History of France

Brief history of France summarized

A brief journey through the history of France, a European country, in a summarized way.

Prehistoric and Ancient France

During the last ice age, humans called Cro-Magnons lived in France. They lived in caves and hunted animals such as mammoths and reindeer. They must have been resourceful people to survive in such a harsh climate and also created art. The Cro-Magnons are known for the paintings they made on cave walls. They also carved ivory figures.

After the end of the ice age, the hunter-gatherer lifestyle came to an end in France. The agricultural revolution began in the Middle East, but agriculture began in France around 6000 BC However, the change to agriculture from hunting and gathering food came gradually. It took centuries. For a long time, game was an important source of food.

However, by 4,500 BC, stone age farmers had created a sophisticated society. They built impressive stone tombs and also erected menhirs (standing stones).

Early farmers in France used stone tools, but around 2,000 BC bronze was introduced to France. Then, around 900 BC, a people called the Celts or Gauls immigrated to France. They brought iron tools and weapons.

At the top of Celtic society were the aristocrats. Below them were the farmers and artisans. Celtic craftsmen were highly skilled workers in iron, bronze, and gold.

In addition, trade flourished in Gaul and the Gauls built communities known as mountain fortresses, which could be considered the first French cities. Around 600 BC the Greeks founded Marseilles and Gaul came more and more into contact with the Mediterranean world.

However, the Gauls were desperately disunited. They were divided into about 60 tribes, which made it easier for the Romans to conquer them.

Roman France

First, in 121 BC, the Romans took control of part of southern France. They called it the province (in Latin province). Today it is called Provence. Then, in 58 BC, Julius Caesar began to conquer the rest of Gaul. The Gauls did not unite against him until 52 BC when a man named Vercingetorix led them. However, the Gauls were crushed at the Battle of Alesia and were eventually forced to submit to Roman rule.

Later, the Romans built a network of roads through Gaul to allow their army to quickly march from one area to another. Then in 43 BC they made Lugdunum (Lyon) the capital of Gaul and many more cities were built under Emperor Augustus.

Slowly the Gauls adopted the Roman way of life (at least to some extent). Latin became a common language. Also, some Gauls became Roman citizens. (Being a Roman citizen was a privilege and an advantage.) Many Gauls came to fill government positions in Gaul and in AD 48 they were allowed to become Roman senators.

Christianity came to France as early as the 1st century. Christians suffered terrible persecution. In the year 250 AD a man named Denis was beheaded. He later became the patron saint of France.

However, from the middle of the third century the Roman Empire was in decline. Inflation skyrocketed and epidemics occurred. Worse yet, Rome imposed crushing taxes. To escape them, some peasants abandoned their farms and became outlaws.

Meanwhile, at the end of the third century, some Germanic peoples raided France. Emperor Diocletian (284-305) tried to deal with the situation by completely reforming the administration of Gaul. As a result, Roman France lasted for another century.

However, in December 406 AD a group of Germanic tribes entered France and settled there. The Romans could not stop them. However, at first the Germanic settlers accepted Roman rule. However, as the Roman Empire collapsed, they gradually formed independent kingdoms.

The Franks rule France

Around AD 500 a people called the Franks ruled northern France (they gave their name to France). From 481 to 511 they were ruled by a man named Clovis. He converted to Christianity and his people followed him. Once they shared the same religion there was less of a difference between the Franks and the native Gallic Romanos. Gradually the two married and their cultures merged.

Clovis also enacted a body of law called the Salic law and in AD 507 made the small city of Paris his capital. (Cities in France shrank in the 5th century with the collapse of Roman rule, but did not disappear entirely.)

Clovis also subdued parts of southern France. After his death in 511, at the age of 45, his descendants continued his work and by the middle of the 6th century the Franks ruled all of France.

However, the first dynasty of Frankish kings, known as the Merovingians, had little power over the outlying regions of France. Provence and Burgundy retained some autonomy. Also Brittany. (The Bretons migrated from southern England to Brittany in the 5th century.)

During the seventh century the Merovingian kings had less and less power. They became figureheads and were known as the “do-nothing” kings. Increasingly it was a powerful family called the Carolingians who ruled France. They were a wealthy family who owned vast estates. They also held the hereditary office of ‘mayor of the palace’.

Eventually the Carolingians overthrew the Merovingian kings and in 751 the first Carolingian king, Pepin the Short, took the throne.

Pepin’s son, Charles Martel, stopped the Islamic advance into Europe at the Battle of Poitiers in 732. He also defeated the Bavarians and the Saxons. His son Charlemagne continued his work and created a great European empire. He also forced pagan Germans to “convert” to Christianity. Finally, in AD 800, the Pope crowned Charlemagne Emperor. Thus Charlemagne claimed to be the successor of the ancient Roman emperors.

Charlemagne was keen to maintain the support of the church, so he founded many monasteries and donated land to the church. Also, under Charlemagne there was a revival of art and learning called the Carolingian Renaissance.

Charlemagne died in 814. His successor Louis the Pious announced that after his death the empire would be divided among his sons. Louis died in 840 and after some fighting his sons made the Treaty of Verdun in 843. This divided the Frankish kingdom into three. The western part was ruled by Charles the Bald from 838 to 877. Over time it evolved into France.

However, beginning in the late 8th century, Arabs from North Africa attacked France. More serious were the Viking raids in the 9th and 10th centuries.

The French kings were unable to stop them and lost power to local magnates who offered protection to the local population. France began to fragment, especially in the south, where the regions became increasingly independent. In northwestern Brittany it remained autonomous.

Finally, in 911, Charles the Simple made a treaty with the Viking chief, Rollo. He took Normandy in exchange for converting to Christianity and pledging allegiance to Charles.

France in the Middle Ages

That ended the Viking threat, but by the time Hugh Capet became king in 987 (founding the Capeean dynasty) the French kings had little power over most of France. The Counts and Dukes were largely independent.

Capeean kings directly ruled only a small area around Paris. The situation was complicated in 1066 when William Duke of Normandy conquered England. Under the feudal system he was subservient to the French king. However, as king of England he was equal to the French king.

Worse still, in the middle of the 12th century, Henry Count of Anjou married Eleanor of Aquitaine. In 1154 he became king of England. Later, the kings of England controlled large areas of France.

However, in 1202 the French King Philip II went to war with the English King John and captured most of the English kings’ lands in France. When Philip died, he had greatly increased the area over which the kings of France ruled directly.

The process was continued by his grandson Louis IX (1226-1270) and by the end of the 13th century the French kings were in control of most of France. However, the English still controlled Aquitaine and Brittany and Burgundy remained semi-independent.

However, Philip the Fair (1285-1314) gradually extended the French king’s control eastward through purchase and marriage.

Meanwhile, the French economy grew. Trade and commerce expanded and cities prospered. At the end of the 11th century, Paris was booming.

The arts – architecture, sculpture and literature flourished in France. Learning also flourished and many universities were founded, Paris in 1150, Toulouse in 1229, Montpellier in 1289, Avignon in 1303, Orleans in 1306, and Angers in 1337.

The Valois reign in France

Meanwhile, the last Capeean king, Charles the Fair, died in 1328 and his cousin Philip of Valois became Philip VI. However, Edward III of England claimed the throne because his mother was the sister of King Charles the Fair. (Salic law did not allow him to inherit the throne through a woman.) So in 1337 a long and terrible series of wars began between England and France.

The English won a sea battle at Sluys in 1340. In 1346 the English won a famous victory at Crecy with the longbow. Then, in 1348, England and France were devastated by the Black Death, which killed a third of the population.

However, the English won the Battle of Poitiers in 1356 and captured the French King John II in 1358. The English demanded a large ransom for John. Heavy taxes were necessary to pay for it, and disgruntled peasants revolted in 1358. This rebellion was called Jacquerie and was crushed.

The Bretigny peace treaty was signed in 1360, and France was forced to surrender much of its territory. However, the peace was only temporary. The war started again in 1369.

This time, France was successful, and by 1375 the English were forced back until they had no more than a few ports.

However, in 1392 the French King Charles VI went mad. As a result, different factions in France began to compete for power. One faction was headed by Jean sans Peur (John the Bold), Duke of Burgundy and cousin to the king. The other faction was led by the king’s brother, the Duke of Orleans.

However, the Duke of Orleans was assassinated and in 1415 the English invaded again. They achieved a great victory at Agincourt in 1415.

The Duke of Burgundy was assassinated in 1419. However, the Burgundians made an alliance with the English. They recognized Henry V of England as heir to the throne of France. They also forced Charles VI to give his daughter to Henry in marriage.

King Charles’s son, the Dauphin, fled south leaving northern France in the hands of the English and the Burgundians. In 1422, when his father died, he claimed the throne of France, but ruled only the south of France.

However, in 1429 the tide turned. A woman named Joan of Arc led a French Renaissance. Joan of Arc was a very strange person. Joan said that she heard voices. She also wore men’s clothing. Joan claimed that from the age of 13 she heard ‘voices’. We are not sure what caused the hearing ‘voices’.

Doctors today could probably treat it, but in the Middle Ages medicine was very primitive. However, Joan of Arc convinced the French king to allow her to rally the troops and inspire them at the Battle of Orleans in 1429.

The English besieged the city, but were expelled. However, the Burgundians captured the unfortunate Joan in 1430. She was handed over to the English who burned her as a heretic in 1431.

However, the French fight continued. By 1453 the English had been expelled from all of France except Calais.

The defeat of the English brought the French kings control of Aquitaine, Normandy, and Burgundy. Other parts of France were also under the king’s control. Provence was absorbed in 1482. In 1491 Charles VIII (1483-1498) married Anne Duchess of Brittany and the region lost its autonomy. At the end of the fifteenth century, France was a strong and centralized kingdom.

Century XVI

At the beginning of the 16th century, France became rich and the population grew rapidly. Meanwhile, in 1539, the Edict of Villers-Cotterets made French the language of legal and official documents instead of Latin. However, many people still speak languages ​​such as Breton and Occitan instead of French.

However, in the years 1494-1559 France was involved in a series of wars with Italy. They only ended with the Treaty of Cateau-Cambresis.

Meanwhile, France was shaken by the Reformation. In 1523 Jean Valliere became the first Protestant martyr in France. The persecution of Protestants worsened after 1540. Meanwhile, in 1541 Calvinism, a new branch of Protestantism, arose in France.

Then, in 1562, a group of Protestants were massacred at Vassy by Catholics. This terrible event led to a series of religious wars in 1562-63, 1567-68, 1569-1570, 1573-74, 1576, 1577, 1579-1580 and 1585-1598.

The worst event during these wars was the Saint Bartholomew massacre in 1572. On that day, some 3,000 Protestants were killed in Paris by Catholics. Similar massacres took place in other French cities and perhaps another 8,000 Protestants were killed there.

Then, in 1589, King Henry III was assassinated leaving a Protestant, Henry of Navarre, heir to the throne of France. However, many Catholics refused to accept Henry and he had to fight for his throne. However, in 1593 he converted to Catholicism and in 1594 he entered Paris.

Finally, in 1598, he issued the Edict of Nantes. This gave Protestants the right to practice their religion and the right to keep certain towns fortified as security against attack.

However, war was not the only problem in late 16th century France. There were also a series of bad harvests and, in the 1580s and 1590s, epidemics. It was a difficult time for France.

XVII century

In the 17th century the power of the French king grew and grew and at the end of the 17th century France had an absolute monarchy. Absolutism was summed up by Louis XIV when he said: ‘L’etat c’est moi’ (I am the state).

However, things did not go well in France. In 1610 King Henry IV was assassinated by a Catholic fanatic, François Ravaillac.

In 1610 Louis XIII became king. Much of his reign was dominated by Cardinal Richelieu, who became chief minister in 1624 and held power until his death in 1642.

At the beginning of the 17th century, the French Protestants or the Huguenots had their own fortified cities. However, Louis XIII was determined to completely absorb them into his kingdom. In 1627, the people of La Rochelle revolted and royal forces laid siege. La Rochelle surrendered in 1628 after a long and terrible siege.

In 1618 the Thirty Years’ War began between various European powers. Two of the participants were Austria and Spain. Fearful that France would be encircled if Richelieu, too powerful, went to war against them in 1635.

Ultimately, the war went well for France. The French won a battle against the Spanish at Rocroi in 1643 and also advanced on the eastern front.

However, the war was very expensive and taxes had to be raised to pay for it. As a result, there were several uprisings in France. In 1636 a rebellion broke out in the west. In 1639 an uprising broke out in Normandy. However, the government crushed all rebellions. The war with Austria ended in 1648, but the war with Spain lasted until 1659.

Meanwhile, in 1643, Louis XIV became King of France. He was destined to become one of the greatest kings of France and was known as the “Sun King”.

However, early in his reign rebellion broke out. Between 1648 and 1652 there was a series of uprisings called the Fronde. These uprisings were led by angry nobles, eager to protect their feudal privileges from the encroaching power of the king. However, once again the government crushed them and restored order. Ironically, the end of the Fronde left Louis XIV even more powerful than before.

Then, in 1661, Louis XIV decided to do without a chief minister and run things himself. Until 1683, however, he was aided by a very capable finance minister named Colbert.

During Louis’s reign, art and science flourished in France. In 1661 a Dance Academy was founded. An Academy of Sciences followed in 1666, an Academy of Architecture in 1671, and an Academy of Music in 1672. Then, in 1682, Louis moved to a magnificent new palace at Versailles.

However, Louis also involved France in many wars. They were the War of Devolution 1667-1668, the Dutch War 1672-1678, the War of the League of Augsburg (1689-1697), and the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1713). These wars were enormously costly and taxes had to be raised to pay for them, which placed a great burden on ordinary people.

Also, in 1685, Louis revoked the Edict of Nantes, which granted Protestants religious toleration. As a result, France lost hundreds of thousands of its ablest citizens as Protestants fled abroad. Worse still, France suffered a famine in 1693-1694 and in 1707-1710.

Louis XIV finally died in 1715.

Century XVIII

The 18th century was a prosperous time for many French people. (Of course there was extreme poverty, but there was in any country at the time). French trade grew rapidly. So did the number of people in the middle class, those below the rich but above the poor. The population of France also increased.

It was also a time of rationalism. Rationalist thinkers like Voltaire (1694-1778) attacked the power of the Catholic Church and also the laws and traditional forms of government. Between 1751 and 1772 Denis Diderot (1713-1784) edited the Encyclopedia, which encouraged rationalist thought. Meanwhile, many pamphlets and brochures were written attacking the established order.

Many people educated in France were also influenced by the example of Great Britain. In 1726 Voltaire visited England and wrote admiringly. He certainly had an idealized vision of England, but at least it was governed by parliament (although only a small minority of men could vote). Imprisonment without trial was illegal and although there was a state church, other Protestant churches were tolerated.

Meanwhile, in 1756-1763, France was embroiled in the Seven Years’ War. France lost Canada and her position in India.

Then, in 1776, the British colonies in North America revolted. The French wanted to help the rebels and take revenge on the British. France joined the war in 1778 and played a key role in the American victory at Yorktown in 1781. Britain was forced to recognize the independence of the colonies in 1783.

The Revolt of the Nobles

The French Revolution began as a revolt of the nobles. In theory, the king was an absolute monarch who could do whatever he wanted. However, after 1774 it turned out that he was not as powerful as he seemed. At first, resistance to the king was led by bodies called parlements.

They are not elected bodies. They were bodies of nobles who acted as royal courts. However, one of his duties was to record the king’s decrees. In the late 18th century, the nobles who formed the parliaments began to feel that their traditional feudal rights were under attack and resisted the king by refusing to register the decrees.

(Most importantly, the nobility was exempt from many taxes and jealously guarded this right.)

Whenever the parliaments disagreed with the king, they were forced to submit, but they were becoming pockets of resistance to the king.

In 1778 France declared war on Great Britain in support of the American colonists. The war was very expensive. France had to borrow a lot of money to pay for the war, and the loans were very difficult to repay. So in 1786 the finance minister, Calonne, proposed a new land tax (with no exemptions for the rich) and a stamp duty.

Calonne feared that the Parliaments would resist the idea, so he persuaded the King to convene a Council of Notables to discuss the idea. Calonne hoped that if they accepted it the parliaments would not dare to resist.

However, things did not go as planned. The Assembly of Notables was not elected, its members were appointed by the king and almost all of them were nobles. However, when they met in 1787, the notables declared that they were powerless to accept the plans. Instead, they suggested to the king that he call in the Estates General. (This was an elected body that had not met since 1614.)

The king dismissed the assembly and in June 1787 sent the new fiscal measures to the Paris parliament for registration. However, as feared, the parliaments refused to register. In August he was sent into exile, but in September 1787 the king was forced to remove him.

Across France, parliaments continued to reject the king’s plans, crying out for the Estates General to be called. Finally, in July 1788, the king relented. He agreed to call the Estates General.

However, the king was unlucky. The harvests of 1787 and 1788 were poor and bread (the staple food of the poor) was expensive, so people were in a bad mood.

The French revolution

The Estates General had not met since 1614. It was divided into three parts. The third estate represented the common people (the vast majority of the population). The second estate represented the clergy and the first the nobility. However, the consent of all three estates was needed to pass a measure. So the nobles or the clergy could veto any measure approved by the third estate.

The third estate thought that was not fair, since they represented the vast majority of the people. They wanted the Estates General to vote as a single unit, with all its members together. If a majority of all members voted in favor of a measure, it would be approved.

At that time, half of all members of the general estates were in the third estate. So if some members of the clergy and nobility voted with them, they could push through reforms.

The Estates General met on May 5, 1789, and quickly began arguing over how they should vote. Finally the third estate lost patience and in June they declared themselves true representatives of the people of France. On June 17 they declared themselves National Assembly. On June 19, the clergy voted, by a narrow majority, to join them.

However, the king and his advisers were alarmed. So when the deputies arrived on Saturday, June 20, they found their building closed and guarded by soldiers. However, the third estate refused to disperse. They met at a nearby tennis court and vowed not to disperse until the king satisfied their demands. On Monday, June 22, they were joined by most of the clergy.

The king hesitated. Finally, on June 27, he relented. He ordered the three estates to unite and vote as one body. His decision caused rejoicing in Paris. It seemed that the reformers had one.

However, the king ordered the troops to march on Paris. The people were alarmed and looked for weapons to defend themselves. On the morning of July 14, 1789, cannons and firearms were seized from the Invalides (a hospital for military veterans). They then surrounded a fortress and a prison called the Bastille. The governor was forced to surrender. For the common people, the Bastille was enormously important as a symbol of royal power and arbitrary rule.

The king was then informed that the army was unreliable. The soldiers could refuse to shoot at people. So Louis withdrew from the use of force. In one fell swoop, the king’s authority evaporated.

After the fall of the Bastille, Paris received a new municipal government with a man named Bailly as mayor. To preserve law and order in Paris, a citizen militia was formed. It was called the National Guard and it was led by a man named Lafayette.

A wave of riots swept through rural France. It was known as La Grande Peur (The Great Fear). Rumor spread that the aristocrats had hired bandits to take revenge on the peasants. (At a time when people were anxious and desperate rumors spread quickly.)

The peasants grabbed their weapons to defend themselves. When the bandit gangs did not appear, the peasants turned against their masters.

Peasants had always had to pay feudal dues to their lords. Now they seized and burned the records of feudal dues. In some cases they looted or burned buildings.

Alarmed, the National Assembly decided that the only way to defuse the situation was to abolish the feudal dues as soon as possible. On the night of August 4, 1789, the assembly voted to eliminate the feudal privileges of the nobility in France.

On August 26, 1789, the Assembly voted in favor of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. He declared that all men are born free and equal. Arbitrary arrest and detention are prohibited. Furthermore, in the future, all appointments to public office will be open to all and based solely on ability.

However, the economic situation in France worsened. The price of bread continued to rise and ordinary people became more desperate.

Meanwhile, Louis ordered troops moved from the border to his palace at Versailles near Paris, alarming Parisians. On October 5, 1789, crowds of women gathered in Paris and seized guns and cannons.

They marched to Versailles and entered a meeting of the National Assembly demanding bread. They also sent a delegation to the king, who immediately relented and accepted all the decrees that the Assembly had made.

Meanwhile, the National Guard marched towards Versailles. His leader, Lafayette, was reluctant to leave Paris unguarded, but his men demanded it. When Lafayette arrived he ‘requested’ that the king leave Versailles and come to Paris. However, the crowd of ordinary people demanded it. In the face of popular uproar, Louis relented and on October 6 agreed to move to the capital.

Meanwhile, the Assembly reformed the local government. The old parliaments were swept away and new courts were formed. Thereafter, 83 departments replaced the former regions of France. They were all run by elected councils. The old taxes were abolished and replaced by new ones.

The Civil Constitution of the Clergy

The French Revolution also broke the power of the Catholic Church in France. On August 4, 1789 tithes were abolished (until then people had to pay a tenth of their income to the Church). In November, the Assembly voted for the confiscation of land belonging to the Church and the payment of a salary to the clergy (making them employees of the State).

An Assembly committee drew up plans to reform the Church. He decided on a salary scale and changed the number of bishops. From then on there would be 83, one for each department. The number of parishes was also reduced.

In addition, in the future, the parish priests will be elected by the district assemblies. The bishops would be chosen by the departmental assemblies.

These new plans were ready in July 1790 and were called the Civil Constitution of the Clergy. However, many of the clerics refused to cooperate, and in November 1790 the Assembly voted to dismiss any clergyman who did not take an oath of allegiance to the new constitution. Throughout France, some clerics took the oath. Others refused and resigned.

Furthermore, from 1790 France began to divide between those who felt that the revolution had gone far enough and those who wanted to go further.

Then, in 1791, the king made matters worse by trying to flee France. On the night of June 20, he and his family slipped away. However, the king was recognized. The royal party stopped at Varennes. It was now obvious that the king rejected the revolution and would turn back the clock if he could. Louis alienated a lot of people in France.

However, in September 1791 the new constitution was ready and the king accepted it. The king still retained some powers, including the right to appoint and dismiss ministers. Also, not all men can vo

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