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Map of Metropolitan France.
For information on French colonies and imperialism, see our page on the French colonial empire.
The creation of Modern France through expansion goes back to the establishment of a small kingdom in the area around Paris in the late tenth century and was not completed until the incorporation of Nice and Savoy in 1860. The existing "hexagon" was the result of a long series of wars and conquests involving the triumph of French language and culture over what once were autonomous and culturally distinctive communities. The assimilation of Gascons, Savoyards, Occitans, Basques, and others helped to sustain the myth that French overseas expansionism in the nineteenth century, especially to North and West Africa, was a continuation of the same assimilationist project.
—George M. Fredrickson, Stanford University.[1]

France, officially known as the (Fifth) French Republic (French: République française), is a country in western Europe known for its rich culinary and artistic heritage, its people's fondness for protesting in the streets,[2] and for its long and bloody history. Seriously, French food is damn good, even the weird shit like snails, liver spread, cow brains, frog legs, pork feet, cow head meat, cow stomach, intestine sausage, steak tartare, and lamprey,[note 1] albeit sometimes overpriced due to the pretentiousness associated with it. Alongside the primary area of France in Europe, known as "Metropolitan France", there are a scattering of overseas territories, most notably French Guiana and French Polynesia.[3] These are the remnants of the old French colonial empire, which at various times spanned much of the globe. Today, France is a unitary semi-presidential republic with its capital in Paris, the country's largest city and main cultural and commercial center. In terms of religion, France has a long tradition of secularism, and these principles are enshrined in its constitution. Its religious landscape is resultingly diverse, with 40% of French holding the traditional faith of Roman Catholicism, while 40% are irreligious, 5% are Muslim, and 1% are Jewish.[4]

During the Iron Age, France was populated by a number of Celtic tribes collectively known as the Gauls, who eventually fell victim to the expansionism of the Roman Empire in 51 BCE. The merging of the two cultures laid the foundation of the French language. In 476 CE, the Germanic tribe known as the Franks arrived, and their king Clovis I formed the great Frankish Empire. Clovis' Merovingian dynasty eventually died out, though, and Charlemagne took the throne in 800, being crowned by the pope as part of a political and religious scheme to ensure that religious authority was centered around Catholicism in the west.

Charlemagne's heirs eventually split the empire in their civil wars with each other, and West Francia eventually became the Kingdom of France in 987. Although decentralized due to feudalism and nobility schemes, France became a major player in Europe. Its kings participated heavily in the Crusades, and marriage pacts with England eventually resulted in the English trying to claim the French throne in the Hundred Years' War (1337–1453) throughout the Fourteenth century. After that absolute clusterfuck, France plunged into more wars against Spain. The Protestant Reformation spread like wildfire throughout southern France, leading to the French Wars of Religion that began in 1562 and lasted until 1598. Like religious wars tend to do, the French wars featured numerous massacres, betrayals, and horrific atrocities as the dominant Catholics tried to suppress the Huguenots, who were French Calvinists. This violent process saw the monarchy's power grow significantly through the use of force, leading to an absolute monarchy centered around the Palace of Versailles.

Under Louis XIV, the "Sun King", France became the dominant power in Europe thanks to its large population, centralized government, and growing colonial empire in the Americas. After pushing everybody else around for a while, France eventually met its temporary downfall in the Seven Years' War (1756–1763), a colonial struggle against Great Britain in which it lost much of its American territory. As revenge, France spent itself heavily into debt in order to support the American Revolution, causing its economy to go into the toilet and thus setting the stage for the French Revolution in 1789. This caused the downfall of the monarchy and the rise of secular and democratic principles, a process which got more and more extreme to the point where heads started rolling and calendars got fucked with. This chaos allowed the military leader Napoleon Bonaparte to rise to power, first as dictator and then as emperor. The brilliant general led France into dominating Europe until he bit off more than he could chew and eventually met his downfall in 1815.

The demolition of France's continental empire and the subsequent restoration of the old monarchy led to much grumbling and political instability, culminating with the 1830 July Revolution and then the February Revolution in 1848. In 1852, the president of the French Republic, Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, Napoleon I's nephew, declared himself the leader of the Second Empire, beginning with it the second era of French imperialism. France attacked Mexico in 1861 and began expansionist maneuvers against Cambodia and Vietnam. He eventually met his downfall against the Kingdom of Prussia in 1870, leading to the formation of the German Empire, which was declared in Versailles as an extra "fuck you".

That defeat and the downfall of the Second Empire caused even more chaos, allowing socialists to temporarily seize control of Paris in 1871. The Third Republic formed based on democratic principles, but that didn't stop it from violently crushing the Paris commune or leading the exploitative colonial empire, or leading France into World War I in the hopes of regaining lost land. After horrific suffering and millions dead, France lost its appetite for war while the political left ascended and pushed for social reforms. France's reluctance to engage in war led to a policy of appeasement against Adolf Hitler, which bit them in the ass when Nazi Germany got big enough to conquer and occupy them in 1940. Vichy France, a fascist collaborationist regime, began the right-wing reaction against the values of the Revolution, featuring persecutions of leftists and enthusiastic participation in the Holocaust.

After France's liberation in 1944, the Fourth Republic had to deal with the crises resulting from France's colonial possessions deciding that they didn't want to be French anymore. Catastrophic and atrocity-laden wars in Vietnam and Algeria brought the downfall of the Fourth Republic as well as the French colonial empire. However, under the policy of Françafrique,[5] Paris maintains a sphere of influence in their former West African colonies via economic dependence and exploitation (a la the CFA franc zone), which many have called shamelessly neocolonial.[6] Other methods used to maintain Françafrique include the French government's support for dictatorships, military interventions,[7] [8] [9] [10] [11] institutional and semi-institutional support from France-educated African elites and businesses, state racketeering, and consequent political and personal corruption thereof.[12] By the 2020s, several Françafrique nations (Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger) underwent military coups which displaced French control in favor of Chinese[13] and Russian[14] influence.

Under the Fifth Republic, France became a nuclear weapons state, abandoned much of its old social conservatism, and eventually joined the forefront of the push to create the European Union. Today, France is busy with problems related to immigration, with marginalization of Muslims contributing to extremism and terrorism, fueling a right-wing resurgence and backlash in turn.


How can you govern a country which has two hundred and forty-six varieties of cheese?
—French President Charles de Gaulle, 1962.[15]


Gallic leader Vercingetorix surrenders to Julius Caesar at Alesia.
Alternate depiction of him throwing his arms at Caesar's feet.

The Gauls[edit]

France's oldest city was founded in 600 BCE by Greek colonists, which they named "Massalia".[16] This is now the city of Marseille. Meanwhile, Celtic tribes spread throughout France, becoming collectively known as the Gauls. The Gauls became a settled and agrarian society, and the various Gallic tribes were generally ruled by an elite landowner class.[17] (Of course). The region of Gaul notably extended to the Rhine river in present-day Germany and down into northern Italy.[18] Competing territorial goals inevitably resulted in combat with the expanding Roman Republic, and the Gauls got a nice little victory in when they breached and sacked the city of Rome itself.[19] Admittedly, that was something that would happen a lot over the course of history.

The humiliating defeat at the hands of the Gauls convinced the Romans that Gallia delenda est. The Romans dramatically expanded their military capabilities. These efforts culminated in the Gallic Wars, in which Roman proconsul Julius Caesar decided to further his own political career by setting out to conquer Gaul in its entirety.[20] This he did after brilliantly winning the Battle of Alesia in 52 BCE and thus ending Gallic military resistance.[21]

Roman rule[edit]

The Romans turned Gaul into a colony, starting by mandating the Latin language in the region and then by demolishing Gallic settlements and forcing them instead to live in Roman-style cities of brick and stone.[22] Veterans of Caesar's war of conquest were granted tracts of land in Gaul to profit from agriculture and become a new ruling class of conquerors.[22] All in all, fairly classic methods of imperialism. Under Roman emperor Augustus, Gaul became an official Roman province, with roads and infrastructure linking it to Italia. Roman emperors ClaudiusWikipedia (ruled 41 to 54 CE) and CaracallaWikipedia (ruled 198 to 217 CE) were born in Gaul, while emperor Antoninus PiusWikipedia (ruled 138 to 161 CE) was from a Gallic family.

The speedy integration of Gaul into the Greco-Roman cultural world was fairly remarkable, and it is attributed by historians to the relatively light hand of the imperial administration.[22] French became a Romance language, Gallic cities became Roman cities, and even the countryside was marked by Roman-style villas and estates. Also typically of the Roman Empire, they left the French countryside dotted with fucking cool architectural monuments, although mostly in the southern French region of Provence.[23]

The good times ended, of course, a fact attested to by the noticeable lack of a Roman Empire in modern times. The Crisis of the Third Century was a general era of chaos and decline for the Western Roman Empire, and in Gallia the Roman governor Marcus Cassianius Latinius Postumus rose up against the empire and declared himself an independent ruler.[22] The so-called "Gallic Empire" remained independent through four rulers before itself falling to the disorder that was infecting Europe. Germanic tribes (the Germans ruin everything), most notably the Franks, Vandals, and Burgundians, swept in to start conquering and wrecking shit.[22] By the time the Western Roman Empire fell in 476 CE, Gaul had long since fallen to the invaders. This contributed to the fall of Rome as well, since Gaul had become one of the empire's primary breadbaskets. The loss of Gaul wrecked the Roman Empire's already fragile economy and helped plunge it into nonexistence.

Early Middle Ages[edit]

Baptism of Clovis I.
"Come on, eyes up, everyone!"
See the main article on this topic: Middle Ages

Merovingian Francia[edit]

Rising to rule the Franks at the age of 15, Frankish ruler Clovis I founded the Merovingian dynasty and began the process of consolidating the fractured remnants of Gaul under his rule.[24] By sharing the fruits of his conquests equitably (a fairly rare thing), Clovis won a huge and loyal army to his side that was ready to accept Clovis' emphasis on true military discipline, and he used that army to seize control of a great empire based in France by 496 CE.[24] Clovis then assassinated his cousins in order to take their shares of the spoils back. Nobody's perfect.

After his victories, Clovis converted to Christianity and was baptized, allowing him to use religion as a reason for war and to form a political alliance with the zealous emperor Anastasius of the Eastern Roman Empire.[24] By spreading the Christian religion and uniting the region, Clovis became the historically-recognized founder of modern France. His name, Latinized to "Louis", became a very popular name among future French kings.[24]

Unfortunately for the French, the empire Clovis founded was mandated by tradition to be handed out in equal parts to his four sons after the founder's death. These repeated partitions upon succession greatly impeded French development and expansion, especially since the heirs generally engaged in civil wars in the hope of unifying Francia.[25] Despite that, the Franks managed to integrate a diverse array of cultures into their own fabric, including continental Saxons, Gallo-Romans, Alemanni, Avars, and Lombards.

Carolingian dynasty[edit]

Martel's victory over the Muslims at Tours.

Towards the end of the Merovingian dynasty, kings were increasingly marginalized into a ceremonial role. Actual power was held by the Mayors of the Palace, who managed the affairs of the realm as a superpowered butler while the kings busied themselves with cushy court life.[26] The most famous of these "mayors" was Charles Martel, who created a professional cavalry force out of landed nobles and used it to resume French military expansion.[27] However, his rising power was challenged by the Muslim rulers who had conquered Spain. Although generally more militarily capable than the Christians, the Muslim armies out of Spain struggled during their invasion of France due to the more northern climate. Martel led his armies to victory in the 732 CE Battle of Tours, which some historians believe saved Christianity in France (others are less enthusiastic).[28]

Bust of Charlemagne.

Martel's son, Pippin III, was even more ambitious than his father. Pippin outright cast aside the Merovingian rulers and won support from the pope in claiming the throne for himself, becoming the first true king of his line.[29] Pippin's contribution to history was in conquering much of Italy and then donating a huge chunk of it to the papacy as thanks for the Catholic Church's support for him.[30] The "Donation of Pippin" allowed the pope to become the ruler of the Papal States, and it solidified the alliance between Pippin's line and the papacy.

Charlemagne crowned emperor by the pope.

That alliance paid off for Pippin's successor, Charlemagne, who took the throne in 768. Charlemagne became one of the most famous figures in Medieval history by implementing various reforms in education and administration, and then conquering much of Western Europe.[31] His name forms the historical name of the "Carolingian dynasty", as he's just so much more famous than those who came before him. By 800 CE, Charlemagne was acknowledged as being even more influential than the Catholic pope, with his advisors proclaiming him to be the "new Constantine" and the "Guardian of Christianity."[32] After Charles personally bailed out the pope from a barbarian attack, the pope decided to enforce his authority over Charlemagne by crowning him "Emperor of the Romans".[32] This act demonstrated the pope's power to choose rulers, while Charlemagne got to claim a holy mandate. Win-win.

This precedent led to the establishment of the Holy Roman Empire further east in Germany. Charlemagne's holdings, though, fell apart due to his heirs once again partitioning the empire amongst themselves. Like the Merovingians before them, the Carolingian dynasty's heirs warred against each other for obvious reasons until 843 CE, when they finally acknowledged that the empire would remain split into three pieces.[33]

Under the Carolingian dynasty, the social fabric of France changed dramatically. The Roman-inherited institution of slavery began to decline due to the influence of the Church, while high-ranking Catholic clergy became enormously powerful and wealthy to the point of becoming local rulers in their own right.[34] Feudalism took root in France, with a landed military aristocracy being responsible for furnishing soldiers.

Decentralized Frankish realm[edit]

French realm in 1030. Crown holdings are in blue. See the problem?

The decline of the Carolingians left France a decentralized mess, with powerful nobles ruling almost as independent monarchs. The Capetian dynasty came to the French throne in 987 CE, but it would take a long damn time for them to begin imposing their rule anywhere outside of their direct holdings. Outside the dynastic royal domain (centred around Paris), powerful nobles ruled Flanders, Normandy, Anjou, Brittany, Blois-Champagne, and Burgundy.

Château de Falaise, seat of the Dukes of Normandy.

Probably the most interesting of the French vassals was the Duchy of Normandy, which was formed in 911 CE when the Viking raider Hrólfr sailed out of Norway, attacked France, besieged Paris, and made such a nuisance of himself that King Charles III offered to give him Normandy if the Vikings would fucking stop.[35] From then on, Hrólfr became the Duke of Normandy, a nominal vassal to the French Crown but far too powerful to completely rein in.

The Normans shared an interest in territorial expansion with the other French vassals, and they warred against each other frequently. The pointless bloodshed was so bad that the goddamn Catholic Church finally stepped in to say, "You guys should fucking cut it out." In 989, the Church proclaimed the "Peace and Truce of God", threatening ecclesiastical sanctions against the French vassals unless they agreed to limit the times of year in which they fought and get their armies to stop rampant pillaging.[36] The Church had a direct interest in this, since ecclesiastical property in France was unarmed and far too often caught in the crossfire. The Church really didn't appreciate it when people fucked with their shit.

In 1066, French history collided dramatically with England's history due to the machinations of the Duchy of Normandy. William I, the bastard son of Duke Robert I of Normandy, decided that he didn't like being known as "William the Bastard" and instead claimed the throne of England based on the usual complicated dynastic bullshit.[37] William invaded England and smashed the Anglo-Saxon defenders at the Battle of Hastings, an event which shaped English history dramatically and left "William the Conqueror" in charge of England.[38] This was a bit of a problem for France, since that meant the Duchy of Normandy had effectively exited the French realm.

Other French nobles went on adventures during the early Crusades, having independently answered the pope's call to take Jerusalem. French knights became the backbone of the crusader effort, to the point where the Muslims considered all crusaders "Franj"[note 2] regardless of nationality.[39] French nobles ruled the Crusader states in the Middle East,[40] and French knights formed the majority of the Knights Templar and the Knights HospitallerWikipedia.

Kingdom of France[edit]

Carcassonne, a major Cathar stronghold during the crusade.

Early centralization[edit]

Philip II became the most notable Capetian king, as from 1190 onwards he became the first ruler to refer to himself as the "King of France" rather than the "King of the Franks".[41] Despite the relatively minor change, this was enormously significant since it meant that Philip II wanted to begin expanding the royal domain rather than be content with the decentralized state of France and the monarchy's weak role. Philip faced the daunting task of taking back Normandy from England, a series of wars which were temporarily interrupted by the Third Crusade.[42] He eventually won back much of that territory, becoming known as "Augustus".

Philip Augustus also fought to expand his personal domains within France. The 1209 Albigensian Crusade became a part of this effort after the pope decided that the Cathar heretic movement needed to be rooted out of southern France. The near-genocidal campaign that resulted in much of southern France being folded directly into the royal domain, greatly strengthening the French monarchy.[43] God's will is nice and all that, but power is better.

Hundred Years' War[edit]

Edward III counting the dead on the battlefield of Crécy.
"One, two, five."
"Three, sire."
I am sent here in God's name, the King of Heaven, to drive you body for body out of all France… [Y]ou will not withhold the kingdom of France from God, the King of Kings, Blessed Mary's Son. The King Charles, the true inheritor, will possess it, for God wills it…
—Jeanne d'Arc's challenge to the English, as quoted in her trial.[44]

The Capet line finally went extinct when Charles IV died without a male heir, and French law forbade women from inheriting titles.[45] Thus, the throne passed to to his cousin Philip of House Valois in 1328. Meanwhile, King Edward III of England still harbored a grudge against France and used his own blood relation to the Capetians to press his claim to the throne. Thus began the Hundred Years War, a terrible waste of time and blood.

Jeanne d'Arc.

Edward got the ball rolling by declaring himself King of France in a ceremony in Ghent in January 1340, and he then began a strategy of looting France and burning its farmland in the hopes of drawing Philip into open battle.[46] The strategy worked, and Philip suffered great defeats against England's longbow archers. Philip formed an alliance with Scotland in the hopes of threatening England itself, but the Scots quickly lost as well.

Festivities were temporarily halted by the Black Death in 1347, but the resumption of the war in 1369 still went much in England's favor. France was further hampered by the rivalry and eventual civil war between the Dukes of Burgundy and Orléans, and in 1415 England won one of its most famous victories at the Battle of Agincourt.[47] France's darkest hour began when the Duchy of Burgundy decided to outright side with the English invaders rather than fight alongside the hated dukes of Orléans.[47]

French victory at Formigny, 1450.

The turning point began with the arrival of Jeanne d'Arc at the court in Orléans, a charismatic peasant girl who claimed to have been sent on a mission by God to free France. The as-yet-unannointed King Charles VII said "eh, fuck it" and sent her to relieve the Siege of Orléans and then presumably did a spit-take when Jeanne managed to break the siege nine days later.[48] Her charisma and religious claims invigorated the French armies, but she was eventually captured by the English and burned at the stake as a witch, as they blamed their losses to her on alleged magical powers.[49] Jeanne was just 19 years old when she died. She was eventually vindicated and then canonized as a saint in 1920, and she remains an important national symbol of France.[50]

Ultimately, France's superior population and size made the English defeat inevitable, and English King Henry VI decided around 1445 that enough was enough and it was time to quit.[46] With the help of artillery and a Burgundian change of heart, France managed to reconquer much of its lost territory by 1453, driving Henry VI mad and starting a number of problems over there.Wikipedia The Hundred Years War had a massive impact on France's history. A large number of French nobles were killed in the conflict, destabilizing the country as those that remained squabbled for power.[46] On the other hand, the French people, through the prolonged experience of war, became a more unified national identity.

Renaissance and colonialism[edit]

France emerged from the clusterfuck of war into the eventual Renaissance, which began in Italy and spread throughout Europe. Indeed, "renaissance" is a French word. Architects and artists benefited significantly from royal patronage, most famously when Leonardo da Vinci moved from Italy to France and brought with him many of his most famous works (like the Mona Lisa, which remains in the Louvre).[51]

Meanwhile, France encountered its new nemesis, the House of Hapsburg based in Austria. The rivalry began when Austria married into and inherited the realm of Burgundy and its dominion over Belgium and the Netherlands, regions which legally should have been French.[52] The Hapsburgs then managed to inherit the throne of Spain to the south, obtaining with it Spain's growing colonial empire and its holdings in southern Italy. An even more furious France began the Italian Wars in 1494, plunging Italy and the Hapsburgs and Valois into a series of wars that lasted until 1559.[53]

The rapid growth in military prowess resulted in the expansion of French administration, with a national treasury being established in 1523 alongside an actual government apparatus to carry out the will of the king.[54]

Protestant Reformation[edit]

Huguenots fleeing France.
See the main article on this topic: Protestant Reformation

The French Renaissance had created a class of educated humanists who were receptive to the idea of returning to classical ideas of arts and religion. The latter became important when Martin Luther kicked off the Reformation in 1517 and Protestants began to allege that the Catholic Church had diverged too far from the old and true ideals of Christianity.[55] The French Crown initially tolerated the rising tide of Protestant ideals, not wanting to cause any problems.

This attitude changed dramatically in 1534 during the so-called "Affair of the Placards," when French Protestants posted anti-Catholic pamphlets all over the country, including on the door of the king's bedchamber.[56] Unfortunately, John Calvin had begun spreading his ideas as well, and the Calvinists proved to be even more zealous in their opposition to Catholicism than the Lutherans.

French Calvinists, known as "Huguenots", faced extreme persecution to the point where they had to flee into the Holy Roman Empire.[57] John Calvin himself had to leave his homeland and move to Switzerland. Still, Huguenots found converts from broad segments of French society, including marginalized peasants, the urban unemployed, and unhappy nobles.[55] The nobles who joined the Huguenot movement caused it to grow massively, giving it genuine military strength and safe regions for them to practice and preach their new religion. Meanwhile, the French crown passed through a series of incompetent or child rulers, leaving the country rudderless. It seems that God wanted the civil wars to happen.

French Wars of Religion[edit]

Aftermath of the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre.

No less than eight civil wars ensued between the Huguenots and the Catholics in France, the final result of the growing religious tension between them. The first began in 1562 when Duke François de Guise ordered troops to massacre a hundred Protestants in Wassy during a religious service, leading Huguenot noble Louis de Bourbon, prince of Condé to call his allies to arms.[58] Louis captured Orléans the same year, and religious savagery spread like wildfire throughout France. The following wars and brief periods of peace featured horrific massacres by all sides. Most infamous was the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre that swept the country, probably instigated by Queen Catherine de' Medici, a huge mass murder of Huguenots across France that killed somewhere between 5,000 and 30,000 people.[59] Holy shit. Although vile, the massacre did succeed for the Catholics. The Huguenot movement was crippled by the loss of most of its aristocratic sponsors.

Although almost wiped out, the most important Huguenot, Henry of Navarre of House Bourbon, became a major candidate for the French throne due to the inability of the last Valois monarch to procure an heir. This caused the French Catholics to shit a brick, reigniting the wars in full ferocity and causing the pope to declare that Henry would never have the throne.[60] Apparently God didn't agree with that whole "never" business, because Henry was able to force a military stalemate despite Spain sponsoring Catholic resistance against him. Realizing that France would never accept a Protestant king, Henry reluctantly converted to Catholicism in order to take the throne, becoming king in 1589 as the first ruler of the Bourbon dynasty.[60]

The first years of his reign were spent dealing with the still angry Spanish. In 1598, though, Henry got time to acknowledge his Protestant heritage by issuing the Edict of Nantes, which granted a large measure of religious liberty to the Huguenots and finally ended the Wars of Religion.[61]

By bringing France back from the brink, Henry IV was able to greatly strengthen the authority of the monarchy and restore France's era of prosperity and development.[62] Huguenots were able to rejoin society and government and help rebuild after the wars. It's impressive what not killing people over religious bullshit can accomplish.

First colonial empire[edit]

French missionary in what is now Michigan.
"America's back that way? Are you sure?"
See the main article on this topic: French colonial empire § First colonial empire

France's renwed era of prosperity also brought with it the first great era of French colonialism , which saw France make inroads into what is now Canada beginning with the acquisition of Port Royal in 1605 and proceeding in 1608 when explorer and conqueror Samuel de Champlain established Quebec as a trading fort.[63] Quebec became the center of the French effort in North America.

Unlike the English, the French focused largely on trade with the Native Americans they encountered, with French merchants and missionaries even going so far as to learn native languages and join their communities.[64] They primarily traded in fur, particularly that of the beaver. In Europe, the beaver had been driven almost extinct by the demand for furs, but in North America, the beaver population was largely unharmed.[65] While the fur trade was enormously lucrative for the French, the natives for their part received valuable European-manufactured goods such as guns, metal cooking utensils, and cloth. The French administration carefully controlled who could leave French-controlled settlements, as they preferred to let the native traders come to them.[65] Since North American fur trade was so easy and rich, the French didn't want to jeopardize it by acting like dicks towards the natives.

Elsewhere, however, the French weren't as nice. In Saint-Domingue, a colony established in 1697 (the predecessor to modern Haiti), the French built a horrific slave regime built on sugar and cash crop plantations, a system so vile that the average life expectancy of a slave there was just 21 years.[66] A similarly brutal regime was the rule in French Guiana in South America, also coupled with extermination of the region's remaining native population.[67]

Centralization and "royal monopoly of force"[edit]

Cardinal Richelieu during the Siege of La RochelleWikipedia.
"Going well! I believe this calls for a mustache twirling."

Back in Metropolitan France, the country was to be forever changed by the 1607 rise of one of its great conniving supervillains Armand Jean du Plessis, better known as Cardinal Richelieu, the villain of the Three Musketeers.[68] A French clergyman and diplomat, Richelieu soon dominated the government and began a quest to create an absolute monarchy. He purged nobles from government positions, destroyed many fortified castles, and otherwise restricted the power of the noble classes.[69] Richelieu also began rolling back the religious toleration policies, inciting a brief uprising among the Huguenots in 1622 which Richilieu then brutally put down.[70] One of Richelieu's new concepts was the "royal monopoly of force", the idea that royal authority could only be secure if it was the only entity with the means of committing internal violence.[71] And oh, boy did Richelieu believe in internal violence (and external violence as it happens).

The Cardinal then looked abroad at the religious storm sweeping Europe and decided that it would be a nice little time to fuck over France's second-most hated enemies, the Hapsburgs. He forged an alliance of convenience with Protestant Europe and jumped into the Thirty Years War, a religious bloodbath that began in 1618 and become the worst religious war in Europe's history. Instead of siding with the Catholics, Richelieu sponsored the Protestants in order to weaken Austria and Spain, who were fighting against them. France eventually joined the war directly, fighting on multiple fronts against Spain and Austria. In order to pay for this, the Cardinal hiked taxes on everyone, but mostly the poor, resulting in a few more uprisings that he bloodily suppressed.[69] France eventually emerged from the war as a preeminent European power, with its armies having performed well and the Hapsburgs greatly weakened. The Cardinal also left France with a legacy of putting the national interest before the nobility's interests.

L'etat c'est moi[edit]

Dragonnades policy: "Ain't ya gonna convert, bro?"

"L'etat c'est moi", meaning "I am the state", was the motto of Louis XIV, who assumed the throne in 1643.[72] Of all of France's many, many monarchs, Louis XIV was easily and by far the most powerful of them. Known as the "Sun King," Louis XIV centralized power in the monarchy and reigned over a prosperous time in which France became the dominant power in Europe and a leader in art and science.

The Palace of Versailles.

Louis believed that he was chosen by God to be His representative on Earth, and he revoked the Edict of Nantes and forced French Protestants to either convert or flee.[73] This was accompanied by the Dragonnades policy, where French soldiers (called dragoons) would be billeted in Protestant homes and given authority to abuse and exploit the Protestant families until they converted or got the fuck out.[74]

He built the Palace of Versailles as a splendid monument to himself and moved the royal court there. He built a meritocratic government, marginalized the nobility, modernized the judiciary, and built a kickass army to threaten anyone who had any shit to say about it.[75] Even the American state of Louisiana is named after his ass, inherited from the name of the French colony.[76] He became the world's model for an absolute authoritarian monarch.

In terms of foreign policy, Louis established France as the dominant power in Europe. Under him, France took on three powerful European alliances, in the Franco-Dutch War (in which France invaded the Low Countries[77]), then in the War of the League of Augsburg (in which most of Europe tried to cut France down to size[78]), and finally in the War of the Spanish Succession (in which Louis managed to put the Bourbon dynasty on the Spanish throne[79]).

Enlightenment transformation[edit]

Reading and discussion of Voltaire's works in the salon of Madame Geoffrin, 1755.
See the main article on this topic: Enlightenment

Although Louis XIVWikipedia was a powerful king, his reign was erratic and warlike, and certain educated members of French society were dissatisfied with his authoritarianism. The rising intellectual traditions of Europe spawned a continent-wide movement called the Enlightenment in which principles of rationalism and humanism became acceptable and desirable avenues of thought.[80]

Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

Writer and philosopher Claude-Adrien Helvétius, for instance, pushed for a hedonistic lifestyle and attacked religious morality.[81] François-Marie Arouet, under the pseudonym Voltaire, became a classic French writer in his criticisms of fundamentalist Christianity and advocacy for civil liberties and modern governance. Jean-Jacques Rousseau became one of the most influential Enlightenment writers, advocating for personal education of children, for free expression of emotion, and for liberty to be a universal object of human ambition.[82]

Enlightenment intellectuals were collectively known by the French title Philosophes, and they formed the spearhead of a broader movement advocating for modern governance, secularism, and against absolute monarchy.[83] In France, the Enlightenment brought about the rise of the salon, a gathering of intellectual men and women to discuss various topics. Despite the patriarchal nature of French society, women were able to get in the doors by acting as hostesses and servers and then gradually increased their participation in talks and debates.[84] Catherine de Vivonne, marquise de Rambouillet, became a renowned hostess of a literary salon in Paris, remembered to this day for her kindness, intelligence, and remarkable lack of prejudices.[85] Anne-Thérèse de Marguenat de Courcelles, better known as Madame de Lambert, used her salon gatherings to advocate for feminism and promote her writings on women's education and other topics.[86]

The truly groundbreaking development, though, was that the salons allowed people from all classes and walks of life to participate, meaning that French people could finally communicate freely with each other without fear of societal ostracization or persecution.[87] By spreading Enlightenment ideals through the French population, salons helped set the stage for the French Revolution.

Anti-British adventures[edit]

British attack on Quebec, 1759.

Although France was at the top of the European order, it would eventually be dethroned by the rising colonial power of Great Britain. Yes, England had beefed up and come back for another go. In 1756, Great Britain and Prussia (which would much later form the German Empire) teamed up against France and Austria in the Seven Years War, a pan-European and global war over colonies and the European order.[88] While Great Britain focused on the naval and colonial theatres and Prussia took care of the land war, France was in the unenviable position of having to divide its attention between the land war and the colonial wars, meaning that its defeat was frankly difficult to avoid. While France didn't suffer too much on land after the war's resolution in 1763, it lost almost the entirety of its first colonial empire, including French Canada, their holdings in India, and Louisiana.[89] The humiliating and costly defeat weakened the monarchy and caused unrest in France.

Instead of trying to reform its finances or reevaluate its goals, France's monarchy instead aimed for revenge against the British. This chance came in the American Revolution after the nascent United States proved itself by winning the Battle of Saratoga. France allied the US in 1778 and sent military and financial aid, becoming a crucial factor in the American victory.[90] However, French involvement against the British expanded beyond the American theatre and became yet another costly colonial war. Already heavily in debt from the Seven Years War, the French crown stupidly spent itself into oblivion to help the Americans and fight the British again. The creaking old French financial system proved too inefficient to cope with this additional crushing burden, beginning a full-on economic meltdown that plagued France for the rest of the century.[91]

French Revolution[edit]

Storming of the Bastille.
See the main article on this topic: French Revolution

A shitty situation[edit]

The French financial crisis coincided with a catastrophic crop failure in fall 1788 and then one of the country's worst ever winter seasons that lasted well into 1789.[92] France's food supply all but ran out, and the country's backwards tariff system meant that importing more was prohibitively expensive. French peasants went from spending half of their income on food to spending about 90% of their income on food.[92] Mob violence, such as the such as the Réveillon riots in Paris, began over food prices and expanded into a general movement against longstanding societal inequalities.[93]

To deal with the crisis, French king Louis XVI called upon the Estates-General, an informal assembly of clergy, nobility, and everyone else. The latter group were represented by the Third Estate, and they resented the fact that they had only a third of representation despite representing more than 95% of France's population, especially since the First and Second Estates tended to vote in tandem.[94] When Louis refused to make any changes to this arrangement, the Third Estate renamed itself the "National Assembly" and declared itself the true legitimate governing body of France.[95]

Meanwhile, the riots in Paris worsened amid general paranoia that the king would try to use military force to crush the National Assembly. Remember Richelieu? In one of the most famous events of the revolution, Parisians stormed the Bastille prison, historically used to house political prisoners, and seized its armory in preparation for a potential attack on Paris.[96] After that, general panic swept rural France conspiracy theories about a "famine plot" by the aristocracy to destroy the revolution incited a general mobilization and peasant mobs started to retaliate by sacking landlord manors.[97]

The National Assembly[edit]

Print of the "Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen".
They destroyed aristocratic society from top to bottom, along with its structure of dependencies and privileges. For this structure they substituted the modern, autonomous individual, free to do whatever was not prohibited by law.... The Revolution thus distinguished itself quite early by its radical individualism.
—François Furet, French historian.[98][99]

The mass mobilization of the French populace left the National Assembly largely in control of France, with the king not having much choice but to go along. The body immediately began implementing a huge reform agenda, first by abolishing feudalism,[100] then by revoking special rights for nobility and clergy,.[101] and then by publishing the "Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the CitizenWikipedia" (which was written with input from Thomas Jefferson).[102] Unfortunately, that document left out women and servants and non-taxpayers, but you apparently can't go too far all at once.[103]

After abolishing clerical privileges, the Assembly went even further and declared all clergy to be government employees subject to public election and demanded that they take an oath of loyalty to the French state.[104] The pope condemned this move, and France retaliated in 1791 by violently annexing the papal territory of Avignon.[105]

War and radicalization[edit]

Increasingly feeling himself a prisoner to the revolution, Louis attempted to flee along with his Austrian wife Queen Marie Antoinette to the realm of his step-family.[106] Unfortunately for him, he was caught and placed under house arrest while the more radical revolutionaries started to denounce him as a traitor. Concerned about this, Austria and Prussia issued the Declaration of Pillnitz threatening war if anything bad happened to Louis or his queen.[107] Despite the threat being a rather blatant bluff (Austria and Prussia hated each other and didn't want war), the National Assembly panicked and declared preemptive war in 1792.

The revolution hollowed out France's armies and treasuries, and the Coalition allies advanced towards Paris with seemingly little to stop them.[108] Amid this atmosphere of pandemonium, radical Maximilien Robespierre and his Jacobin faction seized political control in a violent coup and deposed Louis once and for all.[109]

First Republic[edit]

Presenting Louis XVI's head to the crowd.
It has been said that terror is the principle of despotic government. Does your government therefore resemble despotism? Yes, as the sword that gleams in the hands of the heroes of liberty resembles that with which the henchmen of tyranny are armed. Let the despot govern by terror his brutalized subjects; he is right, as a despot. Subdue by terror the enemies of liberty, and you will be right, as founders of the Republic. The government of the revolution is liberty's despotism against tyranny. Is force made only to protect crime? And is the thunderbolt not destined to strike the heads of the proud?
—Maximilien Robespierre, "Justification of the Use of Terror".[110]

Under Robespierre and the First Republic, the Revolution took a much more crazy turn, starting with the implementation of a nutty new calendar system designed to strip away religious references.[111] More infamously, Robespierre had Louis' head lopped off by guillotine after a show trial declared him a traitor.[112]

In the aftermath of the king's execution, the Jacobins went on a nice little killing spree beginning with Marie Antoinette and extending to other perceived counterrevolutionaries. They then established the Committee of Public Safety (under which the public was not safe) in April 1783, which acted as a secret police force with a license to kill.[113] Robespierre's "Reign of Terror": After loyally Catholic peasants in the Vendée (on France's western coast) rose up to defend against Robespierre's aggressive attacks on religion, Robespierre's government reacted brutally, starting a years-long civil war there that left some 200,000 people dead.[114]

Eventually, Robespierre's brutality backfired when his own allies turned against him out of fear that he would order their executions as well.[115] Having lived by the guillotine, Robespierre died by the guillotine in 1794.

Napoleonic France[edit]

French victory against the First Coalition at Valmy, 1792.
See the main article on this topic: Napoleon Bonaparte

Rise to power[edit]

Robespierre was followed by a very ineffectual Directory, a ruling council that was crippled by its decentralized power.[116] In trying to avoid another Robespierre dictatorship, the Directory became barely a government at all. Their bacon was saved by general Napoleon Bonaparte, whose brilliance in tactics and heavy usage of artillery helped turn the War of the First Coalition around in France's favor.[117] Starting with Italy and the Low Countries, Napoleon's military victories helped France expand its borders, like, by a lot.[118] After these victories, though, the Directory got itself into the War of the Second Coalition, which they promptly bungled while Napoleon was busy on a goose chase in Egypt. Returning home, Napoleon was convinced by some conspirators to overthrow the Directory, and he established himself as the First Consul of a tripartite consulate regime.[119]


First Consul Napoleon Bonaparte.

Once in charge, Napoleon assumed control of France's military and put the Second Coalition to an end in 1802. This made Napoleon supremely popular as France was, for the first time in many years, finally at peace, and its economy was starting to recover.[120] After losing Haiti to a slave revolt, Napoleon eventually decided that colonialism in the Americas wasn't worth it.[121] Instead, he turned his attention back to the continent, where he promulgated a unified legal code for France that completely reformed its byzantine and arbitrary sets of laws that often differed from region to region.[122] The Code Napoléon survives in various forms to this day across Europe.

Deciding to leverage his popularity into even more power, Napoleon marginalized the other two consuls and then falsified the results of a national referendum to declare himself "Emperor of the French" in 1804.[123] The French people, by this point tired of the political instability of the revolution, were generally receptive to this change.

First French Empire[edit]

Napoleon accepts the Austrian surrender at Austerlitz.

After declaring himself emperor, Napoleon spiraled into a series of increasingly uncontrollable wars. His greatest victories came over the Third Coalition, smashing Austria and Russia at the Battle of Austerlitz in 1805 despite being heavily outnumbered.[124] This forced Austria and Russia to make peace, but Napoleon's great fleet was destroyed by the British in the Battle of Trafalgar.[125] Still, his victory at land allowed Napoleon to destroy the old Holy Roman Empire and extend his rule over a series of German puppet states. He similarly slapped his enemies down in the War of the Fourth Coalition, but this victory began to sew the seeds of Napoleon's defeat when he decided to force his allies to embargo Britain.[126]

French Europe in 1812.

Napoleon's attempts at embargoing Britain led him to invade Portugal, a costly mess of a campaign that resulted in Spain becoming a hotbed of anti-French resistance.[127] After Napoleon tried to put his brother in charge of the country, the Spanish people launched a general uprising against the hated French occupiers, using guerrilla warfare to great effect. The worst atrocities committed during the Napoleonic Wars by both sides were committed here as the French brutally tried to put down Spanish revolts.[128] While Spain sapped his strength, Napoleon's growing arrogance started to show when he bungled the Battle of Aspern-Essling in 1809 by greatly underestimating Austrian tenacity.[129]

This overconfidence led Napoleon to make his most fatal mistake: invading Russia. Russia halted the embargo against the British due to the economic damage it was inflicting, and Napoleon stupidly decided to chastise them in a quick war the way he had done quite a few times before.[130] However, the Russians instead retreated and adopted a scorched-earth policy, baiting Napoleon into invading deeper and deeper into Russia throughout the summer and fall of 1812.[131] Napoleon eventually ended up stranded in Moscow in the dead of winter, a city which the Russians had abandoned and stripped of all valuables. Realizing he fucked up, Napoleon had to retreat from Russia during the winter and under military confrontation from Russian raiders. His initial army of 600,000 was reduced to some 30,000 through desertion, death, and disease.[132]

From there, Napoleon's downfall was rapid as France came under invasion from various fronts. The only really surprising bit was that Napoleon managed to return from exile in 1815 and make one last crack and keeping his throne.[133] Unfortunately for him, the Seventh Coalition quickly formed to deal with him, and he lost the Battle of Waterloo as his final defeat.

Bourbon Restoration[edit]

Louis XVIII Lifting France from Its Ruins, 1814.
"Here, madam, let me help you with those."

Constitutional monarchy[edit]

The Coalition partners decided to place the old Bourbon dynasty back on the throne. Louis XVIII proved to be a fairly weak king who was reluctant to enforce his rule, while conservative monarchists launched a bloody series of reprisals against Napoleon's old loyalists.[134] Despite some mistrust from the rest of Europe, Louis showed no signs at all of returning to France's aggressive imperialism, save for a brief expedition to save Spain from some rebels.

Back at home, Louis established a parliament and a constitution, although he still held a large degree of power. Parliament always had a strong right-wing royalist majority, but Louis generally kept his promise of maintaining religious tolerance and many of the Revolution's modern ideals.[135] This was much to the frustration of the ultraroyaliste faction, which wanted to erase every last trace of the Revolution and return to the era of landlord and noble dominance.[136]

Return to the old ways[edit]

Louis' successor, Charles X, fully embraced the ultraroyalistes when he came to the throne in 1824. He stupidly attempted to implement reactionary policies on the recently revolutionized France, which went over about as well as you might expect. Certain policies included imposing the death penalty for insulting the Catholic Church, restricting freedom of the press, and using state funds to "compensate" nobles who had lost their estates during the revolution.[134] This proved spectacularly unpopular with the French people, and liberals soon won control of parliament and began opposing this agenda. In 1827, the Paris National Guard almost mutinied on the king's stubborn ass, and he had the body disbanded.[134]

Invasion of Algeria[edit]

In order to distract the people from his unpopular policies, Charles X decided to declare a colonial war against Algiers, an Amazigh state which would eventually become modern Algeria.[137] French soldiers were able to swiftly occupy the coastline of Algiers and defeat the Ottoman Empire's soldiers who came forth to defend it.[138]

Despite the rapid defeat, Algerian resistance continued, and French tactics escalated rapidly in brutality to the point where many historians, such as Khmer Rouge expert Ben Kiernan, consider French actions to have been genocidal.[139] The conquest of Algeria continued throughout succeeding French governments.

July Revolution[edit]

Liberty Leading the People, 1830.
"Follow me! Boobs for everyone!"
France falls back into revolution by the act of the government itself... [I]n the situation in which we are now placed obedience has ceased to be a duty...
—French journalist Armand Carrel during the revolution.[140]
[I saw] a crowd of agitated people pass by and disappear, then a troop of cavalry succeed them... In every direction and at intervals... Indistinct noises, gunshots, and then for a time all is silent again so for a time one could believe that everything in the city was normal. But all the shops are shut; the Pont Neuf is almost completely dark, the stupefaction visible on every face reminds us all too much of the crisis we face....
—Parisian witness to the revolution.[140]

During the 1830 election cycle, Charles decided that the campaigns were too nasty and stupidly tried to muzzle politicians and suppress protests. He did this with the July Ordinances, which aimed to dissolve the parliament to get the liberals out of office, reduce the power of parliament, totally halt the press, and totally exclude middle-class voters from future elections.[141] In short, "shut the fuck up liberals, it's monarchy time!" The new ordinances, imposed by royal decree, went over like a dead whale.

Street warfare on the third day.

Enraged French people poured into the streets of Paris to protest. When the French military reacted violently, the French citizens erected barricades in the streets and clashed with the military throughout three bloody days of urban fighting.[142] The "Three Glorious Days" resulted in more than 1,000 people being killed. By the third day, the revolutionaries were well-organized and very well-armed. They managed to seize control of most of Paris' buildings while the deposed parliament began to form a provisional government.[134] Under heavy pressure and imminent military threat, Charles X finally abdicated and fled into exile in Great Britain.

Instead of passing the crown to another Bourbon, the provisional government handed it to Louis Philippe of House Orléans, believing him to be a more liberal candidate, or at least someone who wouldn't reach Charles X's levels of fuckheadedness.[143] The revolution left a deep cultural impact, helping to spark the Romanticist movement in French literature and arts.[144] Liberty Leading the People, painted by Eugène Delacroix in 1830, became an iconic commemoration of the event and helped popularize the female figure of Liberty.[145] The historical novel Les Misérables by Victor Hugo took place during the revolution and became one of the great classic novels of the 1800s.[146]

July Monarchy[edit]

Revolutionaries in front of Paris' town hall, February 1848.

The rule of Louis Philippe I, the one and only monarch of the House of Orléans, is commonly known as the July Monarchy due to its origins. Louis Philippe began with a series of actions meant to show his dedication to freedom of religion, such as attending Protestant church functions, allowing his children to marry Protestants, and elevating various Protestants to high office.[147] This was fairly important, since Protestants had recovered from the Wars of Religion and had taken up an important role in the urban middle classes of cities like Paris, Nîmes, and Alsace.

Unfortunately, in other respects, all was not well. The July Monarchy became known as the "bourgeois monarchy" since its support came from the wealthy and its policies were designed to help the wealthy.[148] Enfranchisement laws were strictly based on wealth, and only the upper class had the right to vote.[149] Thus, while France was able to make great steps in industrialization, the poor got poorer and several labor uprisings had to be put down and many labor unions were forcibly dissolved. Republicans were also excluded from political life, with the very term "republican" being declared illegal in 1834.[149]

In other words, not a great foundation on which to rest a new regime. Unrest simmered under the surface constantly, with the flames being fanned even further by Louis-Napoleon, who was the nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte and the heir of the Bonaparte dynasty.[148] Although in exile in Switzerland, he had loyalists in France. Riots and protests broke out continually in Paris, and in response, Louis Philippe I lost much of his earlier commitment to liberalism, instead becoming angry and dogmatic. An economic downturn in 1847 and the crown's attempt to ban public assemblies, Paris fell into mass violence and barricading again in 1848. With pissed Parisians advancing on the royal residence, Louis Philippe abdicated and fled to the UK.

Second Republic[edit]

Parisian barricades after the June Days uprising.

A provisional government soon assembled after the fall of the old monarchy to figure out what to do next. Unfortunately, this occurred within the context of intense class warfare, with wealthy conservatives trying to make sure that the left-wing elements of society would have as little say as possible. Amid the economic meltdown, the new government decided it was a good idea to shut down welfare workshops and exclude socialists.[150] Thus, in June 1848, just a few months after the February 1848 revolution, Paris descended into civil war again. The provisional government responded swiftly and brutally, bringing artillery into the streets and massacring some 1,500 people and rounding up around 12,000 people to be deported to Algeria.[151] The workers' uprising ultimately failed, although Karl Marx observed it keenly.[150]

A hasty set of new elections swept Louis-Napoleon into the presidency based on his previous opposition to the old monarchy. Louis-Napoleon tried to appeal to all citizens, and thus nobody really had any idea what the new president's agenda was.[152] The general desire for a return to order after the bloody June uprising helped the new president's administration enjoy a large degree of popular support.[153]

In fact, Louis-Napoleon was popular enough that he decided to ignore the constitutional term limit in 1851 and declare himself "President for Life", launching a coup against the government and falsifying a referendum to show public support for the move.[152] After this, Louis-Napoleon decided that he was going to follow in his uncle's footsteps, declaring himself Emperor Napoleon III of the Second French Empire in 1852[note 3]

Second French Empire[edit]

Boulevard Haussmann in Paris, part of the rennovation.

Reforms and rennovation[edit]

One of Napoleon III's first agendas was to ensure Paris couldn't so easily fall into revolution. He appointed Georges-Eugène Haussmann to renovate the city, ripping the historic heart out of Paris and replacing it with wide and picturesque avenues that were much more sanitary and connected than before but also much harder for anyone to barricade (hmmm).[154] Napoleon III modernized the French banking system, greatly expanded the French railway system, promoted the construction of the Suez Canal in Egypt, and enacted social reforms like improving public education and giving workers the right to protest and strike.[155]


Napoleon III is, however, much more remembered for ushering in a new and aggressive era of French imperialism. In order to flex his muscles in Europe, he jumped into the Crimean WarWikipedia against Russia over religious disputes in Palestine,[156] then helped the Kingdom of Sardinia seize historically Italian territory from the Austrian Empire in exchange for Savoie and Nice.[157]

He also turned further abroad to Vietnam, launching the Cochinchina Campaign in 1858 that saw France annex a big chunk of Vietnam around the city of Saigon.[158] In 1867, he then forced a protectorate over Cambodia, forcing that country into his growing empire as well. This gave France a large foothold in Southeast Asia which it would later use to seize the entirety of Indochina. France also launched an ill-advised invasion of Mexico during the American Civil War, hoping that with the US distracted, France could establish a puppet ruler in the region.[159] The invasion was a humiliating disaster for France thanks to Mexican guerrilla tactics, proving that Spanish-speaking rural peasants are the bane of House Bonaparte.


Bismarck with the captured Napoleon III

Ultimately, Napoleon III met his match against the rising power of Prussia, which had formed the North German Federation and hoped to unify the German people. Prussian statesman Otto von Bismarck managed to incite a war by insulting the French and relying on the prickly and prideful Napoleon III to respond violently.[160] Napoleon proved predictable, and French nationalists also gathered to demand a war for the country's honor while Napoleon's military advisors promised him a short war to humiliate Prussia.[161]

That short war to humiliate Prussia began in 1870, mobilizing slowly and overconfidently.[161] Meanwhile, the Prussians mobilized much faster, armed themselves much better, and completely curb-stomped the unprepared French, even capturing Napoleon III himself at the Battle of Sedan.[162] Despite the war being decided, the Germans pressed on and laid siege to Paris, eventually taking control of the city. Having established their prestige and won the loyalty of the southern German states through the "defensive" war, the Prussian King Wilhelm I was declared emperor of the German Empire in a ceremony in the Palace of Versailles, just as a little "fuck you" to the French.[163]

Germany then signed the first Treaty of Versailles, (No, not that one) with the angry and humiliated French. The terms of the treaty included war reparations, a required German occupation of northern France, a requirement that France recognize the new German Empire; the terms also forced France to cede the border territory of Alsace-LorraineWikipedia to Germany.[164]

Naturally, Napoleon III's time as emperor didn't long survive this disaster, and the Third Republic was proclaimed in his absence. The Germans released Napoleon III to go live as an exile in the UK. Oof.

Third Republic[edit]

Manning the barricades in the Paris Commune.

Paris Commune[edit]

The thunder of the cannon in Paris awakened the most backward strata of the proletariat from deep slumber, and everywhere gave impetus to the growth of revolutionary Socialist propaganda. This is why the cause of the Commune did not die. It lives to the present day in every one of us. The cause of the Commune is the social revolution, the cause of the complete political and economic emancipation of the toilers. It is the cause of the proletariat of the whole world. And in this sense it is immortal.
Vladimir Lenin, Rabochaya Gazeta, 1911.[165]

The loss of the war against Prussia plunged France into chaos, especially in Paris. Napoleon III's glorious modern city turned out not to be so immune to revolution after all. The National Assembly of the Third Republic turned out to be composed of conservatives and monarchists again, and the Assembly's attempts to disarm the restless Paris National Guard caused Paris to explode into revolutionary violence again in 1871.[166] Elections in the city saw Jacobins and socialists win power, and they promptly declared the "Commune of Paris". Similar movements arose in Lyon, Saint-Étienne, Marseille, and Toulouse, but they were soon put down.[166]

For two months, the Commune ruled as the first truly democratic government in France, passing popular reforms like ending the death penalty, limiting work hours, abolishing debt interest, and implementing workplace democracy.[167] Unfortunately, the Paris Commune was constantly under siege from the Third Republic, which was exiled to Versailles. In late May, the French military stormed Paris, slaughtering tens of thousands of Parisians, including women and children, and tossing them into unmarked graves.[167] The bloody downfall of the Commune inspired and radicalized socialist thinkers around the world, most notably Vladimir Lenin.

La Belle Époque[edit]

1889 world's fair poster.

The aftermath of the Paris Commune and other movements left the poor leftists more alienated than ever. The new Senate of the republic proved to be safely monarchist with the rural areas overrepresented, but disputes over exactly which royal dynasty to put on the throne meant that a monarchial restoration was impossible.[168] Thus, the Third Republic went from a temporary government to a government in its own right. Over time, the Republic became dominated by the divisions between two political factions, each nicknamed by their opposition. The Radicals were anti-monarchists and anticlericalists who wanted to see assertive nationalism and social reform.[168] The Opportunists, meanwhile, were centrists who aimed to restrict government interference in the lives and business of private citizens.

Since the two factions generally agreed on certain points, France over time saw some reforms such as official state secularism. From the 1880s, France entered a period known as La Belle Époque (The Beautiful Epoch), characterized by optimism, regional peace, economic prosperity, colonial expansion, and technological, scientific, and cultural innovations.[169] France joined the Scramble for Africa while developing its colonies in Asia, and Paris became the home of world's fairs, exotic colonial exhibitions, as well as arts and pop cultural movements. The year 1887 also saw the construction of the Eiffel Tower, one of Paris' most iconic landmarks.[170] The construction was timed to mark the 1889 Exposition Universelle, which marked the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution.[171]

Ugly undercurrents[edit]

Children indoctrinated into irredentism.
Ah, what a cesspool of folly and foolishness, what preposterous fantasies, what corrupt police tactics, what inquisitorial, tyrannical practices! What petty whims of a few higher-ups trampling the nation under their boots, ramming back down their throats the people's cries for truth and justice, with the travesty of state security as a pretext.
—Émile Zola, author of J'Accuse...! (an open letter lambasting the Dreyfus affair).[172]

Despite what it seemed, France was still setting itself up for another disaster. Nationalism was harsh and angry against the German seizure of Alsace-Lorraine. This was most illustrated in the Dreyfus affair, when army captain Alfred Dreyfus, a Jew, was convicted of selling military secrets to Germany.[173] Antisemites publicized the affair as an example of how Jews should not be trusted, but evidence soon came out that a different army officer was likely to blame and that Dreyfus had taken the fall simply for being a Jew. The affair turned into a political crisis with the left backing Dreyfus' innocence and the right insisting that the Evil Jew was to blame.

The pro-Dreyfus side eventually rode the affair into political power, the public having been convinced that the army and church had teamed up to railroad not only Dreyfus but the secular ideal of the republic as a whole.[173] Loyal Catholics were outraged by the victory of the anticlerical factions, and resisted (sometimes violently) the transfer of church property to state ownership.[174] Those who were angry at the republican dominance flocked to the banner of the Action Française, a far-right movement that believed France had fallen astray under the dominance of "four alien nations": Jews, Freemasons, Protestants, and foreigners.[174] Also angry at the government were socialists, who rejected voting as a diversion and instead focused on labor strikes and militancy.

World War I[edit]

French machine gunners in a ruined cathedral, 1918.
See the main article on this topic: World War I

Decades of French fury towards Germany over the 1870 defeat helped result in perhaps the greatest catastrophe in the country's history with the outbreak of the Great War in 1914. Even racism played a role in French hatred towards Germany as French intellectuals tied some aspects of German culture to the Africans they scorned so much, like claiming that the German spiked helms were reminiscent of the "half-savage tribes of Central Africa."[175]

Mobilization order at the war's start.

As part of its Schlieffen PlanWikipedia, the German Empire invaded Belgium in an attempt to run around France's border fortifications and take Paris. Luckily for the French, the German invasion ground down due to the realities of warfare in the trench and machine gun era. Unfortunately for the French, that meant that most of the war would be fought endlessly on French soil. The years of trench warfare and artillery bombardments caused horrific damage to northern France, with villages being depopulated, factories being destroyed or dismantled, and even the soil being rendered toxic.[176] The deadliest year for France was 1915, with about 350,000 deaths, although proportionately 1914 was even deadlier with 300,000 men killed in only five months.[177] Repeated French attempts to break through German lines with artillery bombardments failed through those years, meaning that hundreds of thousands of Frenchmen charged pointlessly to their deaths.

French infantrymen returned to Paris, 1917.

The scale of the war in France grew even further in 1916 with the Battles of Verdun and the Somme. Verdun lasted most of the year and became the longest battle of the war, with French troops emerging victorious under the charismatic and determined leadership of Marshal Philippe Pétain, sadly at the cost of 163,000 killed and 216,000 wounded.[178] Although a bloody mess, Verdun came to represent the spirit of French resistance during the war.

French soldiers execute a mutineer.

Frenchmen in the lands occupied by German suffered as well, with many being massacred by German soldiers fearing partisan attacks, others being deported to Germany to act as forced labor, and everyone there starving due to the impacts of the British blockade on Germany and Germany's exploitation of occupied France for food.[177] Along with front-line France and occupied France, there was also the Home Front. Soldiers returning home for leave were often infuriated to discover that the home front had life carrying on largely as normal, including leisure, artistic and cultural activities.[177] Workers who went on strike against harsh wartime conditions were met with scorn from French infantrymen who considered them privleged. Refugees from occupied France, meanwhile, were hated by everyone, either for being suspected of being spies or because they were seen as "spineless" for fleeing from the enemy.[177]

French village destroyed by war.

France eventually hit a crisis point in 1917, with soldiers protesting for better conditions, the home front starting to see food shortages due to a bad winter, and massive labor protests breaking out due to unequal pay for women and ridiculously long hours for everyone.[177] Still, like the UK, France benefited significantly from being able to import goods from the United States and elsewhere as well as goods from its own colonial empire. Germany, Austria, and Russia did not have those benefits. France also got relief in the form of Woodrow Wilson deciding to bring the US into the war.

Ultimately, Germany and its allies folded first, and France used the Paris Peace Conference to push for measures to punish Germany in retaliation for the suffering inflicted on France during the war as well as the 1870 humiliation.[179] Germany lost territory and was saddled with harsh reparations, and France got its coveted Alsace-Lorraine back. This all came with a staggering price tag of 1.4 million French soldiers killed.[180]

Interwar years[edit]

1934 far-right attack on the National Assembly.

France had the terrible task of rebuilding after the war, hiking up public spending to repair the ruined areas and lowering immigration barriers to bring in colonial workers to compensate for the lost generation.[181] The general elections of November 1919 resulted in a huge majority for the conservative bloc, who promptly set about occupying the Rhineland of Germany to ensure proper reparations payments. The occupation annoyed the British and the Americans and resulted in even higher costs for the French state. France also dumped resources into a huge border fortification called the Maginot Line, which was meant to ensure that Germany could never invade France again.[182] (There were problems with this idea, but we'll get to that).

After recovering from the burdens of the war, France seemed in a good place until the effects of the Great Depression hit in 1931. In response, the 1932 elections saw the Radicals and socialists take control of the government. Unfortunately, the far-right got powerful too. In 1934, multiple far-right leagues tried to attack the National Assembly in Paris, sparking violence that left 15 dead.[183] Some tactics don't change.

The 1934 riot shocked centrists and leftists and convinced them to form a Popular Front government, allowing the Jewish socialist Léon Blum to take power.[181] He proved to be one of France's first genuinely social reform-minded leaders. The reforms he pushed through the legislature included a 40-hour work week, paid vacations, collective bargaining, and the seminationalization of the Bank of France.[181] Unfortunately, other reforms were unable to pass the more conservative Senate, and the French economy still didn't improve much. Disagreements on economic policy saw the Blum government fall in 1937. He was replaced by the Radical minister Édouard Daladier, who spent much of his time cooperating with the British in appeasing the expansionist goals of Adolf Hitler.[184]

Vichy France and the revenge of the right[edit]

Travail, Famille, Patrie.
See the main articles on this topic: World War II and Vichy France

France found itself being invaded by Nazi Germany after about a year of standoff watching the Germans invade poor Poland.[note 4] Taking the now-classic route of invading through Belgium—particularly through the rough terrain of the ArdennesWikipedia forest, which French military planners assumed German tank armies couldn't traverse (spoiler: yeah, they could)—German forces used mobile warfare and integrated air support to devastating effect.[185] Despite having larger armies on paper, France and the UK were totally unable to stop the German advance once most of Germany's tank forces pushed through the Ardennes and got behind the powerful French armies guarding the Belgian border. France was doomed within days of the initial assault on Belgium.[186] The heavily fortified Maginot Line across the French border with Germany did fuck all to stop the onslaught from across the border with Belgium. D'ohh!

New president of the Third Republic Albert Lebrun appointed the old war hero Marshal Pétain to replace the outgoing PM, a move which proved to be a mistake when Pétain promptly surrendered the country. More than half of France came under German occupation, including the capital of Paris, so Pétain's government relocated to the resort town of Vichy, beginning the shameful period of Vichy France. The French parliament passed the Constitutional Acts, which granted Pétain full powers of legislation, administration, diplomacy, and judicial authority.[187] The Third Republic dissolved, replaced with a dictatorship led by Marshal Pétain.

The new regime was dominated by right-wingers who had long been infuriated by the ideals of the French Revolution and the growing dominance of the French left. Their new vision for France became a program called the "National Revolution", with the Vichy regime even going so far as to change the French national motto from "Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité" (Freedom, Equality, Brotherhood), to "Travail, Famille, Patrie" (Work, Family, Fatherland).[188] The new dictatorship, and its policies of cracking down on leftists and foreigners and trying to indoctrinate children into traditionalist Catholicism, were not forced upon it by Nazi Germany.[189] Vichy France even built its own eugenics bureau, led by Nobel Prize-winning surgeon Alexis Carrel.[190]

Worst of all, though, was France's participation in the Holocaust, with the Vichy regime deporting tens of thousands of Jews into German death camps, ultimately resulting in the murder of about 77,000 people.[191] The French government imprisoned Jews in concentration camps pending deportation to the death camps in the German Reich.[192] Pétain himself also signed anti-Jewish laws from the outset of his leadership, just in case you wondered why he's sometimes called Marshal Putain (meaning "Whore"). French fascists enthusiastically joined German anti-communistWikipedia groups or even the SS, particularly in their own elite divisionWikipedia of the Waffen-SS.

Fourth Republic[edit]

Allied forces enter Paris, 26 August, 1944.


French Resistance forces under Charles de Gaulle played a vital role in liberating France from the Axis occupation by supplying the Allies with information, gradually retaking some French colonies, and sabotaging German infrastructure.[193] This set the stage for D-Day on 6 June, 1944, where the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom launched a massive naval invasion against Normandy.[194] After securing a hold in France, the Allies swept through France. Originally intending to bypass Paris, the Allies were persuaded to enter the city when the French Resistance decided to liberate the place by themselves.[195]

After the liberation of France, de Gaulle formed a provisional government under which France continued the war against the Axis alongside its Allies. Once the war was over, France became a founding member of the United Nations and got a key veto-empowered seat in the Security Council. In 1949, France also became a founding member of NATO. The Fourth Republic, in many ways a revival of the old Third Republic, featured intense political battles between the leftists and everyone else as it plunged into the Cold War.[196]

Colonial wars[edit]

Aftermath of the Sétif massacre.

The French colonial empire, though, had in large part moved past its old overlordship during the period of occupation. Vietnam and Algeria especially had become sick and tired of colonial exploitation at the hands of the French.

When France tried to retake Indochina, the First Indochina War broke out against Vietnamese resistance, becoming a brutal guerrilla conflict in which French forces had little ability to effectively fight in the northern Vietnamese wilderness.[197] The Vietnamese are admittedly very good at repelling foreign invaders. In 1954, France suffered one of its most decisive defeats ever at the Battle of Dien Bien PhuWikipedia, which basically wiped out all French presence in Vietnam. The unpopular war and the defeat resulted in more instability in Paris.

In 1954, Algeria then rose up as well. This war saw even more vile acts of French brutality, including state terrorism and mass murder, discrediting the French both in Algeria and abroad.[198] Once a supporter of the French war, the United States decided not to stop the UN from condemning France.[199] French war crimes included mass rape, murder by disembowelment, murder of children by slitting throats or smashing infants' heads against walls, burying people alive, and throwing people out of helicopters.[200] Violence even came to France in 1961 when Parisian cops attacked and murdered dozens of Algerian protesters.[201] Still, while French troops were quite good at fighting Algerians tied to chairs or peacefully protesting, they were notably less effective at fighting Algerians who were running around and shooting back. Wouldn't you know it?

The incompetence of the war and the political deadlock of the Fourth Republic sparked a bloodless military coup that brought down the Fourth Republic for good.[202]

Fifth Republic[edit]

President de Gaulle and US president JFK in Paris, 1961.

De Gaulle's presidency[edit]

War hero Charles de Gaulle was elected as the first president of the newly-established Fifth Republic. Unlike its predecessors, the Fifth Republic had a much more powerful presidential office, although it still had a prime minister as well. De Gaulle decided to end the war in Algeria and open negotiations, prompting hardline imperialist military leaders to form a rebel and terrorist group called the Organisation Armée Secrète (Secret Army Organization). The terrorist group committed various bombings and targeted assassinations, killing around 2,000 people before thankfully being crushed by de Gaulle.[203]

After Algeria became independent, de Gaulle decided to ensure that such a war would never happen again by providing a constitutional mechanism for France's colonies to become independent peacefully.[204] After that, de Gaulle reorganized the French army, moved to strengthen the economy, and began his most enthusiastic project of establishing France as a nuclear weapons state. Wanting to make France its own decision-maker rather than appearing to be a US subject, de Gaulle distanced himself from NATO and tried to calm tensions with the Soviet Union and communist China.[204] In 1960, France joined the nuclear club by detonating a bomb in the Algerian desert.[205] It continued to test bombs there under an agreement with the Algerian government.

De Gaulle also made friends again with Germany's new democratic leader and helped form the European Economic Community.[206] However, he opposed the formation of a genuinely supranational European organization. He instead hoped to use German-French relations as a counterweight to the US-UK bloc.

Social transformation[edit]

Barricades in Bordeaux during the May 68 uprising.
Everything was patriarchal, starting in the family, where you couldn't speak at the dinner table unless spoken to. You couldn't go out with friends, and never with boys. Everything was forbidden everywhere. You had to obey orders in the factories, in the schools. We were suffocating. There was this enormous need to talk and share. Everyone was fed up.
—Josette Preud'homme, who took part in the 1968 protests as a 20-year-old.[207]
Factory workers on strike.

While France had transitioned into a more genuinely democratic system, on a societal level it was still suffering from suffocating conservatism. Peace and prosperity had come, but Charles de Gaulle was increasingly seen as a stuffy and patriarchal figure who needed to leave after ten years in power.[207] Beginning as a protest against the American Vietnam War in 1968, student protests in the University of Paris were suppressed violently by riot police. This naturally only inflamed the movement and turned it from a simple political protest into a nationwide cultural and sexual revolution.

French labor unions joined the movement, beginning the largest spontaneous strike in the history of capitalism, seizing on the moment to act against low pay, poor working conditions, and the hierarchies of the capitalist workplace itself.[208] Although the political movement failed to collapse the Gaullist faction's hold on power, it did convince de Gaulle to step down, and it did prove to be a watershed moment in French culture. Conservatives like former President Nicolas Sarkozy still remember the events as having caused a "degredation in public morals and respect for authority".[207]

Social movements continued, and the French left saw a candidate win the presidency for the first time in the new republic in 1981.[209] President François Mitterrand invited the Communist Party into his first government and pushed for a socially liberal agenda like abolishing the death penalty, implementing a 39-hour workweek, and ending the government monopoly on radio and television broadcasting.[210] He also signed the Maastricht Treaty, which created the European Union.[211]

Modern France[edit]

Protests after the Charlie Hebdo attack.
Paris itself represents the timeless values of human progress. Those who think that they can terrorize the people of France or the values that they stand for are wrong. The American people draw strength from the French people’s commitment to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness. We are reminded in this time of tragedy that the bonds of liberté and égalité and fraternité are not only values that the French people care so deeply about, but they are values that we share. And those values are going to endure far beyond any act of terrorism or the hateful vision of those who perpetrated the crimes this evening.
Barack Obama in response to the November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris.[212]

France today is in large part concerned with Islamic terrorism, although it declined to join the 2003 Iraq War since that conflict was stupid and sure to cause more terrorism (remember "freedom fries"?). The country historically encouraged immigration from its colonies, especially Algeria, into Metropolitan France, leading to a point where it has a higher Muslim population (about 5.7 million) than any other western European country.[213] Unfortunately, France failed to prevent their marginalization and poverty, and some Muslims in France lashed out by committing vile terrorist attacks. Terrorism in turn fueled a rising Islamophobia to the point where Islamic female dress covering the face was banned in 2011 and the far-right has campaigned against Muslims.[213] Sporadic attacks by Islamic terrorists seem set to continue for at least the foreseeable future.

Abroad, France launched Opération Chammal, a military operation in Iraq and Syria aimed at containing and destroying DAESH.[214] France's current president, Emmanuel Macron, attracted outrage from the Muslim world by publicly defending the right of French people to draw offensive religious cartoons, rightly pointing out that France has freedom of speech.[215] He has also attracted criticism by working with rightists to craft a bill that intends to establish oversight in the functioning of associations and mosques, including foreign financing.[216]

Government and politics[edit]

The French National Assembly.


France is currently on its fifth republic, having spiraled through two empires and a fascist regime in the meantime. The current republic is a unitary semi-presidential representative democratic republic with strong democratic traditions. It has a strong office of the president, unique in that it has the authority to bypass the parliament by submitting referenda directly to the French people or even outright dissolve parliament and force a new election.[217] The president can also sign certain decrees, appoint civil servants and judges, ratify treaties, and act as commander-in-chief of the armed forces. The president is elected directly with universal suffrage for a term of five years.

The French Parliament is bicameral, with the National Assembly acting as the lower house and the Senate acting as the upper house. The president typically appoints the prime minister as head of government from the ranks of the parliament, although de Gaulle ensured that the PM isn't required to be from the parliament.[218] This was to avoid all of the bullshit that the French legislators can and often do pull. Legislators have parliamentary immunity, meaning that it's almost impossible to have them arrested or convicted of crimes committed while they are in office.[219]


For most of its existence, the Fifth Republic was dominated by two factions. The French left centers around the Socialist Party, which takes a generally centre-left social democratic approach to politics and had the most recent ex-president, François Hollande.[220] The right, meanwhile, has The Republicans, which is the current title of the old Gaullist faction and represents Christian democracy.[221] Amid the fallout from Hollande's leadership and the chaotic 2017 French elections, the new and avowedly centrist faction La République En Marche! won an upset majority in the French parliament and has its leader Emmanuel Macron in the office of the presidency. The faction promotes globalism and is pro-European Union.[222]

Smaller parties include the National Rally, formerly known as the National Front, which is a far-right political party currently controlled by Marine Le Pen. Formerly based on Holocaust denial and extreme Islamaphobia, it since refocused itself on anti-immigration, Euroskepticism, and protectionism.[223]

Foreign affairs[edit]

French troops in Mali during Operation ServalWikipedia.

Although much diminished from the empire days, France is still one of the world's great powers, sitting at rank six between the United Kingdom and Japan as of 2020.[224] France has one of the coveted permanent member seats in the United Nations Security Council, meaning it has veto power over the body's resolutions regardless of international support.[225] It is also one of the heavy players in the European Union due to its population and its large economy. France even has its own little buddies club called the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie, which gives French-speaking or French-influenced countries a place to talk about whatever the fuck it is they talk about.[226]

Much of France's foreign policy is shaped by its colonial past. Since 1960, France has militarily intervened more than 50 times in its former African colonies, typically aimed at restoring political order despite often incurring a cost in long-term stability.[227] In return, said African regimes tend to be more amenable to French desires, and France gets the prestige associated with beating up on another continent. Sometimes colonialism evolves too. Still, the military adventures are very costly, and French president Macron has signaled that France will be rolling back its foreign presence amid public opposition to the price tag.[228] High costs or not, though, Macron has demonstrated repeatedly that he's not afraid to use some diplomatic muscle to prevent anti-French policy or rhetoric from surfacing too much in northern Africa.[229]


See the main article on this topic: Identitarianism

France is also home to a variant of white nationalism known as Identitarianism which had its roots in the organization Bloc Identitaire/Les Identitaires (Bloc Identity/The Identitarians) which in turn came from the National Bolsheveik and Third Positionist Unite Radicale.[230] Identitarians are strong believers in The Great Replacement conpiracy theory by writer Renaud Camus which claims that the white French Catholic population is being systemically replaced by Arab, Black, Amazigh and other non-white peoples. This is basically the French version of the White genocide conspiracy theory. The Identitarian term was used by Canadian YouTuber Lauren Southern in a video and the manifesto of the same name by Australia-born perpetrator of the Christchurch terrorist attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand Brenton Harrison Tarrant who also donated money to the Austrian and French branches of Generation Identity/Identitarian movement.[231]

Administrative divisions[edit]

Metropolitan France.
Flag of Région Occitanie (symbol only).svg
Flag of Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur.svg
Côte d'Azur
Flag of the region Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes.svg
Flag of Nouvelle-Aquitaine.svg
Flag of the region Bourgogne-Franche-Comté.svg
Flag of Centre-Val de Loire.svg
de Loire
Unofficial flag of Pays-de-la-Loire.svg
Pays de la Loire
Flag of Brittany (Gwenn ha du).svg
Flag of Normandie.svg
IDF flag.svg
Flag of Picardie.svg
Logo Région Grand Est - 2016.svg
Grand Est
Flag of Corsica.svg
Bay of Biscay
English Channel
Mediterranean Sea
Gulf of
Metropolitan regions
State (alternative names) Capital
Flag of the region Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes.svg Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes Lyon
Flag of Brittany (Gwenn ha du).svg Bretagne (Breton: Breizh; English: Brittany) Rennes
Flag of the region Bourgogne-Franche-Comté.svg Bourgogne-Franche-Comté Dijon (prefecture), Besançon (regional council)
Flag of Centre-Val de Loire.svg Centre-Val de Loire (Center Loire Valley) Orléans
Flag of Corsica.svg Corse (Corsica) Ajaccio
Logo Région Grand Est - 2016.svg Grand Est Strasbourg
Flag of Picardie.svg Hauts-de-France (Heights of France) Lille
IDF flag.svg Île-de-France Paris
Flag of Normandie.svg Normandie (Normandy) Rouen
Flag of Nouvelle-Aquitaine.svg Nouvelle-Aquitaine (New Aquitaine) Bordeaux
Flag of Région Occitanie (symbol only).svg Occitanie Toulouse
Unofficial flag of Pays-de-la-Loire.svg Pays de la Loire (Loire Countries) Nantes
Flag of Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur.svg Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur Marseille
Overseas France. Overseas regions have the same status as metropolitan regions.
Inhabited overseas possessions
Name (status) Capital
Flag of French Polynesia.svg French Polynesia (autonomous) Papeete
Flag of French Guiana.svg French Guiana (overseas region) Cayenne
Unofficial flag of Guadeloupe (local).svg Guadeloupe (overseas region) Basse-Terre
Flag of the Territorial Collectivity of Martinique.svg Martinique (overseas region) Fort-de-France
Flag of Mayotte (local).svg Mayotte (overseas region) Mamoudzou
Proposed flag of Réunion (VAR).svg Réunion (overseas region) Saint-Denis
Flag of Saint Barthélemy (Local).svg Saint Barthélemy (autonomous) Gustavia
Saint-Martin Flag.jpg Saint Martin (autonomous) Marigot
Flag of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon.svg Saint Pierre and Miquelon (autonomous) Saint-Pierre
Flag of Wallis and Futuna.svg Wallis and Futuna (autonomous) Matā'Utu
Flag of FLNKS.svg New Caledonia (special autonomy, independence once seen as likely[232]) but squashed for the foreseeable future after the 2021 New Caledonia independence referendumWikipedia, with low turnout thanks to COVID possibly influencing the results. Nouméa


The Académie Française headquarters in Paris.


France has laws to maintain the "purity of the French language", and indeed French is mandated by the French constitution as the nation's official language.[233][234] Moreover, the Académie Française, which was established by Cardinal Richelieu himself, devotes itself to keeping the mother tongue free of such foreign invasions as: "Web," "CD," and "ROM."[235] The Académie consists of forty members, known informally as les immortels (the immortals), a title which makes them sound way more badass than they actually are.[236]

Many parts of France, however, originally had different native languages. These have been harshly stifled by the French government since 1790, with various policies over the ages including refusing to teach them, then starving them of funds and banning them in the public sphere.[237] Some are officially denied to exist, such as Breton and Occitan being claimed to be merely bad French spoken by stupid people.[237] When, in 2008, the French Parliament considered recognizing some of the minority languages, the Académie flipped a shit and denounced the measure as undermining French national identity, convincing the Senate to kill the measure.[238] This silliness is in spite of the fact that France, a nation descended from Germanic invaders who took over a Roman region, was and is inherently multilingual. But watcha gonna do?

French names vandalized on Corsican road signs.

Minority languages in France include:

  • French Sign LanguageWikipedia - Alright fine, we'll let you speak a sign language, I guess!
  • WalloonWikipedia - One of the many Langues d'oïlWikipedia spoken throughout France, it and its relatives are often dismissed as broken French by stupid people because French is also an Oïl language
  • BretonWikipedia - Most ironic, since the French are inordinately proud of their Celtic heritage and this is the only Celtic language still spoken in France
  • OccitanWikipedia - They just can't stand that a Latin language would aspirate the "h"
  • CatalanWikipedia - Probably jealous because it's spoken more in Spain than France
  • French FlemishWikipedia - Eww, Dutch!
  • Alemannic GermanWikipedia - Double eww, a language even closer to High German!
  • CorsicanWikipedia - Come on, just because you're an island closer to Italy and with historic ties to Italy doesn't mean you aren't Frenchmen!
  • French Guianese CreoleWikipedia - We no savvy pidgins and creoles. No can do.
  • BasqueWikipedia - It's hard to get away with calling an isolate a "dialect" of French.

Corsicans are especially offended by mandatory French and insisted on Corsican road signs; which they got, but bilingual with the original native Corsican names in italics to emphasize their unofficialness. Grumpy Corsicans sometimes vandalize or black out the French parts.[239]


Justice for Adama Traoré protest in Paris, 2020.
I am black and I am treated as such. France is not blind to racism. France thinks it's blind to racism. Because slavery was illegal on the mainland, people in France have the impression that this hyper-racialised history that is characteristic of the modern world only concerns the Americas, when in fact we have our own history. We are fed the story of a country that is blind to colour and impermeable to racism, but this is merely a mystification. France won’t give itself the means to measure and address racial discriminations.
—Maboula Soumahoro, University of Tours.[240]

France is legally colorblind to race, classifying everyone as either a "citizen" or an "immigrant" and banning policies that either harm or favor a specific race.[241] On the one hand, this world view is completely scientifically accurate. On the other hand, legislating race out of existence hasn't done the same for good ol' racism. France is a highly multiethnic society but has produced some major inequalities in employment and especially education, which can be a vexing issue when racial affirmative action isn't a legal solution.[241]

The 2020 Black Lives Matter protests that began in the United States resonated deeply with black and Arab Frenchmen, who rallied to vent their frustration over the fact that the very real discrimination they dealt with has gone legally unacknowledged by the French government.[240] The movement also recalled the memory of Adama Traoré, a Malian-Frenchman who died in custody after being allegedly pinned by police.[242] In 2021, France's police forces as a whole came under a class action lawsuit by multiple grassroots organizations alleging that they lawfully propagate a culture leading to systemic discrimination in identity checks.[243]


French sex worker activist.

French tend to be quite open-minded about their fellow countrymen's sexuality, being renowned as one of the most sexually liberated countries in the world. The global sexual revolution is traditionally considered to have started in Paris during the 1950s, with movie star Brigitte Bardot becoming a major figure when she shot a real sex scene with her lover while her husband sat behind the camera.[244] Ooh la la.

Over time, France became even more sexually open, even between the year 2000 up to now. French research director Janine Mossuz-Lavau conducted numerous interviews of her countrymen to discover how much more open about things they've become.[245] She also found that discussion on sexual abuse has become more normalized. What she identifies as the "last taboo" is when couples end up not having a great sex life, probably due to embarrassment on the fact. In fact, one of France's most engaged discussions on sexuality is relating to the #MeToo stuff, with a number of famous actresses and actors apparently deciding that removing the freedom to grope people with impunity would lead to a rise in cultural Puritanism.[246] A, uh, pretty different discussion than the United States had.

Despite this sexual openness, France still didn't act on gay marriage until Spring 2013, only allowing civil unions until then that lack sorely in terms of inheritance or protection of the surviving spouse. In May 2012, newly elected president François Hollande included the legalization of same-sex marriage in his list of legislative priorities.[247] This was passed the next year along with gay adoption, despite some of the biggest protests seen there in recent years (which is saying something).[248] In 2016, France created a somewhat strange set of laws around prostitution, making it legal to solicit sex, but banning pimping and brothels and making it illegal to actually pay a prostitute.[249] The move was primarily meant to crack down on human trafficking, but sex worker advocates claim that it will force them underground.


A French Navy Rafale landing on the USS Theodore Roosevelt.

The French Armed Forces (Forces armées françaises) are led by the president as its commander-in-chief. The military consists of the French ArmyWikipedia (Armée de Terre), French NavyWikipedia (Marine Nationale), the French Air and Space ForceWikipedia (Armée de l'Air et de l’Espace), and the National GendarmerieWikipedia (Gendarmerie nationale) which serves as rural military police. France currently ranks 7th in the world in terms of active military power, coming in behind Japan and ahead of the United Kingdom.[250]

Legionnaires training in Mayotte.

France also has a special army unit called the French Foreign Legion, which was founded in 1830 as a way for Swiss and German elements of the Bourbon military to continue serving the French state.[251] The Legion is open to foreign volunteers, and they can become French citizens at the end of their service period. It has effectively become an immigration probation department. People from the United States also sign up for the Legion, often former US servicemen who got discharged out. The Legion once caused some controversy among Americans by accepting deserter Lawrence Franks into its ranks, although Franks surrendered himself to US authorities after his contract.[252] Still, the Legion is no guaranteed getaway from your problems since recruiters are super selective in who to accept. The Legion has notoriously tough training, treats its Legionnaires almost like cannon-fodder, and gives terrible pay and benefits.[253] You just have to figure out whether becoming French is worth it.

The French air force is also internationally notable for having the Dassault Rafale, a delta-winged jet fighter that is at present one of the most advanced and versatile warplanes ever designed. True to its designation as an "omnirole" aircraft, it is capable of air superiority, deep interdiction, bombing, close air support, anti-shipping, aerial reconnaissance, and nuclear deterrent missions.[254] It has been exported to Qatar, Egypt, and India, but its formidable price limited the number of sales. Remarkably, France originally joined a multinational project involving the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy and Spain to develop the Eurofighter Typhoon, but dropped out over various disagreements and pursued the Rafale on its own instead.

Nuclear weapons[edit]

French Dassault Mirage 2000N, a long-range fighter specifically designed for nuclear strikes.
Within ten years, we shall have the means to kill 80 million Russians. I truly believe that one does not light-heartedly attack people who are able to kill 80 million Russians.
—President Charles de Gaulle during the development of the French nuclear program.[255]

France began developing nuclear weapons in the 1950s in an attempt to gain parity with the United Kingdom and the United States, which it did not completely trust to come to the aid of Western Europe should the Cold War turn hot.[256] During this period, France tested its weapons in the deserts of its colony Algeria, even going so far as to strike an agreement allowing them to continue doing this even after Algeria's independence.[257] President Charles de Gaulle jealously guarded his arsenal, even withdrawing from NATOs Command Structure (they continued to a part of the alliance) after the US proposed coordinating their nuclear plans.[257] France also tested nukes in Polynesia, causing catastrophic environmental damage.[257]

From 1971, France constructed nuclear missile silos across its southeast, fearing that a potential Soviet invasion would be unstoppable through conventional means. With that in mind, France ensured that its missiles would have enough range to hit Soviet targets, including Moscow.[258] Military officials then emphatically warned that attacks upon them would result in all hell breaking loose.[259] Fortunately, France calmed the fuck down after the Cold War and ditched its silos. Unfortunately, France didn't calm all the way down, as shown in 2006 when President Jacques Chirac heavily implied that France was willing to nuke the shit out of any nation that sponsored terrorist attacks against it.[260]

French nukes are not part of NATO's integrated military command, although France reserves the right to use them in defense of its allies.[261] France is estimated to have about 290 nuclear weapons in total, down from a peak of 540 at the end of the Cold War.[261] This still earns them third place in the "world's largest nuclear arsenal" contest. France has never deployed nuclear weapons in anger and has ceased testing them.

Nuclear energy[edit]

If most of world had followed France's example, would climate change still be such a huge problem?
See the main article on this topic: Nuclear power

France's peacetime use of nuclear power is extensive: a massive 75% of its electricity is nuclear in origin.[262] It also has the only nuclear-powered aircraft carrier in Western Europe, the Charles de Gaulle.[263] She will likely continue to hold this distinction for decades to come, since the United Kingdom's Queen Elizabeth II-class aircraft carriers are running on diesel.[264] Like the UK, however, France operates nuclear-powered attack (Rubis-class) and ballistic missile submarines (Triomphant-class).

Due to the abundance of low cost power generation from various nuclear generators, France has become the world's largest net exporter of electricity.[265] It has accomplished this with a relatively low carbon footprint. To produce 1 kWh, a coal-fired power plant emits 1000g of CO2, while a nuclear power plant emits only 6g.[265]

Although current president Macron hopes to diversify France's energy sector, nuclear will still remain a pillar of French power for the foreseeable future. By 2035, France hopes to reduce its nuclear power share to about 50% of its electricity by focusing more on renewable energy, and French scientists are also noting that many of its 58 nuclear power plants are getting a little old.[266] And old nuclear power plants are the devil's playground.

France's fastest growing renewable energy sectors are wind and solar, in which it has invested heavily.[267]

Some famous Frenchmen and Frenchwomen[edit]

François-Marie Arouet, more commonly known as Voltaire.


See also[edit]

Icon fun.svg For those of you in the mood, RationalWiki has a fun article about France.

External links[edit]


  1. A lot of these are also favorites in major countries in East Asia including China, Korea, and Japan, and they tend to taste quite similar while costing less, but Asian people are singled out for the "cheap food" with "disgusting animal parts" likely due to racism.
  2. Later passed on to the Indian term feringhee (European), and the Thai term farang (foreigner). But not, obviously, Ferengi.
  3. He was the third Napoleon because Napoleon I had a son named Napoleon IIWikipedia who was unofficially child-emperor of France for a couple weeks in the summer of 1815, and died in 1832 of tuberculosis at the ripe old age of 21 while living in Austria with his mum.
  4. France did briefly invade a small part of western Germany in September 1939 but, not realizing how little of the German army remained behind while the invasion of Poland was ongoing, didn't get very far and quickly withdrew without accomplishing much. See the Saar OffensiveWikipedia on Wikipedia.


  1. Race, Ethnicity, and National Identity in France and the United States: A Comparative Historical Overview. Stanford University.
  2. Les Misérables: Why are the French, who seem to have much, so quick to protest? Los Angeles Times.
  3. See the Wikipedia article on Overseas France.
  4. See the Wikipedia article on Religion in France.
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