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Located in Western Europe, bordering eight (or nine, depending upon how you count them) European countries and with coasts on the Atlantic Ocean, the English Channel, and the Mediterranean, France has long been one of the great political, military and cultural powers of the Western world.

Climate and Terrain[]

France is a country of plains and green forests with ancient mountain ranges on its south-east and west borders. A beautiful, fertile land, France is blessed with some of the best wine-growing climate and terrain in the world. Located in a temperate zone and bordered on the south by the warm Mediterranean, the French climate is generally kindly and conducive to agriculture.

Early Gaul[]

The gentle waters of the Mediterranean facilitated exploration and settlement of the coast of southern France. Greece founded the colony of Massilia (modern Marseille) as early as 600 BC, but the earliest written records of exploration of the country's interior comes hundreds of years later from the Romans , who began campaigning in "Transalpine Gaul" (Gaul across the Alps) in the first century BC. There the Romans encountered mostly Celtic people, plus a few surviving pre-Celtic Iberians and Ligurians. They also met many Germanic people emigrating into Gaul from points north and east.

Roman control over Gaul was gradual but inexorable. In 121 BC Rome sent armies into Gaul to assist Massilia against encroaching Celts, and also to defend its overland route into Spain (where it had important possessions). This led Rome to claim a chuck of southern Gaul as a province, which survives today as the "Provence" region of France. In 58 BC Caesar launched a major campaign against the interior of Gaul. The war lasted some eight years, at the end of which Gaul was more or less securely a Roman possession.

With the exception of a few notable but easily crushed rebellions, Gaul remained fairly content as a Roman province for several centuries. The country thrived under Roman rule, and remnants of wealthy Roman-style villas could still be found across the French countryside. As it was pacified Gaul became a springboard for further Roman expansion, both northwest across the Channel into Great Britain , and northeast into the barbarian Germanic lands.

Later Gaul[]

During the third and fourth centuries AD, as Roman power began to wane across Western Europe, Gaul came under increasing pressure from invaders from the north and east. Rome concentrated its power upon holding the Danube River and stopping barbarians from crossing into Italy, leaving Gaul under-defended. In the mid-third century Gaul suffered major incursions by the Germanic Alemanni and Franks , and the territory wasn't retaken by Rome until 274. As the countryside grew hostile and dangerous, the cities and towns fortified, a process which would continue through the Middle Ages.

Christianity , which was introduced to Gaul around 250 AD, had taken root across the country by the end of the fourth century.

The Fall of Roman Gaul[]

In 395 AD, Rome was divided into an eastern and western half, and Western Rome all but abandoned Gaul as it tried desperately to protect Rome itself from barbarian invasion out of Austria and Germany. As a result, in 405-406 a large number of Germanic tribes crossed the Rhine into Gaul, carving out permanent homes for groups such as the Franks and Burgundians . The Visigoths drove far south, occupying land in Aquitaine. By 476 the Romans had been totally driven from power in Gaul by Germanic invaders.

The Middle Ages[]

During the Middle Ages (400-1200 AD), France was divided into a number of smaller kingdoms ruled by the heirs of the various Germanic invaders. In the late 5th century King Clovis of the northern Franks unified most of the country (with the exception of some stubborn Visigoth holdouts in the south). Clovis was the first of the "Merovingian" kings to rule the unified country. He moved his capital to Paris , and he gained a degree of recognition from the Roman Emperor, which gave his rule legitimacy.

When Clovis died in 511, the kingdom was divided between his four sons, who spent the next five decades fighting each other for the country. As a brother died, his land was apportioned among the surviving brothers. This continued until 558 when there was only one brother standing . The Merovingian kingdom remained united a whopping nine years, until that king died and the kingdom was once again apportioned between his sons. This cycle of conquest and division would continue for centuries, costing the lives of thousands every generation.

As the eighth century opened, another strong Frankish family arose to challenge the Merovingians. Based in northern Austrasia, the Carolingians defeated their local neighbors and came to dominate northern France/Germany. At first they threw their support behind the Merovingians, but when King Theodoric IV died in 737, the Carolingian King Charles Martel was strong enough to assume direct power, leaving the throne empty. During his reign Charles was able to stop the Muslims' incursions into France and extend his power into Germany as well.

Charles was followed by Pippin the Short , who, with the blessing of the Pope in Rome openly assumed the throne. Upon his death the kingdom was divided between his two sons, Carloman, who didn't last long, and Charlemagne, who did.

Charlemagne and the Holy Roman Empire[]

Charlemagne's father died in 768, and his brother in 771, leaving him sole king of France. He pursued a policy of expansion into Germany and Muslim-held Spain , having more success against the Germans than he did against the emirs in Spain. He intervened in Italy on the side of the Pope , whose territories were under threat from the Lombards to the north. He conquered the Lombards and had himself crowned their king, and he created the Papal States, earning a good deal of gratitude from the Church.

By the end of the eighth century Charlemagne was the undisputed power in Western Europe, ruling much of the territory which would become modern France, western Germany, the Benelux countries and northern Italy. In 800 AD Pope Leo III crowned him emperor of the Holy Roman Empire , making him the legal successor to the Caesars of the western Roman Empire.

Following Charlemagne's death in 813, his son Louis the Pious inherited the throne. When he died Charlemagne's grandsons once again began fighting over the kingdom, and in 843, at the Treaty of Verdun, the Holy Roman Empire was divided into three sections along north-south lines. These were Francia Orientalis , the eastern territories, Francia Occidentalis , the western territories, and Francia Media , perilously wedged between them. Although smaller, Francia Occidentalis approximated the borders of modern France, and some scholars date the creation of the modern country to the Treaty of Verdun.

After the Empire[]

The new kingdoms weren't especially stable, and the people of France endured another 300 years of incessant warfare and familial backbiting as the various kings and nobility struggled for dominance. Life wasn't made any easier by the arrival of the Vikings, who raided as far inland as Paris, often demanding a huge ransom before they would go away. They remained active through the ninth and tenth centuries, some settling permanently in Normandy . The rulers also had to deal with English monarchs who claimed territories in the west, including portions of Aquitaine , Brittany , and Lombardy. It took several centuries to push the Brits entirely off of the continent.

As the new millennium approached, the Capetian family gained the French crown . They too spent much time fighting each other as well as the various nobility who challenged their reign.

King Philip II , who reigned from 1180-1223, did much to strengthen the monarchy. When not off fighting at the Crusades with his friend Richard the Lionheart , Philip reorganized the government, modernized the French economy, and defeated the English, Flemish and Germans singly and in groups. King Louis IX (reigned 1226-1270), further consolidated the country.

The Hundred Years' War (1337-1453)[]

As the fourteenth century opened, France was the most powerful country on the continent. In 1328, Philip VI assumed the throne. Edward III, King of England , owned Aquitaine and also had a slender claim to the French throne, which he hadn't pressed at the time of Philip VI's succession. However, in 1337 Philip VI confiscated Aquitaine, and in response Edward III reinstated his claim, bringing France and England to war.

The English pursued the war on the seas and by fomenting rebellion among France's Flemish subjects. In 1346 an English army won a famous battle at Crecy but were unable to follow this up with any further success and were forced to evacuate the continent more or less empty-handed. In 1347 the Black Death struck, killing huge numbers of people and delaying the war. Hard fighting broke out anew in the 1350s, during which the French king managed to get himself captured by the English, who demanded a huge ransom for his release. The French refused to pay, and the king died in captivity in London. The war continued to drag on until 1420, when the Treaty of Troyes declared the unification of the French and English crowns on the infant head of Henry VI, king of England and France .

This did not sit well with everyone. The French nobleman Charles VII had a fairly strong claim to the throne, and many French patriots preferred him to any English ruler. This included a strange young peasant woman named Joan of Arc . Within a few years Joan had led the French on to victory, driving the English back on all fronts. Charles was anointed king in 1429, and Joan was burned at the stake a year later.

The Wars of the Reformation[]

By the 16th century, there was a good deal of resentment against the Catholic Church across Europe, which was seen to be greedy and corrupt. In 1517 Martin Luther nailed up his "Ninty-Five Theses," condemning the excesses of the Church. Martin Luther's movement gained many followers in France, and by 1534 the king issued the first of a series of anti-Huguenot (Protestant) edicts. This did little to stop the spread of the movement. By 1562 the two sides were in open warfare , which continued on and off for decades. It ended in 1598, when the Edict of Nantes granted tolerance to the Huguenots.

The Seventeenth Century[]

In the seventeenth century the power of the crown was enhanced, largely through the work of one man, Armand-Jean du Plessis, Cardinal and Duke of Richelieu . Richelieu was an extremely able minister and one of the most colorful characters in history. Brilliant, calculating, and ruthless, he worked ceaselessly to expand the king's power and prestige and to destroy his enemies. He also moved against the Huguenots, who retained their religious freedom but lost their military power.

In 1643, the remarkable Louis XIV took the throne. Known as the "Sun King," Louis seduced and tamed the French nobility, establishing the Palace of Versailles as the most opulent court the world had ever seen. Underneath the foppish trappings Louis was an ambitious ruler. During his reign he fought in three major wars and several minor conflicts. Louis would reign for an astonishing 72 years, dying in 1715. He still holds the record for the longest reign of a European monarch.

The Eighteenth Century[]

The eighteenth century saw an increase in power and wealth of the nobility, the emergence of a French middle class, and the further destitution of the peasantry. Philosophically, the Enlightenment tended to undermine the belief in the traditional institutions such as the Church and the monarchy. In 1776 the American Revolution broke out, and the French saw a free people throw off an oppressive monarchy in favor of democracy and self-rule. This would further stoke unrest already building throughout the country.

The Revolution[]

In 1789, close on the heels of the American Revolution, the French peasants and middle class revolted against the nobility and the king . The Revolution was a brutal, bloody affair, with the king and perhaps 50,000 other French citizens being executed by the newly invented guillotine (a triumph of Enlightenment science).

In the early phases of the Revolution the people marched on the Bastille, abolished the nobility, and forced the king to accept a constitutional monarchy. But the new Assembly degenerated into warring factions struggling for primacy and was unable to govern. Without government sanction the Paris Commune murdered some 1350 prisoners. In September 1792 a Constitutional Convention met and abolished the monarchy, declaring a republic. Austria and Prussia demanded the restitution of the king,threatening retaliation against the French population if they resisted. The revolutionary government saw this as evidence that the king was conspiring with the enemy; he was condemned to death and executed in January of 1793.

Later in 1793 the "Committee for Public Safety" unleashed the "Reign of Terror," ensuring public safety by guillotining some 15,000-40,000 of the public, many without trial. Several local revolts broke out, primarily caused by peasant outrage at the treatment of the Catholic Church at the hands of the Revolutionaries, but these were crushed with great ferocity.

In 1795 the new French constitution established an entirely new form for the French government. Executive power was held by "The Directory," a panel of five directors elected annually by the new bi-cameral legislature. However, the new form of government proved unmanageable, and in 1799 a man named Napoleon Bonaparte seized power.

Napoleon Bonaparte[]

This dictator was born in French-owned Corsica and trained in artillery in the French army. In 1799 he staged a coup d'état, installing himself as First Consul, a position he pretty much invented. Within five years he crowned himself Emperor. For sixteen years he ruled France, taking a bankrupt, revolution-torn country and making it into the most powerful force in Europe. Time and time again he fought and defeated every other country within reach, singly and in alliances against him, except England and Russia . He was unable to create a navy that could stand up to the unmatched British Navy, he could not reach and destroy his most implacable foe. In Russia's case Napoleon simply didn't have enough resources to take over Russia and he didn't prepare for the Russian winter.

For fifteen years Napoleon marched and counter-marched triumphantly across Europe, until he used up a lot of resources on the invasion of Russia. He was finally defeated by yet another coalition at Leipzig, and then a year later at Waterloo. For more details about this extraordinary warlord, see Napoleon's civilopedia entry.

The Nineteenth Century[]

After Napoleon's final defeat, the victorious countries instituted a constitutional monarchy in France, which lasted for some 40 years, until Napoleon's nephew, Louis Napoleon was elected president by popular vote in 1848, declaring himself emperor in 1852. He remained in power until 1870, when, goaded by Prussian Prime Minister Otto von Bismarck, he made an unfortunate decision to go to war against Prussia. The war was a humiliating disaster. The Prussians made brilliant use of their rail network to concentrate before the French were ready to fight, and on September 2, 1870, Napoleon and his entire army were captured.

The war resulted in the overthrow of the Empire once more, replaced by the Third Republic, the humiliating loss of Alsace-Lorraine to Prussia/Germany, and a burning desire for revenge which would serve France badly in the coming years. In the Spring of 1871, a popular uprising in Paris created, but for a few brief weeks, what many saw as the first experiment in creating socialism, called the Paris Commune.

The Great War[]

The First World War was caused by a huge failure of European diplomatic common sense and imagination, as countries formed a bewildering web of alliances and treaties, binding their fates together in ways that they barely comprehended. The war was initiated by a blatant land-grab of Serbia by Austria-Hungary, using as casus belli ("our excuse for shooting at the neighbor") the murder of an Arch Duke by a Serbian terrorist. The Arch Duke was killed on June 28, 1914, and by August Europeans were killing each other on three different continents.

There were two sides in the conflict, the Central Powers, consisting of Germany, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire, and Bulgaria, facing off against the Triple Entente, of the United Kingdom, France, and Russia. On the Eastern Front the Germans struck quickly, destroying a completely outclassed Russian army and nearly driving them out of the war. On the Western Front, they drove deep into French territory before being stopped east of Paris by desperate defensive operations from France and the UK.

For the next four years France was divided by a hellish 5000 foot-long line of trenches across the countryside, with men fighting and dying in the tens of thousands, and success being measured in advancing inches. The land was poisoned by thousands of corpses, exploded and unexploded ordnance, and chemical warfare. In 1917 the United States entered the war, and German morale began to collapse. By 1918 the German government fell and the new government signed an armistice.

France had been bled white by the war, with two million dead (four percent of their entire population) and over four million wounded. The territory that had been at the front or behind enemy lines was a wasteland of festering corpses and cities and villages in ruin. Their fury at Germany resulted in a demand for huge reparations, both to help France rebuild and to punish the enemy. While this policy might have had short-term benefits, it had two major negative results: it embittered the German people, making them thirst for revenge, and it disgusted the Americans, making them less inclined to become involved in European messes in the future.

World War II[]

The Second World War was a painful and humiliating disaster for France. As the Germans rebuilt their war machine after World War I, the French, who were desperately short of manpower following the Great War, constructed the Maginot Line, a rather magnificent line of fortresses, underground bunkers and trenches on the border facing Germany. If the German army had tried to punch through that line, it would have certainly suffered great losses of manpower, and more importantly, taken precious time.

Unfortunately, for political reasons the French had not extended the Line to the sea, as it would have placed Belgium outside of the defenses, and for their part the Belgians refused to fortify their border with Germany for fear it would anger the Germans. Thus when the Germans decided to invade France they simply bypassed the Line and drove through Belgium. The French and British were never able to establish a stable defensive line against the crushing German blitzkrieg, and France was overrun in weeks, surrendering on June 22, 1940.

On June 6, 1944, British, Canadian, American and Free French troops landed at Normandy and began liberating France from German occupation. The German army retreated slowly, putting up a stubborn defense, but with Soviet troops closing in on German soil from the east, catastrophic troop losses on all fronts, the total loss of air superiority and an unending rain of Allied bombs on German factories and cities, defeat was inevitable. Paris was liberated on August 25, 1944, and Germany surrendered on May 7–8, 1945.

Contemporary France[]

The years following World War II saw France grudgingly divesting itself from its overseas possessions, fighting painful and ultimately futile wars in Vietnam and Algeria. At the same time it was rebuilding at home, creating a new and modern country out of the ashes of the Great Wars. It possesses a large immigrant population, especially from former colonies in Africa and South-West Asia.

French arts are flourishing as never before, and Paris – the "City of Lights" – is once again a cultural beacon to the world. France has become a leading member of the European Union, alongside its former enemy Germany. In historical terms this is an astonishing triumph of common sense and suggests a bright future for France, Europe, and the world.

French Trivia[]

  • "Only peril can bring the French together. One can't impose unity out of the blue on a country that has 365 kinds of cheese." –Charles de Gaulle
  • Every summer more than 100 cyclists compete in the Tour de France; the course spans roughly 3,000 kilometers (2,000 miles) and takes three weeks to complete.
  • Built from 1666 to 1681, Europe's oldest functional canal, the Canal du Midi, lies in France.
  • The French have the highest female and third highest male life expectancy in Europe.
  • French was the official language of England for over 300 years (from 1066 until the early 14th century).
  • France produces some of the world's most famous liqueurs, such as Grand Marnier, Cointreau, and Triple Sec, and upwards of 8 billion bottles of wine a year.



It is virtually impossible to overstate the military genius of Napoleon Bonaparte.

Early Life[]

Napoleon Bonaparte was born on the island of Corsica, where he entered a military academy at the age of ten. In school he displayed a great aptitude for mathematics, history, and geography, as well as a total indifference to literature and the humanities. At fourteen he was commissioned as a sub-lieutenant in an artillery regiment. When the French revolution broke out, Napoleon sided with the Revolutionaries and was appointed lieutenant-colonel of artillery, where he quickly made a name for himself as a successful commander.

Rise to Power[]

Early on Napoleon displayed both his military brilliance and his ability to navigate the perilous political landscape of Revolutionary France, where one false step could cost you your head - literally. By 1794 he was a brigadier-general, and by 1795 he was appointed command of the French Army of the Interior. He was 25 years of age. Over the next few years Napoleon led French armies to major victories over various continental foes, including the extremely powerful Austrians.

Capitalizing on his success and his growing popularity with the citizens and the army, in 1800 he overthrew the government and appointed himself "First Consul." Five years later he would crown himself "Emperor and Consul for Life," displaying his fine contempt for the democratic roots of the Revolution that brought him to power.

Vive l'Empereur![]

An exceptional administrator, Napoleon rapidly reorganized the government, repealed the more radical and violent laws of the Revolution, and reopened the churches, cementing his popularity with the people of France. However, France was still at war with most of Europe, and Napoleon once again took to the battlefields, where he won stunning victories against Austria, causing that country and England to make peace.

England remained nervous of France's imperial intentions, and war resumed in 1803. Napoleon found himself facing a daunting alliance that included England, Austria, Russia and Sweden. Acting with amazing speed and cunning, Napoleon used his "interior lines" to concentrate his forces against the dispersed enemy. He rapidly marched across Europe, capturing the capital of Austria and then crushing the Russian forces at the battle of Austerlitz. Austria sued for peace once again. For several years Napoleon would defeat every foe that came against him. He crushed the Prussians, the Spanish, and the Austrians yet again. However, Russia and England remained undefeated.

The Russian Campaign[]

Eventually Napoleon decided that he would never be safe in Europe as long as Russia, aided by the perfidious English, was on his flank. With England secure behind the Channel and its superb navy, he had little choice but to attack Russia, the only foe in the alliance his armies could reach. In 1812 he led half a million men to attack Moscow. The Russian forces retreated before his advance, taking or burning anything that might be of use to the invaders, while in the rear Cossack raiders destroyed Napoleon's supply lines. Bonaparte did reach and capture Moscow, but once again the Russians had removed or burnt anything there that might feed his men, and he was forced to retreat, fighting the Russian troops and the even more deadly Russian winter mile after bitter mile. By the end of the campaign Napoleon had lost 96% of his army.

Napoleon's Fall[]

Upon returning to Paris, Napoleon immediately recruited another army of 350,000, but his image of invulnerability was gone, and all Europe rose against him. Prussia, Russia and Austria allied against him, and England threw more troops into contested Spain. Though Napoleon was to again win famous victories, his enemies continued their relentless attacks. Eventually the allies drove their way into Paris, and Napoleon abdicated. For his trouble he was given rulership of the island of Elba, along with an income of six million francs, to be paid by France.

Later he would return to France and try to regain power one last time, but he was finally and irrevocably defeated by an English and Prussian army at Waterloo in Belgium. This time he was confined for life at the island of Sainte-Helene, a thousand miles from the coast of Africa. He died there in 1821.

Verdict of History[]

Napoleon was one of the most brilliant generals of all time. He moved his troops with astounding rapidity, and he always knew exactly where to strike in order to cause the most damage. Domestically he turned out to be a decent, imaginative ruler and France flourished under his control (until his endless wars sapped her strength and will to fight). An Army general to his core, he never was able to create a navy able to seriously challenge England's dominance over the oceans.

In the end, he just couldn't beat everybody.


  • Napoleon's rules of law for France – the so-called "Napoleonic Code" − represented a major advancement in legal reform and have influenced the legal systems of countries across the globe. Some historians have argued that these laws have had a greater effect on world history than all of Napoleon's military victories.
  • Napoleon wasn't very short; he was actually a bit taller that an average Frenchman at that time. The reason why people think he was short is because it is a leftover nickname from his early soldiering days, when he was known as "The Little Corporal," and because his enemies (foremost the British) caricatured him as being short.
  • The "Ancien Régime" ability is a reference to the real life Napoleon's comment that steam powered ships would not catch on.

Unique Components[]


Made famous by the swashbuckling tales of Alexandre Dumas, the Musketeers were elite French soldiers armed with sword and musket. Created in 1622 as a "junior unit" in the Royal Guard, the Musketeers of the Guard were open to the lower ranks of the French aristocracy, while the more prestigious guard units were reserved for the higher classes. The Musketeers had a reputation for fighting spirit and swagger and were much admired in Paris and the country at large. They were disbanded at the end of the eighteenth century.


In the game, the Musketeers not only represent the military prowess of France in the 17th and 18th centuries, but also the Grande Armée of Napoleon during the Napoleonic wars.

Foreign Legion[]

(Unique Component in Vanilla and Gods & Kings only)

Established in 1831, the French Foreign Legion is a unique infantry unit in the French army. The legion was specifically created for foreign nationals who wished to fight for France. Famously courageous, totally indifferent to personal safety, the Foreign Legion have seen service in every French war since their inception. The unit has been highly romanticized - according to popular culture, it is a place where heartbroken men go to forget women and scoundrels go to escape justice. This may or may not be accurate, but whatever the case the Legion is a tough and very effective fighting force.


  • There is more than just the "French Foreign Legion" - nations such as China, Spain, and Russia have "Foreign Legions" of their own.


(Unique in Brave New World Only)

A chateau is a manor house or country home of gentry, usually without fortifications. In the Middle Ages, a chateau was largely self-sufficient, being supported by the lord's demesne (hereditary lands). In the 1600s, the wealthy and aristocratic French lords dotted the countryside with elegant, luxuriant, architecturally refined mansions such as the Chateau de Maisons. Today, the term chateau is loosely used; for instance, it is common for any winery or inn, no matter how humble, to prefix its name with "Chateau."

Imperial Guard[]

(Unique Component available if France (Louis XIV) is enabled.)

Napoleon's Imperial Guard was an elite division of the French Army that served under the direct command of Napoleon I, acting both as his personal bodyguard and as a reserve force. Although originally the Guard consisted of only a small group of some 8,000 soldiers, by 1812, it had amassed just under 100,000 men, and comprised its own cavalry, artillery and infantry divisions. The guard itself was divided into three sections: the Old Guard, which consisted of Napoleon's most veteran soldiers, the Middle Guard, veterans of Napoleons campaigns between 1805 and 1809, and the Young Guard, the best of the French Army's new recruits.


(Unique Component available if France (Louis XIV) is enabled.)

In French, the term Chevau-léger means "Light Horse." During the late 15th and 16th centuries in France, Austria, and Spain, the contemporary militaries of the day were undergoing a reformation, which led to a phasing out of heavily armoured cavalry in favour of those lightly armoured and possessing of a shorter lance. Amongst the Chevau-légers of Napoleon's Empire was the famous Polish 1st Light Cavalry Regiment of the French Guards; lauded for its legendary charges against the enemy.

Marshal of the Empire[]

(Unique Component available if France (Louis XIV) is enabled.)

Marshal of the Empire was a title bestowed upon the most prestigious and accomplished of Napoleon's military generals, who were granted special honours that elevated them to serve in many important roles in the management of his empire. A number of these Marshals even went on to establish royal dynasties, such as the Bernadottes who today remain the ruling House of Sweden.