European Royalty: France

Figure 1.--A painting of Louis XIV after his coronation. Louis was only 5 years old at the time, but painted to look older.

Several families have ruled France over the years after the fall of the Roman Empire. Perhaps the most famous early ruker was Charlemagne. Eventually two families became most associated with the French nation.The Bourbons and the Bonapartes have dominated the history the French nation. Several dynastic families, however, have provided their lines to long list of French kings. It was the Bourbons and Bonaparte's along with a sucession of republics that have dominated modern French history. Several royal dynasties ruled France before the Boubons.

Merovingians (mid-5th century-751)

The first dynasty of what we now call France was the Merovingians. It was a Frankish kingdom, meaninging a German military elite ruling over a Romanized Celtic population. With the fall of Rome, Gaul was up for grabs. There were many groups trying to seize the rich province. At the time and for all of the medieval period, Gaul-Francebecause of the richness of the decundty of it farm labd was the the richest country in Europe. There were many contenders seeking to control Gaul, inclusding the Huns, Visigothsm, Saxons, and the Alenani. It was the Franks under Childeric I that would defeat the other competitors. The dynasty is named after Childeric's father Merovech. Childeric laid claim to largely Romanized Gaul wih its mixed Roman-Celtic population. Gaul after Caesar's conquest had been a Roman province for 4 centuries and Christianity had made major inroads. We know less about Gaul after the Romans meaning the Merovingin Kingdom than any period of Frenh history. It was Childric I's son Clovis I who converted to Cristanity and prepared the stage for the unification og Gaul under Merovingian rule, driving the Visigoths south of the Pyrenees. The Merovingians at their peak not only controled Gaul, but other Roman provinces including Raetia, Germania Superior, and part of Grmania Magna.

Carolingian (751-987)

Charles Martel (688–741) was a Frankish military leader who, as Duke and Prince of the Franks and Mayor of the Palace, was de facto ruler of Francia from 718 until his death during the final years of the Merovingian dynasty. Charles had led the French forces against the invading Islamiv Army at Tours (732). This made hom aliving legend. Charles was the son of the Frankish statesman Pepin of Herstal and a noblewoman named Alpaida, Charles successfully asserted his claims to power as successor to his father as the power behind the Merovingian throne. Continuing his father's work, he restored centralized government in Francia and began the series of military offensives that re-established the Franks as the undisputed masters of much of Western Europe. Charles divided his territories among his adult sons a year before his death. Carloman received Austrasia, Alemannia, and Thuringia. Pippin the Short received Neustria, Burgundy, Provence, and Metz and Trier in the Mosel duchy. Grifo was given several lands throughout the kingdom. Pepin the Short thus became the first king of the Carolingian dynasty. He replaced the last Merovingian king Childeric III. Perhaps the most notable of France kings was Charlamegne. Pepin and his son Charlemagne help to forge the first powerful mation state in Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire. The Carolingian empire, however, is more accurately seen as a German than French state. The culturally French state may be more accurately seen as beginning with Hugh Capet.

Capatian (987-1328)

The Capatian dynasty was founded by Hugh Capet (987). Louis IX or St. Lousis ruled from 1226-70. His mother served as regent and was an important adviser even after the regency ended. Louis X (1289-1316) was known as 'the Headstrong'. He was the eldest son of Philip IV. He inherited Champagne and Navarre from his mother Joan. He was the first French king in 12 generations to die without a son to suceed him. (His posthumous son John lived only a few days.) Although he ruled only a few years, he was the first French monarch to call assemblies to authorize royal taxes. French kings would rule France through Capet's male bloodline (987 to 1792) and after the Revolution from 1814-48. The branches of the Capetian dynasty which ruled after 1328 are generally given the specific branch names of Valois and Bourbon.

Valois (1328-1589)

The Valois dynasty was founded by Philip VI in 1328. Louis XI (1423-1483) was the eldest son of Charles VII and Marie d'Anjou. Louis was born in Bourges on July 3, 1423. His father's political prospects were at a low point. As a boy, he was brought in the desolate Loches castle. Louis did not get on well with his father. At Louis' birth the English controlled western Frabce and the Duke of Burgandy the north. Joan of Arc's appearnce and a treaty with Burgandy helped expel the English. As Dauphin he was nomally responsible for Dauphiné. He became involuntarily involved in a plot against his father aneventually had to flee France. His reign was mixed, but he undeniably strengthed what was a weak monarchy. Louis XII (1498-1515) was one of the kings who worked with Cardinal Richelieu, the villian in the The Three Muskateers. He was at the time styled "Father of His People". Modern historians have been less kind who described him asprematurely aged, sickely, and with a medicore intelligence. Louis was born at Blois on June 27, 1462. He was the son of Charles, Duke of Orleans and Charles and Mary of Cleeces. He experienced a stormy youth. He had to marry Jeanne (Joan) of France, the pious but ugly daughter of Louis XI in 1476.

The Bourbons (1589-1848)

Bourbon, the name of a family of French origin, members of which became rulers of several European countries. The family derived its name from the castle and lordship of Bourbon, a town known in ancient times as Aquae Borvonis. The history of the Bourbon family has dominated the history of France since the 13th century. There were also Italian and Spanish branches of the family. It was the Bourbon's that unified France, oposing the English and creating the modern French nation. The first Bourbon king was Louis XIII who played a major role in conmverting France's weak mnarchy into an absolute monarchy. France under Louis XIV was the super power of the 17th century. French fashions and arts set the standard for European society. French influence declined during the reign of Louis XV. His son made the fateful decission to aid the American colonists in their Revoluntionary War. This contntibuteed to the virtual bankruptsy of the Treasury and the onset of the Revolution in 1789. After the fall of Bapoleon, the Bourbons were restored in 1814 and ruled until the Revolution of 1848.

The Bonapartes (1800-15)

Napoleon Bonepart was born on the island of Corsica on Aug 15, 1769. On March 9, 1796 he married Josephene de Beauharnas. Napoleon became 1st Consul in 1800. The French armies continued a conquest of Europe while Napoleon's power became more and more secure. Napoleon crowned himself Emprorer of the French in 1804 and created an empire that covered most western and central Europe. He was the greatest military genius of his time. Napoleon's armies crushed one foe after another until he seemed invincible. For nearly twenty years, many European nations fought him.Napoleon Bonaparte changed the face of modern Europe. While hardly an adherent of the principles of the French Revolution, Naoleon and his Grand Army spread the democratic and nationalistic principles of the Revolution throughout Europe. Despite his eventual defeat in 1814-15, the impact of Napoleon launched unwitingly the nationalist movements in many European countries. France itself was to experience anither Bonaparte regime after the revolution of 1848.

French Republics

HBC provides some basic information about the first three French Republics (the current is the Fifth Republic) to provide some basic background information in the progression and changes from Bourbon to Republican to Bonaparist rule and then back and forth until the Third Republic was finally established during 1870-71 in the aftermath of the military disaster of the Franco-Prussian War.

The Reign of Terror and First Republic (1793-99)

Following the execution of the King on 21 January 1793 there followed a reign of terror with many political trials. By the end of 1793 there were 4,595 political prisoners held in Paris. As the Revolution progressed, lopping off the heads of aristocrats, empowering the ordinary toiling people, breaking up estates among the peasants and threatening the established order in neighbouring monarchies, the wealthier and more powerful among the middle classes also began to take fright. They had gained what they wanted from the revolution--political power. The middle class now became frightened of the people in the streets as the aristocracy was. The middle class conspired against the revolution, and after less than 6 years of revolution, counter revolution triumphed in 1795 with the execution of Robespierre. By 1799, only one decade after the fall of the Bastille, it was all over, and Napoleon was in power. France began to have better times as their armies, under the command of Napoleon Bonaparte, won victory after victory in the Napoleonic Wars.

The Second Republic (1848-51)

The short-lived Second Republic lasted from the fall of Louis Felippe in 1848 to the seizure of power by Nappoleon III in a 1851 coup d'etat. The despite its short life, the Revolution of 1848 that inspired it shook Europe to its foundation. The French Revolution of 1848 was still a bourgeois-democratic revolution, but carried to a higher stage and influenced by the Communist League of Marx and Engels. Revolutionary sentiments and aims spread across Europe. In March, revolutionary uprisings erupted in Germany. In June, the workers of Paris rose up. Engels called this "the first great battle for power between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie". 100,000 soldiers confronted 30,000-40,000 workers behind street barricades. For three glorious days the armed people held the army at bay. When the workers' districts fell, the heroic insurgents were massacred, the survivors hanged or transported. Marx and Engels, through their paper in Germany, the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, vigorously supported the Parisian workers. "If 40,000 Parisian workers", wrote Engels, "could achieve such tremendous things against forces four times their number, what will the whole mass of Paris workers accomplish by concerted and co-ordinated action!" The example of the Parisian workers inspired other mass revolutionary uprisings that year in Poland, Italy and Bohemia, all countries suffering under the rule of foreign monarchs. Late in the year there was a second revolutionary uprising in Germany. These were not localised events. Revolutionary armies were formed and campaigns waged. Engels joined the revolutionary army in Germany, and exposed the fatal timidity and poor tactics of the revolutionary leaders. In Hungary, revolutionary war raged and continued on into much of 1849 before being finally defeated by the sheer power of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In Germany, during 1849, there were more uprisings, this time against the counter-revolution. Again, the soldiers in many areas sided with the people, and pitched battles were fought between revolutionary and counter-revolutionary armies. Meanwhile, the nephew of Napoleon, a wily demagogue, had returned to France from exile shortly after the February revolution of 1848 and got himself elected to the new Constituent Assembly. Posing as the protector of popular liberties and national prosperity, he was elected President and in 1851 he dissolved the Constitution and a year later proclaimed himself Emperor as Napoleon III.

Third Republic (1870-1940)

The Third Republic was set up after the Franco-Prussian War disaster in 1870, the fall of the second Bonaparte empire, and the suppression of the great Paris Commune. As the German armies approached Paris in 1870, a Government of National Defence was immediately formed in Paris, the Third Republic proclaimed, and the might of Prussia defied. For four months Paris held out against German siege, but January 1871, when Paris neared the end of its food supply and provincial military operations appeared hopeless, the French Government capitulated. Bismarck imposed harsh peace terms. Two months later, the French Government moved to disarm the workers. In Paris, the workers, supported by the men of the National Guard (the same body that "Citizen Egalite" had joined in 1789), rose up under the banner of the Red Flag, and proclaimed a Commune. Similar Communes were established at Lyon, Toulouse, Marseilles, Saint- Etienne, Le Creusot and Narbonne, but were short lived. Paris was isolated. After a heroic struggle the city fell to the counter-revolutionary government forces in May 1871, and a week-long massacre of Communards ensued. But as Marx commented: "The principles of the Commune were eternal and could not be crushed; they would assert themselves again until the working classes were emancipated." The great statesman Thiers, who had been minister under Louis Phillipe before Napolean Bonaparte the younger made himself Emperor on the back of the 1848 Revolution as it were, really wanted a return to a Liberal Monarchy like the Kingdom of France under Louis Phillipe (1830-1848), retaining the tri-colour flag - not going back to the old lovely Bourbon Fleur de Lys flag on the blue ground, and, of course, accepting a responsible Parliament. The Count de Paris refused to become king with the tri-colour flag, so President McMahon dropped the whole question, and the 3rd Republic soldiered on through the 1914 war, and down to the disaster of 1940 in total defeat of France by Germany. The Third Republic lasted until the German invasion in World War II and the establishment of the Vichy Government. Major rerforms were instituted by the Third Republic. One particularly important one for HBC was the introduction of smocks in French schools. This was a republican measure, designed to put all children on an equal footig by covering the clothes of rich and poor children alike.

Vichy (1940-44)

The terms of the June 1940 armistace between Germany and France divided France into an occupied and unoccupied zone, with a rigid demarcation or boundary line between the two. The Germans obrained direct control three-fifths of France, including northern and western France and the entire Atlantic coast which was critical to the Ferman war effort against Britain. The Atlantic coast region provided air bases for the Luftwaffe air campaign and the Kriegesmarine U-boat capaign. The rest of France was left to be administered by the Petain's Government at Vichy. Provisions of the armistice, the "surrender on demand clause", was an obligation to arrest and turn over anyone requested by the Germans. Thus the Germans to persue any one they wanted even in the unoccupied or Vichy zone. Initially this included Jews, Communists, Socialists, as well as political officials who had been outspokingly critical of the NAZIs. France was forced to disband its army, except for a minimal force of 100,000 men for maintaining domestic order. This was the same size force that Gerrmany had been allowed under the Versailles Peace Treaty. The 1.5 million French Prisioners of War (POWs) were to remain in Germanm prisoner of war camps. The French government agreed to stop military units from leaving France to fight with the British. France had to agree to pay for the cost the Germans incurred in occupying the country.

Fourth Republic


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Created: June 6, 1998
Last updated: 8:29 AM 7/7/2016