Open main menu

Portal:Military history of France

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

Napoléon at the Battle of Austerlitz, by François Gérard.
The Battle of Austerlitz, was one of Napoleon's greatest victories, effectively destroying the Third Coalition against the French Empire. On December 2, 1805 (November 20, Old Style), a French army, commanded by Emperor Napoleon I, decisively defeated a Russo-Austrian army, commanded by Tsar Alexander I, after nearly nine hours of difficult fighting. The battle took place near Austerlitz (Slavkov u Brna) about 10 km (6 miles) south-east of Brno in Moravia. The battle is often regarded as a tactical masterpiece. The French victory at Austerlitz effectively brought the Third Coalition to an end. On December 26, 1805, Austria and France signed the Treaty of Pressburg, which took Austria out of the war, reinforced the earlier treaties of Campo Formio and Lunéville, made Austria cede land to Napoleon's German allies, and imposed an indemnity of 40 million francs on the defeated Habsburgs. Russian troops were allowed to head back to home soil. Victory at Austerlitz also permitted the creation of the Confederation of the Rhine, a collection of German states intended as a buffer zone between France and the rest of Europe. In 1806, the Holy Roman Empire ceased to exist when Holy Roman Emperor Francis II kept Francis I of Austria as his only official title. These achievements, however, did not establish a lasting peace on the continent. Prussian worries about growing French influence in Central Europe sparked the War of the Fourth Coalition in 1806.


Selected image

Napoleon Bonaparte leading his troops over the bridge of Arcole
Credit: Horace Vernet

The most famous general of the French Revolution: Napoleon Bonaparte. In this painting, he is shown leading the charge across the bridge at the Battle of Arcole. In reality, he never crossed the bridge because a worried officer pushed him into the river, but Napoleon was a great propagandist, and when he saw a mythical moment in the making, he ordered a picture to be made.

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...)

Did you know...

Nicolas luckner.jpg

Categories

Things you can do

French military history task force:

Attention needed
...to referencing and citation  • ...to coverage and accuracy  • ...to structure  • ...to grammar  • ...to supporting materials 
Popular pages
Full list
Cleanup needed
Richelieu class battleship (have done copyediting, needs content work; copyediting work can be copied to related articles)
Requested articles 
Operation Vesuve (currently redirect) • Charles MontignaultColonial CorpsJules Charles Auguste LefèvrePaul LebloisCadets de la France LibreFrench Liberation ArmyPierre JacquotGilbert SabattierMarguerite de BressieuxJames of MaillySiege of UtrechtFirst Battle of Orleans (currently redirect) • Bombardment of SamogneuxFrench invasions of FlandersAngevin-Capetian ConflictFrench Expeditionary Corps to White RussiaThibaut, Seigneur de MontmorencyVivien de BulondeGaston de ChanmontHugues de ChanmontSimon de Neauphle-le-ChateauEnea DiGuilianoGeorges GuingouihForce NoirDreux IV de MelloGilles II de TrasigniesHumbert VI de BeaujeuRaoul II de ClerminGaucher de ChatillonRobert Morean de FiennesMaschke CommissionGuillaume de BournelNivelon d'ArrasHenry I ClémentJean III ClémentGuillaume de la TournelleFerry PastéJean Guillaume de BeaumontGauthier IIIHenri II ClémentHéric de BeaujeuRenaud de PrécignyFerry de VerneuilGuillaume V du Bec CrespinRaoul V Le FlamencJean de VarennesFoulques du MerleJean de CorbeilJean IV de BeaumontJean des BarresBernard VI de MoreuilRobert-Jean Bertran de BriquebecAnseau de JoinvilleCharles de MontmorencyRobert de WaurinRogues de HangestJean I Le MaingreJean IV de MauquenchyLouis II de ChampagnePierre de RieuxClaude de BeauvoirJacques de MontberonAntoine de VergyPierre de Rohan de GiéClaude d'AillyRené de MontjeanOudard du BiezAntoine de Lettes-DesprezJean CaraccioliPierre Strozzi &bull Artus de Cossé-BrissacLouis Prévost de SansacJacques de GoyonGuillaume de JoyeuseClaude de La Chatre de La MaisonfortJean de Montluc de BalagnyJean III de BaumanoirUrbain de Montmorency-LavalGuillaume de Hautemer de GranceyLouis de La Châtre de MaisonfortPons de Lauzières-Thémines-CardaillacAntoine Coëffier de Ruzé d'EffiatCharles de Monchy d'HocquincourtJacques Rouxel de GranceyPhilippe de Clérambault de La PalluauLouis de Foucault de Saint-Germain BeaupréJacques de Mauvisière de CastelnauPhilippe de Montaut-Bénac de NavaillesJean-Armand de Joyeuse-GrandpréNicolas Auguste de La Baume de MontrevelCharles Eugène de Lévis-CharlusLouis Armand de Brinchanteau de NangisLouis de Gand de Mérode de MontmorencyJean-Baptiste de Durfort de DurasClaude Guillaume Testu de BalincourtGuy Claude Roland de Montmorency-LavalLouis Claude de La Mothe-HoudancourtJean Hector de Fay de La Tour-MaubourgEsprit Victor Boniface de CastellaneSerge Asher-RavanelRaoul BoulangerJulien MelineDorothy TartiereHugues de TappieJean Pierre Joseph BruyèreLouis Jacques de CoehornJob Forant
Expansion needed
Isle of FranceLouis de Brancas de Forcalquier de CéresteChristian Louis de Montmorency-LuxembourgNicolas de Neufville, Duc de VilleroiHenri de La Ferté-SenneterreJean Baptiste Budes de GuébriantPhilippe de La Mothe-HoudancourtCharles de La Porte de MeillerayeJean-Baptiste Louis Andrault de MaulévrierUrbain de Maillé-BrézéUlrich Friedrich Waldemar von LöwendahlEmmanuel Félicité de Durfort de DurasHenri de SchombergPaul de La Barthe de ThermesJacques d'Albon de Saint-AndréOperation BrochetOpération CorseOperation HirondelleRobert NivelleLouis Vincent Le Blond de Saint-HilaireBattle of VerdunSecond Battle of the MarneMartha DesrumeauxBattle of Bapaume (1871)Battle of LutterbergBattle of FreibergAlbert Severin RocheSiege of GroningenSecond Battle of Orleans (1870)Georges Loustaunau-LacauClaude d'AnnebautPhilippe de CulantJean de LescunJacques de TrivulceCharles II d'Amboise de ChaumontRobert Stuart d'AubignyGaspard I de ColignyThomas de Foix-LescunRobert III de La MarckGaspard de SaulxCharles de Choiseul-PraslinAntoine III de GramontJean de GassionArmand-Nompar de Caumont, duc de la ForceJacques Henri de Durfort de DurasGuy Aldonce de Durfort de LorgesRené de Froulay de TesséPierre de Montesquiou d'ArtagnanAlain Emmanuel de CoëtlogonCharles-Armand de Gontaut, duc de BironGaspard de Clermont-TonnerreLouis Antoine de GontautLouis Charles César Le Tellier, duc d'EstréesHubert de Brienne, Comte de ConflansJean Isidore HarispeMarie-Madeleine FourcadeBattle of ZeelandMarcel-Bruno GensoulBattle of Foz de ArouceMiles VI de NoyersRobert IV de La MarckJean de BaudricourtGaston Pierre de LévisImbert de La PlâtièreRobert of Torigni
Images needed
Add an article here!
Merging needed
Régiments de marche de volontaires étrangers into Marching Regiments of Foreign Volunteers
Citations needed
Richelieu class battleship
Translation needed 
fr:Philippe Pot, fr:Chouannerie

Associated Wikimedia

The following Wikimedia Foundation sister projects provide more on this subject:

Wikibooks
Books

Commons
Media

Wikinews 
News

Wikiquote 
Quotations

Wikisource 
Texts

Wikiversity
Learning resources

Wiktionary 
Definitions

Wikidata 
Database

Related portals: France  •  New France  •  Napoleonic Wars