A Weekly Column
February 6, 2002 - History of France
I am constantly looking for a point of reference when I here something new about France. When someone tells me that something occurred during the reign of Philippe le Bel, I go for my encyclopedia to get the exact dates of his reign. Then I have to flip through the pages to see what was happening in France before, after and during this period. If I cant find a point of reference, the information is meaningless to me. If someone tells me that a chateau was built in the thirteenth century, I have go through some mental gymnastics to figure out that the thirteenth century was the period of 1201 to 1300. But I still draw a mental blank until I lookup crusades, Saint Louis, Philippe le Bel and Templars. Only then do things begin to clear in my head. Forget Europe, the Holy Roman Empire and the rest of the world. France is complicated enough. Our little village alone has druid caves, Gaulic mottes, Roman forts, Meroviegian sarcophagus, a medieval chateau and romanesque churches. Less than a mile away, there are neighboring villages with equally long and rich histories. I decided to build an outline to keep things straight.
After preparing my first draft and submitting it for review, I discovered a new problem with my chronology of the facts. My only source for reference material is the library in Vendôme. Everything being written in French is not really a problem. I can look up any French words that I dont understand. However, I am discovering that history is interpreted and written differently in France. For instance, the French put a great importance on the battle of Bouvines fought in 1214 but it is hardly mentioned in English books. And the first chronology that I found did not mention the Battle of Hastings, which the English-speaking world would never omit. Also, the French define the High and Low Middles ages differently and have different terms for certain epochs. So, with all excuses neatly in place for any errors found, here is the first part of my new historical reference.
Chronology of the Middle Ages
395 A.D. to 1453 A.D.
The Middle Ages covers a period of history lasting a thousand years. It commenced in the fifth century and lasted up until the fall of Constantinople in 1453. It is divided into two periods. The first period is called the High Middle Ages. It commenced after the sack of Rome that began to falter around 395 A.D. with the invasion of the barbarians from the east.
The High Middle Ages
395 A.D. to 1100 A.D.
The period of the High Middle Ages commenced with the invasion of the barbarians from the east at the beginning of the fifth century. The invasions lasted for 300 years and resulted in a period of lethargy and stagnation. The French call this period the Epoque de la Grande Noirceur. We call it the Dark Ages. The Dark Ages lasted up until the year 800 when peace finally settled over Europe. During the High Middle Ages the Catholic Church was all-powerful and the Kings of Europe were weak.
400 A.D. to 700 A.D.
Barbarian invasions by the Vandals, Huns and Franks ravaged Europe. The Franks with King Clovis at their head eventually became the masters of what is now called France.
When Clovis died in 511, three Frank kingdoms under the Merovingian dynasty shared control of Europe but they constantly fought among themselves.
The three Merovingian kingdoms were finally united under Pépin de Herstal in 687.
In 711, the Arabs made war on Europe for the purpose of converting it to Islam. By 720 Spain had fallen to the Arabs and France was in danger of an Islamic invasion. Charles (the Hammer) Martel finally stopped them at Poitier in 732 in what is known as the Battle of Tours. This was the last attempt of the Arabs to cross the Pyrenees. Although the undisputed master of Gaul, Charles Martel was never a king. He held the title of Mayor of the Palace. When the last Merovingian king died, Charles refused to designate another one which resulted in the end of the Merovingian dynasty.
In 751, Pépin the Brief became king of the Franks and the first of the Carolingian dynasty.
In 800, Charlemagne became king of the Franks and Emperor of Europe. However, his sons could not keep the kingdom together and the Treaty of Verdun divided it again in 843.
In 877, Charles the Bald became the first king of France. The invasions by the Normans weakened the kingdom and led to the development of feudalism. By 911 the Normans had installed themselves in Normandy.
The Carolingian dynasty ended with the death of Louis V in 987. After Louis Vs death, Hugues Capet seized the crown and established the Capetians dynasty. The first four Capetians, Hugues, Robert II, Henry I and Philippe I, established their kingdom around a small domain around Paris.
The Low Middle Ages
1100 A.D. to 1453 A.D.
1108 A.D. to 1180 A.D.
The reigns of Louis VI and VII commenced a period of economic and urban improvement. The Church began to reestablish itself; the age of chivalry started and the crusades began. This was also a period when the bourgeoisie began to form and the arts started to flourish in Europe. It was also during this period that the Kings of England (Plantegenets) began to assert themselves.
Philippe Auguste II gave the Capetian dynasty its national character with the victory of Bouvines.
1226 A.D. to 1270 A.D.
Saint Louis (Louis IX) led crusades to the Holy lands and against his own subjects in the Albiginian crusades.
1270 A.D. to 1314
Philippe le Bel intimidated the church and eliminated the Knights Templar.
1322 to 1328
Charles IV le Bel (the Fair) was the last French king in the direct line of the Capetian dynasty. Because of his death without a male heir, the Hundred Years War was participated. Edward III, the King of England, stood in line to inherit the crown of France upon the death of Charles IV. The French nobility decided to extend the rule that a woman could not inherit the throne to the principle that a man whose right to inherit descended from a woman could not inherit the throne also. This eventually resulted in a declaration of war by Edward III. These wars became know as the Hundred Years War.
1346 A.D and 1356 A.D.
Under the reigns of Philippe VI and Jean II, the English won victories at Crécy in 1346 and at Poitier in 1356 and thus established a foothold in the southwest of France.
The English under Henry V of England defeated the French at Azincourt and become masters of a large part of French soil.
1422 A.D. to 1461 A.D.
During the reign of Charles VII, with the aid of Jeanne dArc, the French chased the English completely from French soil.
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13, 2001 - Saint of the Day
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