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France - History

France has a long and varied history. It formed a major part of the Roman Empire until the 5th century and was then home to Germanic tribes which moved in from the east. During the 8th and 9th centuries it formed the main part of the empire of Charlemagne. The French kings gradually took control of more and more lands in the region, eventually forming the country that we would recognise today as France.

It was the Dukes of Normandy who had the most power and influence by the 11th century and William the Conqueror managed to make the crossing over the channel to become king of England. When the Capetian house of the French royal family drew to an end, King Edward III of England staked a claim to the throne, which led to the Hundred Years War. The conflicts actually ran for more than 100 years and were eventually resolved in 1453. It is King Louis XI who is credited with creating the France that is more familiar to us now.

France grew in strength during the 15th and 16th centuries and during the reign of Louis XIV, commonly known as the ‘Sun King’, France became one of the most influential countries in the world.

The 18th century saw one of the biggest changes for France. There were many conflicts with other countries and there was growing unrest in the country, as the rich were getting richer and the poor were getting poorer. The rich had to pay fewer taxes and the government was considered to be inefficient, leading eventually to the revolution in 1789. The King was overthrown and many of the aristocracy were led to the guillotine.

Unfortunately the government which took the place of the monarchy was at first unpopular and very unsteady and this led to a new government taking its place in 1799. The new regime was led by Napolean Bonaparte, a major figure in French history. After five years in this role he was declared Emperor and began taking steps to secure France as an empire building country. There were many military campaigns, but he suffered a number of crushing defeats including Trafalgar in 1805 and Waterloo in 1815, both at the hands of the British. Before Waterloo, he had managed to extend the French empire across parts of Italy, Belgium and Switzerland.

His final defeat led to the restoration of the monarchy but this lasted just over 30 years as the poorer classes were unable to accept the new regime. A second Empire began in 1852, led by a nephew of Bonaparte, who ran a dictatorship. This new regime gained the confidence of the people as it increased the size of the empire but it came to an end in 1870.

1870 saw the start of the Franco-Prussian War, of which France was on the losing side and lost much of the northern part of the country to the Germans. In 1871 the Third Republic began and managed to create an uneasy truce with the Germans and the British. This led to a number of alliances across Europe which collapses in the early part of the 20th century with the onset of World War I. The war was fought mainly on French soil and all who took part suffered great losses.

France had barely recovered when World War II started in 1939 and the Germans invaded in 1940. A large part of the country fell under Nazi control and the country was divided for much of the war.

Conflict continued after World War II with the crises in Algeria. The French Fourth Republic came to an end in 1958 as a direct result of this conflict. The country was a French colony for many years and French is one of the main languages of the country.

This led to the formation of the 5th Republic which is still in existence today. The country is still not immune to uprisings and rebellions. The student rebellion in 1968 almost led to the downfall of the government, although the country has a strong history of conservative leaders. Francois Mitterrand was one of the country’s most popular presidents and his leadership was closely followed by that of Jacques Chirac. The country has kept its strong links with the European Union and is a driving force in Europe.

Read more about this country

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