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France - History

Extras

This synopsis is based on the history of France from the French Revolution until recent times.

The immediate trigger for the Revolution was Louis XVI’s attempts to solve the government’s worsening financial situation. In February 1787 his finance minister, Charles Alexandre de Calonne, convened an Assembly of Notables, a group of nobles, clergy, bourgeoisie, and bureaucrats selected in order to bypass the parliments. This group was asked to approve a new land tax that would, for the first time, include a tax on the property of nobles and clergy. The assembly did not approve the tax first estates.
After the king fired his finance minister, Jacques Necker, for giving his support and guidance to the Third Estate worries surfaced that the legitimacy of the newly-formed National Assembly might be threatened by royalists. Paris was soon consumed with riots, anarchy, and widespread looting.

The mobs soon had the support of the French Guard, including arms and trained soldiers. On 14 July 1789 the insurgents set their eyes on the large weapons and ammunition cache inside the Bastille fortress, which also served as a symbol of royal oppression.

A modicum of peace was established, however several nobles did not regard the new order as acceptable and migrated to push neighbouring kingdoms to war against the new rule. The Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen was adopted by the National Assembly in August 1789 as a first step in their effort to write a constitution.

On 4 August 1789 the Assembly abolished feudalism, in what is known as the August Decrees, sweeping away both the seigneurial rights of the Second Estate and the tithes gathered by the First Estate. In the course of a few hours, nobles, clergy, towns, provinces, companies, and cities lost their special privileges. The legislators abolished hereditary offices, except for the monarchy itself. Jury trials started for criminal cases. The King would have the unique power to propose war, with the legislature then deciding whether to declare war. The Assembly abolished all internal trade barriers and suppressed guilds, masterships, and workers' organizations: any individual gained the right to practice a trade through the purchase of a license; strikes became illegal.


The Revolution brought about a massive shifting of powers from the Roman Catholic Church to the state.
When a mob from Paris attacked the royal palace at Versailles in October 1789 seeking address of severe poverty conditions, the royal family was forced to move to the Tuileries Palace in Paris. Later in June 1791 the royal family secretly fled Paris in disguise for Varennes near France's northeastern border to seek royalist support the king sensed he could trust, but they were soon discovered en route. They were brought back to Paris, after which they were essentially kept under house-arrest at the Tuileries.

Factions within the Assembly began to clarify with the various groupings reaching a compromise leaving Louis XVI little more than a figurehead.
After the first great victory of the French revolutionary troops at the Battle of Valmy on 1792 20 September, the French First Republic was proclaimed the day after on 1792 21 September.

Louis XVI was taken along with his family from the Tuileries Palace in August 1792 by insurgents supported by a new revolutionary Paris Commune. The King and Queen ended up prisoners, the King was tried and convicted and on 21 January 1793 was guillotined. Marie Antoinette, would follow him to the guillotine on 16 October.

After the stated aim of the National Convention to export revolution, the guillotining of Louis XVI of France, and the French opening of the Scheldt, a military coalition was formed and set up against France. Spain, Naples, Great Britain and the Netherlands joined Austria and Prussia in the The First Coalition (1792–1797), the first major concerted effort of multiple European powers to contain Revolutionary France. Finally a peace agreement was found between France, Spain and Prussia in 1795 at Basel.

The Directory lasted until 1799 when Napoleon staged a coup and installed the Consulate.
During the War of the First Coalition the Directoire had replaced the National Convention. Five directors then ruled France. As Great Britain was still at war with France, a plan was made to take Egypt from the Ottoman Empire, a British ally. This was Napoleon's idea and the Directoire agreed to the plan in order to send the popular general away from the mainland. Napoleon captured Malta from the Knights of Saint John on the way to Egypt. The French army met Ottoman forces during the Battle of the Pyramids and defeated them. While the land campaign was so far a success, the British fleet, led by Admiral Nelson, destroyed the French fleet at the Battle of the Nile. Hearing of the French defeat, the Ottoman Empire gathered armies to attack Napoleon in Egypt, and Napoleon again adopted a policy of attack. Royalists and their allies still dreamed of restoring the monarchy to power, while the Prussian and Austrian crowns did not accept their territorial losses during the previous war. The Russian army expelled the French from Italy in battles such as Cassano while the Austrian army defeated the French in Switzerland at Stockach and Zurich. Napoleon then seized power through a coup and established the Consulate in 1799. The Austrian army was defeated at Marengo in 1800 and again at Hohenlinden.. In 1803 Napoleon sold French Louisiana to the American government, a territory he considered indefensible.

On 21 March 1804 the Napoleonic Code was applied over all the territory under French control, and on May 18 Napoleon was titled Emperor by the senate, thus founding the French Empire.

Freed from his obligation in the east, Napoleon then went back to the west, as the French Empire was still at war with Britain. However, the French Empire was no longer regarded as invincible by European powers. In 1808 Austria formed the War of the Fifth Coalition in order to break down the French Empire. The Austrian Empire defeated the French at Aspern-Essling, yet was beaten at Wagram while the Polish allies defeated the Austrian Empire at Raszyn. Although not as decisive as the previous Austrian defeats, the peace treaty caused Austria to lose a large amount of territories, reducing it even more.

In 1812 war broke out with Russia, engaging Napoleon in the disastrous Patriotic War. Napoleon assembled the largest army Europe had ever seen, including troops from all submitted states, to invade Russia, which had just left the continental system and was gathering an army on the Polish frontier. Following an exhausting march and the bloody but inconclusive Battle of Borodino, near Moscow, the Grande Armée entered and captured Moscow, just to find it burning, as part of the Russian scorched earth tactics. Although there still were battles such as Maloyaroslavets the Napoleonic army left Russia decimated most of all by the Russian winter.
Napoleon abdicated on 6 April 1814, and was exiled to Elba. The monarchy was subsequently restored and Louis XVIII became king.

In 1838 the French government declared war on Mexico after a French pastry cook in Mexico accused Mexican officers of looting his shop. The Mexican government was defeated in the short Pastry War. Finally, the last King of France abdicated, and the French Second Republic was proclaimed. Louis Napoleon Bonaparte was elected president and proclaimed himself President for Life following a coup that was confirmed and accepted in a dubious referendum. Napoleon III of France took the imperial title in 1852 and held it until his downfall in 1870.

The period at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century is often termed the belle époque. Although associated with cultural innovations and popular amusements (cabaret, can-can, the cinema, new art forms such as Impressionism and Art Nouveau), France was nevertheless a nation divided internally on notions of religion, class, regionalisms and money, and on the international front France came repeatedly to the brink of war with the other imperial powers, including Great Britain (the Fashoda Incident). World War I was inevitable, but its human and financial costs would be catastrophic for the French.

On 28 June 1914 Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austria-Hungary throne was assinated in Sarajevo, the capital of the Austrian province of Bosnia. This event caused most of the European continent, including France, to be drawn into war within a few short weeks.
The war on the Western Front was fought largely in France and characterized by extremely violent battles, often with new and more destructive military technology. Famous battles in France include First Battle of the Marne, Battle of Verdun, Battle of the Somme and the Second Battle of the Marne
Peace terms were agreed upon in the Treaty of Versailles on November 11, largely negotiated by Georges Clemenceau for French matters. Germany was required to take full responsibility for the war and to pay war reparations; and the German industrial Saarland, a coal and steel region, was occupied by France. The German African colonies were partitioned between France and Britain.
During the Spanish Civil War France did not support the Spanish Republicans because of the French internal political context of complex alliances and risk of war with Germany and Italy.

In the 1920s, France established an elaborate system of border defences (the Maginot Line) and alliances to offset resurgent German strength.

The Invasion of Poland finally caused France and Britain to declare war against Germany.
French leaders surrendered to Nazi Germany on 24 June 1940, after the British Expeditionary Force was evacuated from Dunkirk. Nazi Germany occupied three fifths of France's territory, leaving the rest in the south east to the new Vichy government. This regime sought to collaborate with Germany. It was established on 10 July 1940. The Vichy Regime was led by Philippe Pétain. However, Charles de Gaulle declared himself by radio from London the head of a rival government in exile, gathering the Free French Forces around him, finding support in some French colonies and recognition from Britain and the USA.

In November 1942 Vichy France was finally occupied by German forces, because the war in North Africa was coming to an end; the Germans foresaw a threat in southern Europe by the allied forces.
On 6 June 1944 the allied landed on Normandy while on 15 August they landed on Provence (including the 260,000 men of the French army B). General Leclerc freed Paris and Strasbourg and later, along with the battleship Richelieu, represented France at Tokyo during the Japanese surrender. The Vichy regime fled to Germany. The 1sr French army recruited FFI fighters to continue the war until the final defeat of Germany.This army numbered 300,000 men by September 1944 and 370,000 by spring in 1945 (the 2nd DB wasn't in it).

France was liberated by allied forces in 1944. After a short period of provisional government initially led by General Charles de Gaulle, a new constitution (13 October 1946) established the Fourth Republic under a parliamentary form of government controlled by a series of coalitions. During the following 16 years the French Colonial Empire would disintegrate.

In Indochina the French government was facing the Viet Minh communist rebels and lost its Indochinese colonies during the First Indochina War in 1954 after the Battle of Dien Bien Phu. Vietnam was divided in two states while Cambodia and Laos were made independent.

In 1956 another crisis struck French colonies, this time in Egypt. The Suez Canal, having been built by the French government, belonged to the French Republic and was operated by the Compagnie universelle du canal maritime de Suez. Great Britain had bought the Egyptian share from Isma'il Pasha and was the second largest owner of the canal before the crisis. The Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalised the canal despite French and British opposition; he estimated a European answer was most unlikely to happen. Great Britain and France attacked Egypt and built an alliance with Israel against Nasser.

General de Gaulle was elected president in 1958 and made the French Force de Frappe, the nuclear power, a priority of the French Defence. France then adopted the dissuasion du faible au fort doctrine which meant a Soviet attack on France would only bring total destruction to both sides.
The May 1958 seizure of power in Algiers by French army units and French settlers opposed to concessions in the face of Arab nationalist insurrection led to the fall of the French government and a presidential invitation to de Gaulle to form an emergency.

Jacques Chirac assumed office as president on 17 May 1995, the French have stood among the strongest supporters of NATO and EU policy in the Balkans to prevent genocide in Yugoslavia. French troops joined the 1999 NATO bombing of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Jacques Chirac was reelected in 2002. 

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22
November
2018
23
November
2018
Covers trips up to 60 days overseas and within Australia for 12 months
Adult 1
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Dependent children are covered for free, age limits apply.