History of France

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Napoleon Bonaparte, buste musée légion d'honneur by Charles Louis Corbet.

Contents

History

Medieval France

See Franks

Feudal Era: 987-1328

For nearly 1,000 years, the house of Capet furnished France with kings—first through the Capetian line then two of its branches, the Valois and Bourbon lines of hereditary kings. The line was interrupted 1792-1814 by the French Revolution, but then resumed.

Between Hugh Capet's coronation in 987 and the start of the Hundred Years' War with England in 1338, the feudal system became established and dominated the rural areas. Paris and a few other cities emerged, along with numerous small towns. Businessmen (called “bourgeois”) traded farm products for craft products. Religion was increasingly important, with great cathedrals built in the cities, and great monasteries controlling large amounts for good land. France actively participated in The Crusades after 1000, engaging kings, counts, clergy, and commoners.

The Normans (originally Vikings) had a semi-independent dukedom in Normandy; they conquered England in 1066, and wars with England became common for the next 750 years/

France was a rural country that depended on farming and thus on ownership of the land. Most of the land was distributed by Charlemagne to his commanders. Feudalism slowly emerged as a special relationship between the king and the nobles, and between the nobles and their retainers. The nobles were warriors for the king, and were required to give military service at their own cost, bringing along their own soldiers (who were farmers on their estates). The nobles had to provide weapons, uniforms and supplies for their own soldiers. Usually military service was only a matter of a few weeks every so often. The Nobles were given hereditary title to the best lands—even as large as an entire province—together with the right to tax, oversee, and judge their inhabitants. The lords protected their men, and in turn received loyalty, rents (in the form of farm products), fees, and military service when on call. Loyalty to the Catholic Church was a given, and talented young nobles became priests, abbots and bishops, all of whom were celibate. The Monasteries grew wealthy from inheritances and donations, and abbots became as powerful as the secular nobles.

One danger that feudalism avoided was constant warfare between nobles. They realized they needed a king to prevent this and so in 987 the nobles selected Hugh Capet as their first king. Previously his family had been counts of Anjou and Blois; his supporters included the duke of Normandy. The kings owned some royal lands directly, especially in the area around Paris called the Ile de France. The king had to negotiate with the powerful dukes, especially those of Normandy, Aquitaine, Burgundy and Flanders. The English Norman kings extended their French holdings beyond Normandy when Eleanor of Aquitaine, after the annulment of her marriage to the King Louis VII, in 1152 married the future King Henry II of England.

The middle class was small but controlled the flow of gold, and the kings formed alliances with them. Nevertheless there was a major cultural gap between the business orientation of the middle class and the nobles’ roles of warrior, landowner, and bishop. The king gained support from bishops and abbots with his patronage for cathedrals, schools, and crusades.

France supported higher education, with the foundation of the world’s first university at Paris. In monasteries and universities, monks and scholars studied, discussed, and debated theological tracts, Greek and Latin works. From the courtiers there emerged a French language literature.

Old Regime

France was one of the earliest countries in Europe to progress from feudalism to the nation-state. Its monarchs surrounded themselves with capable ministers, and French armies were among the most innovative, disciplined, and professional of their day. During the reign of Louis XIV (1643-1715), France was the dominant power in Europe. But overly ambitious projects and military campaigns of Louis and his successors led to chronic financial problems in the 18th Century.

French Revolution

The French Revolution of the 1790s was the decisive event in French history--one that reshaped the nation and brought France into the modern world. The meaning has been contested between historians of the left and right. In recent years the simplistic Marxist interpretation has lost favor, replaced by complexity and by the conservative interpretation of François Furet.[1]

Deteriorating economic conditions and popular resentment against the complicated system of privileges granted the nobility and clerics were among the principal causes of the French Revolution (1789-99).

19th century

French art: Claude Monet by Renoir.

Although the revolutionaries advocated republican and egalitarian principles of government, France reverted to forms of absolute rule or constitutional monarchy four times--the Empire of Napoleon, the Restoration of Louis XVIII, the reign of Louis-Philippe, and the Second Empire of Napoleon III. After the Franco-Prussian War (1870), the Third Republic was established and lasted until the military defeat of 1940 at the hands of the Germans.

Railways

In France, railways became a national medium for the modernization of backward regions, and a leading advocate of this approach was the poet-politician Alphonse de Lamartine. One writer hoped that railways might improve the lot of “populations two or three centuries behind their fellows” and eliminate “the savage instincts born of isolation and misery.” Consequently, France built a centralized system that radiated from Paris (plus lines that cut east to west in the south). This design was intended to achieve political and cultural goals rather than maximize efficiency. After some consolidation, six companies controlled monopolies of their regions, subject to close control by the government in terms of fares, finances, and even minute technical details. The central government department of Ponts et Chaussées [roads and bridges] brought in British engineers and workers, handled much of the construction work, provided engineering expertise and planning, land acquisition, and construction of permanent infrastructure such as the track bed, bridges and tunnels. It also subsidized militarily necessary lines along the German border, which was considered necessary for the national defense. Private operating companies provided management, hired labor, laid the tracks, and built and operated stations. They purchased and maintained the rolling stock—6,000 locomotives were in operation in 1880, which averaged 51,600 passengers a year or 21,200 tons of freight. Much of the equipment was imported from Britain and therefore did not stimulate machinery makers. Although starting the whole system at once was politically expedient, it delayed completion, and forced even more reliance on temporary experts brought in from Britain. Financing was also a problem. The solution was a narrow base of funding through the Rothschilds and the closed circles of the Bourse in Paris, so France did not develop the same kind of national stock exchange that flourished in London and New York. The system did help modernize the parts of rural France it reached, but it did not help create local industrial centers. Critics such as Emile Zola complained that it never overcame the corruption of the political system, but rather contributed to it. The railways probably helped the industrial revolution in France by facilitating a national market for raw materials, wines, cheeses, and imported manufactured products. Yet the goals set by the French for their railway system were moralistic, political, and military rather than economic. As a result, the freight trains were shorter and less heavily loaded than those in such rapidly industrializing nations such as Britain, Belgium or Germany. Other infrastructure needs in rural France, such as better roads and canals, were neglected because of the expense of the railways, so it seems likely that there were net negative effects in areas not served by the trains.[2]

20th century

World War I (1914-18) brought great losses of troops and material. In the 1920s, France established an elaborate system of border defenses (the Maginot Line) and alliances to offset resurgent German strength. Unfortunately for France that defense was based on the trench warfare of World War I and provided a poor plan for the Blitzkreig tactics that the Germans had developed. France was defeated early in World War II when it was quickly overrun by Nazi Germany and was occupied in June 1940. In July, the country was divided into two: one section being ruled directly by the Germans, and a second controlled by the French (Vichy France) and which the Germans did not occupy. German and Italian forces occupied all of France, including the "Vichy" zone, following the Allied invasion of North Africa in November 1942. The "Vichy" government largely acquiesced to German plans, namely in the plunder of French resources and the forceful deportations of tens of thousands of French Jews living in France to concentration camps across Europe, and was even more completely under German control following the German military occupation of November 1942. Economically, a full one-half of France's public sector revenue was appropriated by Germany. After 4 years of occupation and strife, Allied forces liberated France from Germany control in 1944.

Post 1945

see Charles de Gaulle

France emerged from World War II to face a series of new problems. After a short period of provisional government initially led by Gen. Charles de Gaulle, the Fourth Republic was set up by a new constitution and established as a parliamentary form of government controlled by a series of coalitions. French military involvement in both Vietnam and Algeria combined with the mixed nature of the coalitions and a consequent lack of agreement caused successive cabinet crises and changes of government.

Finally, on May 13, 1958, the government structure collapsed as a result of the negative public opinion pressures generated by four years of war in Algeria. A threatened coup led the Parliament to call on General de Gaulle to head the government and prevent civil war. Marking the beginning of the Fifth Republic, he became prime minister in June 1958 and was elected president in December of that year. Also resulting from the Algerian conflict, were decades of increased immigration from the Maghreb states, which functioned to change the composition of French society. The French had believed that the immigrants would assimilate into French society, but over time the opposite occurred as the groups came to think of themselves not so much by their separate African nation ancestory but instead by their Islamic background. Enclaves of 'nations within a nation' would eventually form where all signs would be in Arabic. This would cause further trouble in modern times.

Seven years later, for the first time in the 20th Century, the people of France went to the polls to elect a president by direct ballot. De Gaulle won re-election with a 55% share of the vote, defeating François Mitterrand. In April 1969, President de Gaulle's government conducted a national referendum on the creation of 21 regions with limited political powers. The government's proposals were defeated, and de Gaulle subsequently resigned. Succeeding him as president of France have been Gaullist Georges Pompidou (1969-74), Independent Republican Valery Giscard d'Estaing (1974-81), Socialist François Mitterrand (1981-95), neo-Gaullist Jacques Chirac (1995-2007), and Nicolas Sarkozy (2007-present).

While France continues to revere its rich history and independence, French leaders are increasingly tying the future of France to the continued development of the European Union. France was integral in establishing the European Coal and Steel Community in 1951 and was among the EU's six founding states. During his tenure, President Mitterrand stressed the importance of European integration and advocated the ratification of the Maastricht Treaty on European economic and political union, which France's electorate narrowly approved in September 1992. The center of domestic attention soon shifted, however, to the economic reform and belt-tightening measures required for France to meet the criteria for Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) laid out by the Maastricht Treaty.

Jacques Chirac was reelected as president in 2002, and National Assembly elections were held the same year. Since the September 11, 2001 attacks in the U.S., France has played a central role in the war on terrorism. French forces participate in Operation Enduring Freedom and in the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) for Afghanistan. France did not, however, join the coalition that liberated Iraq in 2003, a decision that caused much tension between France and the United States. In October and November 2005, three weeks of violent unrest in the Islamic immigrant suburbs focused French attention further on their minority communities. Also in 2005 French voters disapproved the EU constitution in a national referendum. More recently in the spring of 2006, students protested widely over restrictive employment legislation.

In May 2007, Nicolas Sarkozy was elected as France's sixth president under the Fifth Republic. Considered to be a conservative by French standards, his election signalled French approval of widespread economic and social reforms, as well as desiring a closer cooperation with the United States that was still strained over the Iraq War.

Bibliography

Surveys and reference

Middle Ages

  • see also Annales School
  • Duby, Georges. France in the Middle Ages 987-1460: From Hugh Capet to Joan of Arc (1993), survey by a leader of the Annales School excerpt and text search
  • Bloch, Marc. Feudal Society: Vol 1: The Growth and Ties of Dependence (1989); Feudal Society: Vol 2: Social Classes and Political Organisation(1989) excerpt and text search
  • Bloch, Marc. French Rural History an Essay on Its Basic Characteristics (1972)
  • Le Roy Ladurie, Emmanuel. Montaillou: Cathars and Catholics in a French Village, 1294-1324 (1978) excerpt and text search
  • Le Roy Ladurie, Emmanuel. The Peasants of Languedoc (1966; English translation 1974) search
  • Potter, David. France in the Later Middle Ages 1200-1500, (2003) excerpt and text search

Early Modern

  • Holt, Mack P. Renaissance and Reformation France: 1500-1648 (2002) excerpt and text search
  • Potter, David. A History of France, 1460-1560: The Emergence of a Nation-State (1995)

Old Regime

Enlightenment

  • see Enlightenment
  • Baker, Keith Michael. Inventing the French Revolution: Essays on French Political Culture in the Eighteenth Century. 1990. excerpt and text search
  • Blom, Philipp. Enlightening the World: Encyclopédie, the Book That Changed the Course of History. 2005. 416 pp. excerpt and text search
  • Chisick, Harvey. Historical Dictionary of the Enlightenment. 2005. 512 pp
  • Delon, Michel. Encyclopedia of the Enlightenment (2001) 1480pp
  • Goodman, Dena. The Republic of Letters: A Cultural History of the French Enlightenment (1994) 338 pp online edition
  • Hazard, Paul. European thought in the eighteenth century: From Montesquieu to Lessing (1965)
  • Kaiser, Thomas E. "This Strange Offspring of Philosophie: Recent Historiographical Problems in Relating the Enlightenment to the French Revolution." French Historical Studies 15 (Spring 1988): 549-62. in JSTOR
  • Kors, Alan Charles. Encyclopedia of the Enlightenment (4 vol. 1990; 2nd ed. 2003), 1984pp excerpt and tyext search
  • Mason, Haydn Trevor. Voltaire: A Biography. 1981. 194 pp.
  • Roche, Daniel. France in the Enlightenment. 1998. 736 pp.
  • Spencer, Samia I., ed. French Women and the Age of Enlightenment. 1984.
  • Vovelle, Michel and Cochrane, Lydia G., eds. Enlightenment Portraits. 1997. 456 pp.
  • Wilson, Arthur. Diderot. 1972.

Revolution

  • Doyle, William. The Oxford History of the French Revolution (1989). online complete edition; also excerpt and text search
  • Doyle, William. The French Revolution: A Very Short Introduction. (2001), 120pp; online edition
  • Fremont-Barnes, Gregory. ed. The Encyclopedia of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars: A Political, Social, and Military History (ABC-CLIO: 3 vol 2006)
  • Frey, Linda S. and Marsha L. Frey. The French Revolution. (2004) 190pp online edition
  • Furet, François. The French Revolution, 1770-1814 (1996) excerpt and text search
  • Furet, François and Mona Ozouf, eds. A Critical Dictionary of the French Revolution (1989), 1120pp; long essays by scholars; conservative perspective; stress on history of ideas excerpt and online search from Amazon.com
  • Jones, Colin. The Longman Companion to the French Revolution (1989)
  • Jones, Colin. The Great Nation: France from Louis XV to Napoleon (2002) excerpt and text search
  • Neely, Sylvia. A Concise History of the French Revolution (2008)
  • Palmer, Robert R. The Age of the Democratic Revolution: A Political History of Europe and America, 1760-1800. (2 vol 1959), highly influential comparative history; vol 1 online
  • Paxton, John. Companion to the French Revolution (1987), hundreds of short entries.
  • Schwab, Gail M., and John R. Jeanneney, eds. The French Revolution of 1789 and Its Impact (1995) online edition
  • Scott, Samuel F. and Barry Rothaus. Historical Dictionary of the French Revolution, 1789-1799 (2 vol 1984), short essays by scholars
  • Schama, Simon. Citizens. A Chronicle of the French Revolution (1989), highly readable narrative by scholar excerpt and text search
  • Sutherland, D.M.G. France 1789–1815. Revolution and Counter-Revolution (2nd ed. 2003, 430pp excerpts and online search from Amazon.com

Napoleon

  • Emsley, Clive. Napoleon 2003 142 pp, very succinct coverage of life, France and empire; little on warfare
  • Englund, Steven. Napoleon: A Political Life. (2004). 575 pages; the best political biography excerpt and text search
  • Fisher, Herbert. Napoleon (1913) 256pp old classic online edition free
  • Fremont-Barnes, Gregory. ed. The Encyclopedia of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars: A Political, Social, and Military History (ABC-CLIO: 3 vol 2006)
  • Grab, Alexander. Napoleon and the Transformation of Europe. (2003), pp. 249, maps; excellent synthesis
  • Harold, J. Christopher. The Age of Napoleon (1963) 480pp, popular history stressing empire and diplomacy
  • Markham, Felix. Napoleon 1963. 304pp online edition
  • McLynn, Frank. Napoleon: A Biography (2003) 752pp, stress on military
  • Nafziger, George F. Historical Dictionary of the Napoleonic Era. 2002. 353 pp.
  • Nicholls, David. Napoleon: A Biographical Companion. 1999. 300 pp.
  • Thompson, J. M. Napoleon Bonaparte: His Rise and Fall (1954), scholarly, well-balanced in topics, but pro-Britain

Restoration: 1815-1870

  • Agulhon, Maurice. The Republican Experiment, 1848-1852 (The Cambridge History of Modern France) (1983) excerpt and text search
  • Echard, William E. Historical Dictionary of the French Second Empire, 1852-1870 (1985) online edition
  • Plessis, Alain. The Rise and Fall of the Second Empire, 1852 - 1871 (The Cambridge History of Modern France) (1988) excerpt and text search
  • Price, Roger. A Social History of Nineteenth-Century France (1987) 403pp. 403 pgs. complete text online at Questia
  • Zeldin

Third Republic: 1871-1940

  • Bernard, Philippe, and Henri Dubief. The Decline of the Third Republic, 1914 - 1938 (The Cambridge History of Modern France) (1988) excerpt and text search
  • Lehning, James R.; To Be a Citizen: The Political Culture of the Early French Third Republic (2001) online edition
  • Mayeur, Jean-Marie, and Madeleine Rebirioux. The Third Republic from its Origins to the Great War, 1871-1914 (The Cambridge History of Modern France) (1988) excerpt and text search
  • Price, Roger. A Social History of Nineteenth-Century France (1987) 403pp. 403 pgs. complete text online at Questia
  • Robb, Graham. The Discovery of France: A Historical Geography, from the Revolution to the First World War (2007)
  • Weber, Eugen. Peasants into Frenchmen: The Modernization of Rural France, 1870-1914 (1976) excerpt and text search
World War I
  • Tucker, Spencer, ed. European Powers in the First World War: An Encyclopedia (1999)
  • Winter, J. M. Capital Cities at War: Paris, London, Berlin, 1914-1919 (1999)

Vichy (1940-44)

  • Azema, Jean-Pierre. From Munich to Liberation 1938-1944 (The Cambridge History of Modern France) (1985)
  • Berthon, Simon. Allies at War: The Bitter Rivalry among Churchill, Roosevelt, and de Gaulle. (2001). 356 pp.
  • Funk, Arthur Layton. Charles de Gaulle: The Crucial Years, 1943-1944 (1959) online edition
  • Gildea, Robert. Marianne in Chains: Daily Life in the Heart of France During the German Occupation (2004) excerpt and text search
  • Jackson, Julian. France: The Dark Years, 1940-1944 (2003) excerpt and text search
  • Kersaudy, Francois. Churchill and De Gaulle (2nd ed 1990 482pp
  • Lacouture, Jean. De Gaulle: The Rebel 1890-1944 (1984; English ed. 1991), 640pp; excerpt and text search
  • Paxton, Robert O. Vichy France 2nd ed. (2001) excerpt and text search

Fourth and Fifth Republics (1944 to present)

see also Charles de Gaulle

  • Berstein, Serge, and Peter Morris. The Republic of de Gaulle 1958-1969 (The Cambridge History of Modern France) (2006) excerpt and text search
  • Berstein, Serge, Jean-Pierre Rioux, and Christopher Woodall. The Pompidou Years, 1969-1974 (The Cambridge History of Modern France) (2000) excerpt and text search
  • Bourg, Julian ed. After the Deluge: New Perspectives on the Intellectual and Cultural History of Postwar France (2004) 426 pp.ISBN 978-0-7391-0792-8.
  • Cerny, Philip G. The Politics of Grandeur: Ideological Aspects of de Gaulle's Foreign Policy. (1980). 319 pp.
  • Hauss, Charles. Politics in Gaullist France: Coping with Chaos (1991) online edition
  • Kolodziej, Edward A. French International Policy under de Gaulle and Pompidou: The Politics of Grandeur (1974) online edition
  • Lacouture, Jean. De Gaulle: The Ruler 1945-1970 (1993)
  • Northcutt, Wayne. Historical Dictionary of the French Fourth and Fifth Republics, 1946-1991 (1992)
  • Rioux, Jean-Pierre, and Godfrey Rogers. The Fourth Republic, 1944-1958 (1989) (The Cambridge History of Modern France)
  • Williams, Charles. The Last Great Frenchman: A Life of General De Gaulle (1997) excerpt and text search
  • Williams, Philip M. and Martin Harrison. De Gaulle's Republic (1965) online edition

Historiography

see also Annales School

  • Offen, Karen. "French Women's History: Retrospect (1789–1940) and Prospect," French Historical Studies 26, no. 4 (2003): 757+
  • Thébaud, Françoise. "Writing Women's and Gender History in France: A National Narrative?" Journal of Women's History - Volume 19, Number 1, 2007, pp. 167-172 in Project Muse

references

  1. See François Furet and Mona Ozouf, eds. A Critical Dictionary of the French Revolution (1989)
  2. Patrick O’Brien, Railways and the Economic Development of Western Europe, 1830-1914 (1983)
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