• William Tyler

French History: A Foundation

France is not another version of England, its powerful neighbour. Neither is France Paris.

France is different in many ways to its island neighbour.

France only finally achieved unified status under Napoleon in the 19th century.

Because of this, regional differences in France are still profound. Perpignan has little in common with Lille, and Strasbourg with Bordeaux. Regional languages remain a live issue in French culture, especially in Provence,

France's borders have been fought over for centuries, and arguably were only finally settled in 1945.

French history clearly teaches us about France but it also teaches us about the wider Europe in which it has often played a pivotal role.

At two moments in history it has played a global role. Firstly with the philosophers of the 18th century Enlightenment, men such as Voltaire, Rousseau, and Diderot; secondly with the ideas of The French Revolution of 1789.

The France of Louis XIV showed the high culture of Europe's Ancien Regime at its finest, and Napoleon's Army demonstrated what the French refer to as 'la gloire'.

France has contributed much, suffered much, and itself caused much suffering with Napoleon's conquests and its Overseas Empire.

A story both unique and important.

So the questions which have to be answered in any introductory look at French history are:

  1. Who exactly are the French?

  2. How many languages are there in France and what does this tell us about the country?

  3. How has the geography of France shaped its history?

For some background reading please see my blog (

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