France, officially the French Republic, is a state in Western Europe with several of its overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France extends from the Mediterranean Sea to the English Channel and the North Sea, and from the Rhine to the Atlantic Ocean. It is often referred to as L’Hexagone ("The Hexagon") because of the geometric shape of its territory. It is bordered (clockwise from the north) by Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Monaco, Spain and Andorra. France's overseas departments and collectivities also share land borders with Brazil and Suriname (bordering French Guiana), and the Netherlands Antilles (bordering Saint-Martin). France is linked to the United Kingdom by the Channel Tunnel, which passes underneath the English Channel.
France is a member state of the European Union, the largest one by area. It is also the third largest in Europe behind Russia and Ukraine. It would be second if its extra-European territories like French Guiana were included. France has been a major power for many centuries with strong economic, cultural, military and political influence. During the 17th and 18th centuries, France colonised great parts of North America; during the 19th and early 20th centuries, France built the second largest empire of the time, including large portions of North, West and Central Africa, Southeast Asia, and many Pacific islands.
France is a unitary semi-presidential republic with its main ideals expressed in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. France is one of the most developed countries and possesses the fifth largest economy by nominal GDP and seventh largest economy by purchasing power parity. France enjoys a high standard of living as well as a high public education level, it is one of the most globalised nations, has 2009's second best international reputation and has also one of the world's highest life expectancies, with its healthcare system rated as the best in the world. It is the most visited country in the world, receiving 82 million foreign tourists annually. France is one of the founding members of the European Union. It is also a founding member of the United Nations, and a member of the Francophonie, the G8, G20, NATO, OECD, WTO, and the Latin Union. It is one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, possesses the third largest number of nuclear weapons in the world and the largest number of nuclear power plants in the European Union.
The name "France" comes from Latin Francia, which literally means "land of the Franks," or "Frankland." There are various theories as to the origin of the name of the Franks. One is that it is derived from the Proto-Germanic word frankon which translates as javelin or lance as the throwing axe of the Franks was known as a francisca.
Another proposed etymology is that in an ancient Germanic language, Frank means free as opposed to slave. This usage still survives in the name of the national currency prior to the adoption of the euro, the franc.
However, it is also possible that the word is derived from the ethnic name of the Franks, because as the conquering class only the Franks had the status of freemen. In German, France is still called Frankreich, which literally means "Realm of the Franks." In order to distinguish from the Frankish Empire of Charlemagne, Modern France is called Frankreich, while the Frankish Realm is called Frankenreich.
The word "Frank" had been loosely used from the fall of Rome to the Middle Ages, yet from Hugh Capet's coronation as "King of the Franks" ("Rex Francorum") it became usual to strictly refer to the Kingdom of Francia, which would become France. The Capetian Kings were descended from the Robertines, who had produced two Frankish kings, and previously held the title of "Duke of the Franks" ("dux Francorum"). This Frankish duchy encompassed most of modern northern France but because the royal power was sapped by regional princes the term was then applied to the royal demesne as shorthand. It was finally the name adopted for the entire Kingdom as central power was affirmed over the entire kingdom.
The borders of modern France are approximately the same as those of ancient Gaul, which was inhabited by Celtic Gauls. Gaul was conquered for Rome by Julius Caesar in the 1st century BC, and the Gauls eventually adopted Roman speech (Latin, from which the French language evolved) and Roman culture. Christianity first appeared in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD, and became so firmly established by the fourth and fifth centuries that St. Jerome wrote that Gaul was the only region “free from heresy”.
In the 4th century AD, Gaul’s eastern frontier along the Rhine was overrun by Germanic tribes, principally the Franks, from whom the ancient name of "Francie" was derived. The modern name "France" derives from the name of the feudal domain of the Capetian Kings of France around Paris. The Franks were the first tribe among the Germanic conquerors of Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire to convert to Catholic Christianity rather than Arianism (their King Clovis did so in 498); thus France obtained the title "Eldest daughter of the Church," and the French would adopt this as justification for calling themselves "the Most Christian Kingdom of France."
Existence as a separate entity began with the Treaty of Verdun (843), with the division of Charlemagne's Carolingian Empire into East Francia, Middle Francia and West Francia. Western Francia approximated the area occupied by modern France and was the precursor to modern France.
The Carolingian dynasty ruled France until 987, when Hugh Capet, Duke of France and Count of Paris, was crowned King of France. His descendants, the Direct Capetians, the House of Valois and the House of Bourbon, progressively unified the country through a series of wars and dynastic inheritance. The Albigensian Crusade was launched in 1209 to eliminate the heretical Cathars of Occitania (the south of modern-day France). In the end, both the Cathars and the independence of southern France were exterminated.
In 1066, the Duke of Normandy became King of England, and separated Normandy from France and marked it as English territory. He then increased that territory to cover over half of what France is today, being the North, Centre and West of France. The height of this was around the reign of Henry II in the 1170s. However, after then, territories continued to change but since the Wars of the Roses held England weak, France won back that territory and the last territory England held in France was Calais, but after Henry VIII this was lost to the Spanish Netherlands.
Charles IV (The Fair) died without heir in 1328. Under the rule adopted in 1316, the crown of France could not pass to a woman, nor could the line of kinfship pass through the female line. This became known as the Salic Law. Accordingly, the crown passed to cousin of Charles, Philip of Valois, rather than passing though the female line to Charles' nephew, Edward, who would soon become Edward III of England. Under the reign of Phillip Valois who was then Philip IV, the French monarchy reached the height of its medieval power. However, Philip's seat on the throne was contested by Edward III of England and in 1337, on the eve of the first wave of the Black Death, England and France went to war in what would become known as the Hundred Years' War.
In the most notorious incident during the French Wars of Religion (1562–98), thousands of Huguenots were murdered in the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre of 1572.
The monarchy reached its height during the 17th century and the reign of Louis XIV. At this time France possessed the largest population in Europe and had tremendous influence over European politics, economy, and culture. French became, and remained until the 20th century, the common language of diplomacy in international affairs. Much of the Enlightenment occurred in French intellectual circles, and major scientific breakthroughs were achieved by French scientists in the 18th century. In addition, France obtained many overseas possessions in the Americas, Africa and Asia.
The monarchy ruled France until the French Revolution. It did not fall immediately after the storming of the Bastille on 14 July 1789, but endured until the creation of the First Republic in September 1792. Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette, were executed (in 1793), along with thousands of other French citizens during the Reign of Terror. A guerrilla war and counterrevolution, known as the Revolt in the Vendée, cost more than 100,000 lives before it was crushed in 1796. After a series of short-lived governmental schemes, Napoleon Bonaparte seized control of the Republic in 1799, making himself First Consul, and later Emperor of what is now known as the First Empire (1804–1814). In the course of several wars, his armies conquered most of continental Europe, with members of the Bonaparte family being appointed as monarchs of newly established kingdoms. About a million Frenchmen died during the Napoleonic wars.
Following Napoleon's final defeat in 1815 at the Battle of Waterloo, the French monarchy was re-established, but with new constitutional limitations. In 1830, a civil uprising established the constitutional July Monarchy, which lasted until 1848. The short-lived Second Republic ended in 1852 when Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte proclaimed the Second Empire. Louis-Napoléon was unseated following defeat in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870 and his regime was replaced by the Third Republic.
France had colonial possessions, in various forms, since the beginning of the 17th century until the 1960s. In the 19th and 20th centuries, its global overseas colonial empire was the second largest in the world behind the British Empire. At its peak, between 1919 and 1939, the second French colonial empire extended over 4,767,000 square miles of land. Including metropolitan France, the total area of land under French sovereignty reached 4,980,000 square miles in the 1920s and 1930s, which is 8.6% of the world's land area.
France was an occupied nation in World War I and World War II. The human and material losses in the first war, which left 1.4 million French soldiers dead, exceeded largely those of the second, even though only a minor part of its territory was occupied during World War I. The interbellum phase was marked by a variety of social reforms introduced by the Popular Front government. Following the German Blitzkrieg campaign in World War II metropolitan France was divided in an occupation zone in the north and Vichy France, a newly established authoritarian regime collaborating with Germany, in the south.
The Fourth Republic was established after World War II and, despite spectacular economic growth (les Trente Glorieuses), it struggled to maintain its political status as a dominant nation state. France attempted to hold on to its colonial empire, but soon ran into trouble. The half-hearted 1946 attempt at regaining control of French Indochina resulted in the First Indochina War, which ended in French defeat at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954. Only months later, France faced a new, even harsher conflict in Algeria.
The debate over whether or not to keep control of Algeria, then home to over one million European settlers, wrecked the country and nearly led to civil war. In 1958, the weak and unstable Fourth Republic gave way to the Fifth Republic, which contained a strengthened Presidency. In the latter role, Charles de Gaulle managed to keep the country together while taking steps to end the war. The Algerian War was concluded with peace negotiations in 1962 that led to Algerian independence.
In recent decades, France's reconciliation and cooperation with Germany have proved central to the political and economic integration of the evolving European Union, including the introduction of the euro in January 1999. France has been at the forefront of the European Union member states seeking to exploit the momentum of monetary union to create a more unified and capable European Union political, defence, and security apparatus. The French electorate voted against ratification of the European Constitutional Treaty in May 2005, but the successor Treaty of Lisbon was ratified by Parliament in February 2008.