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29 janvier 2011 6 29 /01 /janvier /2011 22:52

Country Guides - News and Background Notes

source directe (secondaire) The Washington Post

source primaire : The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia Copyright © 2011, Columbia University Press






France is one of the world's major economic powers. Agriculture plays a larger role than in the economies of most other industrial countries. A large proportion of the value of total agricultural output derives from livestock (especially cattle, hogs, poultry, and sheep). The mountain areas and NW France are the livestock regions. The country's leading crops are wheat, sugar beets, corn, barley, and potatoes, with the most intensive cultivation N of the Loire; the soil in the Central Massif is less fertile. Fruit growing is important in the south. France is among the foremost producers of wine in the world. The best-known vineyards are in Burgundy, Champagne, the Rhône and Loire valleys, and the Bordeaux region. The centers of the wine trade are Bordeaux, Reims, Épernay, Dijon, and Cognac.




Ancient Gaul to Feudalism

Some of the earliest anthropological and archaeological remains in Europe have been found in France, yet little is known of France before the Roman conquest (1st cent. BC). The country was known to the Romans as Gaul. It was inhabited largely by Celts, or Gauls, who had mingled with still older populations, and by Basques in what became the region of Gascony. Some of the Gallic tribes undoubtedly were Germanic. Settlements on the Mediterranean coast, notably Marseilles, were established by Greek and Phoenician traders (c.600 BC), and Provence was colonized by Rome in the 2d cent. BC The conquest of Gaul by Julius Caesar (58–51 BC; see Gallic Wars) became final with the defeat of Vercingetorix. Early in the course of the following five centuries of Roman rule Gaul accepted Latin speech and Roman law, developed a distinct Gallo-Roman civilization, and produced many large and prosperous cities. Lugdunum (Lyons) was the Roman capital.

Christianity, introduced in the 1st cent. AD, spread rapidly. From the 3d cent., however, the internal decline of the Roman Empire invited barbarian incursions. Among the Germanic tribes that descended upon fertile Gaul, the Visigoths, Franks, and Burgundii were the most important. Rome and its governors in Gaul sought, by alliances, to play the barbarians off against each other. Thus Aetius defeated (AD 451) the Huns under Attila with the help of the Franks. But in 486 (10 years after the traditional date for the fall of Rome) the Franks, under Clovis I, routed Syagrius, last Roman governor of Gaul. Clovis, who had made himself ruler of all the Franks, then defeated the Visigoths and, after accepting Christianity (496), conquered the Alemanni. He extinguished the Arian heresy (see Arianism) and founded the dynasty of the Merovingians—but he failed to provide for the unity of Gaul when, as was customary, he divided his lands among his sons at his death.

Throughout the 6th and 7th cent., Gaul was torn by fratricidal strife between the Merovingian kings of Neustria and of Austrasia, the two realms that ultimately emerged from Clovis's division and were united only for brief periods under a sole ruler. Especially after Dagobert I (d. 639), Merovingian rule sank into indolence, cruelty, and dissipation. Gaul was depopulated, the cities were left in ruins, commerce was destroyed, and the arts and sciences were ignored. In the 8th cent. the only remnant of Roman civilization, the church, was threatened by extinction when the Saracens invaded Gaul.

In the meantime a more rigorous dynasty, the Carolingians, had come to rule Austrasia as mayors of the palace in the name of the decadent Merovingian kings, and had united (687) Austrasia with Neustria. In 732, the Carolingian Charles Martel decisively defeated the Saracens between Poitiers and Tours. His son, Pepin the Short, dethroned the last Merovingian in 751 and proclaimed himself king with the sanction of the pope. Pepin's son was Charlemagne.

Crowned emperor of the West in 800, Charlemagne expanded his lands by conquest. He gave his subjects an efficient administration, created an admirable legal system, and labored for the rebirth of learning, piety, and the arts. But his son, Emperor Louis I, could not maintain the empire he inherited. At Louis's death (840), his three sons were fighting each other. In 843 the brothers, Charles II (Charles the Bald), king of the West Franks, Louis the German, and Emperor Lothair I, redivided their territories (see Verdun, Treaty of). Charles was recognized as the ruler of the lands that are now France.

The Carolingians had only superficially transcended the economic, social, and political fragmentation of the land. The weakness of central authority was a major reason for the development of feudalism and the manorial system. Raids by Norsemen, beginning in the late 8th cent., contributed to the decline of royal authority; in 885–86, the Norsemen even besieged Paris. The authority of the kings was increasingly usurped by feudal lords. Among the most powerful of these were the dukes of Aquitaine and of Burgundy and the counts of Flanders, of Toulouse, of Blois, and of Anjou. In 911 the Norse leader Rollo was recognized as duke of Normandy.

The Birth of France

When the Carolingian dynasty died out in France, the nobles chose (987) Hugh Capet as king. It is from this date that the history of France as a separate kingdom is generally reckoned (see table entitled Rulers of France since 987 for a listing of the kings of France and subsequent French leaders). The early Capetians were dukes of Francia, a small territory around Paris, and were without power in the rest of France. By unremitting effort they gradually extended their domain, razed the castles of robber barons, and held their own against the great feudatories. Louis VI (reigned 1108–37) brought this process into full force, and it was continued by Louis VII (1137–80).

In the 11th cent. the towns had begun regaining population and wealth. Drawing together for their common defense (see commune), the townspeople won increasingly advantageous charters from the king and from their feudal lords. Commerce revived, and the great fairs of Champagne made France a meeting place for European merchants. The Cluniac order and the revival of theological learning at Paris (which was to make the Sorbonne the fountainhead of scholasticism) gave France tremendous prestige in Christendom. This rebirth reached its height in the 13th cent. and was aided by the leading role that France played in the Crusades. The crusaders established the French ideal of chivalry—personified in Louis IX (St. Louis)—in most of Europe. French courtly poetry and manners became European models.

In England, French manners and culture also predominated among the nobles because of the Norman Conquest (1066). The fact that the Norman English kings were also French nobles, holding or claiming vast fiefs in France, brought the two nations into centuries of conflict. When Henry II, king of England and duke of Normandy, married (1152) Eleanor of Aquitaine, the divorced wife of Louis VII of France, Eleanor brought as her dowry extensive areas in France. Louis's successor, Philip II (Philip Augustus; 1180–1223), clashed repeatedly with Henry's sons, Richard I and John. Defeating John in 1204 and again, resoundingly, at Bouvines (1214), Philip soundly established the military prestige of France.

During Philip's reign a greater France emerged. The crusade against the Albigenses (begun 1208) netted the crown the huge fiefs of the counts of Toulouse in S France, and the royal domain (directly subject to the king) now formed the larger part of the kingdom. Philip made the royal authority felt throughout the land. Paris was rebuilt. Louis IX (1226–70) organized an efficient and equitable civil and judicial system. Under Philip IV (1285–1314), the royal administration was improved even more. Philip failed to incorporate Flanders into his holdings, as the Flemish crushed the French at Courtrai (1302). To meet his revenue needs Philip taxed the clergy, summoning the first national States-General (1302) to support his policy. He also destroyed the wealthy Knights Templars. Papal objections to these moves led to the Babylonian Captivity (1309–77) of the popes (see papacy).

Philip's son, Louis X, ruled briefly (1314–16); he was succeeded by two brothers, Philip V (1317–22) and Charles IV (1322–28). Within a few years after the death of Charles IV, who was also without a male heir, progress toward national unification was halted, and for more than a century France was rent by warfare and internal upheaval.

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