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Get all the background knowledge about France between 1450 and 1750 that you need to ace your AP World History test. Check out the Google Slides to get information on the major developments in France between 1450 and 1750. Plus, I added some information on the Hundred Years War for good measure.
The Hundred Years’ War, spanning from 1337 to 1453, had deep-seated causes rooted in feudal politics, dynastic disputes, and territorial ambitions. The conflict began when Edward III of England, asserting his claim to the French crown, sparked tensions that erupted into war. The Edwardian phase witnessed English successes, including the capture of King John II of France. King John II would eventually die in English captivity.
The Treaty of Brétigny in 1360 awarded significant French territory to England and temporarily halted the fighting but failed to provide a lasting resolution. The Caroline phase, marked by intermittent conflicts, prolonged the war into the 1380s. The Lancastrian phase, characterized by Henry V’s victory at Agincourt in 1415, resulted in the Treaty of Troyes (1420), where Henry was recognized as the heir to the French throne.
Joan of Arc’s appearance in 1429 shifted the momentum in favor of the French. Her leadership during the Siege of Orléans resulted in Charles VII’s coronation as the true king of France.
The final phase saw the French reclaiming territories, and the Battle of Castillon in 1453 marked the end of major hostilities. The Treaty of Bordeaux that followed officially concluded the war. The Hundred Years’ War profoundly impacted both nations, fostering changes in military tactics and diplomatic relations and the emergence of a nascent national consciousness in England and France. The war’s legacy resonated in subsequent European conflicts and laid the groundwork for the early modern period.
The Huguenots were a Protestant religious group in France during the 16th and 17th centuries, representing a significant minority amidst a predominantly Catholic population. Emerging during the Reformation, Huguenots were followers of Calvinism, a branch of Protestantism. Their presence sparked religious tensions and political conflicts in France. The Huguenots faced persecution, notably during the Wars of Religion, a series of conflicts between Catholics and Protestants that spanned several decades. The Edict of Nantes, issued in 1598 by King Henry IV, granted religious tolerance to the Huguenots, allowing them to worship freely and hold certain political rights. However, the Edict was revoked in 1685 by King Louis XIV, leading to renewed persecution and a mass exodus of Huguenots from France. Many sought refuge in other European countries and contributed significantly to the intellectual, cultural, and economic development of their new homes.
The Bourbon Kings
The Bourbon dynasty is one of the oldest European royal families, and they played a significant role in the history of France. The Bourbon Kings of France began with Henry IV, who established the dynasty in the late 16th century.
Henry IV (1589-1610): Henry of Navarre, a Protestant who later converted to Catholicism, founded the Bourbon dynasty. His reign is marked by efforts to end the Wars of Religion and the issuance of the Edict of Nantes.
Louis XIII (1610-1643): The son of Henry IV, Louis XIII continued his father’s work in centralizing the French monarchy. His reign saw the influence of Cardinal Richelieu, who played a key role in French politics.
Louis XIV (1643-1715): Often referred to as the “Sun King,” Louis XIV is one of the most famous Bourbon monarchs. His long reign is associated with the height of French absolutism, the expansion of Versailles, and a significant impact on European politics and culture.
Louis XV (1715-1774): Grandson of Louis XIV, Louis XV’s reign was marked by conflicts such as the War of the Austrian Succession and the Seven Years’ War. It also saw cultural developments, including the Enlightenment.
Louis XVI (1774-1792): The last reigning Bourbon monarch, Louis XVI’s reign was marred by financial difficulties, social unrest, and ultimately the French Revolution. He and his queen, Marie Antoinette, were executed during the revolution.
Henry IV of France, was a key figure in the late 16th century, navigating the complex religious landscape of France during the Wars of Religion. Born a Protestant, Henry converted to Catholicism to secure his ascension to the throne. His reign, beginning in 1589, marked a turning point in French history. Henry IV implemented pragmatic policies to heal the wounds of religious conflict, famously stating, “Paris is well worth a Mass.” In 1598, he issued the Edict of Nantes, a landmark decree that granted religious freedom and civil rights to the Huguenots, the Protestant minority in France. The edict aimed at ending decades of religious strife, providing a measure of tolerance and stability. Henry’s reign witnessed efforts to rebuild a war-torn France, promote economic recovery, and foster a sense of national unity. His reign was tragically cut short by his assassination in 1610, but the Edict of Nantes remained a crucial milestone in the quest for religious tolerance in France, even though it was later revoked in 1685 by Louis XIV, leading to the persecution and exodus of Huguenots.
French absolutism refers to a form of government in which the monarch holds absolute and centralized power, typically unchecked by representative institutions or legal constraints. The term is often associated with the reigns of Louis XIV and his predecessors in the 17th century.
Centralized Authority: The monarch, such as Louis XIV, aimed to centralize power within the royal court. The king held authority over all aspects of government, and decisions often emanated directly from the royal court.
Divine Right of Kings: Absolutist monarchs claimed their authority was divinely ordained, asserting that they ruled by the will of God. This concept, known as the divine right of kings, justified the monarch’s absolute rule and discouraged challenges to their authority.
Bureaucratic Administration: To govern such a vast kingdom, absolutist monarchs established a bureaucratic administrative system. Officials appointed by the monarch, such as Cardinal Richelieu, played crucial roles in governance.
Military Power: Absolutist monarchs maintained standing armies to enforce their authority and protect the state. Louis XIV, in particular, invested heavily in a powerful military, aiming to expand and secure French borders.
Cultural Patronage: Absolutist monarchs often served as patrons of the arts and culture. Louis XIV, for example, supported the construction of the Palace of Versailles, which became a symbol of his grandeur and power.
Suppression of Opposition: Absolutist rulers sought to suppress challenges to their authority. This included efforts to limit the power of the nobility and, in the case of Louis XIV, the persecution of Huguenots (French Protestants).
Cardinal Richelieu, born Armand Jean du Plessis, served as the chief minister to King Louis XIII of France from 1624 until his death in 1642. A highly skilled and influential statesman, Richelieu is often regarded as one of the key architects of early modern French absolutism. His tenure marked a pivotal period in French history, marked by political centralization and the consolidation of royal power. Richelieu was a master diplomat, adept at both domestic and international affairs. He played a crucial role in suppressing the influence of the Huguenots (French Protestants) and diminishing the power of the nobility, actions aimed at strengthening the authority of the monarchy. His policies also extended to foreign relations, as he sought to limit the influence of the Habsburgs and enhance France’s position in European politics. Richelieu’s legacy extends beyond his political achievements; he was a patron of the arts and played a key role in establishing the French Academy.
The Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648) was primarily a conflict that engulfed Central Europe, but it also had reverberations in France. While France was not the primary theater of war, its involvement in the conflict was marked by shifting alliances and strategic considerations. Cardinal Richelieu, the chief minister to King Louis XIII, pursued a policy of supporting Protestant states and powers, including Sweden and the Dutch Republic, against the Catholic Habsburgs of the Holy Roman Empire and Spain. Richelieu’s rationale was not driven solely by religious motivations but was deeply rooted in the pursuit of French national interests and the desire to curb Habsburg power.
The conflict in France during the Thirty Years’ War is often referred to as the “French Phase” (1635–1648). Richelieu’s successor, Cardinal Mazarin, continued this policy after Richelieu’s death. France’s involvement intensified, and the war spilled over into French territories. The war’s impact on France included economic strain, as the costs of maintaining armies and participating in the conflict strained the royal finances.
The Peace of Westphalia in 1648, which concluded the Thirty Years’ War, resulted in significant territorial and political changes in Europe. France emerged as one of the principal beneficiaries, gaining territory in Alsace and the three bishoprics of Metz, Toul, and Verdun. The war, while not fought primarily on French soil, had a lasting impact on the geopolitical landscape of Europe and set the stage for the rise of French power in the following decades, particularly during the reign of Louis XIV.
Cardinal Jules Mazarin, an Italian statesman and diplomat, played a crucial role in the continuation of Cardinal Richelieu’s work and the governance of France during the early years of King Louis XIV’s reign. He succeeded Richelieu as chief minister to the young Louis XIV in 1642. Mazarin faced the challenges of the Fronde, a series of civil disturbances and uprisings against royal authority. His diplomatic skills and political acumen were evident in negotiating the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, which ended the Thirty Years’ War. Mazarin’s rule marked a period of transition from the tumultuous Fronde to the consolidation of royal power under Louis XIV. However, his policies faced opposition from nobles and other factions, contributing to social unrest. Mazarin’s legacy lies in his efforts to maintain stability and lay the groundwork for Louis XIV’s later absolutist rule. His death in 1661 paved the way for Louis XIV to assume direct control of the government and usher in a new era of French absolutism.
King Louis XIV, known as the “Sun King,” reigned over France from 1643 to 1715 and is one of the most iconic figures in European history. Ascending to the throne at the age of four, his early years were overshadowed by the regency of his mother, Anne of Austria, and the influence of Cardinal Mazarin. However, once he assumed personal rule, Louis XIV became the epitome of absolute monarchy.
Louis XIV’s reign is synonymous with the concept of “L’État, c’est moi” (“I am the state”), reflecting his belief in royal absolutism. He centralized power in the monarchy, diminishing the influence of the nobility and strengthening the authority of the crown. His court at the Palace of Versailles became a symbol of grandeur and political control.
A patron of the arts and culture, Louis XIV fostered the development of French literature, art, and architecture. The construction of Versailles, with its opulent gardens and elaborate architecture, exemplified his commitment to magnificence and control.
On the international stage, Louis XIV pursued an aggressive foreign policy. Wars such as the War of Devolution, the Franco-Dutch War, and the War of the Spanish Succession aimed to expand French territory and influence. However, these conflicts strained the French economy and contributed to later financial difficulties.
Louis XIV’s reign saw the codification of French laws in the form of the Napoleonic Code, and he played a central role in shaping the political and cultural identity of France. Despite his accomplishments, the latter years of his rule witnessed challenges, including the economic hardships of his wars and the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, which limited religious freedoms for Protestants and drove Huguenots out of France.
Versailles, the opulent palace located just outside Paris, stands as an iconic symbol of French grandeur and absolute monarchy. Commissioned by King Louis XIV in the 17th century, Versailles became the dazzling centerpiece of his vision for centralized power and cultural magnificence. The palace, with its stunning architecture and vast landscaped gardens designed by André Le Nôtre, was intended to symbolize the Sun King’s absolute authority.
Constructed over several decades, Versailles was more than a royal residence; it served as a political and cultural epicenter. The Hall of Mirrors, a masterpiece of Baroque design, witnessed the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, marking the end of World War I. The lavish apartments, the Grand Trianon retreat, and the Petit Trianon, constructed later for Marie Antoinette, showcased the extravagant lifestyle of the French monarchy.
Versailles also played a crucial role in the propagation of French arts and culture. The palace hosted grandiose performances, balls, and gatherings, fostering an environment of artistic excellence. The opulence of Versailles became a statement of Louis XIV’s power and a symbol of France’s cultural preeminence in the 17th century.
Jean-Baptiste Colbert, a prominent figure during the reign of King Louis XIV, served as the Minister of Finance and Controller General of Finances in 17th-century France. Colbert played a pivotal role in shaping economic policy, overseeing financial matters, and implementing reforms to strengthen the French state.
Colbert’s economic philosophy was grounded in mercantilism, emphasizing state intervention to promote national prosperity. He believed in maximizing exports, acquiring colonies, and fostering domestic industries. Colbert implemented a series of measures to regulate trade, encourage manufacturing, and boost France’s economic self-sufficiency.
As a key architect of Colbertism, he established royal workshops, known as manufactures, to produce goods domestically and reduce dependence on foreign imports. Colbert supported the growth of industries such as textiles, glassmaking, and shipbuilding through subsidies and protective tariffs.
Colbert’s contributions extended beyond economics; he played a significant role in the expansion and development of French colonies, particularly in the Caribbean and North America. His efforts aimed to enhance France’s global influence and economic power.
The War of the Spanish Succession (1701–1714) was a major conflict that erupted over the question of who would inherit the vast Spanish Empire. The death of the childless Charles II of Spain in 1700 sparked a succession crisis, as multiple European powers sought to prevent the unification of the Spanish and French crowns under a single monarch. The Grand Alliance, formed in 1701, opposed the perceived threat of a Bourbon superpower and included England, the Dutch Republic, and the Holy Roman Empire.
The war witnessed battles across Europe, with key theaters in Spain, the Netherlands, Italy, and the Holy Roman Empire. The conflict’s early years were marked by military campaigns, including the decisive Battle of Blenheim in 1704, where the Grand Alliance, led by the Duke of Marlborough, secured a significant victory over the French and Bavarians.
The Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 concluded the war, establishing a new balance of power in Europe. The treaty recognized Philip V, the grandson of Louis XIV, as the legitimate heir to the Spanish throne but stipulated that the French and Spanish crowns would remain separate. England gained territories, including Gibraltar and Minorca, while the Dutch secured trading privileges.
The War of the Spanish Succession had far-reaching consequences, shaping the geopolitical landscape of Europe and marking the decline of the Spanish Habsburgs as a dominant force. The treaties that concluded the conflict laid the foundation for the subsequent era of peace, notably the Peace of Utrecht, which aimed to prevent future conflicts and maintain a delicate equilibrium among European powers.
Comparing France and England
Monarchical Centralization: Both England and France witnessed attempts to centralize power in the monarchy. In England, the Tudor monarchs, especially Henry VII and Elizabeth I, sought to strengthen royal authority. In France, Cardinal Richelieu’s influence and Louis XIV’s absolute rule centralized power.
Religious Conflicts: Both nations grappled with religious conflicts during the Reformation. England experienced the Tudor religious changes, including the establishment of the Church of England, while France faced the Wars of Religion between Catholics and Huguenots.
Colonial Expansion: Both countries engaged in overseas exploration and colonial expansion. England established colonies in North America, such as Jamestown, while France explored and claimed territories in North America, the Caribbean, and parts of Africa.
Political Systems: England evolved towards constitutional monarchy with the Glorious Revolution (1688), emphasizing parliamentary supremacy and limiting royal power. In contrast, France maintained a more absolute monarchy under Louis XIV.
Economic Structures: England experienced the early stages of the Industrial Revolution, with advancements in agriculture and industry. France, while having economic strengths, faced challenges, including financial strain due to frequent wars.
Wars and Conflicts: England endured the English Civil War (1642–1651) and the Glorious Revolution, marking significant political and social changes. France faced challenges like the Wars of Religion (late 16th century) and the Fronde (1648–1653), reflecting internal conflicts.
Colonial Strategies: England’s colonial strategy often involved establishing permanent settlements, fostering trade, and encouraging immigration. France, on the other hand, often focused on trade alliances, fur trapping, and coexistence with indigenous populations.
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