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The France Page

France History


1800AD - date

Napoleon inherited a France weakened by poor government, ongoing wars, famine, corruption and civil unrest.

His first action was to defeat Austria and again end the land wars. England continued the war using its naval power to blockade France whilst attacking French colonies overseas. The 1802 Treaty of Amiens brought an unlikely peace between England and France. This period was characterised by an ongoing need to defend France in repeated wars*.

Louisana was sold to the United States in 1803.

Napoleon then turned his attention to the administration of France. The Code Napoleon, a civil code defining the legal system, was installed in 1804.

In May 1804, Napoleon was proclaimed emperor, and the French Empire established.

Napoleon annexed Spain in an attempt to conquer Portugal, an ally of England.

By 1812 the tide had turned. France suffered ongoing losses in Spain as well as losing a disastrous campaign against Russia. The Russians retreated with a scorched earth policy, and the French army was decimated when winter set in.

In 1814, Napoleon was forced to abdicate and settled in Elba. Louis XV111 was crowned king and the allies tried to unravel the changes resulting from the previous 25 years of conflict. After the brief return of Napoleon and heavy defeat at Waterloo, the ex Emperor was exiled to St Helena where he died in 1821.

The restored monarchy inherited a war weary, economically depleted France. The population was mistrustful of the, now constitutional, monarchy. At the same time a growth in liberal attitudes penetrated both the independent press and the elected parliament. Charles X was forced to abdicate in 1830. The Bourbon royal family were replaced by Louis-Philippe, Duc of Orleans as King. He was forced to abdicate in 1848.

The second republic was proclaimed with Louis Napoleon Bonaparte (nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte) as president. In the face of a monarchist parliament he was unable to achieve his intended reforms, and after a coup in 1851, declared himself Emperor Napoleon 111 and founded the second empire. He remained as emperor until 1870.

The second empire was a period of economic growth, industrialisation and urbanisation. However increasing involvement in a number of wars by the (again militarily strong) French army was ended by a major defeat against the Prussians in 1870 and the establishment of the third republic. Emperor Napoleon 111 lived in exile in England until his death in 1873.

The third republic, although fragile, was a period of colonial expansion, cultural development, sophisticated entertainment and establishment of railways. The 1889 Paris exhibition provided the Eiffel Tower as a great French landmark. In an attempt to reduce the military threat from Prussia, France signed a number of peace treaties that resulted in England, Russia and France becoming allies.

France was invaded by the German Empire in the WW1 of 1914, causing great loss of life (estimated at 1.4m) and resources.

France were overun by Germany again in WW2 and surrendered in 1940. France was liberated in 1944, and De Gaulle (leader of the exiled French forces) headed a provisional government.

De Gaulle established the fourth republic in 1946. France became more industrialised and gradually recovered some of its previous economic and military strength. However, it was also a period identified by the eventual loss of virtually all of the colonies, a damaging war in Algeria and the student revolt of 1968.

Since 1957, France has allied itself with Nato and has become a major player in the European Union.



*wars whilst Napoleon was Emperor

The allies duly formed the Third Coalition in 1804 and Napoleon again defeated Austria and Russia and a treaty made. Again, England stood alone, relying on naval power. Loss of the French and Spanish navies at Trafalgar in 1805 resulted in Napoleon having to abandon plans to invade England.

The Fourth Coalition included England, Prussia and Russia. Again Fance was victorious in the land wars and the Treaty of Tilsit (1806) left England alone against France.

In 1808 Austria re-entered the conflict as part of the Fifth Coalition. Once more Napoleon defeated Austria and the resulting treaty included significant loss of Austrian territory.

The remaining allies reformed after the Russian campaign, believing that the French army had been fatally weakened. This time England, Russia, Spain, Portugal, Prussia, Austria, Sweden and some smaller German states formed the Sixth Coalition. They were succesful at the Battle of Leipzig (1813) and the French army suffered severe casualties.

In early 1815 Napoleon returned from Elba, marched to Paris and was finally defeated at Waterloo by the combined forces of the Seventh Coalition : England, Russia, Prussia, the Netherlands, Sweden, Austria, Spain, Portugal, Sardinia, and a number of small German states.



Peter Hornby Management Consultancy