With the 843 Treaty of Verdun, the Frankish Empire was divided in three parts, among them West Francia, ruled by Charlemagne's grandson Charles the Bald (Charles II le Chauve). As the House of Capet came to hold the crown from 987, the dynasty of kings became known as the House of France with the kingdom to be known as France.
The Atlantic coast was targeted by Scandinavian Viking raids during the 9th and 10th century, stressing the need for fortifications and armies. The Normans were descendants of Norsemen who settled in northern France, converting to Catholicism and adopting the French language.
The High Middle Ages established Gothic architecture, and many of France's most famous cathedrals, universities and castles. The word château describes a grand house with or without fortifications. France saw a sharp division between the three Estates: nobles, clergy, and commoners (the Third Estate). The two first had several privileges, including tax exemption, and opportunities for education and public office.
The Late Middle Ages were marked by the Hundred Years' War from 1337 to 1453, where the House of Valois, supported by several European allies, defeated the usurping Anglo-French House of Plantagenet. The Valois French were famously led in battle by Joan of Arc (Jeanne d'Arc), breaking the siege of Orléans in 1429, at age 17. The English framed her as a witch, and had burnt at the stake two years later. She was canonized, and is now the patron saint of France. The end of the war is usually considered the end of medieval France, as the French state became consolidated, and one of the great powers of the Renaissance and the Age of Discovery.
Early Modern France
The French Colonial Empire had some possessions already in the 16th century; see New France. The most valuable property was in the Caribbean, where plantations worked by African slaves gave great wealth to the Empire.
The Protestant Reformation had some support in France, with the Huguenots as a notable denomination. The Reformation caused a series of civil wars won by the Catholics. The government purged Protestants in the 17th and 18th centuries leading up to massacres by the thousands, causing many of them to emigrate to Protestant countries and to overseas colonies.
France's main rival was the House of Habsburg, which ruled both the Spanish Empire and the Austrian Empire. In the Thirty Years' War, France sided with the mainly Protestant anti-imperial alliance. The allied victory allowed France to annex eastern territories, and to replace Spain as the dominant power in western Europe.
If any French monarch deserves to be mentioned distinctively, it would be Louis XIV; the Sun King, who became king at age 4 in 1643, reigning until his death in 1715, longer than any known European monarch. He saw the height of the French Empire's power, and gathered unsurpassed wealth and prestige. He represented the monarch's divine right to power, which over time became challenged by the philosophers of the Enlightenment (including Rousseau, Voltaire and Montesquieu), sowing the seed to the French Revolution.
In the Seven Years War, Britain defeated France and came to dominate North America. Both sides were deep in debt, and the tax burden on the British colonies in North America caused them to revolt and form the United States of America, supported by France. The American revolution inspired anti-monarchists around the world including France, where the Third Estate was also heavily taxed to pay the war debt.
French Revolution and subsequent conflicts
France remained a monarchy up to the French Revolution which began in 1789 and lasted for a decade, leading up to the French Revolutionary Wars. L'Ancien Régime, the "Ancient Regime" is, since the revolution, the description of the abolished French monarchy. The revolution inspired similar uprisings around the world, and was so momentous that historians consider it to mark the end of the early modern era and the beginning of modernity; the era in which we live today.
The motto of the revolution was Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité (liberty, egality, fraternity), largely the antithesis of the old regime.
The 19th century was marked by the Napoleonic Wars and subsequent revolutions (most notably the 1830 July Revolution and the 1848 Revolution) with frequent changes of government between monarchy and republic; since 1958 the form of government is known as the Fifth Republic (Cinquième République). The 19th century also saw France becoming a world leader in industry and science.
The Kingdom of France is the setting of many classical adventure novels, such as Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, Alexandre Dumas' Three Musketeers series and The Count of Monte Cristo. Many immortal writers like René Descartes, Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, Voltaire, Molière and Charles Perrault lived and built their reputations in this period.
- 1 Mont Saint-Michel. A beautiful fortified island and a stronghold of Norman culture.
- 2 Paris. Capital of France and stage of the French Revolution. Much of Old Paris was torn down in the 19th century Hausmann restorations; some famous older parts are the Latin Quarters and Montmartre. See also Axe Historique.
- 3 Versailles. Dominated by Louis XIV's palace.
- 4 Orléans. Carolingian capital city defended by Joan of Arc in the Hundred Years War.
- 5 Bordeaux. Famous for the surrounding wine district and a prominent colonial port.
- 6 Avignon. Famous as the seat of the Avignon Papacy; seven Popes of the 13th century instead of Rome.
- 7 Reims. Traditional site of the crowning of French Kings from Clovis to Charles X.
- 8 Noyon. Once a religious centre, contains a cathedral where Hugh Capet was crowned as the first Capetian king.
- 9 Verdun. The site of the Verdun treaty, with some Medieval buildings left.
- Alsatian Vineyard Route
- Fortifications of Vauban
- The Most Beautiful Villages of France