government and different coalitions.
Now there was also an approach to Britain, which until then in the colonial competition had had a rather chilly relationship (compare the Fashoda business). Several contradictions between the countries were removed by the so-called entente cordiale (1904). Both sides began to prepare for the advance against the Great European War.
General development trends in the Third Republic. During this time, France regained its position as Europe’s leading cultural nation. Paris became a focal point for innovative artists and writers from all over the world. This dominance was just another side of the political and economic centralization inherited from the l’ancien régime and the revolution epoch. The reforms in the public school system helped to equalize the cultural differences between different countries and social classes. The peasants were politically mobilized, and after the turn of the century the working class had also formed in trade unions and political parties.
Even before the middle of the 19th century, agriculture’s share of the national product had dropped to half. At the same time, population growth had begun to stagnate. In 1914, France with its 40 million was no longer Europe’s largest nation: Britain had 45 million and Germany 67. Despite the slow growth, urbanization increased. In the mid-1930s, for the first time, a majority of the French lived in Paris and other cities.
World War I (1914-18). The enthusiasm for the war was initially moderate in France. The socialists, but also influential bourgeois politicians like Joseph Caillaux, openly distanced themselves from the increasingly polarized alliance policy. When the outbreak of war came in August 1914, however, the patriotic moods prevailed. After the initial German offensive through Belgium down to the Paris region had been stopped in September of that year (“the wonder of Marne”), the front stabilized. To a large extent it then ran through northern France, which was badly devastated; In 1919, the industry’s capacity, the vast armor, despite it, was 40% below the pre-war level. Eight million young Frenchmen were mobilized during the four years of the war; over a million of them fell, and almost as many became invalids.
So the war dragged on over time, and the losses became ever greater without any decisive reaching. A mood of discouragement spread within both the civilian population and the troops. In 1917, serious myths occurred throughout the army. In November of that year, the aging Clemenceau was called the Prime Minister’s post and managed to end the war with unquenchable energy. In the peace conference started in 1919 in Versailles, he represented France’s interests from the outset with severe incompetence towards defeated Germany. His terms of peace included a German abandonment of all territory west of the Rhine as well as the rich industrial area of Saar. When he was eventually forced to compromise by the other allies, his political prestige was undermined in his home country. He lost in the 1920 presidential election and withdrew from politics.
The interwar period. During the 1920s, France was led by various bourgeois coalition governments. After 1918, the Left had begun to split again around the question of membership in the Bolshevik-dominated Third International. In 1920, a minority led by Léon Blum left the party and took with them the old party name “the Socialists” (SFIO), while the majority formed the French Communist Party (SFIC). This breach made it impossible for any length of time for any cooperation within the Left. The Communists soon merged into a small Moscow-based cadre. In 1928 they received only 11 seats in the Chamber of Deputies against 107 for the socialists. These came instead to initiate collaboration (Cartel des gauches 1924) with the radicals, ie. the bourgeois left, and support government leaders like Édouard Herriot and Édouard Daladier.
Economically, there was a recovery following the stress of the war. The French industry, which was small-scale and fairly outdated, was able to consolidate its position behind high tariff walls undisturbed. An inflation crisis, which was linked to the war loans and the German damages, led in 1926 that a center-left government under Raymond Poincaré was authorized to govern by decree. In 1928 the situation was stabilized so that the gold coin base could be reintroduced. The protectionist policy in the 1920s also led to the beginning of the international crisis that started with the Wall Street crash in October 1929, almost not at all. In fact, a few years later, the general depression also became serious in France..
Anti-parliamentary groups on the right, such as Charles Maurras’ Action française and the veteran organization of the Cross of Fire (Croix de Feux), came during this period to pose a growing threat to the democratic order, especially since the fascist movements gained success in both Italy and Germany. Old royalist and anti-Semitic sentiments were revived, and the politician’s contempt was fueled by a corruption scandal, the so-called Stavisky affair in 1933, with branches far into the camps of the ruling radicals.
Popular Front. The relentless attacks of the right in 1935 gave rise to the formation of the front of the people (Front populaire), an extended left-wing cartel with support from the Moscow faithful communists as well. In the election the following spring, the front won a clear victory. The Socialists became the largest party of the Chamber of Deputies, and its leader Blum took over government responsibility. By negotiating with the parties, he managed to overcome some of the difficult contradictions in the labor market. Wages were raised, and the strikes ended. The radical reforms that were undertaken, on the other hand, were met by bitter opposition from the right: law-abiding 40-hour week and paid vacation and nationalization of the Banque de France. The more conservative Senate blocked many of the initiatives of the People’s Front government, and in the summer of 1937 the government was forced to resign. Up until the outbreak of war, it was now the old type of government with anchoring in the middle that came to rule France.
The collapse of the Republic. Foreign policy was now the threat from Germany that characterized the situation. Hitler’s march into the Rhineland in 1936 was a first sign. Blum and his government took a cautious, passive attitude towards the civil war in Spain, which shortly afterwards erupted, which was criticized. The alliance system that had been built during the interwar period guaranteed France’s support for, among other things. Czechoslovakia and Poland. When the German expansion was now directed in this direction, the war became inevitable. On September 3, 1939, two days after the Germans attacked Poland, the French and British governments declared war on Germany.
No real war actions in the West did not follow until the spring of 1940, when Germany first launched its lightning offensive against Denmark and Norway, then on May 10 against the Netherlands, Belgium and France. Paris was captured after only one month of fighting, and on June 16, French commander Philippe Pétain requested a ceasefire. Shortly thereafter, the German occupation authority established a puppet regime in Vichy with Pétain as its leader. With its constitution on July 10, 1940, the Third Republic ceased to exist.
Occupation and liberation (1940–44)
Hitler Germany maintained direct control of the whole of northern and western France. The Vichy regime thus ruled only over the central and southeastern parts of the country and over the colonies of Asia and Africa. After the Allied invasion of Morocco in 1942, the Germans expanded their military rule throughout France, and the Vichy government was reduced to a pure decoration.
Immediately after the occupation in 1940, a resistance movement began to be organized. To this also joined the Communist Party after the German attack on the Soviet Union in 1941. In London, in 1941, General Charles de Gaulle established the organization Français Libres, Free France, with a governing body, the Comité National Français, which soon claimed the status of exile government. Beginning in 1943, a French liberation army was organized in Algeria. It participated in the Allied invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944. French troops under General Jacques-Philippe Leclerc liberated, together with US forces, in August of that year Paris, where the resistance movement had already gone into open attack against the Germans.
Fourth Republic (1946–58)
After the liberation, General de Gaulle took charge of a provisional government. In a first referendum in the autumn of 1945, the French, by an overwhelming majority, decided to create a new constitution, and a Constituent National Assembly was convened. To test his position, de Gaulle offered to step down as provisional president. When none of the major parties gave him the support he had been expecting, he left the political life disappointed and withdrew into private life.
The constitution adopted in 1946 did not differ in any significant way from that of the Third Republic. The presidential power remained weak, and the political emphasis was on the National Assembly, where changing coalitions created weak and short-lived governments. Until 1958, when de Gaulle returned to politics, the Republican president changed his mind twenty-five times, on average twice a year.
The economic recovery. The German occupants had systematically plundered France on raw materials and industrial resources, but the recovery after the war was surprisingly fast. The need for reconstruction, together with Marshall aid and foreign orders, gave the French industry the necessary stimulus. Especially from the mid-1950s, growth was strong. Closely associated with this development were the measures for economic integration of Europe west of the Iron Curtain. Here, French politicians such as Robert Schuman and Georges Bidault played an active role. The 1952 Coal and Steel Union between France, Germany, Italy and Benelux paved the way for the Common Market (EEC) created by the Treaty of Rome and entered into force in 1958.
Decolonization. During the war, France had lost control of its colonies; in Asia to the Japanese and in Africa to the Allies. A reintroduction of French rule would prove to be fraught with great difficulties. In Indochina, the northern parts were ruled by a Vietnamese liberation movement under Ho Chi Minh’s leadership. Here the war broke out in 1946 and culminated with the French defeat of Điên Biên Phu, a huge jungle fortress, which the Vietnamese conquered after a long and bloody siege in 1954. At a Geneva peace conference that year, France gave up all its claims in the region. Vietnam was divided into two states. Laos and Cambodia had already previously been transformed into independent kingdoms.
Only six months later, in October 1954, armed nationalists attacked the French regime in Algeria. Here, too, France sought to isolate the rebellious by making significant concessions to neighboring Tunisia and Morocco. In 1956 they gained full independence. In Algeria, on the other hand, the trend was towards a widespread and dirty war, where attacks and acts of sabotage were met with severe repression and uncontrolled use of torture. By 1958, half a million French troops had been dispatched to the area. Within the army and at ultra groups both among the colonizers and in the homeland, dissatisfaction with the development of events fueled plans to replace the weak Fourth Republic with a more powerful regime. In May 1958, the activists led by senior officers took control of Alger. The revolt was a fact. Shortly thereafter, de Gaulle stepped forward and declared himself willing to take over the kingdom’s leadership. Faced with the threat of a civil war, the National Assembly gave him unlimited powers to bring France out of the crisis in six months.
Fifth Republic (from 1958)
General de Gaulle was now given the opportunity to enforce the constitutional reform which he had failed in 1946. In the Fifth Republic, power was shifted from the National Assembly to the Government and, above all, to the President. General de Gaulle, who took office in 1959, initially encountered no stronger opposition when the political parties in him saw the only one that could end the Algerian war. A currency reform laid the foundation for economic strength growth. Most of France’s colonies gained independence. After lengthy negotiations, several French military revolt attempts in Algeria and terrorist activities by the underground army organization OAS (Organization de l’Armée Secrète) also reached Algeria independently through the Evian agreements in 1962, approved by referendum with 90% yes votes.
When de Gaulle proclaimed a referendum on the direct election of the president after the war, the government fell, and the National Assembly dissolved. The president won the referendum, and the parties that supported him, the Gaulists and a part of the right, got a majority in the parliamentary elections. de Gaulle’s position of power rested to a great extent on the support he enjoyed far outside the groups of traditional right-wing voters. In addition, the Communist Party was the strongest force in a weak and divided left. However, the left candidate François Mitterrand collected 45% of the votes in the second round of the presidential election in 1965. The opposition also included several center and right parties, mainly because of opposition to de Gaulle’s foreign policy.
France’s foreign policy was shaped by de Gaulle with the pursuit of national independence and opposition to the superpower blocs as the guiding elements. France developed its own nuclear defense and resigned from the Atlantic Pact’s military organization (NATO) in 1966. France opposed supranationalism in the Western European communities as well as Britain’s entry, while the cooperation with West Germany was strengthened.
de Gaulle initiated an approach to the Soviet Union in order to break the East-West confrontation. Against the developing countries, he pursued an active policy. de Gaulle’s foreign policy led to recurring friction between France and the United States, which saw its leadership in the Western Alliance questioned, as well as between France and its federally-oriented partners in Western Europe. Under de Gaulle, colonial power transformed France into a European superpower, whose global influence, however, was largely based on the president’s personal prestige and initiative.
Domestic policy was focused on modernizing French society through education and investment in the high-tech industry. During the favorable economic climate of the 1960s, the agricultural country of France was transformed into an industrial and service society with social basic security. However, society remained strongly socially stratified (” la société bloquée “). In conjunction with the long-held Gaulist hold of power, this in May-June 1968 led to a serious social crisis, the so-called May revolt. Student unrest triggered a major strike with factory occupations. For a short time, the president lost control of the situation.
The crisis was resolved by extensive wage increases and a new election to the National Assembly, which the government parties won. de Gaulle sought to speed up reforms through a referendum on decentralization and the abolition of the Senate in its existing form. Above all, however, he made the vote a matter of trust for him personally. When the proposals were rejected by 53% ‘no’ votes, he resigned in April 1969. de Gaulle’s most important lasting efforts after 1958 are the Constitution of the Fifth Republic, which gave France a political stability it previously lacked, and the winding up of colonial power.
In the next presidential election, Georges Pompidou, longtime Gaullist Prime Minister, triumphed over center Democrat Alain Poher since the left-wing candidates were eliminated. Pompidou mainly followed the previous policy with a strong emphasis on France’s industrial and economic modernization and expansion. However, foreign policy initiatives were faded, and France accepted the EU’s enlargement with, among other things, UK.
Pompidou passed away in 1974. He was succeeded by Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, leader of the right-wing Alliance with the Gaullists, who barely defeated the leftist candidate Mitterrand. In connection with the presidential election, a gathering of the bourgeois parties was completed in a government bloc launched under Pompidou. Giscard d’Estaing’s proclaimed reform will have its main concrete expression outside the economic sphere, for example. in abortion legislation. Foreign policy was particularly emphasized on the development of the EC and its cooperation with West Germany.
During the 1970s, France’s political life was greatly influenced by the left’s advance. The Socialist Party, where Mitterrand took over the leadership, was renewed and grew in strength. In 1972, the left-wing union between the Socialist Party, the Communist Party with Georges Marchais as head and the left-wing radical party was concluded. A joint government program was adopted. As the Socialists gradually took the lead within the Left, broad voter groups feared the Communist Party’s influence. This, in conjunction with the bourgeois bloc’s long government holdings, played a crucial role in the end of the 1981 presidential election. Mitterrand defeated Giscard d’Estaing there, and the left won the ensuing election to the National Assembly.
After the change of power, the government, which was dominated by the socialists but where the communists joined until 1984, implemented a comprehensive reform program. A number of large corporations and credit institutions were nationalized, working hours were reduced, employees were assured of co-influence, and the concentration of public power in Paris, which has characterized France for centuries, was reduced. The French economy, however, came into disarray with the outside world, and soon the government was forced to introduce a financial tightening.
The election to the National Assembly in 1986, to which the proportional election method was exceptionally applied, was won by the bourgeois parties. In the 1988 presidential election, Mitterrand defeated the Gaullist Prime Minister Jacques Chirac, and in his re-election to the National Assembly, the Left regained government power. The Communist Party remained in opposition. The Socialist government pursued a strict anti-inflation policy, while the Socialist Party was weakened by its long government holdings. In 1993, the bourgeois parties won a devastating majority in the National Assembly and formed government. At the 1995 presidential election, then-Gaul leader Chirac defeated Socialist candidate Lionel Jospin. A savings program, presented by new Prime Minister Alain Juppé, triggered widespread strikes that year.
When Chirac in 1997 announced the election to the National Assembly ahead of schedule won the Left, and the Socialist leader Lionel Jospin became prime minister in the third so-called cohabitation (la cohabitation) between the President and Government of the block boundary. The left government prioritized the fight against unemployment. 35 hours work week. It continued the privatization of former bourgeois governments. Important political initiatives were taken for increased gender equality and for Corsica.
The first round of presidential elections in 2002 was a political shock. Right-wing extremist National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen placed 17% of the vote in second place after Chirac (20%), eliminating Jospin (16%). The fact that Jospin received fewer votes than Le Pen was partly due to the large number of candidates, 16 of which eight from the left. But at the same time, the low turnout (72%), Chiracs and Jospins in historical comparison showed poor numbers and above all, Le Pen’s high number of votes on widespread dissatisfaction in the electorate and a gap between voters and the elected. Le Pen’s strength was the allure he exerted on disappointed, politically disinterested and socially vulnerable voters.
The second round of elections became a popular reaction to the end of the first. Voter turnout rose to 80%, and Chirac won as Democratic assembly candidate with 82% of the vote against 18% for Le Pen. In the subsequent election to the National Assembly, the bourgeois parties won. The new Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin’s program included: tax cuts, decentralization and the fight against crime. However, economic growth was weak and unemployment was high. A necessary but contentious reform of the pension system began in 2003. Raffarin resigned in 2005 after voters rejected a EU constitutional treaty in a referendum. The successor Dominique de Villepin prioritized the fight against unemployment. A proposal for more precarious employment conditions for young people had to be withdrawn in 2006 after major demonstrations.
In the second round of the 2007 presidential election, the broad conservative party met UMP candidate Nicolas Sarkozy and Socialist Party candidate Ségolène Royal, the first woman to reach the second round in a presidential election. Both were experienced politicians but still represented a new politician generation. Sarkozy defeated Royal with 52% of the vote against 47%. In the subsequent parliamentary elections he got a stable majority. New Prime Minister became François Fillon.
Nicolas Sarkozy was a very active president, both domestic and foreign. Unlike most of his representatives, he became the real leader of government work. Several significant reforms were implemented, including a constitutional revision in 2008 that strengthened Parliament’s power. In 2010, the retirement age was increased from 60 to 62 years. Over time, Sarkozy became increasingly unpopular, partly due to his personal style but also as a result of high unemployment and a tax policy that favored well-off. A more restrictive view on immigration appealed to the National Front’s sympathizers, but frightened other voters.
In the first round of the 2012 presidential election, Sarkozy reached 27% of the vote, against 29% for Socialist (PS) candidate François Hollande and 18% for the National Front’s Marine Le Pen. In the second round, Hollande won with 52% of the vote against 48% for Sarkozy. In his election campaign, François Hollande attacked the power of finance capital and pleaded for a growth-promoting policy with major investments in education. The government he appointed after the accession, led by Jean-Marc Ayrault, was completely dominated by PS.
The change of power in 1981 and recurring periods of forced cooperation between a president and a government of different political colors have toned down the unusually fierce confrontation between right and left in Western Europe in France. A further reason is that the socialists have pushed away the communists as a leading leftist force. Neither the right nor the left question the liberal market economy and the public social security systems. Growing international dependence has also increasingly set limits on the economic freedom of political action of various governments.
Since France, mainly in the 1980s, has undergone an economic restructuring and inflation has been accelerated in the euro area, high unemployment, budget deficits and excessive public debt have been the major problems. The situation worsened with the economic crisis in the late 1990s. A long-term problem is that the industry’s share of the economy has decreased while the service sector has increased, which has led to deteriorating conditions for exports. A “re-industrialization” with high productivity and increased competitiveness is seen by many as necessary. Immigration and integration policy remains a burning issue, which the country is reminded of in unrest in the large urban immigrant suburbs of 2005. The hostile National Front has widespread support;
In the foreign and security policy, too, the contradictions matured during the 1980s. In essence, there is agreement on defense policy, where nuclear deterrence remains a basic component. However, its significance has diminished substantially since the end of the Cold War. Nuclear doctrine’s central element is “proportional deterrence,” which means that, despite quantitative inferiority, France should be able to inflict an injury to an opponent so great that it does not find the harm outweighed by the gain of acquiring France.
The resistance that France’s independent nuclear weapons previously aroused in the United States, in particular, has diminished significantly. In contrast, international criticism of the French nuclear weapons tests conducted in French Polynesia (Mururoatollen) grew due to the unmanageable ecological and medical damage they can cause. France, for a long time, like the United States, the Russian Federation and the United Kingdom, has ceased testing. At Chirac’s initiative, a decision was made in 1995 to transition from military service to occupational army. The transition was completed in 2002.
After the end of the Cold War, France has been actively involved in international peace-promoting military operations, primarily in the former Yugoslavia and Afghanistan. The demands for cooperation that this put together with the realization that other European countries do not join a defense cooperation outside NATO are the reason why Chirac began to approach NATO. This was followed by Sarkozy and in 2009 France rejoined NATO’s integrated military organization.
Multilateral cooperation in the UN has taken an increasingly important place in French foreign policy. France played a leading role in the efforts to prevent the Iraq war in 2003, which led to chilly relations with the United States for some time. Sarkozy was active in the 2011 decision to intervene militarily against the Khadaffi regime in Libya. France still has significant interests outside Europe, mainly in Africa. In New Caledonia, one of France’s few remaining overseas territories, the contradictions were sharp during the 1980s, but have subsequently declined significantly.
France can no longer pursue any global superpower policy. The country is one of several minor superpowers and claims its interests especially in and through multilateral organizations such as the UN, NATO and, above all, the EU. In the referendum on the Maastricht Treaty proclaimed by Mitterrand in 1992, the Jas side won with only 51% of the vote. The major parties are closing in on EU cooperation, with France claiming the importance of a more prominent European role in international and security policy. France was one of the first countries to adopt the single currency in 1999. From right to left, however, there are EU-critical currents, and voters rejected the 2005 Constitutional Treaty in a referendum with 55% abstentions. The Lisbon Treaty was subsequently adopted by Parliament in 2008.
Germany has been France’s most important partner since the European Communities emerged in the 1950s and France has since been Germany’s leading EU power. During the economic crisis at the end of 2008, close cooperation was developed between Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel to prevent a collapse of the euro. Cooperation continues under Hollande and Merkel, although the gap between Germany’s demands for austerity and budgetary discipline and France’s desire to promote growth have widened after the French change of government.
Attacks on civil society
In 2015, several assaults occurred that were classified by the security police as terrorist acts. Already during the second week of the year heavily armed men entered the satire newspaper Charlie Hebdo’s editorial, in February three soldiers who guarded a Jewish parish in Nice were knife-killed in April, in April a 30-year-old woman was killed by an Algerian citizen who planned to attack two Christian parishes in a suburb of Paris and in July the head of a chemical company near Lyon was murdered.
During the year, French security police succeeded in removing several attempted attacks, but on November 13, Paris was hit by the worst terrorist acts of modern times in France. Seven perpetrators unleashed explosive charges and shot at guests at a number of bars and restaurants, in a concert venue and at the Stade de France sports arena, where President Hollande visited a football match. At least 129 people were killed and about 350 injured, of which hundreds were serious. Among those killed was a Swedish citizen.
The Islamic State (IS) quickly assumed responsibility for the attacks, citing France’s military involvement in the civil war in Syria. After the attacks, three days of country grief was announced, and emergency permits with enhanced border control were introduced. Three days after the attack, Prime Minister Manuel Valls announced that the government knew there were plans for an attack and also warned that more attacks were planned.
|900,000–700,000 BC||Paleolithic culture with roughly beaten core implements. Finds stored in caves or on river terraces. Vallonnet and Soleihac.|
|400 000 BC||Terra Amata. Hydraulic bottom with hand-wedges and a footprint (acheulene culture).|
|300 000 BC||Riss-glaciation. Skull from the Arago Cave in the Pyrenees.|
|70,000-38,000 BC||Würm-ice age. Moustérien culture with beaten slices and tips. The Neanderthal man carries the culture.|
|38,000–10,000 BC||Würm-ice age. Younger Paleolithic cultures with chip tools and Paleolithic art. Contemporary people (Homo sapiens sapiens).|
|10,000-5000/3500 BC||Warmer climates. Mesolithic cultures with small flint implements (microliter).|
|5000/3500-1800 BC||Neolithic time. Arable cultures, megalithic tombs and monuments. Clock culture and battle ax culture; copper Stone Age. Pile buildings are added in lakes to the east.|
|1800–700 BC||Bronze Age culture. Megalithic monuments and pillars continue. Rich depot finds with bronzes. Petroglyphs. Towards the end of the period fire burial condition (urn burial culture).|
|700-500 BC||Hallstatt culture (Iron Age) with prince tombs. Etruscan-Italian influence. Fortified settlements come into use.|
|600 BC||Massalia (Marseille) is founded by Greek traders.|
|450–50 BC||Latin culture with fortified settlements and princes’ tombs. Rich ornament. Coin embossing after Greek models.|
|118 BC||The south coast becomes the Roman province (Gallia Narbonensis).|
|58–51 BC||Celtic Gaul is conquered by Julius Caesar and becomes part of the Roman Empire.|
|The twentieth century AD||Peasant uprisings and increasing German invasions cause severe devastation.|
|486-751||Merovingians. Klodvig (dead 511) begins the founding of a Frankish empire.|
|732||Karl Martell defeats the Arabs at Poitiers.|
|800||Charles the Great is crowned Emperor.|
|843||The Frankish kingdom is divided into Verdun. The westernmost part is the basis for the future of France.|
|987-1328||Capetian. Feudal fragmentation of political power. The royal power is consolidated, and the royal domain is gradually expanded. Economic boom.|
|1328-1589||The house Valois.|
|1337-1453||The centenary war against England. Economic downturn.|
|1348-49||Plague epidemic (death of the poet).|
|1429||Jeanne d’Arc leads the storming of Orleans. The happiness of the war turns to the benefit of France.|
|about 1450||Economic recovery begins. The central power gradually strengthens.|
|1515-47||During the reign of Frans I cultural flourishing and war against Habsburg.|
|1560s||The conflict between Huguenots and Catholics begins.|
|1598||The Edict of Nantes.|
|1624-61||Ministerial rule under the Cardinals Richelieu and Mazarin.|
|1661-1715||During Louis XIV, France becomes Europe’s leading state. French colonization in Canada and around the lower Mississippi River.|
|1756-63||The Seven Years War against Britain. In the Paris peace, France is forced to liquidate large parts of its colonial rule.|
|1789||The revolution is breaking out.|
|1792||Republic is introduced.|
|1793||Louis XVI is executed.|
|1799||Brumairekuppen. Napoleon Bonaparte takes power.|
|1804||Napoleon is crowned emperor. In the following years Napoleon defeated his Austrian, Prussian and Russian opponents. Britain continues the resistance.|
|1812||Napoleon’s Russian campaign.|
|1813||France suffers a decisive defeat at Leipzig.|
|1814||A coalition army occupies Paris, and Napoleon abdicates. The bourbon restoration.|
|1815||The hundred days. Battle of Waterloo.|
|1830||July Revolution. Louis Filip of Orleans is appointed King.|
|1830s and 1840s||Fortresses Kingdom. France initiates the colonization of North Africa.|
|1848||The February revolution. France becomes a republic. Louis Napoléon Bonaparte is elected president.|
|1852-70||Second Empire; Bonaparte becomes Napoleon III.|
|1870-71||France suffers defeat in the French-German war and may renounce Alsace and parts of Lorraine.|
|1894||The three-phase business will start.|
|1904||Agreement between France and the UK is concluded (entente cordiale).|
|1914-18||France participates in the First World War.|
|1919||Peace in Versailles. Alsace – Lorraine back to France.|
|1935||The Popular Front is formed.|
|1939||France and Britain declare Germany war.|
|1940||France is occupied by Germany. The Vichy regime is established.|
|1944||France is liberated.|
|1952||France is a member of the Coal and Steel Union.|
|1954||Geneva peace; France loses French Indochina. Rebellion breaks out in Algeria.|
|1956||Tunisia and Morocco independent.|
|1958||The Fifth Republic is proclaimed.|
|1959||Charles de Gaulle takes over as president.|
|1960||Most French colonies in Africa become independent.|
|1966||France leaves military cooperation in NATO.|
|1968||The so-called May revolt, widespread unrest among students and workers.|
|1969||Georges Pompidou takes over as president.|
|1974||Valéry Giscard d’Estaing takes over as president.|
|1981||François Mitterrand President; left majority in the National Assembly.|
|1986||Civil Roll Victory; forced co-operation between the left-wing president and the right-wing government.|
|1988||The left regains government power.|
|1993||Civil majority in the National Assembly; right government.|
|1995||Gaullist Jacques Chirac takes over as president.|
|2002||The franc is replaced by the euro.|
|2007||Conservative politician Nicolas Sarkozy takes over as president.|
|2012||François Hollande takes over as president.|
|2015||The satire magazine Charlie Hedbo is subjected to a terror attack where twelve people lose their lives.|
|2017||Emmanuel Macron of social liberal La République en marche takes over as president.|