The borders of modern France are approximately the same as those of ancient Gaul, which was inhabited by Celtic Gauls. Gaul was conquered by Rome under 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 established by the fourth and 5th centuries that St. Jerome wrote that Gaul was the only region “free from heresy”.
France after the Hundred Years War. Red line: Boundary of the Kingdom of France; Light blue: the directly held royal domain
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 modern name “France” derives from the name of the feudal domain of the Capetian Kings of France around Paris. The Franks were the first tribe among the Germanic conquerors of Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire to convert to Catholic Christianity 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”.
The St. Bartholomew's Day massacre (1572) during the French Wars of Religion.
Napoleon I, Empereur des Français, built a Great Empire across Europe
Jeanne d'Arc by Le Brun de Charmettes
Existence as a separate entity began with the Treaty of Verdun (843), with the division of Charlemagne's Carolingian Empire 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, progressively unified 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 of Occitania (the southern area of modern-day France). In the end, both the Cathars and the independence of southern France were exterminated. In 1066, the Duke of Normandy added King of England to his titles. Later Kings expanded their territory to cover over half of modern continental France, including most of the North, Centre and West of France.
The exact boundaries changed greatly with time, but French landholdings of the English Kings remained extensive for centuries. Strong French counterattacks, helped by English weakness during the Wars of the Roses, won back mainland territory until only Calais remained. Under Mary I of England this was lost to the Spanish Netherlands.
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 war in what would become known as the Hundred Years' War.
In the most notorious incident during the French Wars of Religion (1562–98), thousands of Huguenots were murdered in the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre of 1572.
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 (see Demographics of France) and had tremendous influence 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 Enlightenment occurred in French intellectual circles, and major scientific breakthroughs were achieved by French scientists in the 18th century. In addition, France obtained many overseas possessions in the Americas, Africa and Asia.
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