|Rome to revolution
The borders of modern France are approximately the same as those of ancient Gaul, which was inhabited by Celtic Gauls. Gaul was conquered for Rome by Julius Caesar in the 1st century BC, and the Gauls eventually adopted Roman speech (Latin, from which the French language evolved) and Roman culture. Christianity took root in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD, and became so firmly established by the fourth and fifth centuries that St. Jerome wrote that Gaul was the only region “free from heresy”.
In the 4th century AD, Gaul’s eastern frontier along the Rhine was overrun by Germanic tribes, principally the Franks, from whom the ancient name of “Francie” was derived. The modern name “France” derives from the name of the feudal domain of the Capetian Kings of France around Paris. The Franks were the first tribe among the Germanic conquerors of Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire to convert to Catholic Christianity rather than Arianism (their King Clovis did so in 498) ; thus France obtained the title “Eldest daughter of the Church” (La fille ainée de l’Église) , and the French would adopt this as justification for calling themselves “the Most Christian Kingdom of France”.
Existence as a separate entity began with the Treaty of Verdun (843) , with the division of Charlemagne’s Carolingian empire into East Francia, Middle Francia and Western Francia. Western Francia approximated the area occupied by modern France and was the precursor to modern France.
The Carolingians ruled France until 987, when Hugh Capet, Duke of France and Count of Paris, was crowned King of France. His descendants, the Direct Capetians, the House of Valois and the House of Bourbon, progressively unified the country through a series of wars and dynastic inheritance. The monarchy reached its height during the 17th century and the reign of Louis XIV. At this time France possessed the largest population in Europe (see Demographics of France) and had tremendous influence over European politics, economy, and culture. French became, and remained for some time, the common language of diplomacy in International affairs. Much of the Enlightenment occurred in French intellectual circles, and major scientific breakthroughs were achieved by French scientists in the 18th century. In addition, France obtained many overseas possessions in the Americas, Africa and Asia.
Monarchy to republic
The monarchy ruled France until the French Revolution, in 1789. Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette, were executed, along with thousands of other French citizens. After a series of short-lived governmental schemes, Napoleon Bonaparte seized control of the Republic in 1799, making himself First Consul, and later Emperor of what is now known as the First Empire (1804–1814). In the course of several wars, his armies conquered most of continental Europe, with members of the Bonaparte family being appointed as monarchs of newly established kingdoms.
Following Napoleon’s final defeat in 1815 at the Battle of Waterloo, the French monarchy was re-established, but with new constitutional limitations. In 1830, a civil uprising established the constitutional July Monarchy, which lasted until 1848. The short-lived Second Republic ended in 1852 when Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte proclaimed the Second Empire. Louis-Napoléon was unseated following defeat in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870 and his regime was replaced by the Third Republic.
France had colonial possessions, in various forms, since the beginning of the 17th century until the 1960s. In the 19th and 20th centuries, its global overseas colonial empire was the second largest in the world behind the British Empire. At its peak, between 1919 and 1939, the second French colonial empire extended over 12,347,000 square kilometres (4,767,000 sq mi) of land. Including metropolitan France, the total area of land under French sovereignty reached 12,898,000 square kilometres (4,980,000 sq mi) in the 1920s and 1930s, which is 8.6% of the world’s land area.
Though ultimately a victor in World War I, France suffered enormous human and material losses that weakened it for decades to come. The 1930s were marked by a variety of social reforms introduced by the Popular Front government. At the start of World War II, France held a series of unsuccessful rescue campaigns in Norway, Belgium and The Netherlands from 1939 to 1940. Upon the May-June 1940 Nazi German blitzkrieg and its Fascist Italian support, France’s political leadership disregarded Churchill’s proposal of a Franco-British Union and signed the Second Armistice at Compiègne on 22 June 1940. The Germans established a puppet regime under Marshal Philippe Pétain known as Vichy France, which pursued a policy of collaboration with Nazi Germany. The regime’s opponents formed the Free French Forces outside of France and the French Resistance inside. France was liberated with the joint effort of the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, the Free French Forces and the French resistance in 1944. Soon the Nouvelle Armée Française (“new French army”) was established with the massive help of US-built material and equipment, and pursued the fight along the Allies in various battles including the campaign of Italy.
The Fourth Republic was established after World War II and struggled to maintain its economic and political status as a dominant nation state. France attempted to hold on to its colonial empire, but soon ran into trouble. The half-hearted 1946 attempt at regaining control of French Indochina resulted in the First Indochina War, which ended in French defeat at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954. Only months later, France faced a new, even harsher conflict in Algeria.
The debate over whether or not to keep control of Algeria, then home to over one million European settlers, wracked the country and nearly led to civil war. In 1958, the weak and unstable Fourth Republic gave way to the Fifth Republic, which contained a strengthened Presidency. In the latter role, Charles de Gaulle managed to keep the country together while taking steps to end the war. The Algerian War and Franco-French civil war that resulted in the capital Algiers, was concluded with peace negotiations in 1962 that led to Algerian independence.
In recent decades, France’s reconciliation and cooperation with Germany have proved central to the political and economic integration of the evolving European Union, including the introduction of the euro in January 1999. France has been at the forefront of the European Union member states seeking to exploit the momentum of monetary union to create a more unified and capable European Union political, defence, and security apparatus. However, the French electorate voted against ratification of the European Constitutional Treaty in May 2005.