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600 BCE - 2023

History of France

The first written records for the history of France appeared in the Iron Age. What is now France made up the bulk of the region known to the Romans as Gaul. Greek writers noted the presence of three main ethno-linguistic groups in the area: the Gauls, the Aquitani, and the Belgae. The Gauls, the largest and best attested group, were Celtic people speaking what is known as the Gaulish language.

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601 BCE
Greeks in pre-Roman Gaul
In legend, Gyptis, daughter of the king of the Segobriges, chose the Greek Protis, who then received a site for founding Massalia. ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
600 BCE Jan 1

Greeks in pre-Roman Gaul

Marseille, France

In 600 BCE, Ionian Greeks from Phocaea founded the colony of Massalia (present-day Marseille) on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, making it the oldest city of France. At the same time, some Celtic tribes arrived in the eastern parts (Germania superior) of the current territory of France, but this occupation spread in the rest of France only between the 5th and 3rd century BCE.

La Tène culture
Agris Helmet, France ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
450 BCE Jan 1 - 7 BCE

La Tène culture

Central Europe

The La Tène culture was a European Iron Age culture. It developed and flourished during the late Iron Age (from about 450 BCE to the Roman conquest in the 1st century BCE), succeeding the early Iron Age Hallstatt culture without any definite cultural break, under considerable Mediterranean influence from the Greeks in pre-Roman Gaul, the Etruscans, and the Golasecca culture, but whose artistic style nevertheless did not depend on those Mediterranean influences.

La Tène culture's territorial extent corresponded to what is now France, Belgium, Switzerland, Austria, England, Southern Germany, the Czech Republic, parts of Northern Italy and Central Italy, Slovenia and Hungary, as well as adjacent parts of the Netherlands, Slovakia, Serbia, Croatia, Transylvania (western Romania), and Transcarpathia (western Ukraine). The Celtiberians of western Iberia shared many aspects of the culture, though not generally the artistic style. To the north extended the contemporary Pre-Roman Iron Age of Northern Europe, including the Jastorf culture of Northern Germany and all the way to Galatia in Asia Minor (today Turkey).

Centered on ancient Gaul, the culture became very widespread, and encompasses a wide variety of local differences. It is often distinguished from earlier and neighbouring cultures mainly by the La Tène style of Celtic art, characterized by curving "swirly" decoration, especially of metalwork.

It is named after the type site of La Tène on the north side of Lake Neuchâtel in Switzerland, where thousands of objects had been deposited in the lake, as was discovered after the water level dropped in 1857. La Tène is the type site and the term archaeologists use for the later period of the culture and art of the ancient Celts, a term that is firmly entrenched in the popular understanding, but presents numerous problems for historians and archaeologists.

Initial contact with Rome
Gallic warriors, La Tene ©Angus McBride
154 BCE Jan 1

Initial contact with Rome


In the 2nd century BCE Mediterranean Gaul had an extensive urban fabric and was prosperous. Archeologists know of cities in northern Gaul including the Biturigian capital of Avaricum (Bourges), Cenabum (Orléans), Autricum (Chartres) and the excavated site of Bibracte near Autun in Saône-et-Loire, along with a number of hill forts (or oppida) used in times of war. The prosperity of Mediterranean Gaul encouraged Rome to respond to pleas for assistance from the inhabitants of Massilia, who found themselves under attack by a coalition of Ligures and Gauls. The Romans intervened in Gaul in 154 BCE and again in 125 BCE. Whereas on the first occasion they came and went, on the second they stayed. In 122 BCE Domitius Ahenobarbus managed to defeat the Allobroges (allies of the Salluvii), while in the ensuing year Quintus Fabius Maximus "destroyed" an army of the Arverni led by their king Bituitus, who had come to the aid of the Allobroges. Rome allowed Massilia to keep its lands, but added to its own territories the lands of the conquered tribes. As a direct result of these conquests, Rome now controlled an area extending from the Pyrenees to the lower Rhône river, and in the east up the Rhône valley to Lake Geneva. By 121 BCE Romans had conquered the Mediterranean region called Provincia (later named Gallia Narbonensis). This conquest upset the ascendancy of the Gaulish Arverni peoples.

Gallic Wars
©Lionel Ryoyer
58 BCE Jan 1 - 50 BCE

Gallic Wars


The Gallic Wars were waged between 58 BCE and 50 BCE by the Roman general Julius Caesar against the peoples of Gaul (present-day France, Belgium, along with parts of Germany and the United Kingdom). Gallic, Germanic, and British tribes fought to defend their homelands against an aggressive Roman campaign. The Wars culminated in the decisive Battle of Alesia in 52 BCE, in which a complete Roman victory resulted in the expansion of the Roman Republic over the whole of Gaul. Though the Gallic military was as strong as the Romans, the Gallic tribes' internal divisions eased victory for Caesar. Gallic chieftain Vercingetorix's attempt to unite the Gauls under a single banner came too late. Caesar portrayed the invasion as being a preemptive and defensive action, but historians agree that he fought the Wars primarily to boost his political career and to pay off his debts. Still, Gaul was of significant military importance to the Romans. Native tribes in the region, both Gallic and Germanic, had attacked Rome several times. Conquering Gaul allowed Rome to secure the natural border of the river Rhine. The Wars began with conflict over the migration of the Helvetii in 58 BCE, which drew in neighboring tribes and the Germanic Suebi.

Roman Gaul
©Angus McBride
50 BCE Jan 1 - 473

Roman Gaul


Gaul was divided into several different provinces. The Romans displaced populations to prevent local identities from becoming a threat to Roman control. Thus, many Celts were displaced in Aquitania or were enslaved and moved out of Gaul. There was a strong cultural evolution in Gaul under the Roman Empire, the most obvious one being the replacement of the Gaulish language by Vulgar Latin. It has been argued the similarities between the Gaulish and Latin languages favoured the transition. Gaul remained under Roman control for centuries and Celtic culture was then gradually replaced by Gallo-Roman culture.

The Gauls became better integrated with the Empire with the passage of time. For instance, generals Marcus Antonius Primus and Gnaeus Julius Agricola were both born in Gaul, as were emperors Claudius and Caracalla. Emperor Antoninus Pius also came from a Gaulish family. In the decade following Valerian's capture by the Persians in 260, Postumus established a short-lived Gallic Empire, which included the Iberian Peninsula and Britannia, in addition to Gaul itself. Germanic tribes, the Franks and the Alamanni, entered Gaul at this time. The Gallic Empire ended with Emperor Aurelian's victory at Châlons in 274.

A migration of Celts appeared in the 4th century in Armorica. They were led by the legendary king Conan Meriadoc and came from Britain. They spoke the now extinct British language, which evolved into the Breton, Cornish, and Welsh languages.

In 418 the Aquitanian province was given to the Goths in exchange for their support against the Vandals. Those same Goths had sacked Rome in 410 and established a capital in Toulouse.

The Roman Empire had difficulty responding to all the barbarian raids, and Flavius Aëtius had to use these tribes against each other in order to maintain some Roman control. He first used the Huns against the Burgundians, and these mercenaries destroyed Worms, killed king Gunther, and pushed the Burgundians westward. The Burgundians were resettled by Aëtius near Lugdunum in 443. The Huns, united by Attila, became a greater threat, and Aëtius used the Visigoths against the Huns. The conflict climaxed in 451 at the Battle of Châlons, in which the Romans and Goths defeated Attila.

The Roman Empire was on the verge of collapsing. Aquitania was definitely abandoned to the Visigoths, who would soon conquer a significant part of southern Gaul as well as most of the Iberian Peninsula. The Burgundians claimed their own kingdom, and northern Gaul was practically abandoned to the Franks. Aside from the Germanic peoples, the Vascones entered Wasconia from the Pyrenees and the Bretons formed three kingdoms in Armorica: Domnonia, Cornouaille and Broërec.

Gallic Empire
Lutetia 3rd century ©Jean-Claude Golvin
260 Jan 1 - 274

Gallic Empire

Cologne, Germany

The Gallic Empire or the Gallic Roman Empire are names used in modern historiography for a breakaway part of the Roman Empire that functioned de facto as a separate state from 260 to 274. It originated during the Crisis of the Third Century, when a series of Roman military leaders and aristocrats declared themselves emperors and took control of Gaul and adjacent provinces without attempting to conquer Italy or otherwise seize the central Roman administrative apparatus.The Gallic Empire was established by Postumus in 260 in the wake of barbarian invasions and instability in Rome, and at its height included the territories of Germania, Gaul, Britannia, and (for a time) Hispania. After Postumus' assassination in 269 it lost much of its territory, but continued under a number of emperors and usurpers. It was retaken by Roman emperor Aurelian after the Battle of Châlons in 274.

Immigration of Britons
Immigration of Britons ©Angus McBride
380 Jan 1

Immigration of Britons

Brittany, France

The Britons of what is now Wales and the South-Western peninsula of Great Britain began to emigrate to Armorica. The history behind such an establishment is unclear, but medieval Breton, Angevin and Welsh sources connect it to a figure known as Conan Meriadoc. Welsh literary sources assert that Conan came to Armorica on the orders of the Roman usurper Magnus Maximus, who sent some of his British troops to Gaul to enforce his claims and settled them in Armorica. This account was supported by the Counts of Anjou, who claimed descent from a Roman soldier expelled from Lower Brittany by Conan on Magnus's orders.

Regardless of the truth of this story, Brythonic (British Celtic) settlement probably increased during the Anglo-Saxon invasion of Britain in the 5th and 6th centuries. Scholars such as Léon Fleuriot have suggested a two-wave model of migration from Britain which saw the emergence of an independent Breton people and established the dominance of the Brythonic Breton language in Armorica. Their petty kingdoms are now known by the names of the counties that succeeded them—Domnonée (Devon), Cornouaille (Cornwall), Léon (Caerleon); but these names in Breton and Latin are in most cases identical to their British homelands. (In Breton and French, however, Gwened or Vannetais continued the name of the indigenous Veneti.) Although the details remain confused, these colonies consisted of related and intermarried dynasties which repeatedly unified (as by the 7th-century Saint Judicaël) before splintering again according to Celtic inheritance practices.

Kingdom of the Burgundians
Germanic Burgundians ©Angus McBride
411 Jan 1 - 534

Kingdom of the Burgundians

Lyon, France

The Burgundians, a Germanic tribe, are believed to have migrated from Bornholm to the Vistula basin in the 3rd century CE, with their first documented king, Gjúki (Gebicca), emerging in the late 4th century east of the Rhine. In 406 CE, along with other tribes, they invaded Roman Gaul and later settled in Germania Secunda as foederati. By 411 CE, under King Gunther, they expanded their territory in Roman Gaul. Despite their status, their raids led to a Roman crackdown in 436, culminating in their defeat and Gunther's death in 437 by Hun mercenaries.

Gunderic succeeded Gunther, leading the Burgundians to resettle in present-day northeastern France and western Switzerland around 443. Conflicts with the Visigoths and alliances, notably with Roman general Aetius against the Huns in 451, marked this period. Gunderic's death in 473 led to the division of the kingdom among his sons, with Gundobad becoming notable for securing the kingdom's expansions and codifying the Lex Burgundionum.

The fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 did not halt the Burgundians, as King Gundobad allied with the Frankish king Clovis I. However, the kingdom's decline began with internal strife and external pressures, notably from the Franks. Gundobad's murder of his brother and the subsequent marriage alliance with the Merovingians led to a series of conflicts, culminating in the Burgundian defeat at the Battle of Autun in 532 and their incorporation into the Frankish kingdom in 534.

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431 Jan 1 - 987

Frankish kingdoms

Aachen, Germany

Francia, also called the Kingdom of the Franks, was the largest post-Roman barbarian kingdom in Western Europe. It was ruled by the Franks during Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages. After the Treaty of Verdun in 843, West Francia became the predecessor of France, and East Francia became that of Germany. Francia was among the last surviving Germanic kingdoms from the Migration Period era before its partition in 843.

The core Frankish territories inside the former Western Roman Empire were close to the Rhine and Maas rivers in the north. After a period where small kingdoms interacted with the remaining Gallo-Roman institutions to their south, a single kingdom uniting them was founded by Clovis I who was crowned King of the Franks in 496. His dynasty, the Merovingian dynasty, was eventually replaced by the Carolingian dynasty. Under the nearly continuous campaigns of Pepin of Herstal, Charles Martel, Pepin the Short, Charlemagne, and Louis the Pious—father, son, grandson, great-grandson and great-great-grandson—the greatest expansion of the Frankish empire was secured by the early 9th century, and was by this point dubbed the Carolingian Empire.

During the Merovingian and Carolingian dynasties the Frankish realm was one large kingdom polity subdivided into several smaller kingdoms, often effectively independent. The geography and number of subkingdoms varied over time, but a basic split between eastern and western domains persisted. The eastern kingdom was initially called Austrasia, centred on the Rhine and Meuse, and expanding eastwards into central Europe. Following the Treaty of Verdun in 843, the Frankish Realm was divided into three separate kingdoms: West Francia, Middle Francia and East Francia. In 870, Middle Francia was partitioned again, with most of its territory being divided among West and East Francia, which would hence form the nuclei of the future Kingdom of France and the Holy Roman Empire respectively, with West Francia (France) eventually retaining the choronym.

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481 Jan 1

Merovingian dynasty


Chlodio's successors are obscure figures, but what can be certain is that Childeric I, possibly his grandson, ruled a Salian kingdom from Tournai as a foederatus of the Romans. Childeric is chiefly important to history for bequeathing the Franks to his son Clovis, who began an effort to extend his authority over the other Frankish tribes and to expand their territorium south and west into Gaul. Clovis converted to Christianity and put himself on good terms with the powerful Church and with his Gallo-Roman subjects.

In a thirty-year reign (481–511) Clovis defeated the Roman general Syagrius and conquered the Kingdom of Soissons, defeated the Alemanni (Battle of Tolbiac, 496) and established Frankish hegemony over them. Clovis defeated the Visigoths (Battle of Vouillé, 507) and conquered all of their territory north of the Pyrenees save Septimania, and conquered the Bretons (according to Gregory of Tours) and made them vassals of Francia. He conquered most or all of the neighbouring Frankish tribes along the Rhine and incorporated them into his kingdom.

He also incorporated the various Roman military settlements (laeti) scattered over Gaul: the Saxons of Bessin, the Britons and the Alans of Armorica and Loire valley or the Taifals of Poitou to name a few prominent ones. By the end of his life, Clovis ruled all of Gaul save the Gothic province of Septimania and the Burgundian kingdom in the southeast.

The Merovingians were a hereditary monarchy. The Frankish kings adhered to the practice of partible inheritance: dividing their lands among their sons. Even when multiple Merovingian kings ruled, the kingdom—not unlike the late Roman Empire—was conceived of as a single realm ruled collectively by several kings and the turn of events could result in the reunification of the whole realm under a single king. The Merovingian kings ruled by divine right and their kingship was symbolised daily by their long hair and initially by their acclamation, which was carried out by raising the king on a shield in accordance with the ancient Germanic practice of electing a war-leader at an assembly of the warriors.

486 - 987
Frankish Kingdomsornament
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687 Jan 1 - 751

Mayors of the palace


In 673, Chlothar III died and some Neustrian and Burgundian magnates invited Childeric to become king of the whole realm, but he soon upset some Neustrian magnates and he was assassinated (675).

The reign of Theuderic III was to prove the end of the Merovingian dynasty's power. Theuderic III succeeded his brother Chlothar III in Neustria in 673, but Childeric II of Austrasia displaced him soon thereafter—until he died in 675, and Theuderic III retook his throne. When Dagobert II died in 679, Theuderic received Austrasia as well and became king of the whole Frankish realm. Thoroughly Neustrian in outlook, he allied with his mayor Berchar and made war on the Austrasian who had installed Dagobert II, Sigebert III's son, in their kingdom (briefly in opposition to Clovis III).

In 687 he was defeated by Pepin of Herstal, the Arnulfing mayor of Austrasia and the real power in that kingdom, at the Battle of Tertry and was forced to accept Pepin as sole mayor and dux et princeps Francorum: "Duke and Prince of the Franks", a title which signifies, to the author of the Liber Historiae Francorum, the beginning of Pepin's "reign". Thereafter the Merovingian monarchs showed only sporadically, in our surviving records, any activities of a non-symbolic and self-willed nature.

During the period of confusion in the 670s and 680s, attempts had been made to re-assert Frankish suzerainty over the Frisians, but to no avail. In 689, however, Pepin launched a campaign of conquest in Western Frisia (Frisia Citerior) and defeated the Frisian king Radbod near Dorestad, an important trading centre. All the land between the Scheldt and the Vlie was incorporated into Francia.

Then, circa 690, Pepin attacked central Frisia and took Utrecht. In 695 Pepin could even sponsor the foundation of the Archdiocese of Utrecht and the beginning of the conversion of the Frisians under Willibrord. However, Eastern Frisia (Frisia Ulterior) remained outside of Frankish suzerainty.

Having achieved great successes against the Frisians, Pepin turned towards the Alemanni. In 709 he launched a war against Willehari, duke of the Ortenau, probably in an effort to force the succession of the young sons of the deceased Gotfrid on the ducal throne. This outside interference led to another war in 712 and the Alemanni were, for the time being, restored to the Frankish fold.

However, in southern Gaul, which was not under Arnulfing influence, the regions were pulling away from the royal court under leaders such as Savaric of Auxerre, Antenor of Provence, and Odo of Aquitaine. The reigns of Clovis IV and Childebert III from 691 until 711 have all the hallmarks of those of rois fainéants, though Childebert is founding making royal judgements against the interests of his supposed masters, the Arnulfings.

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751 Jan 1 - 840

Carolingian dynasty


The Carolingian dynasty was a Frankish noble family named after mayor Charles Martel, a descendant of the Arnulfing and Pippinid clans of the 7th century CE. The dynasty consolidated its power in the 8th century, eventually making the offices of mayor of the palace and dux et princeps Francorum hereditary, and becoming the de facto rulers of the Franks as the real powers behind the Merovingian throne. In 751 the Merovingian dynasty which had ruled the Germanic Franks was overthrown with the consent of the Papacy and the aristocracy, and Pepin the Short, son of Martel, was crowned King of the Franks. The Carolingian dynasty reached its peak in 800 with the crowning of Charlemagne as the first Emperor of the Romans in the West in over three centuries. His death in 814 began an extended period of fragmentation of the Carolingian Empire and decline that would eventually lead to the evolution of the Kingdom of France and the Holy Roman Empire.

First Capetians
Hugh Capet ©Anonymous
940 Jan 1 - 1108

First Capetians

Reims, France

The history of medieval France starts with the election of Hugh Capet (940–996) by an assembly summoned in Reims in 987. Capet was previously "Duke of the Franks" and then became "King of the Franks" (Rex Francorum). Hugh's lands extended little beyond the Paris basin; his political unimportance weighed against the powerful barons who elected him. Many of the king's vassals (who included for a long time the kings of England) ruled over territories far greater than his own. He was recorded to be recognised king by the Gauls, Bretons, Danes, Aquitanians, Goths, Spanish and Gascons. The new dynasty was in immediate control of little beyond the middle Seine and adjacent territories, while powerful territorial lords such as the 10th- and 11th-century counts of Blois accumulated large domains of their own through marriage and through private arrangements with lesser nobles for protection and support.

Hugh's son – Robert the Pious – was crowned King of the Franks before Capet's demise. Hugh Capet decided so in order to have his succession secured. Robert II, as King of the Franks, met Holy Roman Emperor Henry II in 1023 on the borderline. They agreed to end all claims over each other's realm, setting a new stage of Capetian and Ottonian relationships. Although a king weak in power, Robert II's efforts were considerable. His surviving charters imply he relied heavily on the Church to rule France, much like his father did. Although he lived with a mistress – Bertha of Burgundy – and was excommunicated because of this, he was regarded as a model of piety for monks (hence his nickname, Robert the Pious). The reign of Robert II was quite important because it involved the Peace and Truce of God (beginning in 989) and the Cluniac Reforms.

Robert II crowned his son – Hugh Magnus – as King of the Franks at age 10 to secure the succession, but Hugh Magnus rebelled against his father and died fighting him in 1025.

The next King of the Franks was Robert II's next son, Henry I (reigned 1027–1060). Like Hugh Magnus, Henry was crowned as co-ruler with his father (1027), in the Capetian tradition, but he had little power or influence as junior king while his father still lived. Henry I was crowned after Robert's death in 1031, which is quite exceptional for a French king of the times. Henry I was one of the weakest kings of the Franks, and his reign saw the rise of some very powerful nobles such as William the Conqueror. Henry I's biggest source of concerns was his brother – Robert I of Burgundy – who was pushed by his mother to the conflict. Robert of Burgundy was made Duke of Burgundy by King Henry I and had to be satisfied with that title. From Henry I onward, the Dukes of Burgundy were relatives of the King of the Franks until the end of the Duchy proper.

King Philip I, named by his Kievan mother with a typically Eastern European name, was no more fortunate than his predecessor although the kingdom did enjoy a modest recovery during his extraordinarily long reign (1060–1108). His reign also saw the launch of the First Crusade to regain the Holy Land, which heavily involved his family although he personally did not support the expedition.

The area around the lower Seine, ceded to Scandinavian invaders as the Duchy of Normandy in 911, became a source of particular concern when Duke William took possession of the kingdom of England in the Norman Conquest of 1066, making himself and his heirs the King's equal outside France (where he was still nominally subject to the Crown).

987 - 1453
Kingdom of Franceornament
Louis VI and Louis VII
Louis the Fat ©Angus McBride
1108 Jan 1 - 1180

Louis VI and Louis VII


It is from Louis VI (reigned 1108–1137) onward that royal authority became more accepted. Louis VI was more a soldier and warmongering king than a scholar. The way the king raised money from his vassals made him quite unpopular; he was described as greedy and ambitious and that is corroborated by records of the time. His regular attacks on his vassals, although damaging the royal image, reinforced the royal power. From 1127 onward Louis had the assistance of a skilled religious statesman, Abbot Suger. The abbot was the son of a minor family of knights, but his political advice was extremely valuable to the king. Louis VI successfully defeated, both military and politically, many of the robber barons. Louis VI frequently summoned his vassals to the court, and those who did not show up often had their land possessions confiscated and military campaigns mounted against them. This drastic policy clearly imposed some royal authority on Paris and its surrounding areas. When Louis VI died in 1137, much progress had been made towards strengthening Capetian authority.

The late direct Capetian kings were considerably more powerful and influential than the earliest ones. While Philip I could hardly control his Parisian barons, Philip IV could dictate popes and emperors. The late Capetians, although they often ruled for a shorter time than their earlier peers, were often much more influential. This period also saw the rise of a complex system of international alliances and conflicts opposing, through dynasties, Kings of France and England and Holy Roman Emperor.

Philip II Augustus & Louis VIII
Philip II victorious at Bouvines thus annexing Normandy and Anjou into his royal domains. This battle involved a complex set of alliances from three important states, the Kingdoms of France and England and the Holy Roman Empire. ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1180 Jan 1 - 1226

Philip II Augustus & Louis VIII


The reign of Philip II Augustus marked an important step in the history of French monarchy. His reign saw the French royal domain and influence greatly expanded. He set the context for the rise of power to much more powerful monarchs like Saint Louis and Philip the Fair.

Philip II spent an important part of his reign fighting the so-called Angevin Empire, which was probably the greatest threat to the King of France since the rise of the Capetian dynasty. During the first part of his reign Philip II tried using Henry II of England's son against him. He allied himself with the Duke of Aquitaine and son of Henry II – Richard Lionheart – and together they launched a decisive attack on Henry's castle and home of Chinon and removed him from power.

Richard replaced his father as King of England afterward. The two kings then went crusading during the Third Crusade; however, their alliance and friendship broke down during the crusade. The two men were once again at odds and fought each other in France until Richard was on the verge of totally defeating Philip II.

Adding to their battles in France, the Kings of France and England were trying to install their respective allies at the head of the Holy Roman Empire. If Philip II Augustus supported Philip of Swabia, member of the House of Hohenstaufen, then Richard Lionheart supported Otto IV, member of the House of Welf. Philip of Swabia had the upper hand, but his premature death made Otto IV Holy Roman Emperor. The crown of France was saved by Richard's demise after a wound he received fighting his own vassals in Limousin.

John Lackland, Richard's successor, refused to come to the French court for a trial against the Lusignans and, as Louis VI had done often to his rebellious vassals, Philip II confiscated John's possessions in France. John's defeat was swift and his attempts to reconquer his French possession at the decisive Battle of Bouvines (1214) resulted in complete failure. The annexation of Normandy and Anjou was confirmed, the Counts of Boulogne and Flanders were captured, and the Emperor Otto IV was overthrown by Philip's ally Frederick II. Aquitaine and Gascony survived the French conquest, for the Duchess Eleanor still lived. Philip II of France was crucial in ordering Western European politics in both England and France.

Prince Louis (the future Louis VIII, reigned 1223–1226) was involved in the subsequent English civil war as French and English (or rather Anglo-Norman) aristocracies were once one and were now split between allegiances. While the French kings were struggling against the Plantagenets, the Church called for the Albigensian Crusade. Southern France was then largely absorbed in the royal domains.

Early Valois Kings and the Hundred Years' War
Brutal hand-to-hand struggle between English and French knights in the muddy battlefield of Agincourt, Hundred Years War. ©Radu Oltean
1328 Jan 1 - 1453

Early Valois Kings and the Hundred Years' War


The tensions between the Houses of Plantagenet and Capet climaxed during the so-called Hundred Years' War (actually several distinct wars over the period 1337 to 1453) when the Plantagenets claimed the throne of France from the Valois. This was also the time of the Black Death, as well as several civil wars. The French population suffered much from these wars. In 1420, by the Treaty of Troyes Henry V was made heir to Charles VI. Henry V failed to outlive Charles so it was Henry VI of England and France who consolidated the Dual-Monarchy of England and France.

It has been argued that the difficult conditions the French population suffered during the Hundred Years' War awakened French nationalism, a nationalism represented by Joan of Arc (1412–1431). Although this is debatable, the Hundred Years' War is remembered more as a Franco-English war than as a succession of feudal struggles. During this war, France evolved politically and militarily.

Although a Franco-Scottish army was successful at the Battle of Baugé (1421), the humiliating defeats of Poitiers (1356) and Agincourt (1415) forced the French nobility to realise they could not stand just as armoured knights without an organised army. Charles VII (reigned 1422–61) established the first French standing army, the Compagnies d'ordonnance, and defeated the Plantagenets once at Patay (1429) and again, using cannons, at Formigny (1450). The Battle of Castillon (1453) was the last engagement of this war; Calais and the Channel Islands remained ruled by the Plantagenets.

1453 - 1789
Early Modern Franceornament
Beautiful 16th century
Henry II of France ©François Clouet
1475 Jan 1 - 1630

Beautiful 16th century


Economic historians call the era from about 1475 to 1630 the "beautiful 16th century" because of the return of peace, prosperity and optimism across the nation, and the steady growth of population. Paris, for example, flourished as never before, as its population rose to 200,000 by 1550. In Toulouse the Renaissance of the 16th century brought wealth that transformed the architecture of the town, such as building of the great aristocratic houses. In 1559, Henri II of France signed (with the approval of Ferdinand I, Holy Roman Emperor) two treaties (Peace of Cateau-Cambrésis): one with Elizabeth I of England and one with Philip II of Spain. This ended long-lasting conflicts between France, England and Spain.

Division of Burgundy
Charles the Bold, the last Valois Duke of Burgundy. His death at the Battle of Nancy (1477) marked the division of his lands between the Kings of France and Habsburg Dynasty. ©Rogier van der Weyden
1477 Jan 1

Division of Burgundy

Burgundy, France

With the death in 1477 of Charles the Bold, France and the Habsburgs began a long process of dividing his rich Burgundian lands, leading to numerous wars. In 1532, Brittany was incorporated into the Kingdom of France.

Italian Wars
Detail of a tapestry depicting the Battle of Pavia with the alleged portrait of Galeazzo Sanseverino ©Bernard van Orley
1494 Jan 1 - 1559

Italian Wars

Italian Peninsula, Cansano, Pr

The Italian Wars, also known as the Habsburg–Valois Wars, refers to a series of conflicts covering the period 1494 to 1559 that took place primarily in the Italian peninsula. The main belligerents were the Valois kings of France and their opponents in Spain and the Holy Roman Empire. Many of the Italian states were involved on one side or the other, along with England and the Ottoman Empire.

Ancien Régime
Louis XIV of France, under whose reign the Ancien Régime reached an absolutist form of government; portrait by Hyacinthe Rigaud, 1702 ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1500 Jan 1 - 1789

Ancien Régime


The Ancien Régime, also known as the Old Regime, was the political and social system of the Kingdom of France from the Late Middle Ages (c. 1500) until the French Revolution starting in 1789, which abolished the feudal system of the French nobility (1790) and hereditary monarchy (1792). The Valois dynasty ruled during the Ancien Régime up until 1589 and was then replaced by the Bourbon dynasty. The term is occasionally used to refer to the similar feudal systems of the time elsewhere in Europe such as that of Switzerland.

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1515 Jan 1 - 1547 Mar 31

Francis I of France


Francis I was King of France from 1515 until his death in 1547. He was the son of Charles, Count of Angoulême, and Louise of Savoy. He succeeded his first cousin once removed and father-in-law Louis XII, who died without a son.

A prodigious patron of the arts, he promoted the emergent French Renaissance by attracting many Italian artists to work for him, including Leonardo da Vinci, who brought the Mona Lisa with him, which Francis had acquired. Francis' reign saw important cultural changes with the growth of central power in France, the spread of humanism and Protestantism, and the beginning of French exploration of the New World. Jacques Cartier and others claimed lands in the Americas for France and paved the way for the expansion of the first French colonial empire.

For his role in the development and promotion of the French language, he became known as le Père et Restaurateur des Lettres (the 'Father and Restorer of Letters'). He was also known as François au Grand Nez ('Francis of the Large Nose'), the Grand Colas, and the Roi-Chevalier (the 'Knight-King').

In keeping with his predecessors, Francis continued the Italian Wars. The succession of his great rival Emperor Charles V to the Habsburg Netherlands and the throne of Spain, followed by his election as Holy Roman Emperor, led to France being geographically encircled by the Habsburg monarchy. In his struggle against Imperial hegemony, Francis sought the support of Henry VIII of England at the Field of the Cloth of Gold. When this was unsuccessful, he formed a Franco-Ottoman alliance with the Muslim sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, a controversial move for a Christian king at the time.

French Colonization of the Americas
Portrait of Jacques Cartier by Théophile Hamel, arr. 1844 ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1521 Jan 1

French Colonization of the Americas


France began colonizing the Americas in the 16th century and continued on into the following centuries as it established a colonial empire in the Western Hemisphere. France established colonies in much of eastern North America, on a number of Caribbean islands, and in South America. Most colonies were developed to export products such as fish, rice, sugar, and furs.

As they colonized the New World, the French established forts and settlements that would become such cities as Quebec and Montreal in Canada; Detroit, Green Bay, St. Louis, Cape Girardeau, Mobile, Biloxi, Baton Rouge and New Orleans in the United States; and Port-au-Prince, Cap-Haïtien (founded as Cap-Français) in Haiti, Cayenne in French Guiana and São Luís (founded as Saint-Louis de Maragnan) in Brazil.

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1562 Apr 1 - 1598 Jan

French Wars of Religion


The French Wars of Religion is the term used for a period of civil war from 1562 to 1598 between French Catholics and Protestants, commonly called Huguenots. Estimates suggest between two to four million people died from violence, famine or disease directly arising from the conflict, which also severely damaged the power of the French monarchy. Fighting ended in 1598 when the Protestant Henry of Navarre converted to Catholicism, was proclaimed Henry IV of France and issued the Edict of Nantes, granting the Huguenots substantial rights and freedoms. However, this did not end Catholic hostility towards Protestants in general or him personally, and his assassination in 1610 led to a fresh round of Huguenot rebellions in the 1620s.

Tensions between the religions had been building since the 1530s, exacerbating existing regional divisions. The death of Henry II of France in July 1559 initiated a prolonged struggle for power between his widow Catherine de' Medici and powerful nobles. These included a fervently Catholic faction led by the Guise and Montmorency families and Protestants headed by the House of Condé and Jeanne d'Albret. Both sides received assistance from external powers, Spain and Savoy supporting the Catholics, while England and the Dutch Republic backed the Protestants.

Moderates, also known as Politiques, hoped to maintain order by centralising power and making concessions to Huguenots, rather than the policies of repression pursued by Henry II and his father Francis I. They were initially supported by Catherine de' Medici, whose January 1562 Edict of Saint-Germain was strongly opposed by the Guise faction and led to the outbreak of widespread fighting in March. She later hardened her stance and backed the 1572 St. Bartholomew's Day massacre in Paris, which resulted in Catholic mobs killing between 5,000 and 30,000 Protestants throughout France.

The wars threatened the authority of the monarchy and the last Valois kings, Catherine's three sons Francis II, Charles IX, and Henry III. Their Bourbon successor Henry IV responded by creating a strong central state, a policy continued by his successors and culminating with Louis XIV of France who in 1685 revoked the Edict of Nantes.

War of the Three Henrys
Henry of Navarre ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1585 Jan 1 - 1589

War of the Three Henrys


The War of the Three Henrys took place during 1585–1589, and was the eighth conflict in the series of civil wars in France known as the French Wars of Religion. It was a three-way war fought between:

  • King Henry III of France, supported by the royalists and the politiques;
  • King Henry of Navarre, later Henry IV of France, heir presumptive to the French throne and leader of the Huguenots, supported by Elizabeth I of England and the Ge, rman protestant princes; and
  • Henry of Lorraine, Duke of Guise, leader of the Catholic League, funded and supported by Philip II of Spain.

The underlying cause of the war was the looming royal succession crisis from the death of heir presumptive, Francis, Duke of Anjou (Henry III's brother), on 10 June 1584, which made the Protestant Henry of Navarre heir to the throne of the childless Henry III, whose death would extinguish the House of Valois. On 31 December 1584, the Catholic League allied itself with Philip II of Spain by the Treaty of Joinville. Philip wanted to keep his enemy, France, from interfering with the Spanish army in the Netherlands and his planned invasion of England.

The war began when the Catholic League convinced (or forced) King Henry III to issue the Treaty of Nemours (7 July 1585), an edict outlawing Protestantism and annulling Henry of Navarre's right to the throne. Henry III was possibly influenced by the royal favorite, Anne de Joyeuse. In September 1585, Pope Sixtus V excommunicated both Henry of Navarre and his cousin and leading general Condé to remove them from the royal succession.

French colonies in the New World
Painting by George Agnew Reid, done for the third centennial (1908), showing the arrival of Samuel de Champlain on the site of Quebec City. ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1608 Jan 1

French colonies in the New World

Quebec City Area, QC, Canada

The early 17th century saw the first successful French settlements in the New World with the voyages of Samuel de Champlain. The largest settlement was New France, with the towns of Quebec City (1608) and Montreal (fur trading post in 1611, Roman Catholic mission established in 1639, and colony founded in 1642).

France during the Thirty Years' War
Portrait of Cardinal Richelieu a few months before his death ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1618 May 23 - 1648 Oct 24

France during the Thirty Years' War

Central Europe

The religious conflicts that plagued France also ravaged the Habsburg-led Holy Roman Empire. The Thirty Years' War eroded the power of the Catholic Habsburgs. Although Cardinal Richelieu, the powerful chief minister of France, had mauled the Protestants, he joined this war on their side in 1636 because it was in the raison d'État (national interest). Imperial Habsburg forces invaded France, ravaged Champagne, and nearly threatened Paris.

Richelieu died in 1642 and was succeeded by Cardinal Mazarin, while Louis XIII died one year later and was succeeded by Louis XIV. France was served by some very efficient commanders such as Louis II de Bourbon (Condé) and Henry de la Tour d'Auvergne (Turenne). The French forces won a decisive victory at Rocroi (1643), and the Spanish army was decimated; the Tercio was broken. The Truce of Ulm (1647) and the Peace of Westphalia (1648) brought an end to the war.

Franco-Spanish War
Battle of Rocroi ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1635 May 19 - 1659 Nov 7

Franco-Spanish War


The Franco-Spanish War (1635–1659) was fought between France and Spain, with the participation of a changing list of allies through the war. The first phase, beginning in May 1635 and ending with the 1648 Peace of Westphalia, is considered a related conflict of the Thirty Years' War. The second phase continued until 1659 when France and Spain agreed to peace terms in the Treaty of the Pyrenees.

France avoided direct participation in the Thirty Years' War until May 1635 when it declared war on Spain and the Holy Roman Empire, entering the conflict as an ally of the Dutch Republic and Sweden. After Westphalia in 1648, the war continued between Spain and France, with neither side able to achieve decisive victory. Despite minor French gains in Flanders and along the north-eastern end of the Pyrenees, by 1658 both sides were financially exhausted and made peace in November 1659.

French territorial gains were relatively minor in extent but significantly strengthened its borders in the north and south, while Louis XIV of France married Maria Theresa of Spain, eldest daughter of Philip IV of Spain. Although Spain retained a vast global empire until the early 19th century, the Treaty of the Pyrenees has traditionally been seen as marking the end of its status as the dominant European state and the beginning of the rise of France during the 17th century.

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1643 May 14 - 1715 Sep

Reign of Louis XIV


Louis XIV, also known as the Sun King, was King of France from 14 May 1643 until his death in 1715. His reign of 72 years and 110 days is the longest recorded of any monarch of a sovereign country in history.

Louis began his personal rule of France in 1661, after the death of his chief minister, the Cardinal Mazarin. An adherent of the concept of the divine right of kings, Louis continued his predecessors' work of creating a centralised state governed from the capital. He sought to eliminate the remnants of feudalism persisting in parts of France; by compelling many members of the nobility to inhabit his lavish Palace of Versailles, he succeeded in pacifying the aristocracy, many members of which had participated in the Fronde rebellion during his minority. By these means he became one of the most powerful French monarchs and consolidated a system of absolute monarchy in France that endured until the French Revolution. He also enforced uniformity of religion under the Gallican Catholic Church. His revocation of the Edict of Nantes abolished the rights of the Huguenot Protestant minority and subjected them to a wave of dragonnades, effectively forcing Huguenots to emigrate or convert, as well as virtually destroying the French Protestant community.

During Louis's long reign, France emerged as the leading European power and regularly asserted its military strength. A conflict with Spain marked his entire childhood, while during his reign, the kingdom took part in three major continental conflicts, each against powerful foreign alliances: the Franco-Dutch War, the War of the League of Augsburg, and the War of the Spanish Succession. In addition, France also contested shorter wars, such as the War of Devolution and the War of the Reunions. Warfare defined Louis's foreign policy and his personality shaped his approach. Impelled by "a mix of commerce, revenge, and pique", he sensed that war was the ideal way to enhance his glory. In peacetime, he concentrated on preparing for the next war. He taught his diplomats that their job was to create tactical and strategic advantages for the French military. Upon his death in 1715, Louis XIV left his great-grandson and successor, Louis XV, a powerful kingdom, albeit in major debt after the 13-year-long War of Spanish succession.

Franco-Dutch War
Lambert de Hondt (II): Louis XIV is offered the city keys of Utrecht, as its magistrates formally surrender on 30 June 1672 ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1672 Apr 6 - 1678 Sep 17

Franco-Dutch War

Central Europe

The Franco-Dutch War was fought between France and the Dutch Republic, supported by its allies the Holy Roman Empire, Spain, Brandenburg-Prussia and Denmark-Norway. In its early stages, France was allied with Münster and Cologne, as well as England. The 1672 to 1674 Third Anglo-Dutch War and 1675 to 1679 Scanian War are considered related conflicts.

The war began in May 1672 when France nearly overran the Dutch Republic, an event still known as the Rampjaar or "Disaster Year". Their advance was halted by the Dutch Water Line in June and by late July the Dutch position had stabilised. Concern over French gains led to a formal alliance in August 1673 between the Dutch, Emperor Leopold I, Spain and Brandenburg-Prussia. They were joined by Lorraine and Denmark, while England made peace in February 1674. Now facing a war on multiple fronts, the French withdrew from the Dutch Republic, retaining only Grave and Maastricht.

Louis XIV refocused on the Spanish Netherlands and Rhineland, while the Allies led by William of Orange sought to limit French gains. After 1674, the French occupied Franche-Comté and areas along their border with the Spanish Netherlands and in Alsace, but neither side was able to achieve a decisive victory. The war ended with the September 1678 Peace of Nijmegen; although the terms were far less generous than those available in June 1672, it is often considered the high point of French military success under Louis XIV and provided him a significant propaganda success.

Spain recovered Charleroi from France but ceded Franche-Comté, as well as much of Artois and Hainaut, establishing borders that remain largely unchanged into modern times. Under the leadership of William of Orange, the Dutch had recovered all the territory lost in the disastrous early stages, a success that secured him a leading role in domestic politics. This helped him counter the threat posed by continued French expansion and create the 1688 Grand Alliance that fought in the Nine Years War.

Nine Years' War
The Battle of Lagos June 1693; French victory and the capture of the Smyrna convoy was the most significant English mercantile loss of the war. ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1688 Sep 27 - 1697 Sep 20

Nine Years' War

Central Europe

The Nine Years' War (1688–1697), often called the War of the Grand Alliance or the War of the League of Augsburg, was a conflict between France and a European coalition which mainly included the Holy Roman Empire (led by the Habsburg monarchy), the Dutch Republic, England, Spain, Savoy, Sweden and Portugal. It was fought in Europe and the surrounding seas, in North America, and in India. It is sometimes considered the first global war. The conflict encompassed the Williamite war in Ireland and Jacobite risings in Scotland, where William III and James II struggled for control of England and Ireland, and a campaign in colonial North America between French and English settlers and their respective Native American allies.

Louis XIV of France had emerged from the Franco-Dutch War in 1678 as the most powerful monarch in Europe, an absolute ruler whose armies had won numerous military victories. Using a combination of aggression, annexation, and quasi-legal means, Louis XIV set about extending his gains to stabilize and strengthen France's frontiers, culminating in the brief War of the Reunions (1683–1684). The Truce of Ratisbon guaranteed France's new borders for twenty years, but Louis XIV's subsequent actions—notably his Edict of Fontainebleau (the revocation of the Edict of Nantes) in 1685—led to the deterioration of his political pre-eminence and raised concerns among European Protestant states. Louis XIV's decision to cross the Rhine in September 1688 was designed to extend his influence and pressure the Holy Roman Empire into accepting his territorial and dynastic claims. However, Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I and German princes resolved to resist. The States General of the Netherlands and William III brought the Dutch and English into the conflict against France and were soon joined by other states, which now meant the French king faced a powerful coalition aimed at curtailing his ambitions.

The main fighting took place around France's borders in the Spanish Netherlands, the Rhineland, the Duchy of Savoy, and Catalonia. The fighting generally favoured Louis XIV's armies, but by 1696 his country was in the grip of an economic crisis. The Maritime Powers (England and the Dutch Republic) were also financially exhausted, and when Savoy defected from the Alliance, all parties were keen to negotiate a settlement. By the terms of the Treaty of Ryswick, Louis XIV retained the whole of Alsace but in exchange had to return Lorraine to its ruler and give up any gains on the right bank of the Rhine. Louis XIV also recognized William III as the rightful king of England, while the Dutch acquired a barrier fortress system in the Spanish Netherlands to help secure their borders.

The peace would be short-lived. With the ailing and childless Charles II of Spain's death approaching, a new dispute over the inheritance of the Spanish Empire was soon to embroil Louis XIV and the Grand Alliance in the War of the Spanish Succession.

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1701 Jul 1 - 1715 Feb 6

War of Spanish Succession

Central Europe

In 1701, the War of the Spanish Succession began. The Bourbon Philip of Anjou was designated heir to the throne of Spain as Philip V. The Habsburg Emperor Leopold opposed a Bourbon succession, because the power that such a succession would bring to the Bourbon rulers of France would disturb the delicate balance of power in Europe. Therefore, he claimed the Spanish thrones for himself. England and the Dutch Republic joined Leopold against Louis XIV and Philip of Anjou. The allied forces were led by John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, and by Prince Eugene of Savoy. They inflicted a few resounding defeats on the French army; the Battle of Blenheim in 1704 was the first major land battle lost by France since its victory at Rocroi in 1643. Yet, the extremely bloody battles of Ramillies (1706) and Malplaquet (1709) proved to be Pyrrhic victories for the allies, as they had lost too many men to continue the war. Led by Villars, French forces recovered much of the lost ground in battles such as Denain (1712). Finally, a compromise was achieved with the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. Philip of Anjou was confirmed as Philip V, king of Spain; Emperor Leopold did not get the throne, but Philip V was barred from inheriting France.

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1715 Jan 1

Age of Enlightenment


The "Philosophes" were 18th-century French intellectuals who dominated the French Enlightenment and were influential across Europe. Their interests were diverse, with experts in scientific, literary, philosophical and sociological matters. The ultimate goal of the philosophers was human progress; by concentrating on social and material sciences, they believed that a rational society was the only logical outcome of a freethinking and reasoned populace. They also advocated Deism and religious tolerance. Many believed religion had been used as a source of conflict since time eternal, and that logical, rational thought was the way forward for mankind.

The philosopher Denis Diderot was editor in chief of the famous Enlightenment accomplishment, the 72,000-article Encyclopédie (1751–72). It was made possible through a wide, complex network of relationships that maximized their influence. It sparked a revolution in learning throughout the enlightened world.

In the early part of the 18th century the movement was dominated by Voltaire and Montesquieu, but the movement grew in momentum as the century moved on. The opposition was partly undermined by dissensions within the Catholic Church, the gradual weakening of the absolute monarch and the numerous expensive wars. Thus the influence of the Philosophes spread. Around 1750 they reached their most influential period, as Montesquieu published Spirit of Laws (1748) and Jean Jacques Rousseau published Discourse on the Moral Effects of the Arts and Sciences (1750).

The leader of the French Enlightenment and a writer of enormous influence across Europe, was Voltaire (1694–1778). His many books included poems and plays; works of satire (Candide 1759); books on history, science, and philosophy, including numerous (anonymous) contributions to the Encyclopédie; and an extensive correspondence. A witty, tireless antagonist to the alliance between the French state and the church, he was exiled from France on a number of occasions. In exile in England he came to appreciate British thought and he popularized Isaac Newton in Europe.

Astronomy, chemistry, mathematics and technology flourished. French chemists such as Antoine Lavoisier worked to replace the archaic units of weights and measures by a coherent scientific system. Lavoisier also formulated the law of Conservation of mass and discovered oxygen and hydrogen.

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1756 May 17 - 1763 Feb 11

Seven Years' War

Central Europe

The Seven Years' War (1756–1763) was a global conflict between Great Britain and France for global pre-eminence. Britain, France and Spain fought both in Europe and overseas with land-based armies and naval forces, while Prussia sought territorial expansion in Europe and consolidation of its power. Long-standing colonial rivalries pitting Britain against France and Spain in North America and the West Indies were fought on a grand scale with consequential results. In Europe, the conflict arose from issues left unresolved by the War of the Austrian Succession (1740–1748). Prussia sought greater influence in the German states, while Austria wanted to regain Silesia, captured by Prussia in the previous war, and to contain Prussian influence.

In a realignment of traditional alliances, known as the Diplomatic Revolution of 1756, Prussia became part of a coalition led by Britain, which also included long-time Prussian competitor Hanover, at the time in personal union with Britain. At the same time, Austria ended centuries of conflict between the Bourbon and Habsburg families by allying with France, along with Saxony, Sweden and Russia. Spain aligned formally with France in 1762. Spain unsuccessfully attempted to invade Britain's ally Portugal, attacking with their forces facing British troops in Iberia. Smaller German states either joined the Seven Years' War or supplied mercenaries to the parties involved in the conflict.

Anglo-French conflict over their colonies in North America had begun in 1754 in what became known in the United States as the French and Indian War (1754–63), which became a theatre of the Seven Years' War, and ended France's presence as a land power on that continent. It was "the most important event to occur in eighteenth-century North America" prior to the American Revolution. Spain entered the war in 1761, joining France in the Third Family Compact between the two Bourbon monarchies. The alliance with France was a disaster for Spain, with the loss to Britain of two major ports, Havana in the West Indies and Manila in the Philippines, returned in the 1763 Treaty of Paris between France, Spain and Great Britain. In Europe, the large-scale conflict that drew in most of the European powers was centered on the desire of Austria (long the political centre of the Holy Roman Empire of the German nation) to recover Silesia from Prussia. The Treaty of Hubertusburg ended the war between Saxony, Austria and Prussia, in 1763. Britain began its rise as the world's predominant colonial and naval power. France's supremacy in Europe was halted until after the French Revolution and the emergence of Napoleon Bonaparte. Prussia confirmed its status as a great power, challenging Austria for dominance within the German states, thus altering the European balance of power.

Anglo-French War
Rochambeau and Washington ordering at Yorktown; Lafayette, bareheaded, appears behind ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1778 Jun 1 - 1783 Sep

Anglo-French War

United States

Having lost its colonial empire, France saw a good opportunity for revenge against Britain in signing an alliance with the Americans in 1778, and sending an army and navy that turned the American Revolution into a world war. Spain, allied to France by the Family Compact, and the Dutch Republic also joined the war on the French side. Admiral de Grasse defeated a British fleet at Chesapeake Bay while Jean-Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau and Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette joined American forces in defeating the British at Yorktown. The war was concluded by the Treaty of Paris (1783); the United States became independent. The British Royal Navy scored a major victory over France in 1782 at the Battle of the Saintes and France finished the war with huge debts and the minor gain of the island of Tobago.

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1789 Jul 14

French Revolution


The French Revolution was a period of radical political and societal change in France that began with the Estates General of 1789 and ended with the formation of the French Consulate in November 1799. Many of its ideas are considered fundamental principles of liberal democracy, while phrases like liberté, égalité, fraternité reappeared in other revolts, such as the 1917 Russian Revolution, and inspired campaigns for the abolition of slavery and universal suffrage. The values and institutions it created dominate French politics to this day.

Its causes are generally agreed to be a combination of social, political and economic factors, which the existing regime proved unable to manage. In May 1789, widespread social distress led to the convocation of the Estates General, which was converted into a National Assembly in June. Continuing unrest culminated in the Storming of the Bastille on 14 July, which led to a series of radical measures by the Assembly, including the abolition of feudalism, the imposition of state control over the Catholic Church in France, and extension of the right to vote.

The next three years were dominated by the struggle for political control, exacerbated by economic depression and Civil disorder. Opposition from external powers like Austria, Britain, and Prussia resulted in the outbreak of the French Revolutionary Wars in April 1792. Disillusionment with Louis XVI led to the establishment of the French First Republic on 22 September 1792, followed by his execution in January 1793. In June, an uprising in Paris replaced the Girondins who dominated the National Assembly with the Committee of Public Safety, headed by Maximilien Robespierre.

This sparked the Reign of Terror, an attempt to eradicate alleged "counter-revolutionaries"; by the time it ended in July 1794, over 16,600 had been executed in Paris and the provinces. As well as its external enemies, the Republic faced internal opposition from both Royalists and Jacobins and in order to deal with these threats, the French Directory took power in November 1795. Despite a series of military victories, many won by Napoleon Bonaparte, political divisions and economic stagnation resulted in the Directory being replaced by the Consulate in November 1799. This is generally seen as marking the end of the Revolutionary period.

1799 - 1815
Napoleonic Franceornament
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1803 May 18 - 1815 Nov 20

Napoleonic Wars

Central Europe

The Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815) were a series of major global conflicts pitting the French Empire and its allies, led by Napoleon I, against a fluctuating array of European states formed into various coalitions. It produced a period of French domination over most of continental Europe. The wars stemmed from the unresolved disputes associated with the French Revolution and the French Revolutionary Wars consisting of the War of the First Coalition (1792–1797) and the War of the Second Coalition (1798–1802). The Napoleonic wars are often described as five conflicts, each termed after the coalition that fought Napoleon: the Third Coalition (1803–1806), the Fourth (1806–07), the Fifth (1809), the Sixth (1813–14), and the Seventh (1815) plus the Peninsular War (1807–1814) and the French invasion of Russia (1812).

Napoleon, upon ascending to First Consul of France in 1799, had inherited a republic in chaos; he subsequently created a state with stable finances, a strong bureaucracy, and a well-trained army. In December 1805 Napoleon achieved what is considered his greatest victory, defeating the allied Russo-Austrian army at Austerlitz. At sea, the British severely defeated the joint Franco-Spanish navy in the Battle of Trafalgar on 21 October 1805. This victory secured British control of the seas and prevented the invasion of Britain. Concerned about increasing French power, Prussia led the creation of the Fourth Coalition with Russia, Saxony, and Sweden, which resumed war in October 1806. Napoleon quickly defeated the Prussians at Jena and the Russians at Friedland, bringing an uneasy peace to the continent. The peace failed, though, as war broke out in 1809, with the badly prepared Fifth Coalition, led by Austria. At first, the Austrians won a stunning victory at Aspern-Essling, but were quickly defeated at Wagram.

Hoping to isolate and weaken Britain economically through his Continental System, Napoleon launched an invasion of Portugal, the only remaining British ally in continental Europe. After occupying Lisbon in November 1807, and with the bulk of French troops present in Spain, Napoleon seized the opportunity to turn against his former ally, depose the reigning Spanish royal family and declare his brother King of Spain in 1808 as José I. The Spanish and Portuguese revolted with British support and expelled the French from Iberia in 1814 after six years of fighting.

Concurrently, Russia, unwilling to bear the economic consequences of reduced trade, routinely violated the Continental System, prompting Napoleon to launch a massive invasion of Russia in 1812. The resulting campaign ended in disaster for France and the near destruction of Napoleon's Grande Armée.

Encouraged by the defeat, Austria, Prussia, Sweden, and Russia formed the Sixth Coalition and began a new campaign against France, decisively defeating Napoleon at Leipzig in October 1813 after several inconclusive engagements. The Allies then invaded France from the east, while the Peninsular War spilled over into southwestern France. Coalition troops captured Paris at the end of March 1814 and forced Napoleon to abdicate in April. He was exiled to the island of Elba, and the Bourbons were restored to power. But Napoleon escaped in February 1815, and reassumed control of France for around one hundred days. After forming the Seventh Coalition, the allies defeated him at Waterloo in June 1815 and exiled him to the island of Saint Helena, where he died six years later.

The Congress of Vienna redrew the borders of Europe and brought a period of relative peace. The wars had profound consequences on global history, including the spread of nationalism and liberalism, the rise of Britain as the world's foremost naval and economic power, the appearance of independence movements in Latin America and subsequent decline of the Spanish and Portuguese Empires, the fundamental reorganization of German and Italian territories into larger states, and the introduction of radically new methods of conducting warfare, as well as civil law. After the end of the Napoleonic Wars there was a period of relative peace in continental Europe, lasting until the Crimean War in 1853.

Bourbon Restoration in France
Charles X, by François Gérard ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1814 May 3

Bourbon Restoration in France


The Bourbon Restoration was the period of French history during which the House of Bourbon returned to power after the first fall of Napoleon on 3 May 1814. Briefly interrupted by the Hundred Days War in 1815, the Restoration lasted until the July Revolution of 26 July 1830. Louis XVIII and Charles X, brothers of the executed king Louis XVI, successively mounted the throne and instituted a conservative government intended to restore the proprieties, if not all the institutions, of the Ancien Régime. Exiled supporters of the monarchy returned to France but were unable to reverse most of the changes made by the French Revolution. Exhausted by decades of war, the nation experienced a period of internal and external peace, stable economic prosperity and the preliminaries of industrialization.

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1830 Jan 1 - 1848

July Revolution


Protest against the absolute monarchy was in the air. The elections of deputies to 16 May 1830 had gone very badly for King Charles X. In response, he tried repression but that only aggravated the crisis as suppressed deputies, gagged journalists, students from the University and many working men of Paris poured into the streets and erected barricades during the "three glorious days" (French Les Trois Glorieuses) of 26–29 July 1830. Charles X was deposed and replaced by King Louis-Philippe in the July Revolution. It is traditionally regarded as a rising of the bourgeoisie against the absolute monarchy of the Bourbons. Participants in the July Revolution included the Marquis de Lafayette. Working behind the scenes on behalf of the bourgeois propertied interests was Louis Adolphe Thiers.

Louis-Philippe's "July Monarchy" (1830–1848) was dominated by the haute bourgeoisie (high bourgeoisie) of bankers, financiers, industrialists and merchants.

During the reign of the July Monarchy, the Romantic Era was starting to bloom. Driven by the Romantic Era, an atmosphere of protest and revolt was all around in France. On 22 November 1831 in Lyon (the second largest city in France) the silk workers revolted and took over the town hall in protest of recent salary reductions and working conditions. This was one of the first instances of a workers revolt in the entire world.

Because of the constant threats to the throne, the July Monarchy began to rule with a stronger and stronger hand. Soon political meetings were outlawed. However, "banquets" were still legal and all through 1847, there was a nationwide campaign of republican banquets demanding more democracy. The climaxing banquet was scheduled for 22 February 1848 in Paris but the government banned it. In response citizens of all classes poured out onto the streets of Paris in a revolt against the July Monarchy. Demands were made for abdication of "Citizen King" Louis-Philippe and for establishment of a representative democracy in France. The king abdicated, and the French Second Republic was proclaimed. Alphonse Marie Louis de Lamartine, who had been a leader of the moderate republicans in France during the 1840s, became the Minister of Foreign Affairs and in effect the premier in the new Provisional government. In reality Lamartine was the virtual head of government in 1848.

French Second Republic
The chamber of the National Assembly of the Second Republic, in 1848 ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1848 Jan 1 - 1852

French Second Republic


The French Second Republic was the republican government of France that existed between 1848 and 1852. It was established in February 1848, with the February Revolution that overthrew the July Monarchy of King Louis-Phillipe, and ended in December 1852. Following the election of president Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte in 1848 and the 1851 coup d'état the president staged, Bonaparte proclaimed himself Emperor Napoleon III and initiated the Second French Empire. The short-lived republic officially adopted the motto of the First Republic; Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité.

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1852 Jan 1 - 1870

Second French Empire


The Second French Empire was the 18-year Imperial Bonapartist regime of Napoleon III from 14 January 1852 to 27 October 1870, between the Second and the Third Republic of France.

Napoleon III liberalised his rule after 1858. He promoted French business and exports. The greatest achievements included a grand railway network that facilitated commerce and tied the nation together with Paris as its hub. This stimulated economic growth and brought prosperity to most regions of the country. The Second Empire is given high credit for the rebuilding of Paris with broad boulevards, striking public buildings, and elegant residential districts for upscale Parisians.

In international policy, Napoleon III tried to emulate his uncle Napoleon I, engaging in numerous imperial ventures around the world as well as several wars in Europe. He began his reign with French victories in Crimea and in Italy, gaining Savoy and Nice. Using very harsh methods, he built up the French Empire in North Africa and in Southeast Asia. Napoleon III also launched an intervention in Mexico seeking to erect a Second Mexican Empire and bring it into the French orbit, but this ended in a fiasco. He badly mishandled the threat from Prussia, and by the end of his reign, the French emperor found himself without allies in the face of overwhelming German force. His rule was ended during the Franco-Prussian War, when he was captured by the Prussian army at Sedan in 1870 and dethroned by French republicans. He later died in exile in 1873, living in the United Kingdom.

French Conquest of Vietnam
French and Spaniard armadas attacking on Saigon, 18 February 1859. ©Antoine Léon Morel-Fatio
1858 Sep 1 - 1885 Jun 9

French Conquest of Vietnam


The French conquest of Vietnam (1858–1885) was a long and limited war fought between the Second French Empire, later the French Third Republic and the Vietnamese empire of Đại Nam in the mid-late 19th century. Its end and results were victories for the French as they defeated the Vietnamese and their Chinese allies in 1885, the incorporation of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, and finally established French rules over constituent territories of French Indochina over Mainland Southeast Asia in 1887.

A joint Franco-Spanish expedition attacked Da Nang in 1858 and then retreated to invade Saigon. King Tu Duc signed a treaty in June 1862 granting the French sovereignty over three provinces in the South. The French annexed the three southwestern provinces in 1867 to form Cochinchina. Having consolidated their power in Cochinchina, the French conquered the rest of Vietnam through a series of battles in Tonkin, between 1873 and 1886. Tonkin at that time was in a state of near anarchy, descending into chaos; both China and France considered this area to be their sphere of influence and sent troops there.

The French eventually drove most of the Chinese troops out of Vietnam, but a remnant of its armies in some Vietnamese provinces continued to threaten French control of Tonkin. The French government sent Fournier to Tianjin to negotiate the Tianjin Accord, according to which China recognized the French authority over Annam and Tonkin, abandoning its claims to suzerainty over Vietnam. On June 6, 1884, Treaty of Huế was signed, dividing Vietnam into three regions: Tonkin, Annam, and Cochinchina, each under three different separate regimes. Cochinchina was a French colony, while Tonkin and Annam were protectorates, and the Nguyễn court was put under French supervision.

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1870 Jan 1 - 1940

French Third Republic


The French Third Republic was the system of government adopted in France from 4 September 1870, when the Second French Empire collapsed during the Franco-Prussian War, until 10 July 1940, after the Fall of France during World War II led to the formation of the Vichy government.

The early days of the Third Republic were dominated by political disruptions caused by the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–1871, which the Republic continued to wage after the fall of Emperor Napoleon III in 1870. Harsh reparations exacted by the Prussians after the war resulted in the loss of the French regions of Alsace (keeping the Territoire de Belfort) and Lorraine (the northeastern part, i.e. present-day department of Moselle), social upheaval, and the establishment of the Paris Commune. The early governments of the Third Republic considered re-establishing the monarchy, but disagreement as to the nature of that monarchy and the rightful occupant of the throne could not be resolved. Consequently, the Third Republic, originally envisioned as a provisional government, instead became the permanent form of government of France.

The French Constitutional Laws of 1875 defined the composition of the Third Republic. It consisted of a Chamber of Deputies and a Senate to form the legislative branch of government and a president to serve as head of state. Calls for the re-establishment of the monarchy dominated the tenures of the first two presidents, Adolphe Thiers and Patrice de MacMahon, but growing support for the republican form of government among the French populace and a series of republican presidents in the 1880s gradually quashed prospects of a monarchical restoration.

The Third Republic established many French colonial possessions, including French Indochina, French Madagascar, French Polynesia, and large territories in West Africa during the Scramble for Africa, all of them acquired during the last two decades of the 19th century. The early years of the 20th century were dominated by the Democratic Republican Alliance, which was originally conceived as a centre-left political alliance, but over time became the main centre-right party. The period from the start of World War I to the late 1930s featured sharply polarized politics, between the Democratic Republican Alliance and the Radicals. The government fell less than a year after the outbreak of World War II, when Nazi forces occupied much of France, and was replaced by the rival governments of Charles de Gaulle's Free France (La France libre) and Philippe Pétain's French State.

During the 19th and 20th centuries, the French colonial empire was the second largest colonial empire in the world only behind the British Empire.

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1870 Jul 19 - 1871 Jan 28

Franco-Prussian War


The Franco-Prussian War was a conflict between the Second French Empire and the North German Confederation led by the Kingdom of Prussia. Lasting from 19 July 1870 to 28 January 1871, the conflict was caused primarily by France's determination to reassert its dominant position in continental Europe, which appeared in question following the decisive Prussian victory over Austria in 1866. According to some historians, Prussian chancellor Otto von Bismarck deliberately provoked the French into declaring war on Prussia in order to induce four independent southern German states—Baden, Württemberg, Bavaria and Hesse-Darmstadt—to join the North German Confederation; other historians contend that Bismarck exploited the circumstances as they unfolded. All agree that Bismarck recognized the potential for new German alliances, given the situation as a whole.

France mobilised its army on 15 July 1870, leading the North German Confederation to respond with its own mobilisation later that day. On 16 July 1870, the French parliament voted to declare war on Prussia; France invaded German territory on 2 August. The German coalition mobilised its troops much more effectively than the French and invaded northeastern France on 4 August. German forces were superior in numbers, training, and leadership and made more effective use of modern technology, particularly railways and artillery.

A series of swift Prussian and German victories in eastern France, culminating in the Siege of Metz and the Battle of Sedan, resulted in the capture of the French Emperor Napoleon III and the decisive defeat of the army of the Second Empire; a Government of National Defense was formed in Paris on 4 September and continued the war for another five months. German forces fought and defeated new French armies in northern France, then besieged Paris for over four months before it fell on 28 January 1871, effectively ending the war.

In the waning days of the war, with German victory all but assured, the German states proclaimed their union as the German Empire under the Prussian king Wilhelm I and Chancellor Bismarck. With the notable exception of Austria, the vast majority of Germans were united under a nation-state for the first time. Following an armistice with France, the Treaty of Frankfurt was signed on 10 May 1871, giving Germany billions of francs in war indemnity, as well as most of Alsace and parts of Lorraine, which became the Imperial Territory of Alsace-Lorraine.

The war had a lasting impact on Europe. By hastening German unification, the war significantly altered the balance of power on the continent; with the new German nation state supplanting France as the dominant European land power. Bismarck maintained great authority in international affairs for two decades, developing a reputation for Realpolitik that raised Germany's global stature and influence. In France, it brought a final end to imperial rule and began the first lasting republican government. Resentment over France's defeat triggered the Paris Commune, a revolutionary uprising which seized and held power for two months before its bloody suppression; the event would influence the politics and policies of the Third Republic.

1914 - 1945
World Warsornament
France during World War I
The 114th infantry in Paris, 14 July 1917. ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1914 Jul 28 - 1918 Nov 11

France during World War I

Central Europe

France did not expect war in 1914, but when it came in August the entire nation rallied enthusiastically for two years. It specialized in sending infantry forward again and again, only to be stopped again and again by German artillery, trenches, barbed wire and machine guns, with horrific casualty rates. Despite the loss of major industrial districts France produced an enormous output of munitions that armed both the French and the American armies. By 1917 the infantry was on the verge of mutiny, with a widespread sense that it was now the American turn to storm the German lines. But they rallied and defeated the greatest German offensive, which came in spring 1918, then rolled over the collapsing invaders. November 1918 brought a surge of pride and unity, and an unrestrained demand for revenge.

Preoccupied with internal problems, France paid little attention to foreign policy in the 1911–14 period, although it did extend military service to three years from two over strong Socialist objections in 1913. The rapidly escalating Balkan crisis of 1914 caught France unaware, and it played only a small role in the coming of World War I. The Serbian crisis triggered a complex set of military alliances between European states, causing most of the continent, including France, to be drawn into war within a few short weeks. Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia in late July, triggering Russian mobilization. On 1 August both Germany and France ordered mobilization. Germany was much better prepared militarily than any of the other countries involved, including France. The German Empire, as an ally of Austria, declared war on Russia. France was allied with Russia and so was ready to commit to war against the German Empire. On 3 August Germany declared war on France, and sent its armies through neutral Belgium. Britain entered the war on 4 August, and started sending in troops on 7 August. Italy, although tied to Germany, remained neutral and then joined the Allies in 1915.

Germany's "Schlieffen Plan" was to quickly defeat the French. They captured Brussels, Belgium by 20 August and soon had captured a large portion of northern France. The original plan was to continue southwest and attack Paris from the west. By early September they were within 65 kilometres (40 mi) of Paris, and the French government had relocated to Bordeaux. The Allies finally stopped the advance northeast of Paris at the Marne River (5–12 September 1914).

The war now became a stalemate – the famous "Western Front" was fought largely in France and was characterized by very little movement despite extremely large and violent battles, often with new and more destructive military technology. On the Western Front, the small improvised trenches of the first few months rapidly grew deeper and more complex, gradually becoming vast areas of interlocking defensive works. The land war quickly became dominated by the muddy, bloody stalemate of Trench warfare, a form of war in which both opposing armies had static lines of defense. The war of movement quickly turned into a war of position. Neither side advanced much, but both sides suffered hundreds of thousands of casualties. German and Allied armies produced essentially a matched pair of trench lines from the Swiss border in the south to the North Sea coast of Belgium. Meanwhile, large swaths of northeastern France came under the brutal control of German occupiers.

Trench warfare prevailed on the Western Front from September 1914 until March 1918. Famous battles in France include Battle of Verdun (spanning 10 months from 21 February to 18 December 1916), Battle of the Somme (1 July to 18 November 1916), and five separate conflicts called the Battle of Ypres (from 1914 to 1918).

After Socialist leader Jean Jaurès, a pacifist, was assassinated at the start of the war, the French socialist movement abandoned its antimilitarist positions and joined the national war effort. Prime Minister Rene Viviani called for unity—for a "Union sacrée" ("Sacred Union")--Which was a wartime truce between the right and left factions that had been fighting bitterly. France had few dissenters. However, war-weariness was a major factor by 1917, even reaching the army. The soldiers were reluctant to attack; Mutiny was a factor as soldiers said it was best to wait for the arrival of millions of Americans. The soldiers were protesting not just the futility of frontal assaults in the face of German machine guns but also degraded conditions at the front lines and at home, especially infrequent leaves, poor food, the use of African and Asian colonials on the home front, and concerns about the welfare of their wives and children.

After defeating Russia in 1917, Germany now could concentrate on the Western Front, and planned an all-out assault in the spring of 1918, but had to do it before the very rapidly growing American army played a role. In March 1918 Germany launched its offensive and by May had reached the Marne and was again close to Paris. However, in the Second Battle of the Marne (15 July to 6 August 1918), the Allied line held. The Allies then shifted to the offensive. The Germans, out of reinforcements, were overwhelmed day after day and the high command saw it was hopeless. Austria and Turkey collapsed, and the Kaiser's government fell. Germany signed "The Armistice" that ended the fighting effective 11 November 1918, "the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month."

France during World War II
©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1939 Sep 1 - 1945 May 8

France during World War II


Germany's invasion of Poland in 1939 is generally considered to have begun World War II. But the Allies did not launch massive assaults and instead kept a defensive stance: this was called the Phoney War in Britain or Drôle de guerre — the funny sort of war — in France. It did not prevent the German army from conquering Poland in a matter of weeks with its innovative Blitzkrieg tactics, also helped by the Soviet Union's attack on Poland.

When Germany had its hands free for an attack in the west, the Battle of France began in May 1940, and the same Blitzkrieg tactics proved just as devastating there. The Wehrmacht bypassed the Maginot Line by marching through the Ardennes forest. A second German force was sent into Belgium and the Netherlands to act as a diversion to this main thrust. In six weeks of savage fighting the French lost 90,000 men.

Paris fell to the Germans on 14 June 1940, but not before the British Expeditionary Force was evacuated from Dunkirk, along with many French soldiers.

Vichy France was established on 10 July 1940 to govern the unoccupied part of France and its colonies. It was led by Philippe Pétain, the aging war hero of the First World War. Petain's representatives signed a harsh Armistice on 22 June 1940 whereby Germany kept most of the French army in camps in Germany, and France had to pay out large sums in gold and food supplies. Germany occupied three-fifths of France's territory, leaving the rest in the southeast to the new Vichy government. However, in practice, most local government was handled by the traditional French officialdom. In November 1942 all of Vichy France was finally occupied by German forces. Vichy continued in existence but it was closely supervised by the Germans.

Trente Glorieuses
Paris ©Willem van de Poll
1946 Jan 1 - 1975

Trente Glorieuses


Les Trente Glorieuses was a thirty-year period of economic growth in France between 1945 and 1975, following the end of the Second World War. The name was first used by the French demographer Jean Fourastié, who coined the term in 1979 with the publication of his book Les Trente Glorieuses, ou la révolution invisible de 1946 à 1975 ('The Glorious Thirty, or the Invisible Revolution from 1946 to 1975').

As early as 1944, Charles de Gaulle introduced a dirigiste economic policy, which included substantial state-directed control over a capitalist economy. This was followed by thirty years of unprecedented growth, known as the Trente Glorieuses. Over this thirty-year period, France's economy grew rapidly like economies of other developed countries within the framework of the Marshall Plan, such as West Germany, Italy and Japan.

These decades of economic prosperity combined high productivity with high average wages and high consumption, and were also characterized by a highly developed system of social benefits. According to various studies, the real purchasing power of the average French worker's salary went up by 170% between 1950 and 1975, while overall private consumption increased by 174% in the period 1950–74.

The French standard of living, which had been damaged by both World Wars, became one of the world's highest. The population also became far more urbanized; many rural départements experienced a population decline while the larger metropolitan areas grew considerably, especially that of Paris. Ownership of various household goods and amenities increased considerably, while the wages of the French working class rose significantly as the economy became more prosperous.

French Fourth Republic
©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1946 Jan 2 - 1958

French Fourth Republic


The French Fourth Republic (French: Quatrième république française) was the republican government of France from 27 October 1946 to 4 October 1958, governed by the fourth republican constitution. It was in many ways a revival of the Third Republic that was in place from 1870 during the Franco-Prussian War to 1940 during World War II, and suffered many of the same problems. France adopted the constitution of the Fourth Republic on 13 October 1946.

Despite the political dysfunction, the Fourth Republic saw an era of great economic growth in France and the rebuilding of the nation's social institutions and industry after World War II, with assistance from the United States provided through the Marshall Plan. It also saw the beginning of the rapprochement with former longtime enemy Germany, which in turn led to Franco-German co-operation and eventually to the development of the European Union.

Some attempts were also made to strengthen the executive branch of government to prevent the unstable situation that had existed before the war, but the instability remained and the Fourth Republic saw frequent changes in government – there were 21 administrations in its 12-year history. Moreover, the government proved unable to make effective decisions regarding decolonization of the numerous remaining French colonies. After a series of crises, most importantly the Algerian crisis of 1958, the Fourth Republic collapsed. Wartime leader Charles de Gaulle returned from retirement to preside over a transitional administration that was empowered to design a new French constitution. The Fourth Republic was dissolved on 5 October 1958 following a public referendum which established the modern-day Fifth Republic with a strengthened presidency.

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1946 Dec 19 - 1954 Aug 1

First Indochina War


The First Indochina War began in French Indochina on December 19, 1946, and lasted until July 20, 1954. Fighting between French forces and their Việt Minh opponents in the south dated from September 1945. The conflict pitted a range of forces, including the French Union's French Far East Expeditionary Corps, led by the government of France and supported by the former emperor Bảo Đại's Vietnamese National Army against the People's Army of Vietnam and Việt Minh (part of the Communist Party), led by Võ Nguyên Giáp and Hồ Chí Minh. Most of the fighting took place in Tonkin in northern Vietnam, although the conflict engulfed the entire country and also extended into the neighboring French Indochina protectorates of Laos and Cambodia.

The first few years of the war involved a low-level rural insurgency against the French. In 1949 the conflict turned into a conventional war between two armies equipped with modern weapons supplied by the United States, China and the Soviet Union. French Union forces included colonial troops from their colonial empire - Moroccan, Algerian, and Tunisian Arabs/Berbers; Laotian, Cambodian and Vietnamese ethnic minorities; Black Africans - and French professional troops, European volunteers, and units of the Foreign Legion. The use of metropolitan recruits was forbidden by the government to prevent the war from becoming even more unpopular at home. It was called the "dirty war" (la sale guerre) by leftists in France.

The strategy of pushing the Việt Minh into attacking well-defended bases in remote parts of the country at the end of their logistical trails was validated at the Battle of Nà Sản even though the base was relatively weak because of a lack of concrete and steel. French efforts were made more difficult due to the limited usefulness of armored tanks in a jungle environment, lack of strong air forces for air cover and carpet bombing, and use of foreign recruits from other French colonies (mainly from Algeria, Morocco and even Vietnam). Võ Nguyên Giáp, however, used efficient and novel tactics of direct fire artillery, convoy ambushes and massed anti-aircraft guns to impede land and air supply deliveries together with a strategy based on recruiting a sizable regular army facilitated by wide popular support, a guerrilla warfare doctrine and instruction developed in China, and the use of simple and reliable war material provided by the Soviet Union. This combination proved fatal for the bases' defenses, culminating in a decisive French defeat at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu.

An estimated 400,000 to 842,707 soldiers died during the war as well as between 125,000 and 400,000 civilians. Both sides have committed war crimes during the conflict, including killings of civilians (such as the Mỹ Trạch massacre by French troops), rape and torture. At the International Geneva Conference on July 21, 1954, the new socialist French government and the Việt Minh made an agreement which effectively gave the Việt Minh control of North Vietnam above the 17th parallel. The south continued under Bảo Đại. The agreement was denounced by the State of Vietnam and by the United States. A year later, Bảo Đại would be deposed by his prime minister, Ngô Đình Diệm, creating the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam). Soon an insurgency, backed by the north, developed against Diệm's government. The conflict gradually escalated into the Vietnam War (1955–1975).

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1954 Nov 1 - 1962 Mar 19

Algerian War of Independence


The Algerian War was fought between France and the Algerian National Liberation Front from 1954 to 1962, which led to Algeria winning its independence from France. An important decolonization war, it was a complex conflict characterized by guerrilla warfare and the use of torture. The conflict also became a civil war between the different communities and within the communities. The war took place mainly on the territory of Algeria, with repercussions in metropolitan France.

Effectively started by members of the National Liberation Front (FLN) on 1 November 1954, during the Toussaint Rouge ("Red All Saints' Day"), the conflict led to serious political crises in France, causing the fall of the Fourth Republic (1946–58), to be replaced by the Fifth Republic with a strengthened presidency. The brutality of the methods employed by the French forces failed to win hearts and minds in Algeria, alienated support in metropolitan France, and discredited French prestige abroad. As the war dragged on, the French public slowly turned against it and many of France's key allies, including the United States, switched from supporting France to abstaining in the UN debate on Algeria. After major demonstrations in Algiers and several other cities in favor of independence (1960) and a United Nations resolution recognizing the right to independence, Charles de Gaulle, the first president of the Fifth Republic, decided to open a series of negotiations with the FLN. These concluded with the signing of the Évian Accords in March 1962. A referendum took place on 8 April 1962 and the French electorate approved the Évian Accords. The final result was 91% in favor of the ratification of this agreement and on 1 July, the Accords were subject to a second referendum in Algeria, where 99.72% voted for independence and just 0.28% against.

Upon independence in 1962, 900,000 European-Algerians (Pieds-noirs) fled to France within a few months in fear of the FLN's revenge. The French government was unprepared to receive such a vast number of refugees, which caused turmoil in France. The majority of Algerian Muslims who had worked for the French were disarmed and left behind, as the agreement between French and Algerian authorities declared that no actions could be taken against them. However, the Harkis in particular, having served as auxiliaries with the French army, were regarded as traitors and many were murdered by the FLN or by lynch mobs, often after being abducted and tortured. About 90,000 managed to flee to France, some with help from their French officers acting against orders, and today they and their descendants form a significant part of the Algerian-French population.

French Fifth Republic
Charles de Gaulle's motorcade passes through Isles-sur-Suippe (Marne), the president salutes the crowd from his famous Citroën DS ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1958 Oct 4

French Fifth Republic


The Fifth Republic is France's current republican system of government. It was established on 4 October 1958 by Charles de Gaulle under the Constitution of the Fifth Republic. The Fifth Republic emerged from the collapse of the Fourth Republic, replacing the former parliamentary republic with a semi-presidential (or dual-executive) system that split powers between a president as head of state and a prime minister as head of government. De Gaulle, who was the first French president elected under the Fifth Republic in December 1958, believed in a strong head of state, which he described as embodying l'esprit de la nation ("the spirit of the nation").

The Fifth Republic is France's third-longest-lasting political regime, after the hereditary and feudal monarchies of the Ancien Régime (Late Middle Ages – 1792) and the parliamentary Third Republic (1870–1940). The Fifth Republic will overtake the Third Republic as the second-longest-lasting regime and the longest-lasting French republic on 11 August 2028 if it remains in place.

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1968 May 2 - Jun 23

May 68


Beginning in May 1968, a period of civil unrest occurred throughout France, lasting some seven weeks and punctuated by demonstrations, general strikes, as well as the occupation of universities and factories. At the height of events, which have since become known as May 68, the economy of France came to a halt. The protests reached such a point that political leaders feared civil war or revolution; the national government briefly ceased to function after President Charles de Gaulle secretly fled France to West Germany on the 29th. The protests are sometimes linked to similar movements that occurred around the same time worldwide and inspired a generation of protest art in the form of songs, imaginative graffiti, posters, and slogans.

The unrest began with a series of far-left student occupation protests against capitalism, consumerism, American imperialism and traditional institutions. Heavy police repression of the protesters led France's trade union confederations to call for sympathy strikes, which spread far more quickly than expected to involve 11 million workers, more than 22% of the total population of France at the time. The movement was characterized by spontaneous and decentralized wildcat disposition; this created a contrast and at times even conflict internally amongst the trade unions and the parties of the left. It was the largest general strike ever attempted in France, and the first nationwide wildcat general strike.

The student occupations and general strikes initiated across France were met with forceful confrontation by university administrators and police. The de Gaulle administration's attempts to quell those strikes by police action only inflamed the situation further, leading to street battles with the police in the Latin Quarter, Paris.

The events of May 1968 continue to influence French society. The period is considered a cultural, social and moral turning point in the history of the country. Alain Geismar—one of the leaders of the time—later stated that the movement had succeeded "as a social revolution, not as a political one".



France's Geographic Challenge

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Why France's Geography is Almost Perfect

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Why 1/3rd of France is Almost Empty

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Cardinal Richelieu

Cardinal Richelieu

First Minister of State

Georges Clemenceau

Georges Clemenceau

Prime Minister of France

Jean Monnet

Jean Monnet


Denis Diderot

Denis Diderot

Co-Founder of the Encyclopédie




Hugh Capet

Hugh Capet

King of the Franks

Clovis I

Clovis I

King of the Franks



Emperor of the French

Alphonse de Lamartine

Alphonse de Lamartine

Member of the National Assembly



King of the Franks

Cardinal Mazarin

Cardinal Mazarin

First Minister of State

Maximilien Robespierre

Maximilien Robespierre

Committee of Public Safety

Adolphe Thiers

Adolphe Thiers

President of France

Napoleon III

Napoleon III

First President of France

Louis IX

Louis IX

King of France

Joan of Arc

Joan of Arc

Patron Saint of France

Louis XIV

Louis XIV

King of France

Philip II

Philip II

King of France

Henry IV of France

Henry IV of France

King of France

Francis I

Francis I

King of France




Henry II

Henry II

King of France

Charles de Gaulle

Charles de Gaulle

President of France


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  • Englund, Steven (1992). "Church and state in France since the Revolution". Journal of Church & State. 34 (2): 325–361. doi:10.1093/jcs/34.2.325.
  • Englund, Steven (2004). Napoleon: A Political Life. political biography
  • Enlightenment
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  • Fenby, Jonathan (2016). France: A Modern History from the Revolution to the War with Terror.
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  • Fisher, Herbert (1913). Napoleon.
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  • Fremont-Barnes, Gregory, ed. (2006). The Encyclopedia of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars: A Political, Social, and Military History. ABC-CLIO.
  • Frey, Linda S. and Marsha L. Frey (2004). The French Revolution.
  • Furet, François (1995). Revolutionary France 1770-1880. pp. 326–384. Survey of political history
  • Furet, François (1995). Revolutionary France 1770–1880.
  • Furet, François (1995). The French Revolution, 1770–1814 (also published as Revolutionary France 1770–1880). pp. 1–266. survey of political history
  • Furet, François; Ozouf, Mona, eds. (1989). A Critical Dictionary of the French Revolution. history of ideas
  • Gildea, Robert (1994). The Past in French History.
  • Gildea, Robert (1994). The Past in French History. ISBN 978-0-300067118.
  • Gildea, Robert (2004). Marianne in Chains: Daily Life in the Heart of France During the German Occupation.
  • Gildea, Robert (2008). Children of the Revolution: The French, 1799–1914.
  • Goodliffe, Gabriel; Brizzi, Riccardo (eds.). France After 2012. Berghahn Books, 2015.
  • Goodman, Dena (1994). The Republic of Letters: A Cultural History of the French Enlightenment.
  • Goubert, Pierre (1972). Louis XIV and Twenty Million Frenchmen. social history from Annales School
  • Goubert, Pierre (1988). The Course of French History. French textbook
  • Grab, Alexander (2003). Napoleon and the Transformation of Europe. ISBN 978-1-403937575. maps and synthesis
  • Greenhalgh, Elizabeth (2005). Victory through Coalition: Britain and France during the First World War. Cambridge University Press.
  • Guérard, Albert (1959). France: A Modern History. ISBN 978-0-758120786.
  • Hafter, Daryl M.; Kushner, Nina, eds. (2014). Women and Work in Eighteenth-Century France. Louisiana State University Press. Essays on female artists, "printer widows," women in manufacturing, women and contracts, and elite prostitution
  • Haine, W. Scott (2000). The History of France. textbook
  • Hampson, Norman (2006). Social History of the French Revolution.
  • Hanson, Paul R. (2015). Historical dictionary of the French Revolution.
  • Hardman, John (1995). French Politics, 1774–1789: From the Accession of Louis XVI to the Fall of the Bastille.
  • Hardman, John (2016) [1994]. Louis XVI: The Silent King (2nd ed.). biography
  • Harison, Casey. (2002). "Teaching the French Revolution: Lessons and Imagery from Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Textbooks". History Teacher. 35 (2): 137–162. doi:10.2307/3054175. JSTOR 3054175.
  • Harold, J. Christopher (1963). The Age of Napoleon. popular history stressing empire and diplomacy
  • Hauss, Charles (1991). Politics in Gaullist France: Coping with Chaos.
  • Hazard, Paul (1965). European thought in the eighteenth century: From Montesquieu to Lessing.
  • Hewitt, Nicholas, ed. (2003). The Cambridge Companion to Modern French Culture.
  • Heywood, Colin (1995). The Development of the French Economy 1750–1914.
  • Historiography
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  • Holt, Mack P., ed. (1991). Society and Institutions in Early Modern France.
  • Jardin, André, and Andre-Jean Tudesq (1988). Restoration and Reaction 1815–1848. The Cambridge History of Modern France.
  • Jones, Colin (1989). The Longman Companion to the French Revolution.
  • Jones, Colin (2002). The Great Nation: France from Louis XV to Napoleon.
  • Jones, Colin (2002). The Great Nation: France from Louis XV to Napoleon.
  • Jones, Colin (2004). Paris: Biography of a City.
  • Jones, Colin; Ladurie, Emmanuel Le Roy (1999). The Cambridge Illustrated History of France. ISBN 978-0-521669924.
  • Jones, Peter (1988). The Peasantry in the French Revolution.
  • Kaiser, Thomas E. (Spring 1988). "This Strange Offspring of Philosophie: Recent Historiographical Problems in Relating the Enlightenment to the French Revolution". French Historical Studies. 15 (3): 549–562. doi:10.2307/286375. JSTOR 286375.
  • Kedward, Rod (2007). France and the French: A Modern History. pp. 1–245.
  • Kedward, Rod (2007). France and the French: A Modern History. pp. 310–648.
  • Kersaudy, Francois (1990). Churchill and De Gaulle (2nd ed.).
  • Kolodziej, Edward A. (1974). French International Policy under de Gaulle and Pompidou: The Politics of Grandeur.
  • Kors, Alan Charles (2003) [1990]. Encyclopedia of the Enlightenment (2nd ed.).
  • Kritzman, Lawrence D.; Nora, Pierre, eds. (1996). Realms of Memory: Rethinking the French Past. ISBN 978-0-231106344. essays by scholars
  • Lacouture, Jean (1991) [1984]. De Gaulle: The Rebel 1890–1944 (English ed.).
  • Lacouture, Jean (1993). De Gaulle: The Ruler 1945–1970.
  • Le Roy Ladurie, Emmanuel (1974) [1966]. The Peasants of Languedoc (English translation ed.).
  • Le Roy Ladurie, Emmanuel (1978). Montaillou: Cathars and Catholics in a French Village, 1294–1324.
  • Le Roy Ladurie, Emmanuel (1999). The Ancien Régime: A History of France 1610–1774. ISBN 978-0-631211969. survey by leader of the Annales School
  • Lefebvre, Georges (1962). The French Revolution. ISBN 978-0-231025195.
  • Lefebvre, Georges (1969) [1936]. Napoleon: From Tilsit to Waterloo, 1807–1815. ISBN 978-0-710080141.
  • Lehning, James R. (2001). To Be a Citizen: The Political Culture of the Early French Third Republic.
  • Lucas, Colin, ed. (1988). The Political Culture of the French Revolution.
  • Lynn, John A. (1999). The Wars of Louis XIV, 1667–1714.
  • Markham, Felix. Napoleon 1963.
  • Mayeur, Jean-Marie; Rebérioux, Madeleine (1984). The Third Republic from its Origins to the Great War, 1871–1914. ISBN 978-2-73-510067-5.
  • McDonald, Ferdie; Marsden, Claire; Kindersley, Dorling, eds. (2010). France. Europe. Gale. pp. 144–217.
  • McLynn, Frank (2003). Napoleon: A Biography. stress on military
  • McMillan, James F. (1992). Twentieth-Century France: Politics and Society in France 1898–1991.
  • McMillan, James F. (1992). Twentieth-Century France: Politics and Society in France 1898–1991.
  • McMillan, James F. (2000). France and Women 1789–1914: Gender, Society and Politics. Routledge.
  • McMillan, James F. (2009). Twentieth-Century France: Politics and Society in France 1898–1991.
  • McPhee, Peter (2004). A Social History of France, 1789–1914 (2nd ed.).
  • Messenger, Charles, ed. (2013). Reader's Guide to Military History. pp. 391–427. ISBN 978-1-135959708. evaluation of major books on Napoleon & his wars
  • Montague, Francis Charles; Holland, Arthur William (1911). "French Revolution, The" . In Chisholm, Hugh (ed.). Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 11 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 154–171.
  • Murphy, Neil (2016). "Violence, Colonization and Henry VIII's Conquest of France, 1544–1546". Past & Present. 233 (1): 13–51. doi:10.1093/pastj/gtw018.
  • Nafziger, George F. (2002). Historical Dictionary of the Napoleonic Era.
  • Neely, Sylvia (2008). A Concise History of the French Revolution.
  • Nicholls, David (1999). Napoleon: A Biographical Companion.
  • Northcutt, Wayne (1992). Historical Dictionary of the French Fourth and Fifth Republics, 1946–1991.
  • O'Rourke, Kevin H. (2006). "The Worldwide Economic Impact of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, 1793–1815". Journal of Global History. 1 (1): 123–149. doi:10.1017/S1740022806000076.
  • Offen, Karen (2003). "French Women's History: Retrospect (1789–1940) and Prospect". French Historical Studies. 26 (4): 757+. doi:10.1215/00161071-26-4-727. S2CID 161755361.
  • Palmer, Robert R. (1959). The Age of the Democratic Revolution: A Political History of Europe and America, 1760–1800. Vol. 1. comparative history
  • Paxton, John (1987). Companion to the French Revolution. hundreds of short entries
  • Pinkney, David H. (1951). "Two Thousand Years of Paris". Journal of Modern History. 23 (3): 262–264. doi:10.1086/237432. JSTOR 1872710. S2CID 143402436.
  • Plessis, Alain (1988). The Rise and Fall of the Second Empire, 1852–1871. The Cambridge History of Modern France.
  • Popkin, Jeremy D. (2005). A History of Modern France.
  • Potter, David (1995). A History of France, 1460–1560: The Emergence of a Nation-State.
  • Potter, David (2003). France in the Later Middle Ages 1200–1500.
  • Price, Roger (1987). A Social History of Nineteenth-Century France.
  • Price, Roger (1993). A Concise History of France.
  • Raymond, Gino (2008). Historical Dictionary of France (2nd ed.).
  • Restoration: 1815–1870
  • Revel, Jacques; Hunt, Lynn, eds. (1995). Histories: French Constructions of the Past. ISBN 978-1-565841956. 64 essays; emphasis on Annales School
  • Revolution
  • Richardson, Hubert N. B. (1920). A Dictionary of Napoleon and His Times.
  • Rioux, Jean-Pierre, and Godfrey Rogers (1989). The Fourth Republic, 1944–1958. The Cambridge History of Modern France.
  • Robb, Graham (2007). The Discovery of France: A Historical Geography, from the Revolution to the First World War.
  • Roberts, Andrew (2014). Napoleon: A Life. pp. 662–712. ISBN 978-0-670025329. biography
  • Roche, Daniel (1998). France in the Enlightenment.
  • Roche, Daniel (1998). France in the Enlightenment. wide-ranging history 1700–1789
  • Schama, Simon (1989). Citizens. A Chronicle of the French Revolution. narrative
  • Schwab, Gail M.; Jeanneney, John R., eds. (1995). The French Revolution of 1789 and Its Impact.
  • Scott, Samuel F. and Barry Rothaus (1984). Historical Dictionary of the French Revolution, 1789–1799. short essays by scholars
  • See also: Economic history of France § Further reading, and Annales School
  • Shirer, William L. (1969). The Collapse of the Third Republic. New York: Simon & Schuster.
  • Shusterman, Noah (2013). The French Revolution Faith, Desire, and Politics. ISBN 978-1-134456000.
  • Sowerwine, Charles (2009). France since 1870: Culture, Society and the Making of the Republic.
  • Sowerwine, Charles (2009). France since 1870: Culture, Society and the Making of the Republic.
  • Spencer, Samia I., ed. (1984). French Women and the Age of Enlightenment.
  • Spitzer, Alan B. (1962). "The Good Napoleon III". French Historical Studies. 2 (3): 308–329. doi:10.2307/285884. JSTOR 285884. historiography
  • Strauss-Schom, Alan (2018). The Shadow Emperor: A Biography of Napoleon III.
  • Stromberg, Roland N. (1986). "Reevaluating the French Revolution". History Teacher. 20 (1): 87–107. doi:10.2307/493178. JSTOR 493178.
  • Sutherland, D. M. G. (2003). France 1789–1815. Revolution and Counter-Revolution (2nd ed.).
  • Symes, Carol (Winter 2011). "The Middle Ages between Nationalism and Colonialism". French Historical Studies. 34 (1): 37–46. doi:10.1215/00161071-2010-021.
  • Thébaud, Françoise (2007). "Writing Women's and Gender History in France: A National Narrative?". Journal of Women's History. Project Muse. 19 (1): 167–172. doi:10.1353/jowh.2007.0026. S2CID 145711786.
  • Thompson, J. M. (1954). Napoleon Bonaparte: His Rise and Fall.
  • Tombs, Robert (2014). France 1814–1914. ISBN 978-1-317871439.
  • Tucker, Spencer, ed. (1999). European Powers in the First World War: An Encyclopedia.
  • Tulard, Jean (1984). Napoleon: The Myth of the Saviour.
  • Vovelle, Michel; Cochrane, Lydia G., eds. (1997). Enlightenment Portraits.
  • Weber, Eugen (1976). Peasants into Frenchmen: The Modernization of Rural France, 1870–1914. ISBN 978-0-80-471013-8.
  • Williams, Charles (1997). The Last Great Frenchman: A Life of General De Gaulle.
  • Williams, Philip M. and Martin Harrison (1965). De Gaulle's Republic.
  • Wilson, Arthur (1972). Diderot. Vol. II: The Appeal to Posterity. ISBN 0195015061.
  • Winter, J. M. (1999). Capital Cities at War: Paris, London, Berlin, 1914–1919.
  • Wolf, John B. (1940). France: 1815 to the Present. PRENTICE - HALL.
  • Wolf, John B. (1940). France: 1815 to the Present. PRENTICE - HALL. pp. 349–501.
  • Wolf, John B. (1968). Louis XIV. biography
  • Zeldin, Theodore (1979). France, 1848–1945. topical approach