The Valois

Meanwhile the last Capetian king, Charles the Fair, died in 1328 and his cousin Philip of Valois became Philip VI. However Edward III of England claimed the throne because his mother was king Charles the Fair’s sister. (Salic law did not allow him to inherit the throne through a woman). So in 1337 a long and terrible series of wars began between England and France.The English won a naval battle at Sluys in 1340. In 1346 the English won a famous victory at Crecy with the longbow. Then in 1348 both England and France were devastated by the Black Death, which killed about one third of the population.Nevertheless the English went on to win the battle of Poitiers in 1356 and they captured the French king John II in 1358. The English demanded a huge ransom for John. Heavy taxes had to be raised to pay for it and the discontented peasants rose in rebellion in 1358. This rebellion was called the Jacquerie and it was crushed.The peace treaty of Bretigny was signed in 1360 and France was forced to surrender much of its territory. Moreover the peace was only temporary. War began again in 1369.This time France was successful and by 1375 the English were driven back until they held no more than a few ports.However in 1392 the French king Charles VI became insane. As a result different factions in France began vying for power. One faction was led by Jean sans Peur (John the Fearless), Duke of Burgundy and the king’s cousin. The other faction was led by the king’s brother the Duke of Orleans. However the Duke of Orleans was assassinated and in 1415 the English invaded again. They won a great victory at Agincourt in 1415.The Duke of Burgundy was assassinated in 1419. However the Burgundians then made an alliance with the English. They recognised Henry V of England as heir to the French throne. They also forced Charles VI to give his daughter to Henry in marriage.King Charles’s son the Dauphin fled to the south leaving northern France in the hands of the English and the Burgundians. In 1422 he became Charles VII but he ruled only southern France.However in 1429 the tide turned. A woman named Jeanne D’Arc (Joan of Arc) led a French revival. Joan was a very strange person. She wore men’s clothes and she claimed she heard voices. However she persuaded the French king to let her lead troops in the battle of Orleans in 1429. The English were besieging the town but they were driven back. The Burgundians captured the unfortunate Joan in 1430. They handed her over to the English who burned her as a heretic in 1431.However the French fight back continued. By 1453 the English had been driven out of all France except Calais.The defeat of the English brought the French kings control of Aquitaine, Normandy and Burgundy. Other parts of France also came under the king’s control. Provence was absorbed in 1482. In 1491 Charles VIII (1483-1498) married Anne Duchess of Brittany and the region lost its autonomy. By the end of the 15th century France was a strong, centralised kingdom.

16th Century France

During the early 16th century France became richer and the population grew rapidly. Furthermore in the 16th century the Renaissance – the revival of interest in Greek and Roman art and literature arrived in France.Meanwhile in 1539 the edict of Villers-Cotterests made French the language of legal and official documents instead of Latin. Nevertheless many people continued to speak languages like Breton and Occitanian rather than French.However in the years 1494-1559 France became embroiled in a series of wars with Italy. They only ended with the Treaty of Cateau-Cambresis.Meanwhile France was torn apart by the reformation. It began in Germany in 1517 but it soon spread to France. Protestants were burned in France from 1523 onwards but the repression grew worse after 1540. Meanwhile in 1541 Calvinism, a new branch of Protestantism, sprung up in France.Then, in 1562, a group of Protestants were massacred at Vassy. This terrible event led to a series of religious wars in 1562-63, 1567-68, 1569-1570, 1573-74, 1576, 1577, 1579-1580 and 1585-1598.The worst event during these wars was the St Bartholomew’s Day massacre in 1572. On that day as many as 3,000 Protestants were butchered in Paris.

Similar massacres took place in other French towns and perhaps another 8,000 Protestants died there.Then in 1589 King Henry III was assassinated leaving a Protestant, Henry of Navarre heir to the throne of France. Many Catholics refused to accept Henri, however and he had to fight for his throne. Yet in 1593 he converted to Catholicism and in 1594 he entered Paris. Finally in 1598 he issued the edict of Nantes. this granted the Protestants the right to practice their religion and the right to hold certain fortified towns as security against attack.However war was not the only problem in late 16th century France. There were also a number of poor harvests and in the 1580s and 1590s, epidemics. It was a troubled time for France.

France in the 17th century

In the 17th century the power of the French king grew and grew and by the end of the 17th century France had an absolute monarchy. Absolutism was summed up by Louis XIV when he said ‘L’etat c’est moi’ (I am the state).However things did not go smoothly in France. In 1610 King Henry IV was assassinated by a Catholic fanatic, Francois Ravaillac.In 1610 Louis XIII became king. Much of his reign was dominated by Cardinal Richelieu, who became principal minister in 1624 and held power until his death in 1642.At the beginning of the 17th century French Protestants or Huguenots held their own fortified cities. Louis XIII felt this was a threat to France’s internal security and he was determined to absorb them completely into his realm. In 1627 the people of La Rochelle rebelled and royal forces lay siege. La Rochelle surrendered in 1628 after a long and terrible siege.In 1618 the Thirty Years War began between several European powers. Two of the participants were Austria and Spain. Fearing France would be encircled if they grew too powerful Richelieu entered the war against them in 1635.Eventually the war went well for France. The French won a battle against the Spanish at Rocroi in 1643 and also advanced on the eastern front.However the war was very expensive and heavy taxes had to be raised to pay for it. As a result there were several uprisings in France. In 1636 rebellion broke out in the west. In 1639 an uprising occurred in Normandy. However the government crushed all rebellions. The war with Austria ended in 1648 but the war with Spain went on until 1659.Meanwhile in 1643 Louis XIV became king of France. He was destined to become one of the greatest French kings and he was known as the ‘sun king’.However early in his reign rebellion broke out. Between 1648 and 1652 there were a series of uprisings called the Fronde. These uprisings were led by angry nobles, keen to protect their feudal privileges from the encroaching power of the king. However, once again the government crushed them and restored order. Ironically the end of the Fronde left Louis XIV even more powerful than before.Then in 1661 Louis XIV decided to do without a principal minister and run things himself. However he was helped, until 1683, by a very able finance minister called Colbert.During Louis’s reign art and science flourished in France. In 1661 an Academy of Dance was founded. It was followed by an Academy of Sciences in 1666, one of Architecture in 1671 and one of music in 1672. Then in 1682 Louis moved into a magnificent new palace at Versailles.However Louis also involved his country in many wars. They were the War of Devolution 1667-1668, the War Dutch War 1672-1678, the War of the League of Augsburg (1689-1697) and the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1713). These wars were enormously expensive and taxes had to be increased to pay for them, placing a great burden on ordinary people.Furthermore in 1685 Louis revoked the Edict of Nantes, which granted the Huguenots religious toleration. As a result France lost hundreds of thousands of its most skilled people as Huguenots fled abroad. Worse France suffered from famine in 1693-1694 and in 1707-1710.Louis XIV finally died in 1715.