France is a roughly hexagonal-shaped nation in Western Europe. It has only been a nation for a little more than a thousand years, yet in that time, it has seen some of the most significant occurrences in European history. The English Channel forms its northern border, followed by Luxembourg and Belgium in the northeast, Germany and Switzerland in the east, Italy in the southeast, the Mediterranean Sea in the south, Andorra and Spain in the southwest and the Atlantic Ocean in the west.
The Greeks, Romans, and Carthaginians founded colonies along the Mediterranean coast and on nearby islands during the first millennium BC. Late in the 2nd century BC, the Roman Republic acquired southern Gaul as the province of Gallia Narbonensis. In the Gallic Wars of 58–51 BC, Roman Legions led by Julius Caesar took control of the remainder of Gaul.
A Gallo-Roman civilization thus developed, and Gaul became more and more incorporated into the Roman Empire. Gaul experienced raids and migration by barbarians in the latter years of the Roman Empire, most notably the Germanic Franks.
The majority of Gaul was united under the reign of the Frankish monarch Clovis I in the late 5th century, paving the way for Frankish domination in the area for hundreds of years. Under Charlemagne, Frankish power expanded to its most significant potential. The western region of Charlemagne’s Carolingian Empire, which gained popularity under the administration of the House of Capet, was founded by Hugh Capet in 1987.
House of Plantagenet and House of Valois engaged in the Hundred Years’ War
After the death of the last direct Capetian monarch in 1328 owing to a succession dispute, the House of Plantagenet and the House of Valois engaged in a series of hostilities that became known as the Hundred Years’ War.
Following Philip VI’s effort to wrest the Duchy of Aquitaine from its hereditary owner, The Plantagenet aspirant, to the French crown, the third Edward of England, the war was legally declared to have started in 1337.
Despite early Plantagenet wins, such as the kidnapping and ransom of King John II of France, the tide of the war eventually shifted in the Valois’ favor. Against the English, Joan of Arc led the French army, rose to fame as a national hero, and was one of the prominent figures of the conflict. In 1453, the Valois won the competition.
Increasing French nationalism’s impact
The outcome of the Hundred Years’ War strengthened French nationalism and greatly expanded the authority and influence of the French monarchy. Through the Protestant Reformation and the Renaissance, France, under the Ancien Régime over the ensuing centuries, became a centralized absolute monarchy.
When the French Wars of Religion were at their height, Henry III, the last Valois monarch, was engaged in conflict with the House of Guise and the House of Bourbon. This led to another succession crisis in France. The battle was won by Henry, the Navarrean Bourbon King, who also founded the bourbon dynasty. In the 16th century, a booming global colonial empire was created. Under the fourteen Louis, also known as “The Sun King,” the French monarchy’s political influence peaked.
In the late 18th century, there was a French Revolution
The monarchy and its associated institutions fell into disarray due to the French Revolution in the late 18th century. The nation ruled as a republic until Napoleon Bonaparte’s French Empire was established.
France saw more political changes after Napoleon’s defeat in the Napoleonic Wars, including the first as a monarchy. For a brief period as a Second Republic and last as a Second Empire, until a more stable French Third Republic was created in 1870.
Events from World War I to II
During World War I’s conflict with Germany and the Central Powers, France was a member of the Triple Entente. Despite being an Allied Power in the second World War, Nazi Germany overran France in 1940. The Third Republic was overthrown, and Germany directly controlled most of the nation. The collaborationist Vichy government ruled the south until 1942.
Living conditions were difficult since Germany slaughtered many Jews while stealing food and labor. The Free France movement seized control of the colonial empire and organized the Resistance during the war. After being set free in 1944, the Fourth Republic was founded. France saw a baby boom as it steadily recovered from its extremely low fertility rate.
Long-running conflicts in Algeria and Indochina depleted French resources and resulted in political failure. After the Algerian Crisis of 1958, Charles de Gaulle established the French Fifth Republic. The French colonial empire was mostly decolonized by the 1960s, with lesser portions becoming foreign departments and collectivities of the French state.
France has been a permanent member of NATO and the UN Security Council since second World War. After 1945, it was crucial to the unification effort that produced the European Union. Despite recent weak economic growth, it continues to be a significant economic, cultural, military, and political force in the twenty-first century.
Pre-human ancestors may have lived in France at least 1.6 million years ago, according to stone tools found in Chilhac in 1968 and Lézignan-la-Cèbe in 2009. Neanderthals lived in Europe starting around 400,000 BC but went extinct by 30,000 years ago, probably due to modern humans outcompeting them amid a frigid climate. Homo sapiens, the earliest modern humans, arrived in Europe around 43,000 years ago (the Upper Palaeolithic).
The Carnac stones, Lascaux and Gargas cave paintings, and Gargas in the Hautes-Pyrénées cave paintings are examples of ancient local activity. The Iron Age is when France’s earliest written histories first appear. Greek, Roman, and Carthaginian colonies were founded on the Mediterranean coast and nearby islands during the first millennium BC.
Late in the 2nd century BC, the province of Gallia Narbonensis was created by the Roman Republic after annexing southern Gaul. From 58 to 51 BC, Roman armies led by Julius Caesar overran the remainder of Gaul. A Gallo-Roman civilization then developed, and Gaul became more and more incorporated into the Roman empire.
One of the earliest cities in France, Massalia was founded around 600 BC by Ionian Greeks from Phocaea on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. Massalia is now known as Marseille. Some Celtic tribes arrived in the eastern regions of what is now France at the same time (Germania superior). Still, this occupation did not expand to the rest of France until the fifth and third centuries BC. Covering a sizable portion of modern-day Belgium, France, Germany’s northwest, and Italy’s north.
According to Gaul, Julius Caesar, which encompassed a sizable portion of what is now France, northwest Germany, Belgium, and northern Italy, was home to numerous Celtic and Belgae tribes that approximately between the Oise and the Garonne, the Romans known as Gauls who spoke the Gaulish language (Celtic Gallia).
Aquitanian, a Pre-Indo-European language linked to (or a direct predecessor of) Basque, was spoken on the lower Garonne. At the same time, other authors like Strabo claimed that a Belgian language was spoken north of Lutecia but north of the Loire. While the Aquitanians constructed Tolosa, the Celts founded cities like Lutetia Parisiorum (Paris) and Burdigala (Toulouse) (Bordeaux).
People who have a prominent role in the History of France
King Louis XIV (1638–1715):
For many of his contemporaries, Louis XIV was the only ruler they had ever known. Louis XIV ascended to the French throne in 1642 while still a minor and reigned until 1715.
Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821):
Napoleon, a Corsican by origin, trained in the French army, and his achievements helped him establish a reputation that allowed him to mingle with the late-revolutionary French political elite.
Charles de Gaulle (1890–1970):
De Gaulle, a military leader who argued in favor of mobile warfare when France opted to fortify the Maginot Line, led the Free French troops during the Second World War and afterward served as Prime Minister of the newly freed nation.