Civilization has been present in France since prehistoric times when Cro-Magnons lived in the area during the ice age. Farming began in France around 6,000 BC and the region was structured around a sophisticated farming system until around 900 BC when the Gauls arrived in the area. The Guals lived in divided societies, making it easy for the Romans to conquer the region when they arrived in 121 BC.
As the Roman Empire began its decline in the mid-3rd century, the Germans arrived Gaul. Initially the Germans lived under the flagging Roman rules of Gaul, but eventually created their own kingdoms.
The Frank rule of France began around 500 AD. It is because of this period that France was given its name. Many of France’s citizens converted to Christianity under their ruler Clovis, who created a merged culture with the Roman-Gallic people still living in the area. The people of France lived under Salic Law and the capital of the country was Paris.
Merovingians and Charlemagne
Clovis’ time in power was followed by several dynasties of Frankish kings, beginning with the Merovingians. The group did not have complete rule
over the entire country and were essentially figureheads. The country was eventually taken over by the Carolingians. Pepin, the first Carolingian king was responsible for halting an Islamic advance into Europe, defeating the Bavarians, and defeating the Saxons. His son, Charlemagne, is one of history’s best known kings and was responsible for creating one of Europe’s greatest empires. Charlemagne was eventually crowned Emperor by the pope and enjoyed massive support from the church.
Charlemagne was followed by the Capetian kings and then a series of English kings took control of most of France. In 1202 French King Phillip II battled King John of England and expanded the region in which French kings had direct control. During the next 100 years, the kings continued to expand French control, and the arts and economy of France flourished.
Joan of Arc
The year 1337 began a long series of wars between England and France. Ultimately, France surrendered a great deal of its territory, prompting another war in 1369, in which France was successful in driving the English back from their country. The peace in the country was short-lived, as the French King Charles VI went insane and the different regions in the country fought for power. Much of France was again turned over to the English through an alliance made by the Burgundians. What finally put a halt to the back and forth with England was Joan of Arc. In 1429, she began a battle with England that inspired the French to take control of their country and by the end of the century France was strong and centralized.
Much of France continued to flourish through the 16th century and embraced the Renaissance. However, France was also affected by the Reformation and spent a great deal of the decade embroiled in religious battles. In the 17th century, French kings gained more and more power, giving the world Louis XIV, one of history’s most influential kings and the man responsible for the Palace at Versailles. During this time, the Thirty Years War was fought between France and several European powers.
The 18th century brought prosperity and a booming economy. Rationalism grew and education was prized. France experienced a civil war during this time in the French Revolution. Ultimately, the uprising achieved its goals, including releasing France from the power of the Catholic Church, but the Revolution gave rise to Napoleon, a leader who embraced a strong, centralized bureaucracy that included censorship, lack of due process, and slavery. His efforts to conquer the world eventually got him exiled. France emerged from Napoleon’s reign with a restoration, which ushered in France’s industrial revolution.
World War II
Within 150 years, France was again embroiled in war, this time when it declared war on Germany to launch World War II. Germany ripped through France with great power and within a few short years, the country was drained of resources and many of its countrymen were working in Germany. France spent the middle part of the 20th century embattled in political infighting with Charles De Gaulle at the center of the entire period. The country was torn apart by union-led protests through the 1960s. The economy boomed during the later 1960s and 1970s, but unemployment rates were high and inflation was a problem into the 1980s. This was brought to an end when Francois Mitterand instituted wage freezes and cut public spending. Mitterand was eventually ousted by Jacques Chirac in 1995 and later, Nicolas Sarkozy, in 2007.