After the fall of Rome, northern Gaul was occupied by the Franks in 486. By the time of Charlemagne in the late eighth century, all of Gaul was under Frankish rule. After Charlemagne's death, his empire was split among his sons. West Francia became the Kingdom of France.
Hugh Capet became the first King of France in 987. France was divided into feudal fiefdoms, and the King had little authority. Several French nobles participated in the Crusades in the eleventh and twelfth centuries.
In 1337, the King of England asserted his right to the French throne. The resulting Hundred Years' War began with a long string of French defeats, lasting until 1415. After that, French morale improved with Joan of Arc, and the fortunes changed. By 1453, the English had been almost entirely expelled from France.
Throughout the seventeenth century, France grew in power and became an absolute monarchy. France also began to colonized Quebec in Canada and Saint-Domingue, now known as Haiti, in the Caribbean, as well various towns on the Indian coast.
At the beginning of the 1700s, the King of France was poised to inherit the Spanish throne. However, a coalition of the Netherlands, Great Britain, and Prussia opposed them. France was defeated in the War of the Spanish Succession and forced to give up their claim to the Spanish throne.
After the Seven Years' War, France lost most of their American colonies to the British. France was able to get back at the British by supporting the American rebels in the American Revolutionary War. French naval support made a decisive difference in the Battle of Yorktown.
Throughout the 1780s, discontent against the reigning King Louis XVI and his Austrian wife, Marie Antoinette. On July 14, 1789, a crowd of angry protesters stormed the Bastille, a prison in Paris. Shortly thereafter, the King was overthrown and a French Republic established.
French Revolution and Napoleonic WarsEdit
The initial phase of the French Revolution was political chaos. The Reign of Terror, under Maximilien Robespierre, resulted in the deaths of thousands by guillotine, including Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, and Robespierre himself. At the same time, various European powers attempted to invade France at its time of weakness, but revolutionary armies under Napoleon Bonaparte and others were able to repel them.
By 1797, the situation had stabilized, and Bonaparte led a successful invasion of northern Italy, established French client states. In 1798, in order to threaten British India, Napoleon sailed an army to Mamluk Egypt. The Mamluk horsemen, wielding at best old muskets, were easily defeated at the Battle of the Pyramids, but the docked French fleet was destroyed at the Battle of Abukir Bay by the British. The French left during a truce, having achieved little.
In 1804, Napoleon was crowned Emperor of France. A year later, a combined French-Spanish fleet was defeated by the British admiral Horatio Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar. The French navy would never fully recover from this crushing defeat.
However, the French remained superior on land. The Battle of Austerlitz in 1807 against the Austrians and Russians and the Battle of Jena won the French control of Germany, and a German Confederation was established under French suzerainty. However, the Peninsular War in the Iberian Peninsula took a toll on the French occupiers.
Next, Napoleon launched an invasion of Russia in 1812. Although Napoleon reached and burned Moscow and defeated Russian forces at the Battle of Borodino, attrition and winter weather wore down his troops and he was forced to retreat.
By 1814, Napoleon was confined to France, and his enemies poured in from all sides. A Russian force under Alexander Suvorov crossed the Alps and captured Paris, and Napoleon was forced to abdicate and was exiled to Elba. Napoleon escaped in 1815, landed in France, rallied an army, and overthrew the restored French king. After 100 days of skillfully outmaneuvering Prussian, British, and Dutch forces, he was trapped in the Battle of Waterloo and defeated by Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington. He was then exiled again to Saint Helena, where he died.
The Congress of Vienna in 1815 reestablished the French monarchy. However, popular discontent led to the establishment of the Second French Republic. In the 1860s, Napoleon III became the Emperor of France. He sponsored an attempt to put Maximilien von Habsburg on the Mexican throne, but heavy Mexican resistance prevented this.
In 1870, Prussia antagonized France into declaring war, and the French were defeated at the Battle of Sedan. The Prussians advanced on Paris, and in 1871, France was forced into a humiliating surrender, losing Alsace-Lorraine in the process. Napoleon III was overthrown, and a republic was established once again.
In 1885, the Berlin Conference granted much of West Africa to France as a colony. Additionally, France conquered Indochina in the 1880s. In the 1890s, France formed the Triple Entente alliance with Russia and the United Kingdom.
World War IEdit
When Germany and Russia became embroiled in World War I, France and the United Kingdom entered the war on the side of Russia. A quick German offensive through Belgium was turned back at the First Battle of the Marne, and a long, bloody stalemate began.
The Germans first used poison gas in 1915, at the Battle of Ypres. Overall, poison gas killed about 100,000 troops in World War I and injured many thousands more. The Battle of the Somme and the Battle of Verdun, both occurring at roughly the same time in 1916, claimed nearly half a million lives a peace, with little tangible gain.
The breakthrough came in 1917, with the entrance of the United States into the war. American soldiers helped break the German spring offensive, and started to push into Germany. The Allies were held at the Hindenburg Line for a while, but by 1918 the German navy was in mutiny and revolts were happening across the country. On November 11, 1918, Germany signed an unconditional armistice.
The 1920s were a blossoming of culture around the world. Paris became an intellectual and artistic center, and all of France experienced an economic boom.
However, all of this came to an end with the Great Depression in 1929. An increasingly paranoid France began the construction of the Maginot Line, a series of defensive fortifications on the German border.
World War IIEdit
Although France tolerated German expansion in the 1930s, the invasion of Poland starting on September 1, 1939, was not acceptable. The United Kingdom and France declared war on Germany, beginning World War II. However, they took little action to help Poland, and it fell within a month.
In spring of 1940, Germany launched a blitzkrieg attack against France. The German advance through the Ardennes bypassed the Maginot Line, and Paris quickly fell. British soldiers were also turned back, and forced to retreat to Great Britain at the Battle of Dunkirk. However, the French military fared somewhat better against the Italian offensive in the south.
After the invasion, northern France was put directly under German control, while southern France was given limited self-government in the form of Vichy France under Philippe Petain. While some French colonies defected to the Vichy government, others joined the Free French Forces under Charles de Gaulle.
Major combat operations did not resume in France until D-Day, on June 6, 1944. 144,000 American, British, and Canadian troops landed on Normandy and pushed back the German defenders. A simultaneous advance into southern France from the Mediterranean resulted in the quick liberation of France.
Cold War and decolonizationEdit
Immediately after the end of World War II, French Indochina erupted into revolt instigated by Ho Chi Minh. The French adopted increasingly drastic measures, including asking the United States for an atomic bomb, but in 1954 they were defeated at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu and forced to withdraw.
A similar conflict occurred in Algeria. Beginning in 1958, the French occupation was opposed militarily. The French began a reign of terror, torturing and murdered dissidents. While initially successful, this galvanized the Algerian population, and in the early 1960s France was forced to withdraw. Most of the French colonies in West Africa were also given independence at this time, albeit peacefully.
During the 1960s, France developed an independent nuclear deterrent to the Soviet Union, and withdrew from NATO. In May of 1968, student protests crippled the nation, and Charles de Gaulle, the World War II hero, became President to restore order.