The Kingdom of France is the early modern period of French history from the end of the 15th century to the end of the 18th century (or from the French Renaissance to the climax of the French Revolution). During this period France evolved from a feudal regime to an increasingly centralized state (albeit with many regional differences) organized around a powerful absolute monarchy that relied on the doctrine of the Divine Right of Kings and the explicit support of the established Church.
In the mid 15th century, France was significantly smaller than it is today, and numerous border provinces (such as Roussillon, Cerdagne, Calais, Béarn, Navarre, County of Foix, Flanders, Artois, Lorraine, Alsace, Trois-Évêchés, Franche-Comté, Savoy, Bresse, Bugey, Gex, Nice, Provence, and Brittany) were autonomous or foreign-held (as by England); there were also foreign enclaves, like the Comtat Venaissin. In addition, certain provinces within France were ostensibly personal fiefdoms of noble families (like the Bourbonnais, Marche, Forez and Auvergne provinces held by the House of Bourbon until the provinces were forcibly integrated into the royal domaine in 1527 after the fall of the Charles III, Duke of Bourbon).
The late 15th, 16th and 17th centuries would see France undergo a massive territorial expansion and an attempt to better integrate its provinces into an administrative whole. During this period, France expanded to nearly its modern territorial extent through the acquisition of Picardy, Burgundy, Anjou, Maine, Provence, Brittany, Franche-Comté, French Flanders, Navarre, Roussillon, the Duchy of Lorraine, Alsace and Corsica.
French acquisitions from 1461-1789:
- under Louis XI - Provence (1482), Dauphiné (1461, under French control since 1349)
- under François I - Brittany (1532)
- under Henri II - Calais, Trois-Évêchés (1552)
- under Henri IV - County of Foix (1607)
- under Louis XIII - Béarn and Navarre (1620, under French control since 1589 as part of Henri IV's possessions)
- under Louis XIV
- under Louis XV - Lorraine (1766), Corsica (1768)
Only the Duchy of Savoy, the city of Nice and some other small papal (e.g., Avignon) and foreign possessions would be acquired later. (For a map of historic French provinces, see Provinces of France). France also embarked on exploration, colonisation, and mercantile exchanges with the Americas (New France, Louisiana, Martinique, Guadeloupe, Haiti, French Guiana), India (Pondichery), the Indian Ocean (Réunion), the Far East, and a few African trading posts.
Although Paris was the capital of France, the later Valois kings largely abandoned the city as their primary residence, preferring instead various châteaux of the Loire Valley and Parisian countryside. Henri IV made Paris his primary residence (promoting a major building boom in private mansions), but Louis XIV once again withdrew from the city in the last decades of his reign and Versailles became the primary seat of the French monarchy for much of the following century.
The administrative and legal system in France in this period is generally called the Ancien Régime.
- Main article: Demographics of France
The Black Death had killed an estimated one-third of the population of France from its appearance in 1348. The concurrent Hundred Years' War slowed recovery. It would be the early sixteenth century before the population recovered to mid-fourteenth century levels. With an estimated population of 11 million in 1400, 20 million in the 1600s, and 28 million in 1789, until 1795 France was the most populated country in Europe (even ahead of Russia and twice the size of Britain or the Netherlands) and the third most populous country in the world, behind only China and India.
These demographic changes also led to a massive increase in urban populations, although on the whole France remained a profoundly rural country. Paris was one of the most populated cities in Europe (estimated at 400,000 inhabitants in 1550; 650,000 at the end of the 18th century). Other major French cities include Lyon, Rouen, Bordeaux, Toulouse, and Marseille. These centuries saw several periods of epidemics and crop failures due to wars and climatic change. (Historians speak of the period 1550–1850 as the "Little Ice Age".) Between 1693 and 1694, France lost 6% of its population. In the extremely harsh winter of 1709, France lost 3.5% of its population. In the past 300 years, no period has been so proportionally deadly for the French, both World Wars included.
- Main article: History of French
Linguistically, the differences in France were extreme. Before the Renaissance, the language spoken in the north of France was a collection of different dialects called Oïl languages whereas the written and administrative language remained Latin. By the 16th century there had developed a standardised form of French (called Middle French) which would be the basis of the standardised "modern" French of the 17th and 18th century which in turn became the lingua franca of the European continent. (In 1539, with the Ordinance of Villers-Cotterêts, Francis I of France made French alone the language for legal and juridical acts.) Nevertheless, in 1790, perhaps 50% of the French population did not speak or understand standard French. The southern half of the country continued to speak Occitan languages (such as Provençal), and other inhabitants spoke Breton, Catalan, Basque, Dutch (West Flemish), and Franco-Provençal. In the north of France, regional dialects of the various langues d'oïl continued to be spoken in rural communities.
France would not become a linguistically unified country until the end of the 19th century.
- Main article: Ancien Régime in France
- Main article: Economic history of France
The Peace of Etaples (1492) marks, for some, the beginning of the early modern period in France.
After the Hundred Years' War (1337-1453) and the Treaty of Picquigny (1475) – its official end date – in 1492 and 1493, Charles VIII of France signed three additional treaties with Henry VII of England, Maximilian I of Habsburg, and Ferdinand II of Aragon respectively at Étaples (1492), Senlis (1493) and in Barcelona (1493). These three treaties cleared the way for France to undertake the long Italian Wars (1494-1559), which marked the beginning of early modern France.
The French RenaissanceEdit
Despite the beginnings of rapid demographic and economic recovery after the Black Death of the 14th century, the gains of the previous half-century were to be jeopardised by a further protracted series of conflicts, the Italian Wars (1494-1559), where French efforts to gain dominance ended in the increased power of the Habsburg Holy Roman Emperors of Germany.
- Main article: Italian Wars
Ludovico Sforza, seeking an ally against the Republic of Venice, encouraged Charles VIII of France to invade Italy, using the Angevin claim to the throne of Naples, then under Aragonese control, as a pretext. When Ferdinand I of Naples died in 1494, Charles invaded the peninsula. For several months, French forces moved through Italy virtually unopposed, since the condottieri armies of the Italian city-states were unable to resist them. Their sack of Naples finally provoked a reaction, however, and the League of Venice was formed against them. Italian troops defeated the French at the Battle of Fornovo, forcing Charles to withdraw to France. Ludovico, having betrayed the French at Fornovo, retained his throne until 1499, when Charles's successor, Louis XII of France, invaded Lombardy and seized Milan.
In 1500, Louis, having reached an agreement with Ferdinand II of Aragon to divide Naples, marched south from Milan. By 1502, combined French and Aragonese forces had seized control of the Kingdom; disagreements about the terms of the partition led to a war between Louis and Ferdinand. By 1503, Louis, having been defeated at the Battle of Cerignola and Battle of the Garigliano, was forced to withdraw from Naples, which was left under the control of the Spanish viceroy, Ramon de Cardona. French forces under Gaston de Foix inflicted an overwhelming defeat on a Spanish army at the Battle of Ravenna in 1512, but Foix was killed during the battle, and the French were forced to withdraw from Italy by an invasion of Milan by the Swiss, who reinstated Maximilian Sforza to the ducal throne. The Holy League, left victorious, fell apart over the subject of dividing the spoils, and in 1513 Venice allied with France, agreeing to partition Lombardy between them.
Louis mounted another invasion of Milan, but was defeated at the Battle of Novara, which was quickly followed by a series of Holy League victories at La Motta, Guinegate, and Flodden Field, in which the French, Venetian, and Scottish forces were decisively defeated. However, the death of Pope Julius left the League without effective leadership, and when Louis' successor, Francis I, defeated the Swiss at Marignano in 1515, the League collapsed, and by the treaties of Noyon and Brussels, surrendered to France and Venice the entirety of northern Italy.
The elevation of Charles of Spain to Holy Roman Emperor, a position that Francis had desired, led to a collapse of relations between France and the Habsburgs. In 1519, a Spanish invasion of Navarre, nominally a French fief, provided Francis with a pretext for starting a general war; French forces flooded into Italy and began a campaign to drive Charles from Naples. The French were outmatched, however, by the fully-developed Spanish tercio tactics, and suffered a series of crippling defeats at Bicocca and Sesia against Spanish troops under Fernando de Avalos. With Milan itself threatened, Francis personally led a French army into Lombardy in 1525, only to be defeated and captured at the Battle of Pavia; imprisoned in Madrid, Francis was forced to agree to extensive concessions over his Italian territories in the "Treaty of Madrid" (1526).
The inconclusive third war between Charles and Francis began with the death of Francesco Maria Sforza, the duke of Milan. When Charles' son Philip inherited the duchy, Francis invaded Italy, capturing Turin, but failed to take Milan. In response, Charles invaded Provence, advancing to Aix-en-Provence, but withdrew to Spain rather than attacking the heavily fortified Avignon. The Truce of Nice ended the war, leaving Turin in French hands but effecting no significant change in the map of Italy. Francis, allying himself with Suleiman I of the Ottoman Empire, launched a final invasion of Italy. A Franco-Ottoman fleet captured the city of Nice in August 1543, and laid siege to the citadel. The defenders were relieved within a month. The French, under François, Count d'Enghien, defeated an Imperial army at the Battle of Ceresole in 1544, but the French failed to penetrate further into Lombardy. Charles and Henry VIII of England then proceeded to invade northern France, seizing Boulogne and Soissons. A lack of cooperation between the Spanish and English armies, coupled with increasingly aggressive Ottoman attacks, led Charles to abandon these conquests, restoring the status quo once again.
In 1547, Henry II of France, who had succeeded Francis to the throne, declared war against Charles with the intent of recapturing Italy and ensuring French, rather than Habsburg, domination of European affairs. An early offensive against Lorraine was successful, but the attempted French invasion of Tuscany in 1553 was defeated at the Battle of Marciano. Charles's abdication in 1556 split the Habsburg empire between Philip II of Spain and Ferdinand I, and shifted the focus of the war to Flanders, where Philip, in conjunction with Emmanuel Philibert of Savoy, defeated the French at St. Quentin. England's entry into the war later that year led to the French capture of Calais, England's last possession on the French mainland, and French armies plundered Spanish possessions in the Low Countries; but Henry was nonetheless forced to accept the Peace of Cateau-Cambrésis, in which he renounced any further claims to Italy.
The Wars of Religion Edit
- Main article: French Wars of Religion
Barely were the Italian Wars over, when France was plunged into a domestic crisis with far-reaching consequences. Despite the conclusion of a Concordat between France and the Papacy (1516), granting the crown unrivalled power in senior ecclesiastical appointments, France was deeply affected by the Protestant Reformation's attempt to break the unity of Roman Catholic Europe. A growing urban-based Protestant minority (later dubbed Huguenots) faced ever harsher repression under the rule of Francis I's son King Henry II. After Henry II's unfortunate death in a joust, the country was ruled by his widow Catherine de' Medici and her sons Francis II, Charles IX and Henry III. Renewed Catholic reaction headed by the powerful dukes of Guise culminated in a massacre of Huguenots (1562), starting the first of the French Wars of Religion, during which English, German, and Spanish forces intervened on the side of rival Protestant and Catholic forces. Opposed to absolute monarchy, the Huguenots Monarchomachs theorized during this time the right of rebellion and the legitimacy of tyrannicide.
The Wars of Religion culminated in the War of the Three Henrys in which Henry III assassinated Henry de Guise, leader of the Spanish-backed Catholic league, and the king was murdered in return. After the assassination of both Henry of Guise (1588) and Henry III (1589), the conflict was ended by the accession of the Protestant king of Navarre as Henry IV (first king of the Bourbon dynasty) and his subsequent abandonment of Protestantism (Expedient of 1592) effective in 1593, his acceptance by most of the Catholic establishment (1594) and by the Pope (1595), and his issue of the toleration decree known as the Edict of Nantes (1598), which guaranteed freedom of private worship and civil equality.
France in the 17th and 18th centuriesEdit
France's pacification under Henry IV laid much of the ground for the beginnings of France's rise to European hegemony, although at his death in 1610, the Regency of his wife Marie de Medici suffered from internal conflicts with the noble families. France was expansive during all but the end of the seventeenth century: the French began trading in India and Madagascar, founded Quebec and penetrated the North American Great Lakes and Mississippi, established plantation economies in the West Indies and extended their trade contacts in the Levant and enlarged their merchant marine.
Henry IV's son Louis XIII and his minister (1624-1642) Cardinal Richelieu, elaborated a policy against Spain and the German emperor during the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648) which had broken out among the lands of Germany's Holy Roman Empire. An English-backed Huguenot rebellion (1625-1628) defeated, France intervened directly (1635) in the wider European conflict following her ally (Protestant) Sweden's failure to build upon initial success.
After the death of both king and cardinal, the Peace of Westphalia (1648) secured universal acceptance of Germany's political and religious fragmentation, but the Regency of Anne of Austria and her minister Cardinal Mazarin experienced a civil uprising known as the Fronde (1648-1653) which expanded into a Franco-Spanish War (1653-1659). The Treaty of the Pyrenees (1659) formalised France's seizure (1642) of the Spanish territory of Roussillon after the crushing of the ephemeral Catalan Republic and ushered a short period of peace.
For most of the reign of Louis XIV (1643-1715), France was the dominant power in Europe, aided by the diplomacy of Richelieu's successor (1642-1661) Cardinal Mazarin and the economic policies (1661-1683) of Colbert. Renewed war (the War of Devolution 1667-1668 and the Franco-Dutch War 1672-1678) brought further territorial gains (Artois and western Flanders and the free county of Burgundy, left to the Empire in 1482), but at the cost of the increasingly concerted opposition of rival powers.
French culture was part of French hegemony. In the early part of the century French painters had to go to Rome to shed their provinciality (Nicolas Poussin, Claude Lorrain), but Simon Vouet brought home the taste for a classicized baroque that would characterise the French Baroque, epitomised in the Académie de peinture et de sculpture, in the painting of Charles Le Brun and the sculpture of François Girardon. With the Palais du Luxembourg, the Château de Maisons and Vaux-le-Vicomte, French classical architecture was admired abroad even before the creation of Versailles or Perrault's Louvre colonnade. Parisian salon culture set standards of discriminating taste from the 1630s, and with Pascal, Descartes, Bayle, Corneille, Racine and Molière, French literate culture swept Europe.
Following the Whig establishment on the English and Scottish thrones by the Dutch prince William of Orange in 1688, the anti-French "Grand Alliance" of 1689 inaugurated more than a century of intermittent European conflict in which Britain would play an ever more important role, seeking in particular to keep France out of the Low Countries.
After the Nine Years War gained France only Haiti (lost to a slave revolt a century later), the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1713) ended with the undoing of Louis's dreams of a Franco-Spanish Bourbon empire: the two conflicts strained French resources already weakened by disastrous harvests in the 1690s and in 1709, as well as by the revocation (1685) of the Edict of Nantes and the consequent loss of Huguenot support and manpower.The reign (1715-1774) of Louis XV saw an initial return to peace and prosperity under the regency (1715-1723) of Philip II, Duke of Orléans, whose policies were largely continued (1726-1743) by Cardinal Fleury, prime minister in all but name, renewed war with the Empire (1733-1735 and 1740-1748) being fought largely in the East. But alliance with the traditional Habsburg enemy (the "Diplomatic Revolution" of 1756) against the rising power of Britain and Prussia led to costly failure in the Seven Years' War (1756-1763).
With the country deeply in debt, Louis XVI permitted the radical reforms of Turgot and Malesherbes, but noble disaffection led to Turgot's dismissal and Malesherbes' resignation in 1776. They were replaced by Jacques Necker. Louis supported the American Revolution in 1778, but in the Treaty of Paris (1783), the French gained little except an addition to the country's enormous debt. Necker had resigned in 1781 to be replaced by Calonne and Brienne, before being restored in 1788.
House of Bourbon (1589-1792)
- Henry IV
- the Regency of Marie de Medici
- Louis XIII and his minister Cardinal Richelieu
- the Regency of Anne of Austria and her minister Cardinal Mazarin
- Louis XIV
- the Régence of Philip II of Orleans
- Louis XV
- Louis XVI
French Exploration and ColoniesEdit
- French Renaissance literature
- French literature of the 17th century
- French literature of the 18th century
- Bluche, François. L'Ancien régime: Institutions et société. Collection: Livre de poche. Paris: Fallois, 1993. ISBN 2-253-06423-8
- Jouanna, Arlette and Philippe Hamon, Dominique Biloghi, Guy Thiec. La France de la Renaissance; Histoire et dictionnaire. Collection: Bouquins. Paris: Laffont, 2001. ISBN 2-221-07426-2
- Jouanna, Arlette and Jacqueline Boucher, Dominique Biloghi, Guy Thiec. Histoire et dictionnaire des Guerres de religion. Collection: Bouquins. Paris: Laffont, 1998. ISBN 2-221-07425-4
- Kendall, Paul Murray. Louis XI: The Universal Spider. New York: Norton, 1971. ISBN 0-393-30260-1
- Knecht, R.J. The Rise and Fall of Renaissance France. London: Fontana Press, 1996. ISBN 0-00-686167-9
- Pillorget, René and Suzanne Pillorget. France Baroque, France Classique 1589-1715. Collection: Bouquins. Paris: Laffont, 1995. ISBN 2-221-08110-2
- Viguerie, Jean de. Histoire et dictionnaire du temps des Lumières 1715-1789. Collection: Bouquins. Paris: Laffont, 1995. ISBN 2-221-04810-5