France is an independent nation in Western Europe. With the capital city of Paris, France 2020 population is estimated at 65,273,522 according to countryaah. After centuries of fighting between different princes, the seed of a nation-state arose in the 1300s. French kings gradually laid down new territories and a centralized state was developed. At the beginning of the 18th century, the country was the most influential in Europe. The revolution of the end of the century was followed by Napoleon’s authoritarian rule and continued centralization. During the 19th century, several revolutions followed in the struggle for political power and organization, while France strengthened its position as colonial power. The first half of the 20th century came to be characterized by the two world wars.
- AbbreviationFinder.org: Comprehensive guide to and popular abbreviations of France, covering history, economy, and social conditions.
About 100,000 years ago, the Neanderthal came to the area that today constitutes France and tombs from that time have been found in Périgord (Dordogne department) in the southwest. For France political system, please check computerminus.
Cro Magnon, the present man, is thought to have been revealed 35,000 years ago, and they have left their strangest traces in the form of sublime cave paintings in, among others, the Lascaux Cave in Dordogne about 17,000 years ago.
For many French people, however, the story begins with the grates, which were a Celtic people who, circa 1000 BC, wandered across the Rhine from present-day South Germany. However, the grilles never organized any unified state on French soil. Eventually, the Roman Empire extended its rule over Gaul. By 122 BC, the Romans had established a camp in the present Aix-en-Provence, which became the beginning of 500 years of Roman domination.
After the great migrations and the fall of the Roman Empire, in the 400s, France was divided between Western Goths, Burgundians, Franks and Alemans. In the early 500s, the foundation of a Frankish empire was laid, but this never developed into a unified state formation. This kingdom reached its peak during the so-called Carolingian dynasty (751–987) as it extended from the Pyrenees in the south to the North Sea in the north. The Carolingian empire collapsed after the death of Karl the Great’s son Ludwig, when the kingdom was divided among his sons. Its western part eventually became France.
In 987 Hugo Capet – a prince based in the Paris area – was elected Frankish King after a century of uninterrupted civil war. However, the country was divided both politically and territorially. Between 1000 and 1500 constant battles between various feudal princes were ongoing, which slowly led the Capet family to expand its power base and strengthen the royal power. During this time, the gap between the northern and southern parts of the country was bridged. It was also a prosperous period both financially and culturally.
In the 13th century, the King of the Franks officially became king of France, but it was not until the beginning of the 1300s that one began to speak of a French nation. At this time, significant parts of what is now France belonged, including the area in the southwest around Bordeaux and the area in the north around Calais. When the English King claimed the French crown in 1337, the centenary war (1337-1453) broke out between the countries. During the struggle against the English, a French national feeling began to take shape.
16th century – war of religion
In the middle of the 14th century Bordeaux was re-captured and at the end of the century Brittany was incorporated with France. About 50 years later, the parts of the north that had been held by the English until then were recaptured. Yet the kingdom’s unity was threatened during much of the 16th century. Not least during the religious wars during the second half of the century, when conflicts grew between the Protestant Huguenots and the Catholics. It was not just a struggle for religion but even more about which group would rule the country. The religious struggle ended with victory for the Catholics but the peace, through the Edict of Nantes in 1598, came in the form of a compromise that not only gave Protestants the right to exercise their faith in certain parts of the country. They were also given responsibility for the defense there.
During Cardinal Richelieu, first minister of 1624, the authority of the central power was restored and the protestors’ military power was crushed. During the Thirty Years’ War in Europe (1618–1648), Richelieu was then able to focus on France’s great-political ambitions. France embarked on the struggle for the New World, America, by occupying a few islands in the Caribbean and following the colonization of Canada.
18th Century – The Great Power of Europe
When Louis XIV, the “sun king”, died in 1715, he was leader of Europe’s most powerful state. The state’s authority was stronger than ever. Courtyard life in Versailles and French culture was patterned throughout Europe.
But towards the end of the 18th century, France was in a social crisis. Royal debauchery and costly wars had caused a great economic crisis. The social system favored a small privileged elite, while the peasants lacked political rights and were viable, that is, they were forced to work for a gentleman and had no right to move. The growing bourgeoisie and middle class were also excluded from all political power. But the growth of trade and industry was radically rebalancing society. In this climate new values sprouted about the possibilities of the individual. The ideal of the old society, where a king as the representative of God on earth reigned with unlimited power, had been undermined. As early as the 1600s, philosopher René Descartes had pointed to the possibility of mastering science with science. These thoughts were further advanced by the Enlightenment philosophers of the 18th century. Thinkers like Denis Diderot, François de Voltaire and Jean-Jacques Rousseau wanted in all areas to replace despotism and the belief in a divine power with the belief in the unlimited possibilities of human reason, where political and economic freedom could only stimulate progress.
1789 – revolution
A rapid increase in the population in the second half of the 18th century made the outdated social structure arch. Although the central power had been strengthened and the country modernized during the 17th century, the national unity was far from obvious. Within the country there were plenty of internal customs limits and different weight and measurement systems. Confusion and disorder characterized the administration. This paved the way for the French Revolution, the unified name for the events of 1789–1799 as the country’s social, political, legal and religious structure changed in a revolutionary way. The revolution’s ideals of freedom, equality and fraternity would for a long time affect politics not only in France but throughout the world.
The economic crisis triggered the revolt. The aristocracy’s opposition to a proposal that nobles and priests should be taxed and to give new strata of influence increased all attempts to find a compromise. On July 14, 1789, the Bastille, a fortress in Paris used as a prison, was stormed. This event has become a symbol of the popular uprising against the royal power. Peasants and citizens, together with the priesthood, formed a new constituent assembly that abolished the quality of life and the privileges of aristocracy.
On August 26, 1789, the Declaration on Human and Civil Rights was issued, in which everyone’s equality before the law, a government representing citizens, freedom of speech and private ownership was established. King Louis XVI still remained as a factor of power, but the attempts to find a compromise between the royal power and the new National Assembly proved impossible. Gradually the revolutionaries progressed more and more. In 1792 the monarchy was abolished and in January 1793 the king was executed. This first republic proved to be filled with internal contradictions and too weak to survive. It was the year of terror in the country with great anxiety, when many of the most prominent figures of the revolution were also executed. New financial and social crises and wars followed in the coming years and fueled a longing for stability and a strong government.
1799 – Napoleon Bonaparte
In this situation came General Napoleon Bonaparte’s coup d’état in 1799. His immediate goal was to establish the state’s authority in a disintegrating country. In 1804 he proclaimed himself emperor. Napoleon’s 15-year reign (1799-1814) was marked by an internal reform activity that reinforced the centralism that still characterizes France. He reorganized finance, administration and legal systems and created a central bureaucracy. Napoleon’s foreign policy ambitions resulted in a major European war that would also be his downfall.
After great success initially, it turned out that Napoleon gaped too much. In 1814 troops from a coalition of European powers marched into Paris. Napoleon was deposed and replaced by Louis XVIII, brother of the king executed in 1793. One year later, Napoleon was back in power, but after “the hundred days” it all ended with a devastating defeat for Napoleon in 1815, in the battle against the British at Waterloo south about Brussels.
1830 and 1848 – new revolutions
After Napoleon’s fall, the monarchy was reinstated and the period called the Restoration began. But it was not a return to the conditions that prevailed before 1789. The king’s power was great, but Parliament was able to exercise some control. Personal freedom and equality before the law were guaranteed even though, for example, the right to vote was limited to men with a certain wealth. The social and political tensions increased to culminate when in 1830 it appeared as if the royal power was prepared to destroy the achievements of the revolution. Once again, a political crisis was settled on the streets of Paris through the July Revolution of 1830. The new king was forced to promise that he would follow a more liberal constitution. The political calm achieved was at the price of repression by those who harbored more radical ideas.
It was during this time that the idea of a republic gained a foothold among the French. Yet it all ended with a bloody coup in 1852 where Napoleon’s nephew Louis Napoleon seized power and proclaimed himself emperor named Napoleon III. During his time in power, a generous social legislation and significant educational reform were implemented. The fall of the empire was due to France provoking a war against Prussia in 1870. France suffered a severe defeat and lost Alsace-Lorraine. The empire was replaced by the “Third Republic”. Until the turn of the century, an economic, financial and military reorganization was carried out.
The expansion of the colonial empire in Asia and Africa, which began in the 1830s, continued and France sought to break its foreign policy isolation through alliances with Britain and Russia. At the same time, France was divided politically between monarchists, bonapartists and supporters of the republic. Eventually, a conservative republic was consolidated and the interests of the Church and the King’s followers were pushed back.
1914-1918 – revenge on Germany
At the beginning of the 20th century, the international situation was tapered and particularly tense were the relations between France and Germany. The First World War (1914-1918) started in the Balkans, but the alliances formed between France and Russia, for example, soon led to almost all of Europe being drawn into the war. The Germans were defeated and France had thus been revenged for the defeat of 1870 and also regained Alsace and Lorraine. But the price was high; 1.3 million fell. However, the reconstruction went relatively quickly. By 1924, industrial production had reached pre-war levels. But economically, France was still weak. A large and inefficient agricultural sector had survived. The industry was dominated by small companies that were often old-fashioned. France was also a society with large social divisions.
The 1930s economic depression hit hard with rapidly growing unemployment. The same decade, the left, socialists and communists, went ahead in several elections. In 1936, the People’s Front government, a coalition between socialists and a bourgeois left party supported by the Communists, came to power after promising social reforms. Salary increases, 40-hour weeks and two weeks’ holiday were implemented, but already after two years the government fell on internal fragmentation and opposition from the conservative side.
Europe went to a new war. In France, the first world war was commemorated. The government tried to appease the Nazis through concessions. Many also saw the Soviet Union as a greater threat than Nazi Germany. Large sums had been invested in the defense during the 1930s, but when the German attack came on May 10, 1940, it turned out that the French troops were poorly trained, that the military leadership was indecisive, that the tactical guidelines were incorrect and that the air force was poorly equipped.
The collapse of Hitler’s armor forces was rapid and brutal. In five weeks, the French lost 92,000 men and the Germans took 1.8 million prisoners of war. 1940-1944, northern and western France were occupied by German troops. The rest of the country as well as the colonies of Asia and Africa were ruled by a regime based in the city of Vichy in the central parts of the country. The Vichy regime cooperated with the Nazis. From June 1940 General Charles de Gaulle led a resistance movement, first from London and then, after the Allies’ land rise in North Africa in the autumn of 1942, from Alger. Eventually, the resistance movement began to act on French soil. de Gaulle, at the end of the war, succeeded not only in controlling the resistance movement, where a significant part was communist, but also had France included among the victorious forces of the war.