The Loire Valley (French: Vallée de la Loire, pronounced [vale də la lwaʁ]), spanning 280 kilometres (170 mi), is located in the middle stretch of the Loire river in central France, in both the administrative regions Pays de la Loire and Centre-Val de Loire. The area of the Loire Valley comprises about 800 square kilometres (310 sq mi). It is referred to as the Cradle of the French and the Garden of France due to the abundance of vineyards, fruit orchards (such as cherries), and artichoke, and asparagus fields, which line the banks of the river. Notable for its historic towns, architecture, and wines, the valley has been inhabited since the Middle Palaeolithic period. In 2000, UNESCO added the central part of the Loire River valley to its list of World Heritage Sites.
France (French: [fʁɑ̃s] Listen), officially the French Republic (French: République française), is a country primarily located in Western Europe, consisting of metropolitan France and several overseas regions and territories.[XIII] The metropolitan area of France extends from the Rhine to the Atlantic Ocean and from the Mediterranean Sea to the English Channel and the North Sea. The overseas territories include French Guiana in South America and several islands in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans. France borders Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany to the northeast, Switzerland, Monaco and Italy to the east, Andorra and Spain to the south, as well as the Netherlands, Suriname and Brazil in the Americas. The country’s eighteen integral regions (five of which are situated overseas) span a combined area of 643,801 km2 (248,573 sq mi) and a total population of 67.413 million (as of May 2021). France is a unitary semi-presidential republic with its capital in Paris, the country’s largest city and main cultural and commercial centre. Other major urban areas include Lyon, Marseille, Toulouse, Bordeaux, Lille and Nice. France, including its overseas territories, has the most time zones of any country, with a total of twelve.
During the Iron Age, what is now metropolitan France was inhabited by the Gauls. The area was annexed by Rome in 51 BC, developing a distinct Gallo-Roman culture that laid the foundation of the French language. The Germanic Franks arrived in 476 and formed the Kingdom of Francia, which became the heartland of the Carolingian Empire. The Treaty of Verdun of 843 partitioned the empire, with West Francia becoming the Kingdom of France in 987.
In the High Middle Ages, France was a highly decentralized feudal kingdom in which the authority of the king was barely felt. King Philip Augustus achieved remarkable success in the strengthening of royal power and the expansion of his realm, doubling its size and defeating his rivals. By the end of his reign, France had emerged as the most powerful state in Europe. In the mid-14th century, French monarchs were embroiled in a series of dynastic conflicts with their English counterparts, collectively known as the Hundred Years’ War, from which they ultimately emerged victorious. Disputes with Spain and the Holy Roman Empire soon followed during the Renaissance. Meanwhile, French culture flourished and a global colonial empire was established, which by the 20th century would become the second largest in the world. The second half of the 16th century was dominated by religious civil wars between Catholics and Protestants (Huguenots), which severely weakened the country. But France once again emerged as Europe’s dominant cultural, political, and military power in the 17th century under Louis XIV following the Thirty Years’ War. Despite the wealth of the nation, an inadequate financial model and inequitable taxation system coupled with endless and costly wars meant that the kingdom was left in a precarious economic situation by the end of the 18th century. Especially costly were the Seven Years’ War and American War of Independence. The French Revolution in 1789 saw the fall of the absolute monarchy that characterized the Ancien Régime and from its ashes, rose one of modern history’s earliest republics, which drafted the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. The declaration expresses the nation’s ideals to this day.
Following the revolution, France reached its political and military zenith in the early 19th century under Napoleon Bonaparte, subjugating much of continental Europe and establishing the First French Empire. The French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars shaped the course of European and world history. After the collapse of the empire and a relative decline, France endured a tumultuous succession of governments culminating in the establishment of the French Third Republic in 1870 in the midst of the Franco-Prussian War. France was one of the prominent participants of World War I, from which it emerged victorious, and was one of the Allied powers in World War II, but came under occupation by the Axis in 1940. Following liberation in 1944, a Fourth Republic was established and later dissolved in the course of the Algerian War. The Fifth Republic, led by Charles de Gaulle, was formed in 1958 and remains to this day. Algeria and nearly all other French colonies became independent in the 1960s, with most retaining close economic and military connections with France.
France retains its centuries-long status as a global centre of art, science, and philosophy. It hosts the world’s fifth-largest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites and is the leading tourist destination, receiving over 89 million foreign visitors in 2018. France is a developed country with the world’s seventh-largest economy by nominal GDP, and the ninth-largest by PPP. In terms of aggregate household wealth, it ranks fourth in the world. France performs well in international rankings of education, health care, life expectancy, and human development. It remains a great power in global affairs, being one of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and an official nuclear-weapon state. France is a founding and leading member of the European Union and the Eurozone, and a member of the Group of 7, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the World Trade Organization (WTO), and La Francophonie.
Etymology and pronunciation
Main article: Name of France
Originally applied to the whole Frankish Empire, the name France comes from the Latin Francia, or "realm of the Franks". Modern France is still named today Francia in Italian and Spanish, while Frankreich in German, Frankrijk in Dutch and Frankrike in Swedish all mean "Land/realm of the Franks".
The name of the Franks is related to the English word frank ("free"): the latter stems from the Old French franc ("free, noble, sincere"), ultimately from Medieval Latin francus ("free, exempt from service; freeman, Frank"), a generalization of the tribal name that emerged as a Late Latin borrowing of the reconstructed Frankish endonym *Frank. It has been suggested that the meaning "free" was adopted because, after the conquest of Gaul, only Franks were free of taxation, or more generally because they had the status of freemen in contrast to servants or slaves.
The etymology of *Frank is uncertain. It is traditionally derived from the Proto-Germanic word *frankōn, which translates as "javelin" or "lance" (the throwing axe of the Franks was known as the francisca), although these weapons may have been named because of their use by the Franks, not the other way around.
In English, ‘France’ is pronounced /fræns/ FRANSS in American English and /frɑːns/ FRAHNSS or /fræns/ FRANSS in British English. The pronunciation with /ɑː/ is mostly confined to accents with the trap-bath split such as Received Pronunciation, though it can be also heard in some other dialects such as Cardiff English, in which /frɑːns/ is in free variation with /fræns/.
Main article: History of France
Prehistory (before the 6th century BC)
Main article: Prehistory of France
Lascaux cave paintings: a horse from Dordogne facing right brown on white background
One of the Lascaux paintings: a horse – approximately 17,000 BC. Lascaux is famous for its "exceptionally detailed depictions of humans and animals". The oldest traces of human life in what is now France date from approximately 1.8 million years ago. Over the ensuing millennia, humans were confronted by a harsh and variable climate, marked by several glacial periods. Early hominids led a nomadic hunter-gatherer life. France has a large number of decorated caves from the upper Palaeolithic era, including one of the most famous and best preserved, Lascaux (approximately 18,000 BC). At the end of the last glacial period (10,000 BC), the climate became milder; from approximately 7,000 BC, this part of Western Europe entered the Neolithic era and its inhabitants became sedentary.
After strong demographic and agricultural development between the 4th and 3rd millennia, metallurgy appeared at the end of the 3rd millennium, initially working gold, copper and bronze, as well as later iron. France has numerous megalithic sites from the Neolithic period, including the exceptionally dense Carnac stones site (approximately 3,300 BC).
Antiquity (6th century BC–5th century AD)
Main articles: Gaul, Celts, and Roman Gaul
Vercingetorix surrenders to Caesar during the Battle of Alesia. The Gallic defeat in the Gallic Wars secured the Roman conquest of the country.
In 600 BC, Ionian Greeks from Phocaea founded the colony of Massalia (present-day Marseille), on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. This makes it France’s oldest city. At the same time, some Gallic Celtic tribes penetrated parts of Eastern and Northern France, gradually spreading through the rest of the country between the 5th and 3rd century BC. The concept of Gaul emerged during this period, corresponding to the territories of Celtic settlement ranging between the Rhine, the Atlantic Ocean, the Pyrenees and the Mediterranean. The borders of modern France roughly correspond to ancient Gaul, which was inhabited by Celtic Gauls. Gaul was then a prosperous country, of which the southernmost part was heavily subject to Greek and Roman cultural and economic influences.
Maison Carrée temple in Nemausus Corinthian columns and portico
The Maison Carrée was a temple of the Gallo-Roman city of Nemausus (present-day Nîmes) and is one of the best-preserved vestiges of the Roman Empire.
Around 390 BC, the Gallic chieftain Brennus and his troops made their way to Italy through the Alps, defeated the Romans in the Battle of the Allia, and besieged and ransomed Rome. The Gallic invasion left Rome weakened, and the Gauls continued to harass the region until 345 BC when they entered into a formal peace treaty with Rome. But the Romans and the Gauls would remain adversaries for the next centuries, and the Gauls would continue to be a threat in Italy.
Around 125 BC, the south of Gaul was conquered by the Romans, who called this region Provincia Nostra ("Our Province"), which over time evolved into the name Provence in French. Julius Caesar conquered the remainder of Gaul and overcame a revolt carried out by the Gallic chieftain Vercingetorix in 52 BC. According to Plutarch and the writings of scholar Brendan Woods, the Gallic Wars resulted in 800 conquered cities, 300 subdued tribes, one million men sold into slavery, and another three million dead in battle.
Gaul was divided by Augustus into Roman provinces. Many cities were founded during the Gallo-Roman period, including Lugdunum (present-day Lyon), which is considered the capital of the Gauls. These cities were built in traditional Roman style, with a forum, a theatre, a circus, an amphitheatre and thermal baths. The Gauls mixed with Roman settlers and eventually adopted Roman culture and Roman speech (Latin, from which the French language evolved). The Roman polytheism merged with the Gallic paganism into the same syncretism.
From the 250s to the 280s AD, Roman Gaul suffered a serious crisis with its fortified borders being attacked on several occasions by barbarians. Nevertheless, the situation improved in the first half of the 4th century, which was a period of revival and prosperity for Roman Gaul. In 312, Emperor Constantin I converted to Christianity. Subsequently, Christians, who had been persecuted until then, increased rapidly across the entire Roman Empire. But, from the beginning of the 5th century, the Barbarian Invasions resumed. Teutonic tribes invaded the region from present-day Germany, the Visigoths settling in the southwest, the Burgundians along the Rhine River Valley, and the Franks (from whom the French take their name) in the north.
Early Middle Ages (5th–10th century)
Main articles: Francia, Merovingian dynasty, and Carolingian dynasty
See also: List of French monarchs and France in the Middle Ages
animated gif showing expansion of Franks across Europe
Frankish expansion from 481 to 870
At the end of the Antiquity period, ancient Gaul was divided into several Germanic kingdoms and a remaining Gallo-Roman territory, known as the Kingdom of Syagrius. Simultaneously, Celtic Britons, fleeing the Anglo-Saxon settlement of Britain, settled the western part of Armorica. As a result, the Armorican peninsula was renamed Brittany, Celtic culture was revived and independent petty kingdoms arose in this region.
The first leader to make himself king of all the Franks was Clovis I, who began his reign in 481, routing the last forces of the Roman governors of the province in 486. Clovis claimed that he would be baptized a Christian in the event of his victory against the Visigoths, which was said to have guaranteed the battle. Clovis regained the southwest from the Visigoths, was baptized in 508, and made himself master of what is now western Germany.
Clovis I was the first Germanic conqueror after the fall of the Roman Empire to convert to Catholic Christianity, rather than Arianism; thus France was given the title "Eldest daughter of the Church" (French: La fille aînée de l’Église) by the papacy, and French kings would be called "the Most Christian Kings of France" (Rex Christianissimus).
painting of Clovis I conversion to Catholicism in 498, a king being baptized in a tub in a cathedral surrounded by bishop and monks
With Clovis’s conversion to Catholicism in 498, the Frankish monarchy, elective and secular until then, became hereditary and of divine right.
The Franks embraced the Christian Gallo-Roman culture and ancient Gaul was eventually renamed Francia ("Land of the Franks"). The Germanic Franks adopted Romanic languages, except in northern Gaul where Roman settlements were less dense and where Germanic languages emerged. Clovis made Paris his capital and established the Merovingian dynasty, but his kingdom would not survive his death. The Franks treated land purely as a private possession and divided it among their heirs, so four kingdoms emerged from Clovis’s: Paris, Orléans, Soissons, and Rheims. The last Merovingian kings lost power to their mayors of the palace (head of household). One mayor of the palace, Charles Martel, defeated an Islamic invasion of Gaul at the Battle of Tours (732) and earned respect and power within the Frankish kingdoms. His son, Pepin the Short, seized the crown of Francia from the weakened Merovingians and founded the Carolingian dynasty. Pepin’s son, Charlemagne, reunited the Frankish kingdoms and built a vast empire across Western and Central Europe.
Proclaimed Holy Roman Emperor by Pope Leo III and thus establishing in earnest the French Government’s longtime historical association with the Catholic Church, Charlemagne tried to revive the Western Roman Empire and its cultural grandeur. Charlemagne’s son, Louis I (Emperor 814–840), kept the empire united; however, this Carolingian Empire would not survive his death. In 843, under the Treaty of Verdun, the empire was divided between Louis’ three sons, with East Francia going to Louis the German, Middle Francia to Lothair I, and West Francia to Charles the Bald. West Francia approximated the area occupied by, and was the precursor to, modern France.
During the 9th and 10th centuries, continually threatened by Viking invasions, France became a very decentralized state: the nobility’s titles and lands became hereditary, and the authority of the king became more religious than secular and thus was less effective and constantly challenged by powerful noblemen. Thus was established feudalism in France. Over time, some of the king’s vassals would grow so powerful that they often posed a threat to the king. For example, after the Battle of Hastings in 1066, William the Conqueror added "King of England" to his titles, becoming both the vassal to (as Duke of Normandy) and the equal of (as king of England) the king of France, creating recurring tensions.
High and Late Middle Ages (10th–15th century)
Main articles: Kingdom of France, Capetian dynasty, Valois dynasty, and Bourbon dynasty
See also: List of French monarchs and France in the Middle Ages
Joan of Arc led the French army to several important victories during the Hundred Years’ War (1337–1453), which paved the way for the final victory.
animated gif showing changes in French borders
Metropolitan France territorial evolution from 985 to 1947
The Carolingian dynasty ruled France until 987, when Hugh Capet, Duke of France and Count of Paris, was crowned King of the Franks. His descendants—the Capetians, the House of Valois and the House of Bourbon—progressively unified the country through wars and dynastic inheritance into the Kingdom of France, which was fully declared in 1190 by Philip II of France (Philippe Auguste). Later kings would expand their directly possessed domaine royal to cover over half of modern continental France by the 15th century, including most of the north, centre and west of France. During this process, the royal authority became more and more assertive, centered on a hierarchically conceived society distinguishing nobility, clergy, and commoners.
The French nobility played a prominent role in most Crusades to restore Christian access to the Holy Land. French knights made up the bulk of the steady flow of reinforcements throughout the two-hundred-year span of the Crusades, in such a fashion that the Arabs uniformly referred to the crusaders as Franj caring little whether they really came from France. The French Crusaders also imported the French language into the Levant, making French the base of the lingua franca (litt. "Frankish language") of the Crusader states. French knights also made up the majority in both the Hospital and the Temple orders. The latter, in particular, held numerous properties throughout France and by the 13th century were the principal bankers for the French crown, until Philip IV annihilated the order in 1307. The Albigensian Crusade was launched in 1209 to eliminate the heretical Cathars in the southwestern area of modern-day France. In the end, the Cathars were exterminated and the autonomous County of Toulouse was annexed into the crown lands of France.
From the 11th century, the House of Plantagenet, the rulers of the County of Anjou, succeeded in establishing its dominion over the surrounding provinces of Maine and Touraine, then progressively built an "empire" that spanned from England to the Pyrenees and covering half of modern France. Tensions between the kingdom of France and the Plantagenet empire would last a hundred years, until Philip II of France conquered, between 1202 and 1214 most of the continental possessions of the empire, leaving England and Aquitaine to the Plantagenets. Following the Battle of Bouvines, the Angevin court retreated to England, but persistent Capetian–Plantagenet rivalry would pave the way for another conflict, the Hundred Years’ War.
Charles IV the Fair died without an heir in 1328. Under the rules of the Salic law the crown of France could not pass to a woman nor could the line of kingship pass through the female line. Accordingly, the crown passed to Philip of Valois, a cousin of Charles, rather than through the female line to Charles’ nephew, Edward of Plantagenet, who would soon become Edward III of England. During the reign of Philip of Valois, the French monarchy reached the height of its medieval power. Philip’s seat on the throne was contested by Edward III of England in 1337, on the eve of the first wave of the Black Death, and England and France went to war in what would become known as the Hundred Years’ War. The exact boundaries changed greatly with time, but French landholdings of the English Kings remained extensive for decades. With charismatic leaders, such as Joan of Arc and La Hire, strong French counterattacks won back most English continental territories. Like the rest of Europe, France was struck by the Black Death; half of the 17 million population of France died.
Early modern period (15th century–1789)
Main articles: French Renaissance (c. 1400–c. 1650), Early modern France (1500–1789), French Wars of Religion (1562–1598) and Ancien Régime (c. 1400–1792)
The Château de Chenonceau, nowadays part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was built in the early 16th century.
The French Renaissance saw a spectacular cultural development and the first standardisation of the French language, which would become the official language of France and the language of Europe’s aristocracy. It also saw a long set of wars, known as the Italian Wars, between France and the House of Habsburg. French explorers, such as Jacques Cartier or Samuel de Champlain, claimed lands in the Americas for France, paving the way for the expansion of the First French colonial empire. The rise of Protestantism in Europe led France to a civil war known as the French Wars of Religion, where, in the most notorious incident, thousands of Huguenots were murdered in the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre of 1572. The Wars of Religion were ended by Henry IV’s Edict of Nantes, which granted some freedom of religion to the Huguenots. Spanish troops, the terror of Western Europe, assisted the Catholic side during the Wars of Religion in 1589–1594, and invaded northern France in 1597; after some skirmishing in the 1620s and 1630s, Spain and France returned to all-out war between 1635 and 1659. The war cost France 300,000 casualties.
Under Louis XIII, the energetic Cardinal Richelieu promoted the centralisation of the state and reinforced the royal power by disarming domestic power holders in the 1620s. He systematically destroyed castles of defiant lords and denounced the use of private violence (dueling, carrying weapons and maintaining private armies). By the end of the 1620s, Richelieu established "the royal monopoly of force" as the doctrine. During Louis XIV’s minority and the regency of Queen Anne and Cardinal Mazarin, a period of trouble known as the Fronde occurred in France. This rebellion was driven by the great feudal lords and sovereign courts as a reaction to the rise of royal absolute power in France.
Louis XIV of France standing in plate armor and blue sash facing left holding baton
Louis XIV, the "sun king" was the absolute monarch of France and made France the leading European power.
The monarchy reached its peak during the 17th century and the reign of Louis XIV. By turning powerful feudal lords into courtiers at the Palace of Versailles, Louis XIV’s personal power became unchallenged. Remembered for his numerous wars, he made France the leading European power. France became the most populous country in Europe and had tremendous influence over European politics, economy, and culture. French became the most-used language in diplomacy, science, literature and international affairs, and remained so until the 20th century. France obtained many overseas possessions in the Americas, Africa and Asia. Louis XIV also revoked the Edict of Nantes, forcing thousands of Huguenots into exile.
Under Louis XV, Louis XIV’s great-grandson, France lost New France and most of its Indian possessions after its defeat in the Seven Years’ War (1756–1763). Its European territory kept growing, however, with notable acquisitions such as Lorraine (1766) and Corsica (1770). An unpopular king, Louis XV’s weak rule, his ill-advised financial, political and military decisions – as well as the debauchery of his court– discredited the monarchy, which arguably paved the way for the French Revolution 15 years after his death.
Louis XVI, Louis XV’s grandson, actively supported the Americans, who were seeking their independence from Great Britain (realised in the 1783 Treaty of Paris). The financial crisis aggravated by France’s involvement in the American Revolutionary War was one of many contributing factors to the French Revolution. Much of the Enlightenment occurred in French intellectual circles, and major scientific breakthroughs and inventions, such as the discovery of oxygen (1778) and the first hot air balloon carrying passengers (1783), were achieved by French scientists. French explorers, such as Bougainville and Lapérouse, took part in the voyages of scientific exploration through maritime expeditions around the globe. The Enlightenment philosophy, in which reason is advocated as the primary source for legitimacy and authority, undermined the power of and support for the monarchy and helped pave the way for the French Revolution.
Revolutionary France (1789–1799)
Main articles: History of France § Revolutionary France (1789–1799), and French Revolution
Ouverture des États généraux à Versailles, 5 mai 1789 by Auguste Couder
drawing of the Storming of the Bastille on 14 July 1789, smoke of gunfire enveloping stone castle
The Storming of the Bastille on 14 July 1789 was the most emblematic event of the French Revolution.
Facing financial troubles, King Louis XVI summoned the Estates-General (gathering the three Estates of the realm) in May 1789 to propose solutions to his government. As it came to an impasse, the representatives of the Third Estate formed into a National Assembly, signalling the outbreak of the French Revolution. Fearing that the king would suppress the newly created National Assembly, insurgents stormed the Bastille on 14 July 1789, a date which would become France’s National Day.
In early August 1789, the National Constituent Assembly abolished the privileges of the nobility such as personal serfdom and exclusive hunting rights. Through the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (27 August 1789) France established fundamental rights for men. The Declaration affirms "the natural and imprescriptible rights of man" to "liberty, property, security and resistance to oppression". Freedom of speech and press were declared, and arbitrary arrests outlawed. It called for the destruction of aristocratic privileges and proclaimed freedom and equal rights for all men, as well as access to public office based on talent rather than birth. In November 1789, the Assembly decided to nationalise and sell all property of the Roman Catholic Church which had been the largest landowner in the country. In July 1790, a Civil Constitution of the Clergy reorganized the French Catholic Church, cancelling the authority of the Church to levy taxes, et cetera. This fueled much discontent in parts of France, which would contribute to the civil war breaking out some years later. While King Louis XVI still enjoyed popularity among the population, his disastrous flight to Varennes (June 1791) seemed to justify rumors he had tied his hopes of political salvation to the prospects of foreign invasion. His credibility was so deeply undermined that the abolition of the monarchy and establishment of a republic became an increasing possibility.
In August 1791, the Emperor of Austria and the King of Prussia in the Declaration of Pillnitz threatened revolutionary France to intervene by force of arms to restore the French absolute monarchy. In September 1791, the National Constituent Assembly forced King Louis XVI to accept the French Constitution of 1791, thus turning the French absolute monarchy into a constitutional monarchy. In the newly established Legislative Assembly (October 1791), enmity developed and deepened between a group, later called the ‘Girondins’, who favored war with Austria and Prussia, and a group later called ‘Montagnards’ or ‘Jacobins’, who opposed such a war. A majority in the Assembly in 1792 however saw a war with Austria and Prussia as a chance to boost the popularity of the revolutionary government, and thought that France would win a war against those gathered monarchies. On 20 April 1792, therefore, they declared war on Austria.[XIV]
Le Serment du Jeu de paume by Jacques-Louis David, 1791
On 10 August 1792, an angry crowd threatened the palace of King Louis XVI, who took refuge in the Legislative Assembly. A Prussian Army invaded France later in August 1792. In early September, Parisians, infuriated by the Prussian Army capturing Verdun and counter-revolutionary uprisings in the west of France, murdered between 1,000 and 1,500 prisoners by raiding the Parisian prisons. The Assembly and the Paris City Council seemed unable to stop that bloodshed. The National Convention, chosen in the first elections under male universal suffrage, on 20 September 1792 succeeded the Legislative Assembly and on 21 September abolished the monarchy by proclaiming the French First Republic. Ex-King Louis XVI was convicted of treason and guillotined in January 1793. France had declared war on Great Britain and the Dutch Republic in November 1792 and did the same on Spain in March 1793; in the spring of 1793, Austria and Prussia invaded France; in March, France created a "sister republic" in the "Republic of Mainz".
Also in March 1793, the civil war of the Vendée against Paris started, evoked by both the Civil Constitution of the Clergy of 1790 and the nationwide army conscription early 1793; elsewhere in France rebellion was brewing too. A factionalist feud in the National Convention, smoldering ever since October 1791, came to a climax with the group of the ‘Girondins’ on 2 June 1793 being forced to resign and leave the convention. The counter-revolution, begun in March 1793 in the Vendée, by July had spread to Brittany, Normandy, Bordeaux, Marseilles, Toulon, and Lyon. Paris’ Convention government between October and December 1793 with brutal measures managed to subdue most internal uprisings, at the cost of tens of thousands of lives. Some historians consider the civil war to have lasted until 1796 with a toll of possibly 450,000 lives. By the end of 1793 the allies had been driven from France. France in February 1794 abolished slavery in its American colonies, but would reintroduce it later.
Political disagreements and enmity in the National Convention between October 1793 and July 1794 reached unprecedented levels, leading to dozens of Convention members being sentenced to death and guillotined. Meanwhile, France’s external wars in 1794 were going prosperous, for example in Belgium. In 1795, the government seemed to return to indifference towards the desires and needs of the lower classes concerning freedom of (Catholic) religion and fair distribution of food. Until 1799, politicians, apart from inventing a new parliamentary system (the ‘Directory’), busied themselves with dissuading the people from Catholicism and from royalism.
Napoleon and 19th century (1799–1914)
Main articles: History of France § Napoleonic France (1799–1815); History of France § Long 19th century, 1815–1914; First French Empire; Second French Empire; and French colonial empire
See also: France in the 19th century and France in the 20th century
painting of Napoleon in 1806 standing with hand in vest attended by staff and Imperial guard regiment
Napoleon, Emperor of the French, built a vast empire across Europe. His conquests spread the ideals of the French Revolution across much of the continent, such as popular sovereignty, equality before the law, republicanism and administrative reorganisation while his legal reforms had a major impact worldwide. Nationalism, especially in Germany, emerged in reaction against him. Napoleon Bonaparte seized control of the Republic in 1799 becoming First Consul and later Emperor of the French Empire (1804–1814; 1815). As a continuation of the wars sparked by the European monarchies against the French Republic, changing sets of European Coalitions declared wars on Napoleon’s Empire. His armies conquered most of continental Europe with swift victories such as the battles of Jena-Auerstadt or Austerlitz. Members of the Bonaparte family were appointed as monarchs in some of the newly established kingdoms.
These victories led to the worldwide expansion of French revolutionary ideals and reforms, such as the metric system, the Napoleonic Code and the Declaration of the Rights of Man. In June 1812, Napoleon attacked Russia, reaching Moscow. Thereafter his army disintegrated through supply problems, disease, Russian attacks, and finally winter. After the catastrophic Russian campaign, and the ensuing uprising of European monarchies against his rule, Napoleon was defeated and the Bourbon monarchy restored. About a million Frenchmen died during the Napoleonic Wars. After his brief return from exile, Napoleon was finally defeated in 1815 at the Battle of Waterloo, the monarchy was re-established (1815–1830), with new constitutional limitations.
The discredited Bourbon dynasty was overthrown by the July Revolution of 1830, which established the constitutional July Monarchy. In that year, French troops conquered Algeria, establishing the first colonial presence in Africa since Napoleon’s abortive invasion of Egypt in 1798. In 1848 general unrest led to the February Revolution and the end of the July Monarchy. The abolition of slavery and introduction of male universal suffrage, which were briefly enacted during the French Revolution, were re-enacted in 1848. In 1852, the president of the French Republic, Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, Napoleon I’s nephew, was proclaimed emperor of the Second Empire, as Napoleon III. He multiplied French interventions abroad, especially in Crimea, in Mexico and Italy which resulted in the annexation of the Duchy of Savoy and the County of Nice, then part of the Kingdom of Sardinia. Napoleon III was unseated following defeat in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and his regime was replaced by the Third Republic. By 1875, the French conquest of Algeria was complete and approximately 825,000 Algerians were killed as a result.
animated gif of French colonial territory on world map
Animated map of the growth and decline of the French colonial empire
France had colonial possessions, in various forms, since the beginning of the 17th century, but in the 19th and 20th centuries, its global overseas colonial empire extended greatly and became the second largest in the world behind the British Empire. Including metropolitan France, the total area of land under French sovereignty almost reached 13 million square kilometers in the 1920s and 1930s, 8.6% of the world’s land. Known as the Belle Époque, the turn of the century was a period characterised by optimism, regional peace, economic prosperity and technological, scientific and cultural innovations. In 1905, state secularism was officially established.
Contemporary period (1914–present)
Main article: History of France (1900 to present)
French Poilus posing with their war-torn flag in 1917, during World War I
France was a member of the Triple Entente when World War I broke out. A small part of Northern France was occupied, but France and its allies emerged victorious against the Central Powers at a tremendous human and material cost. World War I left 1.4 million French soldiers dead, 4% of its population. Between 27 and 30% of soldiers conscripted from 1912 to 1915 were killed. The interbellum years were marked by intense international tensions and a variety of social reforms introduced by the Popular Front government (annual leave, eight-hour workdays, women in government).
In 1940, France was invaded by Nazi Germany and Italy. Metropolitan France was divided into a German occupation zone in the north, an Italian occupation zone in the southeast and Vichy France, a newly established authoritarian regime collaborating with Germany, in the south, while Free France, the government-in-exile led by Charles de Gaulle, was set up in London. From 1942 to 1944, about 160,000 French citizens, including around 75,000 Jews, were deported to death camps and concentration camps in Germany and occupied Poland. In September 1943, Corsica was the first French metropolitan territory to liberate itself from the Axis. On 6 June 1944, the Allies invaded Normandy and in August they invaded Provence. Over the following year the Allies and the French Resistance emerged victorious over the Axis powers and French sovereignty was restored with the establishment of the Provisional Government of the French Republic (GPRF). This interim government, established by de Gaulle, aimed to continue to wage war against Germany and to purge collaborators from office. It also made several important reforms (suffrage extended to women, creation of a social security system).
Charles de Gaulle seated in uniform looking left with folded arms
Charles de Gaulle took an active part in many major events of the 20th century: a hero of World War I, leader of the Free French during World War II, he then became President, where he facilitated decolonisation, maintained France as a major power and overcame the revolt of May 1968.
The GPRF laid the groundwork for a new constitutional order that resulted in the Fourth Republic, which saw spectacular economic growth (les Trente Glorieuses). France was one of the founding members of NATO (1949). France attempted to regain control of French Indochina but was defeated by the Viet Minh in 1954 at the climactic Battle of Dien Bien Phu. Only months later, France faced another anti-colonialist conflict in Algeria. The systematic torture and repression, as well as the extrajudicial killings that were perpetrated to keep control of Algeria, then considered as an integral part of France and home to over one million European settlers, wracked the country and nearly led to a coup and civil war.
In 1958, the weak and unstable Fourth Republic gave way to the Fifth Republic, which included a strengthened Presidency. In the latter role, Charles de Gaulle managed to keep the country together while taking steps to end the Algerian War. The war was concluded with the Évian Accords in 1962 that led to Algerian independence. The Algerian independence came at a high price: namely, the large toll on the Algerian population. It resulted in half million to a million deaths and over 2 million internally displaced Algerians. A vestige of the colonial empire are the French overseas departments and territories.
The May 68 protests, a massive social movement, would ultimately led to many social changes, such as the right to abortion, women empowerment as well as the decriminalisation of homosexuality. In the context of the Cold War, De Gaulle pursued a policy of "national independence" towards the Western and Eastern blocs. To this end, he withdrew from NATO’s military integrated command (while remaining in the NATO alliance itself), launched a nuclear development programme and made France the fourth nuclear power. He restored cordial Franco-German relations to create a European counterweight between the American and Soviet spheres of influence. However, he opposed any development of a supranational Europe, favouring a Europe of sovereign nations. In the wake of the series of worldwide protests of 1968, the revolt of May 1968 had an enormous social impact. In France, it is considered to be the watershed moment when a conservative moral ideal (religion, patriotism, respect for authority) shifted towards a more liberal moral ideal (secularism, individualism, sexual revolution). Although the revolt was a political failure (as the Gaullist party emerged even stronger than before) it announced a split between the French people and de Gaulle who resigned shortly after.
In the post-Gaullist era, France remained one of the most developed economies in the world, but faced several economic crises that resulted in high unemployment rates and increasing public debt. In the late 20th and early 21st centuries France has been at the forefront of the development of a supranational European Union, notably by signing the Maastricht Treaty (which created the European Union) in 1992, establishing the Eurozone in 1999 and signing the Lisbon Treaty in 2007. France has also gradually but fully reintegrated into NATO and has since participated in most NATO sponsored wars.
Place de la République statue column with large French flag
Republican marches were organised across France after the January 2015 attacks perpetrated by Islamist terrorists; they became the largest public rallies in French history.
Since the 19th century France has received many immigrants. These have been mostly male foreign workers from European Catholic countries who generally returned home when not employed. During the 1970s France faced economic crisis and allowed new immigrants (mostly from the Maghreb) to permanently settle in France with their families and to acquire French citizenship. It resulted in hundreds of thousands of Muslims (especially in the larger cities) living in subsidised public housing and suffering from very high unemployment rates. Simultaneously France renounced the assimilation of immigrants, where they were expected to adhere to French traditional values and cultural norms. They were encouraged to retain their distinctive cultures and traditions and required merely to integrate.
Since the 1995 Paris Métro and RER bombings, France has been sporadically targeted by Islamist organisations, notably the Charlie Hebdo attack in January 2015 which provoked the largest public rallies in French history, gathering 4.4 million people, the November 2015 Paris attacks which resulted in 130 deaths, the deadliest attack on French soil since World War II and the deadliest in the European Union since the Madrid train bombings in 2004, as well as the 2016 Nice truck attack, which caused 87 deaths during Bastille Day celebrations. Opération Chammal, France’s military efforts to contain ISIS, killed over 1,000 ISIS troops between 2014 and 2015.
Main article: Geography of France
Location and borders
A relief map of Metropolitan France, showing cities with over 100,000 inhabitants
Panorama of Mont Blanc mountain range above gray clouds under a blue sky
Mont Blanc, the highest summit in Western Europe, marks the border with Italy.
The vast majority of France’s territory and population is situated in Western Europe and is called Metropolitan France, to distinguish it from the country’s various overseas polities. It is bordered by the North Sea in the north, the English Channel in the northwest, the Atlantic Ocean in the west and the Mediterranean sea in the southeast. Its land borders consist of Belgium and Luxembourg in the northeast, Germany and Switzerland in the east, Italy and Monaco in the southeast, and Andorra and Spain in the south and southwest. With the exception of the northeast, most of France’s land borders are roughly delineated by natural boundaries and geographic features: to the south and southeast, the Pyrenees and the Alps and the Jura, respectively, and to the east, the Rhine river. Due to its shape, France is often referred to as l’Hexagone ("The Hexagon"). Metropolitan France includes various coastal islands, of which the largest is Corsica. Metropolitan France is situated mostly between latitudes 41° and 51° N, and longitudes 6° W and 10° E, on the western edge of Europe, and thus lies within the northern temperate zone. Its continental part covers about 1000 km from north to south and from east to west.
France has several overseas regions across the world, which are organized as follows:
In South America: French Guiana.
In the Atlantic Ocean: Saint Pierre and Miquelon and, in the Antilles: Guadeloupe, Martinique, Saint Martin and Saint Barthélemy.
In the Pacific Ocean: French Polynesia, the special collectivity of New Caledonia, Wallis and Futuna and Clipperton Island.
In the Indian Ocean: Réunion island, Mayotte, Kerguelen Islands, Crozet Islands, St. Paul and Amsterdam islands, and the Scattered Islands in the Indian Ocean
In the Antarctic: Adélie Land.
France has land borders with Brazil and Suriname via French Guiana and with the Kingdom of the Netherlands through the French portion of Saint Martin.
Metropolitan France covers 551,500 square kilometres (212,935 sq mi), the largest among European Union members. France’s total land area, with its overseas departments and territories (excluding Adélie Land), is 643,801 km2 (248,573 sq mi), 0.45% of the total land area on Earth. France possesses a wide variety of landscapes, from coastal plains in the north and west to mountain ranges of the Alps in the southeast, the Massif Central in the south central and Pyrenees in the southwest.
Due to its numerous overseas departments and territories scattered across the planet, France possesses the second-largest Exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the world, covering 11,035,000 km2 (4,260,000 mi2), just behind the EEZ of the United States, which covers 11,351,000 km2 (4,383,000 mi2), but ahead of the EEZ of Australia, which covers 8,148,250 km2 (4,111,312 mi2). Its EEZ covers approximately 8% of the total surface of all the EEZs of the world.
Geology, topography and hydrography
Geological formations near Roussillon, Vaucluse
Metropolitan France has a wide variety of topographical sets and natural landscapes. Large parts of the current territory of France were raised during several tectonic episodes like the Hercynian uplift in the Paleozoic Era, during which the Armorican Massif, the Massif Central, the Morvan, the Vosges and Ardennes ranges and the island of Corsica were formed. These massifs delineate several sedimentary basins such as the Aquitaine basin in the southwest and the Paris basin in the north, the latter including several areas of particularly fertile ground such as the silt beds of Beauce and Brie. Various routes of natural passage, such as the Rhône Valley, allow easy communications. The Alpine, Pyrenean and Jura mountains are much younger and have less eroded forms. At 4,810.45 metres (15,782 ft) above sea level, Mont Blanc, located in the Alps on the French and Italian border, is the highest point in Western Europe. Although 60% of municipalities are classified as having seismic risks, these risks remain moderate.
Reed bed on the Gironde estuary, the largest estuary in Western Europe
The coastlines offer contrasting landscapes: mountain ranges along the French Riviera, coastal cliffs such as the Côte d’Albâtre, and wide sandy plains in the Languedoc. Corsica lies off the Mediterranean coast. France has an extensive river system consisting of the four major rivers Seine, the Loire, the Garonne, the Rhône and their tributaries, whose combined catchment includes over 62% of the metropolitan territory. The Rhône divides the Massif Central from the Alps and flows into the Mediterranean Sea at the Camargue. The Garonne meets the Dordogne just after Bordeaux, forming the Gironde estuary, the largest estuary in Western Europe which after approximately 100 kilometres (62 mi) empties into the Atlantic Ocean. Other water courses drain towards the Meuse and Rhine along the north-eastern borders. France has 11 million square kilometres (4.2×106 sq mi) of marine waters within three oceans under its jurisdiction, of which 97% are overseas.
Köppen climate classification map of France
The French metropolitan territory is relatively large, so the climate is not uniform, giving rise to the following climate nuances:
• The hot-summer mediterranean climate (Csa) is found along the Gulf of Lion. Summers are hot and dry, while winters are mild and wet. Cities affected by this climate: Arles, Avignon, Fréjus, Hyères, Marseille, Menton, Montpellier, Nice, Perpignan, Toulon.
• The warm-summer mediterranean climate (Csb) is found in the northern part of Brittany. Summers are warm and dry, while winters are cool and wet. Cities affected by this climate: Belle Île, Saint-Brieuc.
• The humid subtropical climate (Cfa) is found in the Garonne and Rhône’s inland plains. Summers are hot and wet, while winters are cool and damp. Cities affected by this climate: Albi, Carcassonne, Lyon, Orange, Toulouse, Valence.
• The oceanic climate (Cfb) is found around the coasts of the Bay of Biscay, and a little bit inland. Summers are pleasantly warm and wet, while winters are cool and damp. Cities affected by this climate: Amiens, Biarritz, Bordeaux, Brest, Cherbourg-en-Cotentin, Dunkirk, Lille, Nantes, Orléans, Paris, Reims, Tours.
• The degraded oceanic climate (degraded-Cfb) is found in the interior plains and in the intra-alpine valleys, far from the ocean (or sea). Summers are hot and wet, while winters are cold and gloomy. Cities affected by this climate: Annecy, Besançon, Bourges, Chambéry, Clermont-Ferrand, Colmar, Dijon, Grenoble, Langres, Metz, Mulhouse, Nancy, Strasbourg.
• The subalpine oceanic climate (Cfc) is found at the foot of all the mountainous regions of France. Summers are short, cool and wet, while winters are moderately cold and damp. No major cities are affected by this climate.
• The warm-summer mediterranean continental climate (Dsb) is found in all the mountainous regions of Southern France between 700 and 1,400 metres a.s.l. Summers are pleasantly warm and dry, while winters are very cold and snowy. City affected by this climate: Barcelonnette.
• The cool-summer mediterranean continental climate (Dsc) is found in all the mountainous regions of Southern France between 1,400 and 2,100 metres a.s.l. Summers are cool, short and dry, while winters are very cold and snowy. Place affected by this climate: Isola 2000.
• The warm-summer humid continental climate (Dfb) is found in all the mountainous regions of the Northern half of France between 500 and 1,000 metres a.s.l. Summers are pleasantly warm and wet, while winters are very cold and snowy. Cities affected by this climate: Chamonix, Mouthe. In January 1985, in Mouthe, the temperature has dropped under −41 °C.
• The subalpine climate (Dfc) is found in all the mountainous regions of the northern half of France between 1,000 and 2,000 metres a.s.l. Summers are cool, short and wet, while winters are very cold and snowy. Places affected by this climate: Cauterets Courchevel, Alpe d’Huez, Les 2 Alpes, Peyragudes, Val-Thorens.
• The alpine tundra climate (ET) is found in all the mountainous regions of France, generally above 2,000 or 2,500 metres a.s.l. Summers are chilly and wet, while winters are extremely cold, long and snowy. Mountains affected by this climate: Aiguilles-Rouges, Aravis, the top of Crêt de la neige (rare, altitude 1,718 m) and the top of Grand-Ballon (rare, altitude 1,423 m).
• The ice cap climate (EF) is found in all the mountainous regions of France that have a glacier. Summers are cold and wet, while winters are extremely cold, long and snowy. Mountains affected by this climate: Aiguille du midi, Barre des Écrins, Belledonne, Grand-Casse, Mont Blanc (4,810 m), Pic du Midi de Bigorre.
• In the overseas regions, there are three broad types of climate:
A tropical climate (Am) in most overseas regions including eastern French Guiana: high constant temperature throughout the year with a dry and a wet season.
An equatorial climate (Af) in western French Guiana: high constant temperature with even precipitation throughout the year.
A subpolar oceanic climate (Cfc), characterised by mild, wet summers and cool, but generally not cold, damp winters. Cities or places affected by this climate: Port-aux-Français, Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon.
An ice cap climate (EF): extremely cold year-round in Adélie Land.
See also: List of national parks of France and Regional natural parks of France
color map showing Regional natural parks of France
Marine (blue), regional (green) and national (red) parks in France (2019)
France was one of the first countries to create an environment ministry, in 1971. Although it is one of the most industrialised countries in the world, France is ranked only 19th by carbon dioxide emissions, behind less populous nations such as Canada or Australia. This is due to the country’s heavy investment in nuclear power following the 1973 oil crisis, which now accounts for 75 percent of its electricity production and results in less pollution. According to the 2018 Environmental Performance Index conducted by Yale and Columbia, France was the second-most environmentally-conscious country in the world (after Switzerland), compared to tenth place in 2016 and 27th in 2014.
The forest of Rambouillet in Yvelines illustrates France’s flora diversity.
Like all European Union state members, France agreed to cut carbon emissions by at least 20% of 1990 levels by the year 2020, compared to the United States plan to reduce emissions by 4% of 1990 levels. As of 2009, French carbon dioxide emissions per capita were lower than that of China’s. The country was set to impose a carbon tax in 2009 at 17 euros per tonne of carbon emitted, which would have raised 4 billion euros of revenue annually. However, the plan was abandoned due to fears of burdening French businesses.
Calanques National Park in Bouches-du-Rhône is one of the best known protected areas of France.
Forests account for 31 percent of France’s land area—the fourth-highest proportion in Europe—representing an increase of 7 percent since 1990. French forests are some of the most diverse in Europe, comprising more than 140 species of trees. France had a 2018 Forest Landscape Integrity Index mean score of 4.52/10, ranking it 123rd globally out of 172 countries. There are nine national parks and 46 natural parks in France, with the government planning to convert 20% of its Exclusive economic zone into a Marine protected area by 2020. A regional nature park (French: parc naturel régional or PNR) is a public establishment in France between local authorities and the national government covering an inhabited rural area of outstanding beauty, to protect the scenery and heritage as well as setting up sustainable economic development in the area. A PNR sets goals and guidelines for managed human habitation, sustainable economic development and protection of the natural environment based on each park’s unique landscape and heritage. The parks foster ecological research programs and public education in the natural sciences. As of 2019 there are 54 PNRs in France.
Main article: Administrative divisions of France
The French Republic is divided into 18 regions (located in Europe and overseas), five overseas collectivities, one overseas territory, one special collectivity – New Caledonia and one uninhabited island directly under the authority of the Minister of Overseas France – Clipperton.
Val de LoirePays de
Côte d’AzurCorsicaFrench GuianaGuadeloupeMartiniqueMayotteRéunionBelgiumLuxembourgGermanySwitzerlandItalyUnited KingdomAndorraBrazilSurinameSpainChannelBay of
Since 2016 France is mainly divided into 18 administrative regions: 13 regions in metropolitan France (including the territorial collectivity of Corsica), and five located overseas. The regions are further subdivided into 101 departments, which are numbered mainly alphabetically. This number is used in postal codes and was formerly used on vehicle number plates. Among the 101 departments of France, five (French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Mayotte, and Réunion) are in overseas regions (ROMs) that are also simultaneously overseas departments (DOMs), enjoy exactly the same status as metropolitan departments and are an integral part of the European Union.
The 101 departments are subdivided into 335 arrondissements, which are, in turn, subdivided into 2,054 cantons. These cantons are then divided into 36,658 communes, which are municipalities with an elected municipal council. Three communes—Paris, Lyon and Marseille—are subdivided into 45 municipal arrondissements.
The regions, departments and communes are all known as territorial collectivities, meaning they possess local assemblies as well as an executive. Arrondissements and cantons are merely administrative divisions. However, this was not always the case. Until 1940, the arrondissements were territorial collectivities with an elected assembly, but these were suspended by the Vichy regime and definitely abolished by the Fourth Republic in 1946.
Overseas territories and collectivities
In addition to the 18 regions and 101 departments, the French Republic has five overseas collectivities (French Polynesia, Saint Barthélemy, Saint Martin, Saint Pierre and Miquelon, and Wallis and Futuna), one sui generis collectivity (New Caledonia), one overseas territory (French Southern and Antarctic Lands), and one island possession in the Pacific Ocean (Clipperton Island).
Overseas collectivities and territories form part of the French Republic, but do not form part of the European Union or its fiscal area (with the exception of St. Bartelemy, which seceded from Guadeloupe in 2007). The Pacific Collectivities (COMs) of French Polynesia, Wallis and Futuna, and New Caledonia continue to use the CFP franc whose value is strictly linked to that of the euro. In contrast, the five overseas regions used the French franc and now use the euro.
diagram of the overseas territories of France showing map shapes
The lands making up the French Republic, shown at the same geographic scale
Clipperton IslandState private property under the direct authority of the French governmentUninhabited
French PolynesiaDesignated as an overseas land (pays d’outre-mer or POM), the status is the same as an overseas collectivity.Papeete
French Southern and Antarctic LandsOverseas territory (territoire d’outre-mer or TOM)Port-aux-Français
New CaledoniaSui generis collectivityNouméa
Saint BarthélemyOverseas collectivity (collectivité d’outre-mer or COM)Gustavia
Saint MartinOverseas collectivity (collectivité d’outre-mer or COM)Marigot
Saint Pierre and MiquelonOverseas collectivity (collectivité d’outre-mer or COM). Still referred to as a collectivité territoriale.Saint-Pierre
Wallis and FutunaOverseas collectivity (collectivité d’outre-mer or COM). Still referred to as a territoire.Mata-Utu
Main article: Politics of France
Emmanuel Macron (cropped).jpgPortrait Jean Castex (cropped).jpg
The French Republic is a unitary semi-presidential representative democratic republic with strong democratic traditions. The Constitution of the Fifth Republic was approved by referendum on 28 September 1958. It greatly strengthened the authority of the executive in relation to Parliament. The executive branch itself has two leaders. The president of the Republic, currently Emmanuel Macron, is the head of state, elected directly by universal adult suffrage for a 5-year term (formerly 7 years). The prime minister, currently Jean Castex, is the head of government, appointed by the president of the Republic to lead the Government of France.
The National Assembly is the lower house of the French Parliament.
The French Parliament is a bicameral legislature comprising a National Assembly (Assemblée nationale) and a Senate. The National Assembly deputies represent local constituencies and are directly elected for 5-year terms. The Assembly has the power to dismiss the government; thus the majority in the Assembly determines the choice of government. Senators are chosen by an electoral college for 6-year terms (originally 9-year terms); one half of the seats are submitted to election every 3 years.
The Senate’s legislative powers are limited; in the event of disagreement between the two chambers, the National Assembly has the final say. The Government has a strong influence in shaping the agenda of Parliament.
Until World War II, Radicals were a strong political force in France, embodied by the Republican, Radical and Radical-Socialist Party which was the most important party of the Third Republic. Since World War II, they were marginalized while French politics became characterized by two politically opposed groupings: one left-wing, centred on the French Section of the Workers’ International and its successor the Socialist Party (since 1969); and the other right-wing, centred on the Gaullist Party, whose name changed over time to the Rally of the French People (1947), the Union of Democrats for the Republic (1958), the Rally for the Republic (1976), the Union for a Popular Movement (2007) and The Republicans (since 2015). In the 2017 presidential and legislative elections, radical centrist party En Marche! became the dominant force, overtaking both Socialists and Republicans.
As of 2017, voter turnout was 75 percent during recent elections, higher than the OECD average of 68 percent.
Main article: Law of France
France uses a civil legal system, wherein law arises primarily from written statutes; judges are not to make law, but merely to interpret it (though the amount of judicial interpretation in certain areas makes it equivalent to case law in a common law system). Basic principles of the rule of law were laid in the Napoleonic Code (which was, in turn, largely based on the royal law codified under Louis XIV). In agreement with the principles of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, law should only prohibit actions detrimental to society. As Guy Canivet, first president of the Court of Cassation, wrote about the management of prisons: Freedom is the rule, and its restriction is the exception; any restriction of Freedom must be provided for by Law and must follow the principles of necessity and proportionality. That is, Law should lay out prohibitions only if they are needed, and if the inconveniences caused by this restriction do not exceed the inconveniences that the prohibition is supposed to remedy.
color drawing of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen from 1789
The basic principles that the French Republic must respect are found in the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.
French law is divided into two principal areas: private law and public law. Private law includes, in particular, civil law and criminal law. Public law includes, in particular, administrative law and constitutional law. However, in practical terms, French law comprises three principal areas of law: civil law, criminal law, and administrative law. Criminal laws can only address the future and not the past (criminal ex post facto laws are prohibited). While administrative law is often a subcategory of civil law in many countries, it is completely separated in France and each body of law is headed by a specific supreme court: ordinary courts (which handle criminal and civil litigation) are headed by the Court of Cassation and administrative courts are headed by the Council of State.
To be applicable, every law must be officially published in the Journal officiel de la République française.
France does not recognise religious law as a motivation for the enactment of prohibitions; it has long abolished blasphemy laws and sodomy laws (the latter in 1791). However, "offences against public decency" (contraires aux bonnes mœurs) or disturbing public order (trouble à l’ordre public) have been used to repress public expressions of homosexuality or street prostitution. Since 1999, civil unions for homosexual couples are permitted, and since 2013, same-sex marriage and LGBT adoption are legal. Laws prohibiting discriminatory speech in the press are as old as 1881.
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