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NIck Pelton

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France: A History Lesson

Do not forget my name! Do not forget me, 24601.

The early traces of human life in France date back by tens of thousands of year, as evident through archaeological finds including the Lascaux cave paintings and the stone alignments of Carnac. Known as Gaul, it came under Roman power, initially annexed in the southern part of the country and eventually under the lead of Julius Caesar, Gaul fell into Roman hands. The Celtic culture was gradually displaced by Gallo-Roman culture. However, by the 3rd century AD, the Goths and later the Huns asserted their presence. After the fall of the Roman Empire the Franks moved in and settled throughout Gaul. The collapse of the Roman Empire marked the start of a period of instability and invasions in Gaul. Both the Frankish dynasties of the Merovingians (486-751) and the Carolingians (751-987) ruled the country for over 500 years, but failed to bring stability, leaving the country divided into smaller kingdoms.

By the 12th century, the monarchy was becoming increasingly dominant. During the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453) between England and France, the country was devastated from war damages, frequent famines and ravaging plagues. The renewal of power in France was soon followed with the invasion of Italy, and in this period, the ideals of Italian Renaissance spread to France. This marked the beginning of early modern France. France was embroiled in war once again, this time over religion. When the turmoil eventually subsided, the country entered a new period of exceptional power and influence, with the King having absolute power.

A period of stability enabled intellectual engagements in France, drawing it into the era of Enlightenment. Philosophers, through their ideas, challenged the aristocratic power that was increasingly unpopular for the excessive spending by the royals and decadent living in Versailles while the rest of the country struggled through financial hardship. It eventually triggered the French Revolution in 1789, culminating in the execution of King Louis XVI and Queen Marie-Antoinette.

The period of transition and self-rule did not last long. In 1799, Napoleon staged a coup and declared himself Emperor Napoleon I. He extended his empire by going to war with other countries, conquering most of western Europe. The invasion of Russia however became his downfall war and for a short period the French monarchy was restored. The restored monarchy was relatively short-lived as a Napoleonic clan mounted their comeback in 1848 and Napoleon’s nephew came to power. He subsequently crowned himself as emperor and named himself Napoleon III. His reign ended with the French-German war of 1870-1871 in which France lost the Alsace region to Prussia.

In the decade before World War I, the Belle Époque (Beautiful Era) took place and pushed forward a new height in cultural innovations and artistic transformations. The movement of Art Nouveau reached its peak in this period. France was drawn into World War I, when Germany invaded the country in an attempt to get access to the north sea. The trench war lasted until 1918 in mainly the north of France, and Belgium. During World War II, France was partly occupied by Germany and partly under the regime of the collaborating regime of Vichy France. France was finally liberated with help by allied forces in 1944, which started the liberation on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day.

After the war France was one of the founding members of European Economic Community (EEC) which eventually evolved into the European Union (EU), it introduced the Euro in 2002.

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