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The Carolingian dynasty ruled France until 987, when Hugh Capet, Duke of France and Count of Paris, was crownedKing of France.[36] His descendants, the Direct Capetians, the House of Valois and the House of Bourbon, progressively unified the country through a series of wars, such as the Saintonge War, and dynastic inheritance into the Kingdom of France. French knights took an active part in many of the Crusades that were fought between 1095 and 1291 to restore Christian control over the Holy Land. Crusaders were so predominately French that the word "crusader" in the Arabic language is simply known as Al-Franj or "The Franks"[37] and Old French became the lingua francaof the Kingdom of Jerusalem.[38]

Joan of Arc led the French army to several important victories during the Hundred Years' War which paved the way for the final victory.

The Albigensian Crusade was launched in 1209 to eliminate the heretical Cathars in the south-western area of modern-day France. In the end, the Cathars were exterminated and the autonomous County of Toulouse was annexed into the kingdom of France.[39] Later Kings expanded their territory to cover over half of modern continental France, including most of the North, Centre and West of France. Meanwhile, the royal authority became more and more assertive, centred around a hierarchically conceived society distinguishing nobility, clergy, and commoners.

Charles IV (The Fair) died without an heir in 1328.[40] Under the rules of the Salic law adopted in 1316, the crown of France could not pass to a woman nor could the line of kinship pass through the female line.[40] Accordingly, the crown passed to Philip of Valois, a cousin of Charles, rather than through the female line to Charles' nephew, Edward, who would soon becomeEdward III of England. During the reign of Philip of Valois, the French monarchy reached the height of its medieval power.[40]

However, Philip's seat on the throne was contested by Edward III of England and in 1337, on the eve of the first wave of theBlack Death,[41] England and France went to war in what would become known as the Hundred Years' War.[42] The exact boundaries changed greatly with time, but French landholdings of the English Kings remained extensive for decades.

With charismatic leaders, such as Joan of Arc and La Hire, strong French counterattacks won back all English continental territories, except Calais, which was captured in 1558 by the French. Like the rest of Europe, France was struck by the Black Death. Around 1340, France had a population of approximately 17 million,[43] which by the end of the pandemic had declined by about one-half.[44]

The St. Bartholomew's Day massacre(1572) was the climax of the French Wars of Religion, which were brought to an end by the Edict of Nantes (1598).

The French Renaissance saw a long set of wars, known as the Great Italian Wars, between the Kingdom of France and the powerful Holy Roman Empire. It also saw the first standardization of the French language, which would become the official language of France and the language of Europe's aristocracy. French explorers, such as Jacques Cartier or Samuel de Champlain, claimed lands in the Americas for France, paving the way for the expansion of the First French colonial empire.

The rise of Protestantism in Europe led France to a civil war known as the French Wars of Religion, where, in the most notorious incident, thousands of Huguenots were murdered in the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre of 1572.[45] The Wars of Religion were ended by Henry IV's Edict of Nantes, which granted some freedom of religion to the Huguenots. Henry IV was later murdered by a Catholic fanatic and Huguenot rebellions persisted until the 18th century.

Under Louis XIII, the energetic actions of Cardinal Richelieu reinforced the centralization of the state, the royal power and French dominance in Europe, foreshadowing the reign of Louis XIV. During Louis XIV's minority and the regency ofQueen Anne and Cardinal Mazarin, a period of trouble known as the Fronde occurred in France, which was at that time at war with Spain. This rebellion was driven by the great feudal lords and sovereign courts as a reaction to the rise of royal power in France.

Louis XIV, the "sun king" was the absolute monarch of Franceand made France the leading European power.

The monarchy reached its peak during the 17th century and the reign of Louis XIV. By turning powerful feudal lords intocourtiers at the Palace of Versailles, Louis XIV's personal power became unchallenged. Remembered for his numerous wars, he made France the leading European power of the time. At this time, France possessed the largest population in Europe (seeDemographics of France) and had tremendous influence over European politics, economy, and culture. French became the most-used language in diplomacy, science, literature and international affairs, and remained so until the 20th century.[46] In addition, France obtained many overseas possessions in the Americas, Africa and Asia. Louis XIV also revoked the Edict of Nantes, forcing thousands of Huguenots to exile.

Under Louis XV, France lost New France and most of its Indian possessions after its defeat in the Seven Years' War, which ended in 1763. Its continental territory kept growing, however, with notable acquisitions such as Lorraine (1766) and Corsica(1770). An unpopular king, Louis XV's weak rule, his ill-advised financial, political and military decisions, and his debauchery discredited the monarchy and arguably led to the French Revolution 15 years after his death.[47][48]

Louis XVI, Louis XV's grandson, actively supported the Americans, who were seeking their independence from Great Britain(realized in the 1783 Treaty of Paris). The example of the American Revolution and the financial crisis which followed France's involvement in the war were two of the many contributing factors to the French Revolution.

Much of the Enlightenment occurred in French intellectual circles, and major scientific breakthroughs and inventions, such as the discovery of oxygen (1778) and the first hot air balloon carrying passengers (1783), were achieved by French scientists in the 18th century. Famous French explorers, such as Bougainville and Lapérouse, took part in the voyages of scientific exploration through maritime expeditions around the globe. The Enlightenment philosophy, in which reason is advocated as the primary source for legitimacy and authority, undermined the power of and support for the monarchy and helped pave the way for the French Revolution.

Monarchy to republic

The Storming of the Bastille, on 14 July 1789, was the starting event of the French Revolution.

After the storming of the Bastille on 14 July 1789, the absolute monarchy was abolished and France became aconstitutional monarchy. Through the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, France established fundamental rights for French citizens and all men without exception. The Declaration affirms "the natural and imprescriptible rights of man" to "liberty, property, security and resistance to oppression". It called for the destruction of aristocratic privileges by proclaiming an end to exemptions from taxation, freedom and equal rights for all men, and access to public office based on talent rather than birth. The monarchy was restricted, and all citizens were to have the right to take part in the legislative process. Freedom of speech and press were declared, and arbitrary arrests outlawed. The Declaration also asserted the principles of popular sovereignty, in contrast to the divine right of kings that characterized the French monarchy, and social equality among citizens, eliminating the privileges of the nobility and clergy.

Napoleon IEmperor of the French, built a vast Empireacross Europe. He helped to spread the French revolutionary ideals and his legal reforms had a major influence worldwide.

While Louis XVI, as a constitutional king, enjoyed broad popularity among the population, his disastrous flight to Varennes seemed to justify the rumors that the king tied his hopes of political salvation to the dubious prospects of foreign invasion. The credibility of the king was deeply undermined and the abolition of the monarchy and the establishment of a republic became an ever increasing possibility.

As European monarchies gathered against the new régime, to restore the French absolute monarchy, the Duke of Brunswick, commanding general of the Austro–Prussian Army, issued a Manifesto, in which he threatened the destruction of Paris if any harm should come to the king or his family. The foreign threat exacerbated France's political turmoil and deepened the passion and sense of urgency among the various factions and war was declared against Austria the 20 April 1792. Mob violencesoccurred during the insurrection of the 10 August 1792[49] and the following month.[50] As a result of the spike in public violence and the political instability of the constitutional monarchy, the Republic was proclaimed on 22 September 1792.

Louis XVI (and later his wife Marie Antoinette) was convicted of treason and guillotined in 1793. Facing increasing pressures from European monarchies, internal guerrilla wars and counterrevolutions (like the War in the Vendée or the Chouannerie), theyoung Republic fell into the Reign of Terror. Between 1793 and 1794, 16,000 to 40,000 persons were executed. In Western France, the civil war between the Bleus (the "Blues", supporters of the Revolution) and the Blancs (the "Whites", supporters of the Monarchy) last from 1793 to 1796 and cost around 450,000 lives (200,000 Patriotes and 250,000 Vendéens).[51] Both foreign armies and French counterrevolutionnaries were crushed and the French Republic survived. Furthermore, the French Republic extended greatly its boundaries and established "Sister Republics" in the surrounding countries. As the threat of a foreign invasion receded and that France became mostly pacified, the Thermidorian Reaction put an end to the Terror and toRobespierre's dictature. The abolition of slavery and the male universal suffrage, enacted during this radical phase of the revolution, were cancelled by subsequent governments.

Animated map of the growth and decline of theFrench colonial empire.

After a short-lived governmental schemeNapoleon Bonaparte seized control of the Republic in 1799 and was appointed First Consul and later Emperor of the French Empire (1804–1814/1815). As a continuation ofthe wars sparked by the European monarchies against the French Republic, changing sets of European Coalitions declared wars to Napoleon's French Empire. His armies conquered most of continental Europe, while members of the Bonaparte family were appointed as monarchs in some of the newly established kingdoms. These victories led to the worldwide expansion of French revolutionary ideals and reforms, such as the Metric system, the Napoleonic Code or the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. After the catastrophic Russian campaign, Napoleon was finally defeated and the Bourbon monarchy restored. About a million Frenchmen died during the Napoleonic Wars.[52]

Douaumont ossuary. With 1,397,800 military death, France sustained the highest number of casualties among Western countries in the First World War.

After his brief return from exile, Napoleon was finally defeated in 1815 at the Battle of Waterloo, the monarchy was re-established (1815–1830), with new constitutional limitations. The discredited Bourbon dynasty was overthrown by the civil uprising of 1830, which established the constitutional July Monarchy, which lasted until 1848, when the French Second Republic was proclaimed, in the wake of the 1848 European revolutions. The abolition of slavery and the male universal suffrage, both briefly enacted during the French Revolution were finally re-enacted in 1848. In 1852, the president of the French Republic Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, Napoleon I's nephew, was proclaimed emperor of the second Empire, as Napoleon III. He multiplied French interventions abroad, especially in Crimea, in Mexico and Italy, which resulted in the annexation of Savoy and Nice. Napoleon III was eventually 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 to the 18th century. But in the 19th and 20th centuries, its global overseas colonial empire extended greatly and culminated as 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.

Charles de Gaulle took an active part in all major events of the 20th century : a hero of World War I, leader of the Free Frenchduring World War II, he then becamePresident, where he facilitated the decolonization, maintained France as a major power and overcame the May 1968 revolt.

France was a member of the Triple Entente when World War I broke out. A small part of Northern France was occupied, but France and its allies eventually emerged victorious against the Central Powers, at a tremendous human and material cost: the First World War left 1.4 million French soldiers dead, 4.29% of its population[53] The interbellum phase was marked by intense international tensions an a variety of social reforms introduced by the Popular Front government (Annual leaveworking time reduction, women in Government among others). Following the GermanBlitzkrieg campaign in World War II, metropolitan France was divided in an occupation zone in the north and Vichy France, a newly established authoritarian regime collaborating with Germany, in the south.[54] The Allies and theFrench Resistance eventually emerged victorious from the Axis powers and French sovereignty was restored.

The Fourth Republic was established after World War II and saw spectacular economic growth (les Trente Glorieuses). Suffrage was extended to women in 1944. France was one of the founding members of the NATO (1949), which was the Western counterpart of the Warsaw Pact system of collective defence. France attempted to regain control of French Indochina but was defeated by the Viet Minh at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954. Only months later, France faced a new conflict in Algeria. The debate over whether or not to keep control of Algeria, then home to over one million European settlers,[55] 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.[56] In the latter role, Charles de Gaulle managed to keep the country together while taking steps to end the war. The Algerian War was concluded withpeace negotiations in 1962 that led to Algerian independence. France granted independence progressively to its colonies, the last one being Vanuatu in 1980. A vestige of the colonial empire are the French overseas departments and territories.

In the wake of a worldwide series of protests, the May 1968 revolt, although a political failure for the protesters, had an enormous social impact. In France, it is considered to be the watershed moment when a conservative moral ideal (religion, patriotism, respect for authority) shifted towards a more liberal moral ideal.

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.[57]

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