Kate Monk's Onomastikon

(Dictionary of Names)


Capital : Paris

Size: 213 000 sq m Popn: 57 372 000


Ain, Aisne, Allier, Alpes de Haut Provence, Alpes Maritime, Ardèche, Ardennes, Ariège, Aube, Aude, Aveyron, Bas Rhin, Bouches du Rhône, Calvados, Cantal, Charente, Charente Maritime, Cher, Corrèze, Corse du Sud, Côte d'Or, Côtes d'Armor, Creuse, Deux Sèvres, Dordogne, Doubs, Drôme, Essonne, Eure, Finistère, Gard, Gironde, Haut Alpes, Haut Corse, Haute Savoie, Hautes Pyrenées, Haut Garonne, Haut Loire, Haut Marne, Haut Rhin, Haut Saône, Hauts de Seine, Haut Vienne, Herault, Ille-et-Vilaine, Indre, Isère, Landes, Loire Atlantique, Loiret, Lot, Lot et Garonne, Lozère, Manche, Marne, Mayenne, Meurthe et Moselle, Meuse, Morbihan, Moselle, Nièvre, Nord, Orne, Pas de Calais, Puy de Dôme, Pyrenèes Atlantiques, Pyrenèes Orientale, Rhône, Sarthe, Savoie, Seine et Marne, Seine Maritime, Seine St Denis, Somme, Tarn et Garonne, Val de Marne, Var, Vaucluse, Vendée, Vienne, Ville de Paris, Vosges, Yonne, Yvelines, Polynésie Francaise (French Polynesia)


By the C6th BC, the Celts had spread from Germany into Gaul (which became France) superseding the Middle Bronze Age cultures already there. The Greeks founded a colony at Massilia (Marseilles) in 600 BC and there is evidence of commercial links between the two groups. The Mediterranean part of Gaul was a Roman province by the C2nd BC. Gallia Comata ('Long-haired Gaul') incorporated modern France, Belgium and the part of Holland south of the Rhine. There were two other provinces under the Republic, Gallia Transalpina (the French side of the Alps) and Gallia Cisalpina (the Italian side of the Alps).

A series of campaigns by Julius Caesar gave Rome control of the western Celtic world as far as the English channel by 50 BC. Gaul was divided into three parts under the early Empire: Lugdunensis, Aquitania and Narbonnensis. After the fragmentation of the Empire it was overrun by German tribes. The kingdom of Toulouse was founded by the Visigoths around Aquitaine in AD 418, the Franks and Alemans infiltrated across the Rhine, Britons settled the area that is now Brittany and Vandals, Alans, Sueves and Burgundians also gained territories.

Initially pagan, the Franks were converted to Christianity in 497 and their kingdom was to form the core of the Catholic Christian expansion into Asia. This kingdom had expanded under Clovis (d.511) and his sons to include Neustria (northern France), Austrasia (Netherlands, Austria, northern Germany), Burgundy and Provence by 714. The country became divided under Clovis' successors, the Merovingians, but was reunified by Pepin (ruled 751-68), who founded the Carolingian Dynasty. His son, Charlemagne, made France the centre of the Holy Roman Empire and his lands covered all of France except Brittany, all of Germany, much of Eastern Europe and the Kingdom of Lombardy in northern Italy by 814.

Although Viking and Magyar invasions weakened royal power in western Europe, kingship did survive with the help of Roman law to lend authority. In 912, the province of Normandy was granted to Rollo, leader of the Norse invaders who had settled there. Charlemagne's weaker successors had allowed the great nobles to become virtually independent and the Capetian kings, who established their rule in Paris and the neighbouring district, were surrounded by vassals who were stronger than they were. The French royal domains were virtually restricted to the Île de France and the Orléannais under Louis VI (1108-37). The conquest of Normandy in 1204 effectively destroyed the Angevin Empire (the Anglo-Norman dominions in France). The English were eventually expelled from France by Charles VII, helped by Joan of Arc, at the end of the Hundred Years' War (1337-1453). The land regained from the English was not under crown control until several confiscations and deaths of dukes added Burgundy (1477), Anjou (1481), Brittany (1491) and Bourbon (1527) to the crown. This left a few independent fiefs but many of these came to the crown when Henry of Navarre became Henry IV in 1589.

There was a series of civil wars towards the end of the C16th after a group of nobles, the Huguenots, adopted the Protestant faith for political reasons. Henry IV restored peace by establishing religious tolerance and introduced absolute monarchy. The Italian Wars of Charles VIII began a struggle for supremacy with Spain that lasted for two centuries (1503-1697). Like most of Europe, France gained colonies in America, Africa and India during the C17th and was so influential by the reign of Louis XIV that it was feared that he would establish a French hegemony over the whole of Europe and oust the Habsburgs from their traditional position of elected Holy Roman Emperor. However, in 1696 he withdrew from Italy which had been one of the main concerns of the powerful politicians/cardinals Richelieu and Mazarin and strengthened his borders by strategic exchanges of territory.

Although the French economy was strong, the division between classes was huge and the country was controlled by the aristocracy and clergy with the lower classes having virtually no share in its power and wealth. Attempts to reform the medieval taxation system in the later C18th failed and in 1789 the Estates General or parliament met for the first time since 1614. This introduced the Third Estate to more political power and a National Assembly was proclaimed. By 1791 a new state and constitution was created but it caused such divisions between the members of the new political class by 1799 that the Revolution was almost abandoned. France was at war with Austria, Prussia and Britain by 1793 and Louis XVI and the constitution that still allowed him power were replaced by a Republic under which many aristocrats were killed (including the Royal family) or exiled. Napoleon Bonaparte, a Corsican, took power as a military dictator in 1799 against the wishes of many people and there was much resistance culminating in that of Spain (1808-13). The French set up 'sister republics' in Italy, Spain, western Germany and the Netherlands but they collapsed after Napoleon's defeat in 1814.

The Bourbon monarchy returned, with limited powers, under Louis VIII. In 1830, another revolution caused by Charles X's attempt to return to absolute monarchy, made his cousin, Louis Philippe, king. He was overthrown by the revolution of February 1848 and the Second Republic was set up with Louis Napoleon, nephew of Napoleon I, as president. In 1852, he restored the empire and took the title of Napoleon III. He followed an expansionist foreign policy defeat in the Franco-Prussian war led to the founding of the Third Republic in 1870.

France expanded its African territories and colonized Indochina and parts of the South Pacific but was occupied and fought over during the First World War. In 1936-7, a radical-socialist-communist Popular Front alliance brought in many social reforms. Between the wars, France's power was limited by the USA, USSR and Nazi Germany and there were many problems with the overseas territories in Africa and Indo-China. France entered the Second World War in 1939 and was invaded by Germany in 1940. The political extreme right set up a puppet dictatorship, under P¾tain, in Vichy but resistance was continued by the maquis and the Free French under Charles de Gaulle. The country was liberated from the Nazis in 1944 but France, like most of Europe, was economically and politically weakened by the war.

The republic was re-established under a provisional government headed by de Gaulle, and a new constitution was drafted and adopted for the Fourth Republic in January 1946. There were 26 governments formed between 1946 and 1958 and real power passed to the civil service. After increased problems with nationalism, Indochina was de-colonized in 1954, followed by Morocco and Tunisia in 1956 but at home there was a period of rapid economic reconstruction and France joined the European Economic Community as a founder member in 1957. A political and military crisis over Algerian independence threatened to lead to an army revolt and de Gaulle was recalled from retirement to lead a government of national unity. He supervised the framing of another new constitution for the Fifth Republic which gave more power to the prime minister and president. De Gaulle became president in 1959 and undertook the decolonization of the remaining French territory in Africa, including Algeria in 1962 but retained close economic links with the former colonies. Under his regime, France withdrew from NATO in 1966 and developed an autonomous nuclear deterrent force. There was large-scale economic growth and migration to the cities but censorship was strict and there was strong centralization which led to a reduced majority in 1967.

When demonstrations by students and workers paralysed the country in 1968 and threatened the government, de Gaulle called an election and won a landslide victory but resigned in 1969 after being defeated in a referendum over proposed Senate and local government reforms. His prime minister, Georges Pompidou, was elected president, following Gaullist policies until his death in 1974. The next president, Val¾ry Giscard D'Estaing, was the leader of the centre-right Independent Republicans. He brought in domestic reforms and took a more active part in the EC but there were problems with the worsening international economy and he was opposed by his 'right coalition' partner, Jacques Chirac, prime minister from 1974-6. France managed to retain a stronger economy than many of its European competitors, saving on energy imports with a new nuclear power programme introduced by the president and adopting a new 'freer market' economic strategy under Raymond Barre, prime minister from 1976-81. Several centre-right parties joined to form the Union for French Democracy (UDF) but the high unemployment figures led to Giscard being defeated by Socialist Party (PS) leader, François Mitterrand, in the 1981 presidential election. This was followed by a landslide victory for the PS and French Communist Party (PCF) in the 1981 elections to the National Assembly.

Many reforms, decentralization and nationalization were brought in but financial problems led to more conservative policies by 1983. The economic u-turn included the replacement of Prime Minister Pierre Mauroy with Laurent Fabius, leading to the resignation of the communist cabinet members. The rise in unemployment and increase in racial tension led to more support for the extreme right-wing National Front, under Jean-Marie Le Pen, which gained seats in the National Assembly elections of March 1986. The decline of the PCF led to the loss of the left coalition's majority but the PS emerged as the most popular party. In 1986, Mitterrand was obliged to appoint opposition leader Chirac as prime minister, the first time since 1958 that both president and prime minister had not belonged to the same coalition. Chirac became the dominant force in the 'shared executive' and introduced a radical 'new conservative' programme of denationalization. His reforms were strongly opposed by militant students and striking workers and embarrassing policy concessions had to be made.

The socialists had the most votes in the National Assembly elections of June 1988, and Mitterrand appointed the moderate social democrat, Michel Rocard, as prime minister at the head of a minority PS government which included several centre-party representatives. His progressive programmes helped to revive France's economy and focused attention on quality of life, with the Green Party gaining 11% of the national vote in the European Parliament elections of June 1989. The NF pressed the government for a hard line against illegal immigration and continued to do well in elections. Religious and cultural tensions increased and in 1991, a commission set up to investigate the problems of immigrant integration reported that although France had a foreign population of 3.7 million, there were 10 million citizens of 'recent foreign origin', mostly Muslims from Algeria, Tunisia and other former colonies.

France had had close ties with Iraq, including arms sales, but sent 5000 troops to Saudi Arabia after the French ambassador's residence in Kuwait was violated by Iraq in September 1990. French forces played an important role in the US-led coalition during the 1991 Gulf War, causing defence minister Jean-Pierre Chevenement to resign in protest although the majority of the population supported them. In 1991, a formal election pact was made by the neo-Gaullist Rally for the Republic and the UDF, France's main right-of-centre opposition parties. Mitterrand replaced Rocard with Edith Cresson in May 1991 after economic disagreements, and became the longest-serving French president in September. He was losing popularity due to economic recession, racial tensions, discontent amongst the farming community, public-sector militancy and financial scandals within the SP. Cresson's popularity rating at the end of 1991 was the lowest for any Fifth Republic premier and national support for the SP was only 21%. It gained only 18% of the vote in the regional council elections of March 1992. Mitterrand appointed Pierre B¾r¾govoy as prime minister in April. As finance minister, he had been blamed by Cresson for the country's economic problems but was respected by the financial community. The referendum of September 1992 narrowly endorsed the Maastricht Treaty on European union, despite opposition from the Gaullists.

This collection of names was compiled by Kate Monk and is ©1997, Kate Monk.

Copies may be made for personal use only.

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