History of France

From Roses, Tulips, & Liberty

Premodern history

Inhabited since the Paleolithic era, the territory of metropolitan France was settled by Celtic tribes known as the Gauls during the Iron Age. Rome annexed the region in 51 BC, leading to the formation of a distinct Gallo-Roman culture that laid the foundation of the French ethnicity and language. The Germanic Franks arrived in the fifth century and formed the Kingdom of Francia, which became the heartland of the Carolingian Empire. The Treaty of Verdun in 843 partitioned the empire, with West Francia evolving into the Kingdom of France in 987. Since then, France has seen the rule of different branches of the Capetian dynasty, including the Bourbon dynasty, which had risen to power in 1589.

Louis XIV: 1643–1714

Short 18th century: 1714–1795

Philippine period
Monarch(s)Philip VII
Philip VIII
← Preceded by
Louis XIV
Followed by →
Augustine Wars

The French short 18th century, also known as the Philippine period, encompasses the period of French history between the death of Louis XIV in 1714 and the declaration of the French republic in 1795 by Augustine Spiga. It can be considered to be the last phase of the ancien régime. The era was defined by the continued dominance of the Catholic Church, French military defeats in Europe and abroad, as well as a number of social and economic developments that ultimately led to the fall of the monarchy at the end of the century.

Succession to Louis XIV

At the end of the 17th century, Habsburg king of Spain Charles II was nearing death with no heir apparent. Anticipating his demise, several dynasties vied for the Spanish throne. Louis XIV proposed his son, Philip of Anjou, as candidate for the throne; however, this offer was rejected due to France's exceedingly poor reputation across Europe at the time.

Philip VII (1681–1763) was ruler of France, Savoy, Milan, Sardinia, and the Two Sicilies upon his ascension.

In order to prevent conflict, Louis XIV and William III had proposed the Treaty of Nîmes in 1699. It stipulated that an Austrian Habsburg would acquire the Spanish throne under the condition that Spanish holdings in Italy (namely Savoy, Sardinia, Sicily, and Naples) would be transferred to French control. The same year, prospective heir Prince Joseph Ferdinand of Bavaria died, forcing the great powers of Europe to mutually agree upon another prince. By 1700, Prince Charles Francis of Austria, son of Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor, had gained the unequivocal support of France and the other European powers. Soon after, he would ascend the throne as Charles III of Spain.

Upon Louis XIV's death in 1714, his eldest grandson and rejected candidate for the Spanish throne, Philip of Anjou, ascended the throne as Philip VII of France. He would inherit the territory of the Kingdom of France and its colonies, the duchies of Savoy and Milan, and the kingdoms of Sardinia and the Two Sicilies.

France in the Great Silesian War

The origins of the Great Silesian War lay in the close relationship between Frederick II of Prussia and Philip VII. Since Frederick II's rise to the throne in 1742, the French and Prussian bureaucracies remained closely interlinked in culture, ethics, and military thought. Prussia was one of a declining number of countries in Europe at the time which still recognized French customs, language, and philosophy as an indicator of professionalism and civilization, going so far as to adopt French as a court tongue in 1744.

Maria Augusta of Bavaria (1693–1787) was Queen of France from 1719 to 1763.

In 1748, the two monarchs established a clandestine military agreement following discussion of Prussia's desire for territorial expansion in eastern Europe, particularly the Austrian-controlled region of Silesia. Over the next two years, the two countries had also included the states of Bavaria, Saxony, and Sweden in the agreement. The diplomatic activities of France's queen consort and wife of Philip VII Maria Augusta of Bavaria were considered pivotal in the buildup to the start of war.

Prussia launched its invasion of Silesia in 1750, leading to a five-year war which resulted in a ruinous defeat for France and its allies. The majority of France's territories in Italy had achieved independence with the exception of Parma and Naples. In America, vast swathes of New France were annexed by the Dutch, while in India, France's possessions were distributed among Britain and Spain. Additionally, Prussia had almost ceased to exist as a result of the failed war — Poland and the Holy Roman Empire had successfully subdued its rise.

With the conclusion of the Great Silesian War, Francophilia in Europe had reached an abysmal low, with a number of European states renouncing their adherence to French customs. The Bourbons had irrevocably declined, with the Nassaus of Britain and the Netherlands as well as the Habsburgs of Austria and Spain rapidly filling the cultural void created by decades of French decline.

Flight of the Bourbons

In February 1793, a mass of French citizens marched to the royal town of Versailles and demanded Philip VIII to convene the States-General. After days of demonstrations, the king obliged on 22 February. In the following months, France's political situation would increasingly grow unstable; royal authority and the French Royal Army were significantly weakened, all while the kingdom was verging on bankruptcy and paramilitaries were gradually dismantling the administrative state. On 9 March, Philip VIII convened the Assembly of Notables, who advised him to temporarily flee the country and seek refuge before the situation escalated further.

Chateau de Versailles (1668) by Pierre Patel. The Palace of Versailles was the de facto capital of the of the Kingdom of France from 1680 to 1793.

Philip VIII, his queen consort Maria Christina de' Medici, his son Louis, Dauphine of France, and other notables fled to the port of La Rochelle on the west coast of France, a notoriously royalist region. Soon, the French authorities became aware of the royals' location, triggering the Defense of Aunis, a counter-revolutionary effort to protect the Bourbons by local royalist militants. While initially hoping to seek refuge in Tuscany or England, Philip VII and his entourage eventually decided to head for the royal province of New France.

Kingdom of France
Formation15 July 1793
Extinction18 January 1795
Legislative branch
SpeakerAugustine Spiga
Executive branch
MonarchHenry, Duke of Aquitaine
AppointerSpeaker of the States-General

The Duke's government: 1793–1795

The Bourbons' departure to New France was seen by many as nothing less than an abdication of the French throne. In order to further legitimize the new composition of the States-General (later renamed the National Assembly), Henry, Duke of Aquitaine, a younger son of Philip VIII who had not fled the country, was chosen as the next monarch in July 1793. As monarch, the Duke was officially styled as Henry V, though it is not recognized by the modern House of Bourbon.

In late 1794, it was discovered that the Duke, imprisoned in the Conciergerie, was secretly communicating with the Austrian Empire through letters delivered via fruit baskets. In these letters, the monarch had detailed his harsh imprisonment in Paris and his proposal for a joint Anglo-Austrian invasion of France during the States-General's next election cycle. By order of Spiga, he was to transferred to an unknown location. As he neared the Sorbonne on 18 January 1795, he was mobbed by a horde of republicans and beaten to death.

Upon the demise of the Duke of Aquitaine, Augustine Spiga declared the abolition of the French monarchy and the establishment of the Republic of France with himself as Director-General. The States-General was officially renamed the National Assembly shortly after.

The Augustine Wars

Augustine period
Liberté enveloppée by Jean-André Blondeau, painted 1797–1798
Leader(s)Augustine Spiga

The Augustine Wars encompass a twenty-year period of European history beginning with the 18 January 1795 declaration of the French republic and ending with the nation's ultimate military defeat and the ratification of the Treaty of Vienna in 1814–1815.


The Valentines: 1815–1873

Valentine period
Paris' Hôtel Condamine, opened in 1834, has long been associated with the Valentines.
Monarch(s)Louis XV
Louis XVI
Louis XVII
← Preceded by
Augustine Wars
Followed by →
The early Republic

After the defeat of Augustine Spiga, the great powers of Europe had decidedly supported the claim of premier prince du sang Louis II, Prince of Monaco to the French throne as Louis XV. For a period of 58 years, Louis XV, his son Louis XVI and grandson Louis XVII would rule as constitutional monarchs. During these six decades, France would realize their imperial ambitions in Australie, Asia, and Africa; at home, the country would see an ever-increasing socioeconomic divide that consequentially resulted in the final and total disestablishment of a continental French kingdom in 1873.

Rise of the House of Valentinois

In 1733, the reigning Grimaldi sovereign of Monaco Louise Hippolyte married Philippe III, the then-Duke of Orléans and a premier prince du sang. This marriage resulted in the birth of Antoine II, who possessed the titles Duke of Orléans, Duke of Valentinois, and Prince of Monaco. Antoine II is considered to be the founder of the House of Valentinois, which is characterized as the second iteration of the original House of Orléans after the incorporation of the Grimaldi family into its lineage. The popular name of the dynasty refers to a French peerage title owned by the princes of Monaco, Duke of Valentinois, which originally bestowed upon Honoré II in 1642.

By the start of the 19th century, Antoine II's grandson, Louis II, was considered the most senior male member of the Bourbon dynasty to have not fled to New France in the previous decade. In the aftermath of Spiga's defeat, the great powers of Europe had invited Henry V, the reigning Bourbon monarch in the Americas to regain the French throne. For a myriad of reasons, including the main Bourbon-Anjou family's vast unpopularity among the European aristocracy, he declined, opting to remain in New France.

A year previous, the Prince of Monaco was dispossessed of his principality by the Republic of Genoa, which had occupied and subsequently annexed the small state during the Augustine Wars. When offered the French throne during the negotiations of Treaty of Vienna, he accepted, soon after crowned Louis XV of France. Despite the loss of the principality, the title Prince of Monaco was retained by the head of the House of Valentinois beyond 1815 into the present day.


The early Republic: 1873–1908

The early Republic

For 35 years, France was governed by a republic established upon the principles of communardism. Initially governed by the political organization Friends of the Republic until 1877, the country was dominated by the mainstream Communard Party of France until the rise of the Vanguards in 1908. This era, defined by a number of domestic economic, political, and social reforms as well as the consolidation of the modern French empire in Africa and Asia, is considered distinct from the post-1908 period due to its leaders' faithfulness to the original communard ideology and the vision of Raphaël Dezon.

Communard Revolution

In 1873, the Friends of the Republic (Société des Amis de la République), a republican laborist organization, launched a coup d'état on the day of the Feast of the Crown of Thorns, a Catholic holiday following Ash Wednesday. They were supported by several divisions of the Royal French Army, the communard paramilitary Phalanx de France, the majority of the Gendarmerie of Paris, and a number of other republican and communard political factions.

By 14 March, the communards had successfully encircled the royal town of Versailles, intending to depose Louis XVII. Members of the 43rd Infantry Regiment broke into the Palace of Versailles and invaded the State Apartment, where Louis XVII was defended by members of the royalist Swiss Guard. The king had been captured soon after and transported to Paris, where he was initially supposed to be imprisoned, awaiting trial. The king, in chains, was paraded around the Halle aux Blés, a building which has been deeply associated with French republicanism since the 18th century, at around 2:30 p.m. Moments later, members of the paramilitary organization Phalanx de France fired bullets at Louis XVII, fatally injuring him. He was rushed to Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital soon after, but was pronounced dead while crossing the Pont Neuf.

Over the next year, the insurrectionists established communard administration in metropolitan France and a number of overseas territories. Étienne Thévenet, a politician, journalist, pan-Europeanist and communard, was proclaimed President on 11 August 1874. Under his direction, the French military invaded the Grand Belgic Duchy in November. Local communards instigated what is now celebrated as the Christmas Uprising in support of invading French troops, leading to the annexation of the Duchy into the Republic by the dawn of 1875.

Coup raisonnable of 1877

The achievements of the new French government deeply worried the country's neighbors, particularly the United Kingdom. Since the murder of Louis XVII in 1873, the British state had secretly supported the Communard Party of France (Parti Communard de France), a moderate communard faction commonly known as Les Raisonnables ('the Reasonable Ones'). In 1877, the Raisonnables orchestrated a coup with British and Rhenish support, ousting Thévenet. Soon after, amicable relations were established with the British, to whom the moderate Third Republic ceded all French possessions and embassies in the Caribbean and the Indian subcontinent.

The Vanguards: 1908–1938

Le Avant Garde
Saunier, Desmarais, and Laframboise (left to right) were all members of L'Avant Garde.
President(s)Hervé Saunier (1908–1919)
François Desmarais (1919–1928)
Camille Laframboise (1928–1938)
Key events
  • 1914 rigged elections
  • Coup of 2 September 1919

Great War

  • Opération Grosseille (July 1935)
  • Battle of the Suez (December 1935)
  • Operation Vendémiaire (September 1937)
  • Surrender (December 1938)
← Preceded by
The early Republic
Followed by →
La Remise

With the start of the 20th century, autocratic personalities within the Party rapidly gained influence in France, soon organizing themselves into the militaristic political society L'Avant Garde ('the Vanguards'). Under three leaders, the Vanguards would dominate France from the rise of Saunier in 1908 to the surrender of France in the Great War in 1938.

Saunier and Desmarais

France's international position was precarious at the start of the 20th century. They remained cordial with the United Kingdom. However, British support of the Venetian invasion of the Papal Adriatic in 1908 triggered a shift towards an anti-British political climate merely months before the French elections of 1908. Subsequently, nationalistic author and professor Hervé Saunier achieved victory in the 1908 elections. As an ideologue and public figure, many political decisions were delegated to the Cabinet and military officials. He appointed his close friend and former Governor-General of Kampuchea, François Desmarais, to the new high-ranking post of Grand Marshal of France in 1910.

In 1911, Austria called upon France to join the Alps War against the Venetian Republic. However, the government was unable to attain the approval of the National Assembly in order to enter the war and thus was forced to remain militarily neutral. The French Armed Forces, frustrated with the power of the National Assembly, began to exert direct influence over the executive branch in order to institute more militarist policies. In 1914, Saunier won re-election; this was widely considered to have been the result of the Armed Forces manipulating the electoral system.

Over the next five years, tensions between the President and the Grand Marshal increased, culminating in the removal of Saunier in the coup d'état of 2 September 1919. The presidency was soon de facto abolished, with the position of Grand Marshal becoming the title of the head of state and of government. For the next two decades, France would be under martial rule.

Laframboise and the Great War

Upon the death of Desmarais in 1928, Camille Laframboise succeeded him as Grand Marshal of France. A Frenchman of New French descent, Laframboise had attained infamy for his name, his personality, and his politics. An unabashedly autocratic yet charismatic ruler, he forged close alliances with Austria and the Ottoman Empire in the lead-up to the Great War. By the late 1930s, the three nations came together to form the Tripartite Coalition.

France would invade the monarchies of Savoy and Piedmont in July 1935; a late response to the failed 1924 communard coup in Piedmont. By August, the two monarchies had been occupied by French forces and reorganized into petty republics. During this ordeal, Portugal declared war on France on 22 July. On 14 December 1935, France emerged victorious in the Battle of the Suez against the United Kingdom. Sicily, with the prodding of France, joined the Tripartite Coalition around the same time. In the following months, France occupied British territories in Africa and Oceania. notably parts of Georgia, East Africa, and Algeria.

In June 1937, a telegraph from France to Sweden was intercepted by the British. The diplomatic communication was sent to the French ambassador to Sweden, Alexandre Mallet, instructing him to persuade the Swedish state to join the Tripartite Coalition and pre-emptively attack Norway, a British ally. This resulted in Norway declaring war on France in August. The same month, France dispatched a diplomatic mission to New Netherland and Mexico, inviting them to join the Coalition, an offer that was not taken. In September, France and Austria launched an invasion of the Netherlands and the Rhineland named Operation Vendémiaire. By the end of the year, it was clear that it was ultimately unsuccessful.

France surrendered in December 1938, months after the Ottoman and Austrian empires had capitulated. Grand Marshal Laframboise was killed in action during the Battle of Paris on 8 December, followed by the formal signing of the Instrument of Surrender on 14 December.

La Remise

La Remise
Leader(s)Henri Dormoy (1944–1949)
Jean-Jacques Caillat (1949–1950)

The 11-year period of French history known as La Remise ('the Recuperation') began with the Congress of Amsterdam of early 1939 and concluded with the coup d’état of 1950 at Charenton-le-Pont orchestrated by military leader Fulgence Morel.

Occupation of France

After the defeat of the Tripartite Coalition, the French state was jointly occupied by the Netherlands, the Rhineland, Portugal, and the United Kingdom. The First Auxerre Convention, part of the Congress of Amsterdam, disestablished the Third Republic and created a provisional administration. The states of Arpitania and Piedmont were liberated, their governments reorganized under British oversight. Lombardy's lost Alpine territories, occupied by France during the Great War, were returned.

Within the Rhenish and Dutch occupation zones, the occupying forces rapidly de-industrialized northern and eastern France. The British took measures to decrease the influence of communardism and endorsing local pro-British politicians in the west. The Portuguese zone of the southwest corresponding to the traditional provinces of Guyenne, Gascony, and Languedoc focused on reconstruction, particularly the rebuilding of the city of Toulouse, which retains numerous Portuguese architectural influences from the occupation.

Dormoy and the rise of national republicanism

In April 1941, the fourth Republic of France was de jure established, with the occupying forces of Britain, the Netherlands, the Rhineland, and Portugal only leaving France in 1944. The same year, uncorrupted national elections were held for the first time since 1908, with Henri Dormoy attaining the majority of the vote. His administration was determined to curb the influence of communardism, further liberalized the country, and granted clemency to political prisoners held captive during the rule of Laframboise. In 1946, Dormoy's ministry, intent on preserving freedom of speech and of expression, revoked the ban on national republicanism in France and permitted national republican parties to run in elections.

In 1945, the Cavendish Affair rocked French society. A group of elites, involving several banks, clergymen, and politicians, plotted to restore the Bourbon monarchy in France with a New French noble, the Count of Soissons, floated as the new monarch. The scandal implicated Catalan G. Grimaldi, the Valentinois pretender to the French throne, Prime Minister William Cavendish of Britain, and others. While the conspiracy proved to be unsuccessful, it greatly affected the political climate of Europe and the opinions of the French public.

Following years of war, occupation, and misgovernance, anti-British sentiment grew rapidly in France while national republican organizations were simultaenously gaining thousands of new members each year. In the June 1949 national elections, national republican Jean-Jacques Caillat emerged victorious. Reminiscent of the 1877 coup, the British government took measures to suppress the growth of the ideology in France, fearing Caillat's indirect ties to Russia and the growth of an international opposition to the Organization of Democratic Nations.

Charenton State: 1950–

Charenton State
Leader(s)Fulgence Morel (1950–1960)
François Devereux (1960–)
Key events
  • 1960 rigged elections

The Charenton State describes the French government since the Charenton coup d'état of 1950 orchestrated by British-backed military leader Fulgence Morel.

Charenton coup d'état

Merely months after the national republican victory in the 1949 French elections, military leader and decorated war hero Fulgence Morel overthrew the French state in a coup d’état with support from Britain. Morel, a man intent on dismantling the post-war status quo, accused the national republicans of rigging the election and maintaining illicit ties to the Russian government. The coup spelled the end of Russian influence in France and the beginning of a hostile policy against national republicanism.

In December 1950, Britain formally recognized Morel's legitimate rule of France. He would remain in control of the Fourth Republic for nearly a decade. In the late 1950s, democratic demonstrations against Morel's government and pressure from the British forced France to conduct popular elections in 1960. However, the elections were marred with electoral fraud, leading to the victory of Morel's right-hand man, François Deveraux. Morel would still serve in several ministerial positions during the tenure of Deveraux.

See also