Portal:Military history of France

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Military history of France

In July 1453, a French army crushed its English opponents at the Battle of Castillon, the last major engagement of the Hundred Years War. The decisive victory at Castillon showcased the power of artillery against charging masses of infantry and allowed the French to capture Bordeaux a few months later. The English subsequently lost their major remaining possessions on the European continent.

The military history of France encompasses an immense panorama of conflicts and struggles extending for more than 2,000 years across areas including modern France, the European continent, and a variety of regions throughout the world.

According to historian Niall Ferguson: "of the 125 major European wars fought since 1495, the French have participated in 50 – more than Austria (47) and England (43). Out of 168 battles fought since 387BC, they have won 109, lost 49 and drawn 10."

The first major recorded wars in the territory of modern-day France itself revolved around the Gallo-Roman conflict that predominated from 60 BC to 50 BC. The Romans eventually emerged victorious through the campaigns of Julius Caesar. After the decline of the Roman Empire, a Germanic tribe known as the Franks took control of Gaul by defeating competing tribes. The "land of Francia," from which France gets its name, had high points of expansion under kings Clovis I and Charlemagne, who established the nucleus of the future French state. In the Middle Ages, rivalries with England prompted major conflicts such as the Norman Conquest and the Hundred Years' War. With an increasingly centralized monarchy, the first standing army since Roman times, and the use of artillery, France expelled the English from its territory and came out of the Middle Ages as the most powerful nation in Europe, only to lose that status to the Holy Roman Empire and Spain following defeat in the Italian Wars. The Wars of Religion crippled France in the late 16th century, but a major victory over Spain in the Thirty Years' War made France the most powerful nation on the continent once more. In parallel, France developed its first colonial empire in Asia, Africa, and in the Americas. Under Louis XIV France achieved military supremacy over its rivals, but escalating conflicts against increasingly powerful enemy coalitions checked French ambitions and left the kingdom bankrupt at the opening of the 18th century.

Resurgent French armies secured victories in dynastic conflicts against the Spanish, Polish, and Austrian crowns. At the same time, France was fending off attacks on its colonies. As the 18th century advanced, global competition with Great Britain led to the Seven Years' War, where France lost its North American holdings. Consolation came in the form of dominance in Europe and the American Revolutionary War, where extensive French aid in the form of money and arms, and the direct participation of its army and navy led to America's independence. Internal political upheaval eventually led to 23 years of nearly continuous conflict in the French Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars. France reached the zenith of its power during this period, dominating the European continent in an unprecedented fashion under Napoleon Bonaparte. By 1815, however, it had been restored to the same borders it controlled before the Revolution. The rest of the 19th century witnessed the growth of the Second French colonial empire as well as French interventions in Belgium, Spain, and Mexico. Other major wars were fought against Russia in the Crimea, Austria in Italy, and Prussia within France itself.

Following defeat in the Franco-Prussian War, Franco–German rivalry erupted again in the First World War. France and its allies were victorious this time. Social, political, and economic upheaval in the wake of the conflict led to the Second World War, in which the Allies were defeated in the Battle of France and the French government signed an armistice with Germany. The Allies, including the Free French Forces led by a government in exile, eventually emerged victorious over the Axis Powers. As a result, France secured an occupation zone in Germany and a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. The imperative of avoiding a third Franco-German conflict on the scale of the first two world wars paved the way for European integration starting in the 1950s. France became a nuclear power and, since the late 20th century, has cooperated closely with NATO and its European partners.

Selected article

The Siege of Nice in 1543 (drawing by Toselli, after an engraving by Aeneas Vico)
The Italian War of 1542–46 was a conflict late in the Italian Wars, pitting Francis I of France and Suleiman I of the Ottoman Empire against the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and Henry VIII of England. The course of the war saw extensive fighting in Italy, France, and the Low Countries, as well as attempted invasions of Spain and England; but, although the conflict was ruinously expensive for the major participants, its outcome was inconclusive. The war arose from the failure of the Truce of Nice, which ended the Italian War of 1536–38, to resolve the long-standing conflict between Charles and Francis—particularly their conflicting claims to the Duchy of Milan. Having found a suitable pretext, Francis once again declared war against his perpetual enemy in 1542. Fighting began at once throughout the Low Countries; the following year saw a joint Franco-Ottoman attack on Nice, as well as a series of maneuvers in northern Italy which culminated in the bloody Battle of Ceresole. Charles and Henry then proceeded to invade France, but the long sieges of Boulogne-sur-Mer and Saint-Dizier prevented a decisive offensive against the French. Charles came to terms with Francis by the Treaty of Crépy in late 1544, but the death of Francis's younger son, the Duke of Orléans—whose proposed marriage to a relative of the Emperor was the cornerstone of the treaty—made it moot less than a year afterwards. Henry, left alone but unwilling to return Boulogne to the French, continued to fight until 1546, when the Treaty of Ardres finally restored peace between France and England.


Selected image

Siege of Strasbourg
Credit: William Simpson and Arthur Hopkins

"The War: Fall of Strasbourg — Departure of French Prisoners", from the 15 October 1870 issue of the Illustrated London News. The Siege of Strasbourg was a rather one-sided Franco-Prussian War battle, with the German assault only limited by the amount of ammunition they had and fortresses falling regularly. Napoleon III's capture in the Battle of Sedan on 1 September 1870 (and the fall of the Second French Empire) meant that no relief was coming, and, though the city held on a while after the news reached them, the relentless forward movement of the Prussian lines eventually forced surrender on the 27th of September.

Unit of the month

1reg.JPG

The 1st Foreign Engineer Regiment (French: 1er régiment étranger de génie) (1er REG) is a Military engineer regiment in the French Foreign Legion. It is a part of the 6th Light Armoured Brigade. The regiment is station in Laudon.

It was created on 1 October, 1939 as the 6th Foreign Infantry Regiment. The manpower came from 3 battalions of the 1st Foreign Infantry Regiment and one from 2nd Foreign Infantry Regiment. It was disbanded 1 January 1942 and its soldiers were transeferred into the 1st Foreign Regiment and Foreign Legion depots. (More...)

Selected biography

James FitzStuart, Duke of Berwick.png

The Duke of Berwick (August 21, 1670 – June 12, 1734) was a French military leader, illegitimate son of King James II of England and VII of Scotland by Arabella Churchill, sister of the Duke of Marlborough. In 1695 he married Honora Burke, the widow of Patrick Sarsfield, who died in 1698. His second marriage, with Anne Bulkeley, took place in 1700.

As a soldier, Berwick was highly esteemed for his courage, abilities and integrity. As a result of distinguished service in the War of the Spanish Succession, he became a French subject and was appointed a Marshal of France after his successful expedition against Nice in 1706. On the April 25, 1707, Berwick won the great and decisive victory of Almanza, where an Englishman at the head of a French army defeated Ruvigny, a Frenchman at the head of an English army. After Almanza, Berwick was created Duc de Fitz-James in the peerage of France by Louis XIV, and Duque de Liria y Xérica and lieutenant of Aragon by Philip V of Spain. The last great event of the War of the Spanish Succession was the storming of Barcelona by Berwick, after a long siege, on September 11, 1714. (More...)

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