France is one of the world’s oldest nation, with a rich and fascinating history. The country today is shaped by revolution, conflict and conquest.
A brief History of France
In about 900 BC, a people known as Celts or Gauls migrated to France. With them came iron tools and weapons.
The Celtic society was one of class. At the top were the aristocrats. Below them were the farmers and craftsmen. Celtic craftsmen were very skilled workers in gold, bronze, and iron.
Furthermore, trade flourished in Gaul and the Gauls built communities known as hill forts, these communities can be considered as the first French towns. Then about 600 BC, the Greeks founded Marseilles and Gaul increasingly came into contact with the Mediterranean world.
However, the Gauls were divided into about 60 tribes and disunited. This is what made it easy for the Romans to conquer them.
Roman Invasion Of France
The Romans first took control of a part of southern France in 121 BC. (What is today known as Provence). Then in 58 BC Julius Caesar began conquering the rest of Gaul. In 52 BC the Gauls put up resistance but were defeated at the battle of Alesia, and eventually, they were forced to submit to Roman rule.
Slowly the Gauls adopted the Roman way of life. Latin became a common language. Moreover, some Gauls were made Roman citizens and many of them came to later fill government posts.
Christianity letter arrived in Gaul, but Christians suffered terrible persecution. Around 250 AD a man named Denis was beheaded. He later became the patron saint of France.
France In The Middle Ages
At this time, the French economy boomed. Trade and commerce expanded and towns prospered. By the late 11th century Paris was booming.
Learning flourished in France and many universities were founded, University of Paris in 1150, University of Toulouse in 1229, University of Montpellier in 1289, University of Avignon in 1303, University of Orleans in 1306, and University of Angers in 1337. The arts – architecture, sculpture, and literature also flourished in France.
In 1328, the last Capetian king, Charles the Fair, died and his cousin Philip of Valois became Philip VI. However, Edward III of England claimed the throne because his mother was king Charles the Fair’s sister. (Salic law did not allow him to inherit the throne through a woman). So in 1337, a long and terrible series of wars began between France and England.
By 1453 the English had been driven out of all France except Calais.
By the end of the 15th century, France was a strong, centralized kingdom.
France In The 16th And 17th Century
In 1539 the edict of Villers-Cotterets made French the language of legal and official documents instead of Latin. France also became richer and the population grew rapidly.
France was later going to be embroiled in a series of wars; with Italy(1494-1559), Religious wars between 1562-1598.
There were also a number of poor harvests and in the 1580s and 1590s, epidemics. It was a troubled time for France.
In 1643 Louis XIV became King of France. He was considered one of the greatest French kings and he was known as the ‘sun king’.
By the end of the 17th century, France had an absolute monarchy. Absolutism was summed up by Louis XIV when he said ‘L’etat c’est moi’ (I am the state).
Louis XIV involved France in many wars. They were the War of Devolution 1667-1668, the War Dutch War 1672-1678, the War of the League of Augsburg (1689-1697), and the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1713). These wars were enormously expensive and taxes had to be increased to pay for them, placing a great burden on ordinary people.
The French Revolution (1789-1799)
The French Revolution was a period of bloodbath in French history. It began in 1789 and by the time it came to an end in 1799, The political structure of France has been greatly altered. It uprooted age long traditions, such as the monarchy and the feudal system in France.
The upheaval was caused by the displeasure and resentment the commoners harboured towards the aristocracy. Extravagant spending by King Louis XVI coupled with Several years of costly wars had left France on the brink of bankruptcy. Heavy taxes the poor or commoners had to pay, coupled with years of poor harvest caused by drought, high bread price, has caused unrest among the commoners. Many expressed their frustration and desperation by looting, rioting and becoming outlaws.
The French Revolution began when commoners stormed a prison called the Bastille on 14th July 1789 and ended with the ascent of Napoleon Bonaparte in 1799.
Some Notable People In French History
King Louis XIV (1638-1715)
King Louis XIV, also known as the ‘Sun King’ or ‘Louis the Great’ was King of France from 1643 to 1715, when he died. He succeeded his father, Louis XIII, as king at the tender age of five.
During the early years of his reign, Louis XIV remained dependent on his chief minister Mazarin and began his personal rule in 1661 after Mazarin died.
During his reign he sought to increase France power and dominance in Europe. It saw a period of economic and educational boom.
King Louis XIV also enforced uniformity of religion under the Catholic Church. Virtually destroying the French Protestant community.
His reign was one of absolute monarchy that endured until the French Revolution.
Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821)
Napoleon Bonaparte was born in 1769, on the island of Corsica.
He was a French military commander that rose to prominence during the French Revolution(1789-1799) after seizing political power in 1799.
He was the first Consul from 1799 to 1804, then crowned himself emperor of the French in 1804. Furthermore, he was emperor from 1804 to 1814, and again in 1815.
Napoleon is considered one of the greatest military commanders in history. He expanded the French Empire as well as improve the French economy.
He initiated many liberal reforms that have persisted in society today. He reestablished the Catholic Church as the official state religion but allowed for freedom of religion to those who weren't Catholic.
Furthermore, he was able to institute a number of government reforms. One of which is the famous Napoleonic Code. This code states that government positions would not be appointed based on a person's birth or religion, but on their qualifications and ability. Before the Napoleonic Code, high positions were given to aristocrats by the king in return for favors. This often led to incompetent people in important positions.
As a military leader, he successfully waged wars against various European nations and succeeded, but after a failed invasion of Russia in 1812, Napoleon was exiled to the island of Elba. In 1815 he again returned to power but suffered defeat at the battle of Waterloo and was exiled again to the island of Saint Helena, where he died in 1821.