Under Charles V r. The first part of the Hundred Years' War was essentially a dynastic rather than a national struggle. The English armies themselves were commanded by French-speaking nobles and a French-speaking king. Although the legitimate succession to the French crown was the ostensible issue throughout the war, the emerging forces of modern nationalism came into play with the campaign launched by Henry V , whose everyday language was English and who, after Agincourt, became an English national hero.
France owed no small measure of its eventual success to the sentiment of nationalism that was arising throughout the country and that found its personification in the figure of Joan of Arc. Early in , this young woman of surprising military genius, confident that she had a divinely inspired mission to save France, gained the confidence of the dauphin.
Joan fell into English hands and at Rouen in was burned at the stake as a heretic, but the French armies continued to advance. Paris was retaken in , and Rouen in ; by , when Charles died, the English had been driven from all French territory except Calais, which was recaptured in Louis XI r. His most formidable antagonist, Charles the Bold , duke of Burgundy, who ruled virtually as an independent monarch, commanded for many years far more resources than the king of France himself.
But after the duke was defeated and killed in a battle against the Swiss in , Louis was able to reunite Burgundy with France. When Louis's son Charles VIII united Brittany, the last remaining quasi-independent province, with the royal domain by his marriage to Anne of Brittany , the consolidation of the kingdom under one rule was complete. These wars developed into the first phase of a protracted imperialistic struggle between France and the house of Habsburg.
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Although the Italian wars ended in a French defeat, they served to introduce the artistic and cultural influences of the Italian Renaissance into France on a large scale. Meanwhile, as the Reformation gained an increasing following in France, a bitter enmity developed between the great families that had espoused the Protestant or Huguenot cause and those that had remained Catholic. The policy of the French monarchy was in general to suppress Protestantism at home while supporting it abroad as a counterpoise to Habsburg power.
Under the last of the Valois kings, Charles IX r. Paris remained a stronghold of Catholicism, and on 23 — 24 August , a militia led by the Duke of Guise slaughtered thousands of Protestants in the Massacre of St. The Protestant Henry of Navarre was spared because of his royal status and eventually, on the death of Henry III , he acceded to the throne, beginning the Bourbon dynasty.
Unable to capture Paris by force, Henry embraced Catholicism in and entered the city peacefully the following year. In , he signed the Edict of Nantes , which guaranteed religious freedom to the Huguenots.
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With the aid of his minister Sully, Henry succeeded in restoring prosperity to France. Later, the affairs of state were directed almost exclusively by Cardinal Richelieu, the king's minister. Richelieu followed a systematic policy that entailed enhancing the crown's absolute rule at home and combating the power of the Habsburgs abroad. In pursuit of the first of these objectives, Richelieu destroyed the political power of the Protestants by strictly monitoring the press and French language through the Academie Francaise; in pursuit of the second he led France in into the Thirty Years' War, then raging in Germany, on the side of the Protestants and against the Austrians and the Spanish.
His successor, Louis XIV , was five years old, and during the regency of his mother, Anne of Austria , France's policy was largely guided by her adviser Cardinal Mazarin. The Peace of Westphalia , which ended the Thirty Years' War, and the Peace of the Pyrenees marked the end of Habsburg hegemony and established France as the dominant power on the European continent. The active reign of Louis XIV began in , the year of Mazarin's death, and lasted until his own death in Louis XIV had served in the French army against Spain before his accession, and married the daughter of the King of Spain in order to bring peace to the region, despite his love for Mazarin's niece.
Assisted by his able ministers Colbert and Louvois, he completed Mazarin's work of domestic centralization and transformed the French state into an absolute monarchy based on the so-called divine right of kings. Industry and commerce were encouraged by mercantilist policies, and great overseas empires were carved out in India , Canada , and Louisiana. By transforming the nobles into perennial courtiers, financially dependent on the crown, the king clipped their wings. Lavish display marked the early period of his reign, when the great palace at Versailles was built, beginning the era of French Classicism.
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It was a golden age for French culture as well, and French fashions and manners set the standard for all Europe. Nevertheless, the Sun King, as he was styled, left the country in a weaker position than he had found it. In , he revoked the Edict of Nantes , and an estimated , Huguenots fled the country to escape persecution. Whole provinces were depopulated, and the economy was severely affected by the loss of many skilled and industrious workers.
Louis undertook a long series of foreign wars, culminating in the War of the Spanish Succession — 14 , in which England, the Netherlands, and most of the German states were arrayed against France, Spain, Bavaria , Portugal , and Savoy. In the end, little territory was lost, but the military primacy of the country was broken and its economic strength seriously sapped.
The reign of Louis XV — 74 and that of his successor, Louis XVI — 93 , which was terminated by the French Revolution , showed the same lavish display of royal power and elegance that had been inaugurated by the Sun King. At the same time, the economic crisis that Louis XIV left as his legacy continued to grow more serious. A series of foreign wars cost France its Indian and Canadian colonies and bankrupted the country, including the French and Indian War — Meanwhile, the locus of the economic power in the kingdom had shifted to the hands of the upper bourgeoisie in the Enlightenment , who resented the almost wholly unproductive ruling class that espoused Classicism.
The intellectual currents of the so-called Age of Reason were basically opposed to the old order. Voltaire attacked the Church and the principle of absolutism alike; Diderot advocated scientific materialism; Jean-Jacques Rousseau preached popular sovereignty. The writer changed from a royal servant into a revolutionary force. In , faced with an unmanageable public debt , Louis XVI convened, for the first time since the reign of Louis XIII, the States-General, the national legislative body, to consider certain fiscal reforms.
The representatives of the third estate, the Commons , met separately on 17 June and proclaimed themselves the National Assembly. This action, strictly speaking, marked the beginning of the French Revolution , although the act that best symbolized the power of the revolution was the storming of the Bastille, a royal prison, by a Paris mob on 14 July — an event still commemorated as a national holiday.
With the support of the mob, which forced the king, his wife Marie Antoinette , and his family from the palace at Versailles into virtual imprisonment in the Tuilerie in Paris; the Assembly was able to force Louis to accept a new constitution including The Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen, providing for a limited monarchy, the secularization of the state, and the seizure of Church lands.
War with Austria, which wished to intervene to restore the status quo ante in France, broke out in Louis XVI was convicted of treason and executed. The radical group of Jacobins under Maximilien Robespierre's leadership exercised strict control through committees of public welfare and a revolutionary tribunal. The Jacobins attempted to remake France in the image of an egalitarian republic. Their excesses led to a Reign of Terror — 94 , carried out indiscriminately against royalists and such moderate republican groups as the Girondins.
Manifold opposition to the Jacobins and specifically to Robespierre combined to end their reign in the summer of In , a new constitution of moderate character was introduced, and executive power was vested in a Directory of five men. The Directory, weakened by inefficient administration and military reverses, fell in turn in , when the military hero Napoleon Bonaparte engineered a coup and established the Consulate.
Ruling autocratically as the first consul, Bonaparte established domestic stability and decisively defeated the Austrian-British coalition arrayed against France. In , he had himself proclaimed emperor as Napoleon I and, until his downfall in , he ruled France in that capacity. Capitalizing on the newly awakened patriotic nationalism of France, Napoleon led his imperial armies to a striking series of victories over the dynastic powers of Europe. By , he was the master of all Europe west of Russia with the exception of the British Isles. That year, however, the revolt in Spain — upon whose throne Napoleon had placed his brother Joseph — began to tax French military reserves.
Napoleon's ill-fated attempt to conquer Russia in was followed by the consolidation of a powerful alliance against him, consisting of Russia, Prussia , Britain , and Sweden. The allies defeated Napoleon at Leipzig in and captured Paris in the spring of He was, however, finally and utterly crushed by the British and Prussian forces at Waterloo 18 June and spent the remaining years of his life as a British prisoner of war on the island of St.
Helena in the South Atlantic. Charles attempted to restore the absolute powers of the monarchy and the supremacy of the Catholic Church. In , he was ousted after a three-day revolution in which the upper bourgeoisie allied itself with the forces of the left. In , his regime was overthrown in the name of the Second Republic. Four years later, however, its first president, Louis Napoleon, the nephew of Napoleon I , engineered a coup and had himself proclaimed emperor under the title Napoleon III.
The Second Empire, as the period — 71 is known, was characterized by colonial expansion and great material prosperity. The emperor's aggressive foreign policy eventually led to the Franco-Prussian War — 71 , which ended in a crushing defeat for France and the downfall of Napoleon III.
France was stripped of the border provinces of Alsace and Lorraine which once belonged to the Holy Roman Empire and was forced to agree to an enormous indemnity. A provisional government proclaimed a republic on 4 September and took over the responsibility for law and order until a National Assembly was elected in February Angered at the rapid capitulation to Prussia by the provisionals and the conservative National Assembly, the national guard and radical elements of Paris seized the city in March and set up the Commune.
During the "Bloody Week" of 21 — 28 May, the Commune was savagely dispatched by government troops. Democratic government finally triumphed in France under the Third Republic, whose constitution was adopted in Royalist sentiment had been strong, but the factions backing different branches of the royal house had been unable to agree on a candidate for the throne. The Third Republic confirmed freedom of speech , the press, and association.
It enforced complete separation of church and state. Social legislation guaranteeing the rights of trade unions was passed, and elections were held on the basis of universal manhood suffrage. The Third Republic, however, was characterized by an extremely weak executive.
A long succession of cabinets was placed in power and shortly thereafter removed from office by the all-powerful lower house of the national legislature. Nevertheless, the republic was strong enough to weather an attempt on the part of the highly popular Gen. Georges Boulanger to overthrow the regime in the late s, as well as the bitter dispute between the left-wing and right-wing parties occasioned by the trumped-up arrest and long imprisonment of Capt.
Alfred Dreyfus, a scandal in which Dreyfus's being Jewish was as much an issue as the treason he had allegedly committed.
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The eventual vindication of Dreyfus went hand in hand with the decisive defeat of the monarchists and the emergence of a progressive governing coalition, with Socialist representation. Although France, under the leadership of Georges Clemenceau , could claim a major share in the final Allied victory, it was in many respects a Pyrrhic victory for France. Almost all the bitter fighting in the west was conducted on French soil, and among the Allies French casualties — including nearly 1,, war dead — were second only to those sustained by Russia.
The heavily industrialized provinces of Alsace and Lorraine were restored to France under the Treaty of Versailles , and Germany was ordered to pay heavy war reparations. Nevertheless, the French economy, plagued by recurrent crises, was unable to achieve great prosperity in the s, and the worldwide economic depression of the s exacerbated in France by the cessation of German reparations payments was accompanied in France by inflation, widespread unemployment, and profound social unrest.
Rightand extreme left-wing elements caused major disturbances on 6 February Blum nationalized certain war industries, carried out agricultural reforms, and made the hour week mandatory in industry. In a futile attempt to secure peace, Daladier acquiesced in British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain 's policy of appeasement toward Hitler. Hitler was not to be appeased, however, and when Germany invaded Poland in September , France joined the United Kingdom in declaring war on Germany.
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