A republic in western Europe. After five centuries of Roman rule, the province of Gaul, which generally corresponded to modern France, was overrun by the German Franks in the 5th century. During the 8th century, the Frankish kingdom stopped the Arab advance into Europe, and by c. 800 A.D. the Frankish Empire, under Charlemagne, ruled most of western and central Europe. In 843, the empire was partitioned, and the western kingdom became the foundation of modern France. During the Middle Ages, France lacked any strong central government, being divided among numerous feudal states. The English dominated much of the area during the 11th-15th centuries, but they were finally expelled after 1453. France emerged from a century of warfare with England as a major power. The French Revolution (1789) began a series of wars in Europe that lasted until the final defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte in 1815.
During the second half of the 19th century, France built a far-flung overseas empire, in competition with Britain overseas and with Germany and Austria on the continent. France was defeated by Prussia and its allies in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 and lost the disputed provinces of Alsace and Lorraine to the new German state. During World War I, France suffered greatly, and most of the bitterest fighting was on French soil. France emerged from the war the pre-eminent power on the continent, but in the 1930s it lost ground to a re-emerging Germany. France quickly crumbled before Germany's invasion in May and June 1940. The northern and western portions of the country were occupied by Germany, and a German puppet regime was established in the south.
A Free French government, based in
Africa, continued the war against the Axis overseas. Following World War
II, France rapidly rebuilt its economy and again played a major role in
world affairs. During 1958-70, Gen. Charles de Gaulle's policies of
economic and technological development and independence in foreign affairs
were aimed at re-establishing France's greatness. De Gaulle disengaged
France from its colonial commitments, and during 1958-62, most of French
Africa became independent. France, however, retains close economic and
political ties with many of its former colonies.