The borders of modern France are approximately the same as those of ancient Gaul, which was inhabited by Celtic Gauls. Gaul was conquered by Romeunder Julius Caesar in the 1st century BC, and the Gauls eventually adopted Roman speech (Latin, from which the French language evolved) and Roman culture. Christianity first appeared in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD, and became so firmly establishedby the 4th and 5th centuries that St. Jeromewrote that Gaul was the only region “free from heresy”.
In the 4th century AD, Gaul’s eastern frontier along the Rhine was overrun by Germanic tribes, principally the Franks, from whom the ancient name of “Francie” was derived. The Franks were the first tribe among the Germanic conquerors of Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire to convertto CatholicChristianity rather than Arianism (their King Clovis did so in 498); thus France obtained the title “Eldest daughter of the Church” (La fille aînée de l’Église), and the French would adopt this as justification for calling themselves “the Most Christian Kingdom of France”.
Existence as a separate entity began with the Treaty of Verdun (843), with the division of Charlemagne'sCarolingianEmpire into East Francia, Middle Francia and West Francia. Western Francia approximated the area occupied by modern France and was the precursor to modern France. The Carolingian dynasty ruled France until 987, when Hugh Capet, Duke of France and Count of Paris, was crowned King of France.
His descendants, the Direct Capetians, the House of Valois and the House of Bourbon, progressivelyunified the country through a series of wars and dynastic inheritance into a Kingdom of France. The Albigensian Crusade was launched in 1209 to eliminate the heretical Cathars in the south-western area of modern-day France. In the end, both the Cathars and the independence of the County of Toulouse were exterminated. In 1066, the Duke of Normandy added King of England to his titles. Later Kingsexpanded their territory to cover over half of modern continental France, including most of the North, Centre and West of France.
Charles IV (The Fair) died without an heir in 1328. Under the rules of the Salic Law adopted in 1316, the crown of France could not pass to a woman, nor could the line of kinship pass through the female line. Accordingly, the crown passed to the cousin of Charles,Philip of Valois, rather than through the female line to Charles' nephew, Edward, who would soon become Edward III of England. In the reign of Philip of Valois, the French monarchy reached the height of its medieval power. However, Philip's seat on the throne was contested by Edward III of England and in 1337, on the eve of the first wave of the Black Death, England and France went to warin 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 centuries. Strong French counterattacks won back all English mainland territories, except Calais which was captured in 1558 by the French.
The rise of Protestantism in Europe led France to a civil war know as the French Warsof Religion, where, in the most notorious incident, thousands ofHuguenots were murdered in the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre of 1572. The wars of Religion were ended in France by the Edict of Nantes
The monarchy reached its height during the 17th century and the reign of Louis XIV. At this time, France possessed the largest population in Europe (seeDemographics of France) and had tremendousinfluence over European politics, economy, and culture. Since the 18th century, French was the most used language in diplomacy, science, literature and international affairs, before English took the lead in the 20th century. Much of the Enlightenmentoccurred in French intellectual circles, and major scientific breakthroughs were achieved by French scientists in the 18th century. In...
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