Ancestors from France
constituting contemporary France appears in recorded history for
the first time with the establishment, about 600 BC, of
Massilia, now Marseille. This colony was founded by the
ancient Phocaeans, who named the natives of the surrounding
territory Keltoi (Gr. “Celt”). Probably by extension the
term was eventually applied to all of the tribes then dominant
in the area bound by the Atlantic, the Rhine River, the Alps and
peoples of western Europe called their domain Galetachd
(“the land of the Gauls”), the term from which the ancient Roman
designation for the region was derived. In early stages of the
Roman Republic, invaders from Gaul occupied the northern portion
of what is now Italy. The Gauls in this region, known in Rome
as Gallia Cisalpina (“Gaul this side of the Alps”), and
other Celtic-speaking tribes of Gaul engaged in periodic warfare
with the Romans for centuries.
After 51 BC, when
the Roman general and statesman Gaius Julius Caesar successfully
completed an eight-year war of conquest in Gaul, the entire
territory became a province of Rome. The Emperor Augustus
divided Gaul into four provinces in 27 BC. The Gaelic peoples
rapidly assimilated the culture of their conquerors and Gaul
soon became one of the principal Roman dominions, especially
important in the imperial defense system against the Teutonic
tribes of the north and east.
disintegration of Roman power in the 4th and 5th
centuries AD, the Teutonic tribes under pressure from the
marauding Huns occupied large sections of the Roman dominions,
including Gaul. The Visigoths took possession by stages of
almost the entire region south of the Loire River and west of
the Rhone valley. The Burgundians seized the territory between
that of the Visigoths and the Alps. Most of Gaul to the north
of these areas fell to the Franks. Other Germanic tribes,
chiefly the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes invaded Britain during the
Unable to expel the
barbarians, the hard-pressed Romans and Teutons, chiefly
Visigoths, defeated the forces of the Hunnish king Attila near
Chalons-sur-Marne, ending the threat of Hunnish dominance in
Europe. The Western Roman Empire lasted for only twenty-five
years after this victory. In 476 Odoacer, king of the Teutonic
Heruli, organized a rebellion against imperial authority,
deposing the puppet ruler Romulus Augustus, the last Roman
emperor of the west. Ten years later Clovis, a pagan chieftain
of the Salian division of the Franks and the greatest of the
Merovingian dynasty of Frankish kings, defeated Syagrius, last
governor of the shrunken Roman dominions in Gaul.
In 496, largely
through the influence of his wife Clotilda, Clovis became a
member of the Christian faith, the leaders of which supported
his subsequent efforts to attain hegemony over all of Gaul.
Clovis added substantially to his domain during the next decade,
winning control of Burgundy in 500 and driving the Visigoths
into the Iberian peninsula in 507. Following the death of
Clovis in 511, his realm was apportioned among his four sons.
After a period of ruthless conflict, only Clotaire survived his
three brothers and for a short time the Frankish realms were
again united. Clotaire’s division of his land among his four
sons resulted in further conflict, from which emerged the
kingdoms of Austrasia, in the east and Neustria in the west.
Burgundy, with no king of its own, joined Neustria. Although
the kingdoms were again consolidated for a time under Clotaire
II the Frankish realm was torn by continuous internal strife and
the authority of the Merovingian monarch diminished steadily.
The Dark, or early
Middle, Ages that had enveloped most of Europe following the
collapse of the Western Roman Empire was most pronounced in the
Frankish realm under the Merovingians. As political chaos
mounted, intellectual stagnation deepened. Scholarly pursuits
were confined to certain monastic organizations of the Church.
The Greek and Roman heritage of learning was otherwise
forgotten. One cultural development of lasting significance
gradually evolved. The west Franks slowly assimilated the
Latinized Gallic tongue, while the east Franks retained their
native Teutonic speech creating linguistic differences that
eventually led to a permanent cleavage of the Frankish domain
and laying the basis of modern France and Germany.
The kings of Austria
were completely dominated by Pepin of Herstal, Mayor of the
Palace from about 687 until his death in 714. He was succeeded
by his son Charles Martel who won control of Neustria and
Burgundy, thereby re-establishing Frankish unity. In 719,
Moslem invaders, who had previously seized control of the
Iberian peninsula began to occupy the south portion of the
Frankish realm. With the help of the Lombards, Charles Martel
decisively defeated the Moslem forces near Tours in 732, saving
feudal western Christendom from Moslem domination.
On the death of
Charles Martel in 741, the post of Mayor of the Palace was
inherited by his son Pepin the Short. Pepin ruled in this
capacity until 751, when he deposed Childeric III and, with the
blessing of Pope Zacharias, assumed the royal title. Thus began
the Carolingian dynasty of Frankish kings, whose combined reigns
covered a span of nearly 250 years.
Pepin laid the
foundations of the Frankish Empire, the first important state to
develop in the European continent after the collapse of the
Roman Empire. Although the Frankish Empire had only a brief
history, limited in effect to the reign of Pepin’s son
Charlemagne, its appearance signaled the opening of a new stage
in the political, intellectual, and religious process at work in
extended the boundaries of his kingdom, successively subjecting
the Saxons, Lombards, and various tribes of central Europe. By
the introduction of several administrative innovations, notably
the establishment of counties, a federal officialdom responsible
to the crown, and an advisory body of leading nobles, he
achieved a centralization of authority and effected curbs on the
powers of the feudal lords. Of equal importance, he sponsored a
revival of intellectual activity that to some extent bridged the
broad gulf between his times and those of antiquity. Besides
founding numerous schools, he became the patron of men of
learning from various parts of the church. He forcibly
converted to Christianity the pagan tribes that he conquered,
imposed taxes for the benefit of the Church, waged war against
the Moslems, and founded many places of worship. In recognition
of these and other services, Pope Leo III crowned him in 800,
Emperor of the Romans. This move introduced the concept of the
later Holy Roman Empire.
In the century
following the death of Charlemagne in 814, the Frankish Empire
disintegrated into a multitude of warring kingdoms, duchies, and
minor fiefs. The process of disintegration, begun during the
reign of Charlemagne’s son and successor Louis I, resulted from
a variety of factors. Before the emperor’s death in 840, his
sons, unable to agree on how to divide the empire, resorted to
armed conflict. The costly struggle was terminated three years
later by the Treaty of Verdun, by the terms of which Charles the
Bald received the western portion of the empire, Louis II the
eastern portion, and Lothair the region between these states;
Lothair received the imperial title. In political geography,
the first and second of the new states were rough approximations
respectively of modern France and Germany. The intermediate
kingdom, composed of Lotharingia, Provence, Burgundy, and
Lombardy, shortly became as well as internecine strife and
external conquest, a multiplicity of shifting dependencies and
Under the reign of
Charles II the West Frankish kingdom was steadily weakened by
internal and external wars. The king became increasingly
dependent on the military support of the feudal lords, one of
whom, Robert the Strong, was granted the dukedom of France,
which alter gave its name to the entire country. The Northmen
launched broader raids on Charles’ dominions, on one occasion
capturing Paris. The East Frankish king and Holy Roman Emperor
Charles III reunited the east and west versions of the former
Frankish Empire in 884. Three years later, as the result of a
humbling treaty which he had concluded with the Northmen in 886,
he was forced to abdicate. With his abdication, the cleavage
between the east ad west Franks became permanent.
continued in the West Frankish kingdom for a protracted period
after the deposition of Charles. The Northmen multiplied their
attacks on the coastal region, and Charles III purchased
immunity from further encroachments by ceding to them, in 911,
the region later known as Normandy. By degrees the feudal lords
usurped more and more of the remaining authority of the crown,
but the Carolingian dynasty persisted until 987. In that year,
a coalition of dominant nobles, rejecting the rightful claimant
to the throne, bestowed the crown to Hugh Capet, Duke of France,
who thereby became the founder of the Capetian dynasty of French
Like that of his
immediate predecessors, the authority of Hugh Capet extended
little beyond Paris and Orleans. The heads of the surrounding
feudal domains, including Aquitaine, Burgundy, Normandy, and
Flanders, wielded considerably more power than any of the three
rulers who succeeded Capet. In 1066, William Duke of Normandy
turned his attention to the west and conquered England,
appreciably reducing the immediacy of the threat to the
Capetians. A further improvement in the relative position of
the royal power resulted in 1096, when many of the feudal lords
of France embarked on the First Crusade, a venture that brought
death and economic ruin to many of its leaders.
The first king to
significantly challenge the feudal lords within the Capetian
domain was Louis VI, who ascended the throne in 1108. His
vassals, subdued after more than twenty years of armed struggle,
finally recognized the royal authority, which thereby acquired
the material and political basis for further expansion. Thus
strengthened, the kingdom repelled an invasion led by the Holy
Roman Emperor Henry V. The next member of the Capetian dynasty,
Louis VII, conquered Champagne and, through marriage, added
Aquitaine to his dominions, but he lost the region in 1152 as a
result of the dissolution of his marriage. Aquitaine shortly
passed again through marriage to Henry, Duke of Anjou, who
acquired the crown of England as Henry II in 1154.
Philip II who
succeeded Louis in 1180, resumed the war with England and Henry,
and finally won control of Normandy, Anjou, and most of the
other English possessions in France except Gascony. During his
reign, Philip instituted important governmental reforms,
particularly in the administration of justice. Philip also
divided his dominion into smaller political units, known as
communes, established a national standing army, and strengthened
the royal treasury.
The process of
consolidating the kingdom continued during the reigns of
Philip’s son Louis VIII and grandson Louis IX. Louis IX
(canonized as St. Louis) achieved a reputation as the most
chivalrous and just monarch of his time. His reign (1226-1270),
termed the golden age of Medieval France, Witnessed the
consolidation of the French monarchy and the decrease of power
of the feudal lords and churchmen; improvements and reforms in
national administration; and the peaceful adjustment of the
problem of English possessions in France by the treaty of Paris
(1259), whereby Henry III of England was recognized as feudal
lord of Poitou, Gascony, and Guienne, but relinquished claims to
Normandy, Anjou, Touraine, and Maine.
Following the reign
of Louis’ son Philip III, a generally inept ruler, the borders
of France were further extended at the expense of neighboring
fiefs, and the drive for the French monarch to secure absolute
control of the state was intensified. In a move to subordinate
ecclesiastical power to royal authority, at the same time
strengthen the royal treasury. Philip IV imposed a tax on the
clergy. The move precipitated a bitter controversy with Pope
Boniface VIII, in the course of which Philip secured dominance
of the Parliament by granting representation to the burgher
class or tiers etat of the realm. With the subsequent
election in 1305 of Clement as Pope, the struggle was resolved
in favor of Philip, who thenceforth had the support of the
papacy in his campaign to strengthen the kingdom.
religious and military order of the Knights Templar was
destroyed in France with Clement’s help. Philip substantially
increased the authority of the crown; additions to his domain
included Franche-Comte and several other fiefs to the east.
The death without
male issue of Philip’s three sons Louis X, Philip V, and Charles
IV brought the Capetian dynasty to an end. In that year, the
throne passed to Philip VI, a nephew of Philip IV and founder of
the House of Valois.
The Western Franks
The Franks were a
martial people, distinguished by their proud bearing, great
stature, and long, fair hair. Their basic attire consisted of
snug-fitting trousers extending to the knee, and a tunic secured
by clasps. Their chief weapons were the framea, an iron
spearhead secured in a wooden shaft; the bow and arrow; the
francisca, a single-edged battle-ax used for striking or
throwing; and the scramasax, a large knife used for fighting and
“Franks” applied to about the middle of the 3rd
century AD to the Germanic tribes dwelling along the lower and
middle Rhine River. They appeared in the Roman provinces around
253 and soon thereafter established themselves in two distinct
groups, the Salian Franks and the Ripuarian Franks. The Salian
Franks inhabited the lower stretches of the Rhine and the
Ripuarian Franks along its middle course. The Franks played a
paramount role in the history of Europe. The elaborate
government that Charlemagne set into motion established order
and a respect for law unknown in Europe since the best days of
the Roman Empire.
Carolingian Dynasty – Ripurian Franks
|Pepin "The Short"
|Louis I "The Pius"
|Charles "The Bald"
|Charles III "The Simple"
|Louis IV d'Outremer
|Louis V "The Sluggard"
|Louis VI "The Fat"
|Louis VII "The Young"
|Louis VII "The Lion"
|Louis IX "Saint Louis"
|Philip III "The Bold"
|Philip IV "The Fair"