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This article is about pre-Revolutionary France. For the first constitutional monarchy, see Kingdom of France (1791–1792). For the post-Napoleonic monarchy, see Bourbon Restoration. For the Orléanist period, see July Monarchy.
Kingdom of France
Royaume de France
Royal Standarda Coat of arms
Montjoie Saint Denis!
"Mountjoy Saint Denis!"
Marche Henri IV
"March of Henry IV"
File:Hymne De La Monarchie Francaise.ogg
The Kingdom of France during 1769–1792.
Capital Paris
Language(s) Official language:
Common languages:
Occitan, Breton,
Basque, Alsatian,
Walloon, Francique,
Religion Roman Catholic
Government Absolute monarchy
 - 843–877 Charles the Bald (first)
 - 1774–1791 Louis XVI (last)
Chief Minister
 - 1589–1611 Maximilien Béthune (first)
 - 1790–1791 Armand Marc (last)
Legislature Estates Generalc
Historical era Medieval / Early Modern
 - Treaty of Verdun 10 August 843
 - Hundred Years' War 1337–1453
 - Italian Wars 1494–1559
 - Wars of Religion 1562–1598
 - constitutional monarchy 21 September 1792
 - Republic declared 3 September 1792
Currency Livre, Franc,
Écu, Louis d'or
a. France had no official flag and national identity was loyalty to the King, as in other autocratic monarchies.
b. Official language since the Ordinance of Villers-Cotterêts.
c. Retained only a limited legislative role.

The Kingdom of France (French: Royaume de France), was a medieval and early modern monarchy in Western Europe, the predecessor of the modern French Republic. It was one of the most powerful states in Europe, a great power since the Late Middle Ages and the Hundred Years' War. It was also an early colonial power, with significant possessions in North America.

France originated as West Francia (Francia Occidentalis), the western half of the Carolingian empire, with the Treaty of Verdun (843). A branch of the Carolingian dynasty continued to rule until 987, when Hugh Capet was elected king and founded the Capetian dynasty. The territory remained known as Francia and its ruler as rex Francorum ("king of the Franks") well into the High Middle Ages. The first king calling himself roi de France ("king of France") was Philip II, in 1190. France continued to be ruled by the Capetians and their cadet lines—the Valois and Bourbon—until the monarchy was overthrown in 1792 during the French Revolution.

France in the Middle Ages was a de-centralised, feudal state. In Brittany and Catalonia (now a part of Spain) the authority of the French king was barely felt. Lorraine and Provence were states of the Holy Roman Empire and not yet a part of France. Initially, West Frankish kings were elected by the secular and ecclesiastic magnates, but the regular coronation of the eldest son of the reigning king during his father's lifetime established the principle of male primogeniture, which became codified in the Salic law. During the late Middle Ages, the Kings of England laid claim to the French throne, resulting in a series of conflicts known as the Hundred Years' War (1337–1453). Subsequently France sought to extend its influence into Italy, but was defeated by Spain in the ensuing Italian Wars (1494–1559).

France in the early modern era was increasingly centralised, the French language began to displace other languages from official use, and the monarch ruled with near absolute power. Religiously France became divided between the Catholic majority and a Protestant minority, the Huguenots. After a series of civil wars, the Wars of Religion (1562–1598), tolerance was granted the Huguenots in the Edict of Nantes. France laid claim to large stretches of North America, known collectively as New France. Wars with Great Britain led to the loss of much of this territory by 1763. French intervention in the American Revolutionary War helped secure the independence of the new United States of America.

The Kingdom of France adopted a written constitution in 1791, but was abolished a year later and replaced with the First French Republic. The monarchy was restored by the other great powers in 1814 and lasted—except for the Hundred Days in 1815—until the French Revolution of 1848.

Political history

West Francia

During the later years of the elderly Charlemagne's rule, the Vikings made advances along the northern and western perimeters of the Kingdom of the Franks. After Charlemagne's death in 814 his heirs were incapable of maintaining political unity and the empire began to crumble. The Treaty of Verdun of 843 divided the Carolingian Empire into three parts, and Charles the Bald ruled over West Francia, roughly corresponding to the territory of modern France.[1]

Viking advances were allowed to increase, and their dreaded longboats were sailing up the Loire and Seine rivers and other inland waterways, wreaking havoc and spreading terror. During the reign of Charles the Simple (898–922), Normans under Rollo from Norway, were settled in an area on either side of the River Seine, downstream from Paris, that was to become Normandy.

High Middle Ages

The Carolingians were to share the fate of their predecessors: after an intermittent power struggle between the two dynasties, the accession in 987 of Hugh Capet, Duke of France and Count of Paris, established the Capetian dynasty on the throne. With its offshoots the houses of Valois and Bourbon was to rule France for more than 800 years.[2] Template:History of France

The old order left the new dynasty in immediate control of little beyond the middle Seine and adjacent territories, while powerful territorial lords such as the 10th- and 11th-century counts of Blois accumulated large domains of their own through marriage and through private arrangements with lesser nobles for protection and support.

The area around the lower Seine became a source of particular concern when Duke William took possession of the kingdom of England by the Norman Conquest of 1066, making himself and his heirs the King's equal outside France (where he was still nominally subject to the Crown).

Henry II inherited the Duchy of Normandy and the County of Anjou, and married France's newly divorced ex-queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, who ruled much of southwest France, in 1152. After defeating a revolt led by Eleanor and three of their four sons, Henry had Eleanor imprisoned, made the Duke of Brittany his vassal, and in effect ruled the western half of France as a greater power than the French throne. However, disputes among Henry's descendants over the division of his French territories, coupled with John of England's lengthy quarrel with Philip II, allowed Philip II to recover influence over most of this territory. After the French victory at the Battle of Bouvines in 1214, the English monarchs maintained power only in southwestern Duchy of Guyenne.

Late Middle Ages and the Hundred Years' War


France in 1223

The death of Charles IV in 1328 without male heirs ended the main Capetian line. Under Salic law the crown could not pass through a woman (Philip IV's daughter was Isabella, whose son was Edward III of England), so the throne passed to Philip VI, son of Charles of Valois. This, in addition to a long-standing dispute over the rights to Gascony in the south of France, and the relationship between England and the Flemish cloth towns, led to the Hundred Years' War of 1337–1453. The following century was to see devastating warfare, peasant revolts (the English peasants' revolt of 1381 and the Jacquerie of 1358 in France) and the growth of nationalism in both countries.[3]

The losses of the century of war were enormous, particularly owing to the plague (the Black Death, usually considered an outbreak of bubonic plague), which arrived from Italy in 1348, spreading rapidly up the Rhone valley and thence across most of the country: it is estimated that a population of some 18–20 million in modern-day France at the time of the 1328 hearth tax returns had been reduced 150 years later by 50 percent or more.[4]

Renaissance and Reformation

Italian Wars

After the Hundred Years' War, 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. French efforts to gain dominance resulted only in the increased power of the Habsburg Holy Roman Emperors of Germany.

Wars of Religion

File:Henry IV of france by pourbous younger.jpg

Henry IV, by Frans Pourbus the younger, 1610.

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 hegemony of 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 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 Huguenot Monarchomachs theorized during this time the right of rebellion and the legitimacy of tyrannicide.[5]

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.[6]

Early Modern period

Colonial France

File:Louis XIIIval grace.jpg

Louis XIII, by Philippe de Champaigne, 1647.

France's pacification under Henry IV laid much of the ground for the beginnings of France's rise to European hegemony. 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.

Thirty Years' War

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 in Germany. 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.[7]

Louis XIV, the Sun King

Louis XIV, by Hyacinthe Rigaud, 1701.

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. Cardinal Mazarin oversaw the creation of a French navy that rivalled England's, expanding it from 25 ships to almost 200. The size of the army was also considerably increased. 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, and a legacy of enormous national debt. An adherent of the theory of the divine right of kings, which advocates the divine origin and lack of temporal restraint of monarchical rule, Louis continued his predecessors' work of creating a centralized state governed from the capital. He sought to eliminate the remnants of feudalism persisting in parts of France and, by compelling the noble elite to inhabit his lavish Palace of Versailles, succeeded in pacifying the aristocracy, many members of which had participated in the Fronde rebellion during Louis' minority. By these means he consolidated a system of absolute monarchy in France that endured until the French Revolution.[8]

The king sought to impose total religious uniformity on the country, repealing the Edict of Nantes in 1685. The infamous practice of dragonnades was adopted, whereby rough soldiers were quartered in the homes of Protestant families and allowed to have their way with them. Scores of Protestants fled France, costing the country a great many intellectuals, artisans, and other valuable people. Persecution extended to unorthodox Catholics like the Jansenists, a group that denied free will and had already been condemned by the popes. Louis was no theologian and understood little of the complex doctrines of Jansenism, satisfying himself with the fact that they threatened the unity of the state. In this, he garnered the friendship of the papacy, which had previously been hostile to France because of its policy of putting all church property in the country under the jurisdiction of the state rather than that of Rome.[9]

In November 1700, the Spanish king Charles II died, ending the Habsburg line in that country. Louis had long waited for this moment, and now planned to put a Bourbon relative, Philip, Duke of Anjou, on the throne. Essentially, Spain was to become an obedient satellite of France, ruled by a king who would carry out orders from Versailles. Realizing how this would upset the balance of power, the other European rulers were outraged. However, most of the alternatives were equally undesirable. For example, putting another Habsburg on the throne would end up recreating the empire of Charles V, which would also grossly upset the power balance. After nine years of exhausting war, the last thing Louis wanted was another conflict. However, the rest of Europe would not stand for his ambitions in Spain, and so the War of the Spanish Succession began, a mere three years after the War of the Grand Alliance.[10]


Louis XV, by Hyacinthe Rigaud, 1730.

Dissent and revolution

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. The exhaustion of Europe after two major wars resulted in a long period of peace, only interrupted by minor conflicts like the War of the Polish Succession from 1733-1735. Large-scale warfare resumed with the War of the Austrian Succession (1740–1748). 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) and the loss of France's North American colonies.[11]

On the whole, the 18th century saw growing discontent with the monarchy and the established order. Louis XV was a highly unpopular king for his sexual excesses, overall weakness, and for losing Canada to the British. A strong ruler like Louis XIV could enhance the position of the monarchy, while Louis XV weakened it. The writings of the philosophes such as Voltaire were a clear sign of discontent, but the king chose to ignore them. He died of smallpox in 1774, and the French people shed few tears at his passing. While France had not yet experienced the industrial revolution that was beginning in England, the rising middle class of the cities felt increasingly frustrated with a system and rulers that seemed silly, frivolous, aloof, and antiquated, even if true feudalism no longer existed in France.

File:Ludvig XVI av Frankrike porträtterad av AF Callet.jpg

Louis XVI, by Antoine-François Callet, 1775.

Upon Louis XV's death, his grandson Louis XVI became king. Initially popular, he too came to be widely detested by the 1780s. He was married to an Austrian archduchess, Marie Antoinette. French intervention in the American War of Independence was also very expensive.[12]

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. Necker had resigned in 1781 to be replaced by Calonne and Brienne, before being restored in 1788. A harsh winter that year led to widespread food shortages, and by then France was a powder keg ready to explode.[13] On the eve of the French Revolution of 1789, France was in a profound institutional and financial crisis, but the ideas of the Enlightenment had begun to permeate the educated classes of society.[14]

On September 3, 1791, the absolute monarchy which had governed France for centuries was forced to limit its power and become a provisional constitutional monarchy known as the Kingdom of the French. However, this too would not last long and on September 21, 1792 the French monarchy was effectively abolished by the proclamation of the French First Republic.

Restoration and aftermath

The monarchy was briefly restored following the successive events of the French Revolution (1789–1799), and the First French Empire under Napoleon (1804–1814/1815) – when a coalition of European powers restored by arms the monarchy to the heirs of the House of Bourbon in 1814. However the deposed Emperor Napoleon I returned triumphantly to Paris from his exile in Elba and ruled France for a short period known as the Hundred Days.

When a Seventh European Coalition deposed Napoleon after the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, the Bourbon monarchy was once again restored. However, the monarchy had made itself unpopular and by 1830 the popular uprisings of the July Revolution brought to an end the Bourbon monarchy which was replaced by a constitutional monarchy under Louis-Philippe of Orleans.[15]

Louis-Philippe I was himself ousted from power by the Revolution of 1848 when a Second French Republic was proclaimed with Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, Napoleon I's nephew, as president. Louis-Napoleon initiated a coup d'état and declared himself Emperor as Napoleon III.

When Napoleon III was deposed, following defeat in the Franco-Prussian War, the French national assembly was largely in favour of a monarchical restoration, but disagreement between the Legitimists (supporters of the House of Bourbon), the Orleanists (supporters of the House of Orleans) and the Bonapartists (supporters of the House of Bonaparte), led to the constitution of the Third French Republic.

Administrative structures

The Ancien Régime, a French term rendered in English as "Old Rule", or simply "Former Regime", refers primarily to the aristocratic, social and political system established in France from (roughly) the 15th century to the 18th century under the late Valois and Bourbon dynasties. The administrative and social structures of the Ancien Régime were the result of years of state-building, legislative acts (like the Ordinance of Villers-Cotterêts), internal conflicts and civil wars, but they remained a confusing patchwork of local privilege and historic differences until the French Revolution brought about a radical suppression of administrative incoherence.

Territories and provinces

File:Le royaume des Francs sous Hugues Capet-fr.svg

Western Francia during the time of Hugh Capet. The royal domain is shown in blue

File:Map France 1030-fr.svg

The kingdom of France in 1030 (royal domain in light blue)

File:Conquetes Philippe Auguste.gif

Territorial development under Philip August (Philip II), 1180–1223: royal domain in blue, direct vassals to the crown in gree, ecclesiastical territories in yellow, domain of the Plantagenet kings of England in red.

Before the 13th century, only a small part of what is now France was under control of the Frankish king; in the north there were Viking incursons leading to the formation of the Duchy of Normandy; in the west, the counts of Anjou established themselves as powerful rivals of the king, by the late 11th century ruling over the "Angevin Empire", which included the kingdom of England. It was only with Philip II of France that the bulk of the territory of Western Francia came under the rule of the Frankish kings, and Philip was consequently the first king to call himself "king of France" (1190). The division of France between the Angevin (Plantagenet) kings of England and the Capetian kings of France would lead to the Hundred Years' War, and France would regain control over these territories only by the mid 15th century. What is now eastern France (Lorraine, Arelat) was not part of Western Francia to begin with and was only incorporated into the kingdom during the early modern period.

Territories inherited from Western Francia:

File:Blason France moderne.svg Domain of the Frankish king (royal domain or demesne, see Crown lands of France)
  • Ile de France
  • Reims
  • Bourges
  • Orleans
direct vassals of the French king:
File:Arms of Aquitaine and Guyenne.svg by the 12th century under Angevin rule (the "Angevin Empire"), to France in the 15th century (Hundred Years' War).
  • Duchy of Bretagne
  • Duchy of Normandy (1204 reconquered into the royal demesne)
  • Duchy of Aquitaine
  • Duchy of Gascogne
  • County of Maine
  • County of Anjou
  • County of Tourain

Acquisitions after 1200:

See also

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  • France in the Middle Ages
  • Early modern France
  • Economic history of France


  1. Roger Price (2005). A Concise History of France. Cambridge University Press. p. 30. http://books.google.com/books?id=AYjB2-RnWUwC&pg=PA30.
  2. William W. Kibler (1995). Medieval France: An Encyclopedia. Taylor & Francis. p. 879. http://books.google.com/books?id=MQoKeohhNkMC&pg=PA879.
  3. Alice Minerva Atkinson, A Brief History of the Hundred Years' War (2012)
  4. Joseph P. Byrne (2006). Daily life during the Black Death. Greenwood. http://books.google.com/books?id=UmXsP_6UEYAC.
  5. Mack P. Holt, The French wars of religion, 1562-1629 (2005).
  6. David Buisseret, Henry IV, King of France (1990).
  7. Peter H. Wilson, Europe's Tragedy: A History of the Thirty Years War (2009).
  8. William Beik, Louis XIV and Absolutism: A Brief Study with Documents (2000)
  9. John B. Wolf, Louis XIV (1974)
  10. Daniel Roche, France in the Enlightenment (1998)
  11. Colin Jones, The Great Nation: France from Louis XV to Napoleon (2003)
  12. William Doyle, The French Revolution: A Very Short Introduction (2001)
  13. Sylvia Neely, A Concise History of the French Revolution (2008)
  14. Daniel Roche, France in the Enlightenment (1998)
  15. Andre Jardin and Andre-Jean Tudesq, The Cambridge History of Modern France: Restoration and Reaction 1815-1848 (1988)

Further reading

  • Beik, William. A Social and Cultural History of Early Modern France (2009) excerpt and text search
  • Caron, François. An Economic History of Modern France (1979) online edition
  • Doyle, William. Old Regime France: 1648–1788 (2001) excerpt and text search
  • Duby, Georges. France in the Middle Ages 987–1460: From Hugh Capet to Joan of Arc (1993), survey by a leader of the Annales School excerpt and text search
  • Fierro, Alfred. Historical Dictionary of Paris (1998) 392pp, an abridged translation of his Histoire et dictionnaire de Paris (1996), 1580pp
  • Goubert, Pierre. The Course of French History (1991), standard French textbook excerpt and text search; also complete text online
  • Goubert, Pierre. Louis XIV and Twenty Million Frenchmen (1972), social history from Annales School
  • Haine, W. Scott. The History of France (2000), 280 pp. textbook. and text search; also online edition
  • Holt, Mack P. Renaissance and Reformation France: 1500–1648 (2002) excerpt and text search
  • Jones, Colin, and Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie. The Cambridge Illustrated History of France (1999) excerpt and text search
  • Jones, Colin. The Great Nation: France from Louis XV to Napoleon (2002) excerpt and text search
  • Jones, Colin. Paris: Biography of a City (2004), 592pp; comprehensive history by a leading British scholar excerpt and text search
  • Le Roy Ladurie, Emmanuel. The Ancien Regime: A History of France 1610–1774 (1999), survey by leader of the Annales School excerpt and text search
  • Potter, David. France in the Later Middle Ages 1200–1500, (2003) excerpt and text search
  • Potter, David. A History of France, 1460–1560: The Emergence of a Nation-State (1995)
  • Price, Roger. A Concise History of France (1993) excerpt and text search
  • Raymond, Gino. Historical Dictionary of France (2nd ed. 2008) 528pp
  • Roche, Daniel. France in the Enlightenment (1998), wide-ranging history 1700-1789 excerpt and text search
  • Wolf, John B. Louis XIV (1968), the standard scholarly biography online edition


  • Gildea, Robert. The Past in French History (1996)
  • Nora, Pierre, ed. Realms of Memory: Rethinking the French Past (3 vol, 1996), essays by scholars; excerpt and text search; vol 2 excerpts; vol 3 excerpts
  • Pinkney, David H. "Two Thousand Years of Paris," Journal of Modern History (1951) 23#3 pp. 262–264 in JSTOR
  • Revel, Jacques, and Lynn Hunt, eds. Histories: French Constructions of the Past (1995). 654pp, 64 essays; emphasis on Annales School
  • Symes, Carol. "The Middle Ages between Nationalism and Colonialism," French Historical Studies (Winter 2011) 34#1 pp 37–46
  • Thébaud, Françoise. "Writing Women's and Gender History in France: A National Narrative?" Journal of Women's History (2007) 19#1 pp. 167–172 in Project Muse

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