Sovereigns and Heads of State

Sovereigns and Heads of State

History of France


Lives and works of these leaders who made the history of France. From Clovis to Charles de Gaulle, via Charlemagne and Philippe Auguste.

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French general and statesman, Charles de Gaulle was the leader of Free France during World War II and the founder of the Fifth French Republic. Penetrated with a sense of history and driven by a fierce desire to defend and embody his country, he had to lead France during the two major crises of the Second World War and the Algerian War. Since his death in 1969, his work and his actions have been the subject of various recoveries which tend to prove the character's profound originality, but also a certain difficulty in pinpointing the underlying springs of his most controversial decisions.

Mayor of the Palace of Austrasia (716) and Neustria (719), Charles Martel becomes the sole master of the Frankish kingdom (737-741). His nickname "Martel" (hammer) comes from the energy he deployed to impose his authority in the Merovingian kingdom. By his victory in Poitiers in October 732, he put an end to the progress of Arab Muslims in Europe and appeared in the eyes of the Christian world as the champion of the Cross. While pursuing a policy of secularization of ecclesiastical property, he began a close collaboration with Rome, laying the foundations for an alliance with the Holy See which will last under the Carolingians.

King of France Louis XIV, nicknamed "the Great" or "the Sun King", had the longest reign in French history (1643-1715). Anxious to modernize the administration and economic structures of his kingdom, his reign oscillated between successes and wars particularly long and ruinous for the state finances. Having chosen the sun as his emblem, Louis XIV brought royal absolutism to its peak in a France that shines on Europe, including in the fields of arts and letters.

Philippe IV, known as "the Bel" was King of France from 1285 to 1314. He owes his nickname to his immense stature and the beauty of his impassive face: “It is neither a man nor a beast, it is a statue.” His reign is considered by historians to be one of the most important but also the most disconcerting. He is one of the main architects of French unity, along with Philippe Auguste and Louis XI. Enigmatic personality, perhaps a simple instrument in the hands of his legal advisers, the jurists, Philippe le Bel is the sovereign of a strong and centralized State He will be uncompromising with the Templars whose wealth he covets and will obtain their condemnation and the suppression of their order.

Son of Charles Martel and father of Charlemagne, Pepin the Brief was king of the Franks from 751 to 768. He was the founder of the Carolingian dynasty, which he legitimized by a hitherto unknown rite by being anointed with holy oil at his coronation by the bishops. During his reign, he led a skilful policy, made of alliance with the papacy and territorial conquests. Nicknamed "the Short" (the little one) because of his short stature, he was renowned for his extraordinary strength.

Henry II was King of France from 1547-1559. Son of King François I and Claudius of France, he married the Florentine aristocrat Catherine de Medici in 1533. Shortly after his marriage, he took as mistress Diane de Poitiers who was to exercise a great influence on the policy of Henri, after his marriage. accession to the throne in 1547. Henry II continued the war led by his father against the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire Charles V, without more success, then tried to eradicate the Protestants. He is most famous for his death in 1559, following a tournament eye injury.

Duke, then King of France from 987 to 996, Hugues I Capet is the founder of the Capetian dynasty. When he came to power in place of the last Carolingian pretender, the royal authority, reduced to a few territories in Ile de France, appeared weak in the face of the power of the great feudal lords. But the new king will be able to demonstrate to establish his authority as much skill as he took to supplant the last representatives of the Carolingian dynasty, installing his line on the throne of France for eight centuries.

The reign of Charles VII, nearly forty years long (1422-1461), is inseparable from the end of the Hundred Years War. It covers one of the most eventful periods in French history and may also be a time when we believed in the disappearance of the Capetian dynasty. The epic of Joan of Arc will allow the "King of Bourges" to regain the throne and legitimacy, and to begin the reconquest of his kingdom from the English. Having become the victorious Charles VII, he will long remain in the shadow of the glory of the virgin of Orléans. This now rehabilitated unrecognized ruler restored the authority of the monarchy in France, reforming and modernizing finances and the military.

Became king of France in 1715, Louis XV aroused hope and enthusiasm throughout the kingdom. The beginning of the reign is presented under the best auspices and the young king receives the nickname of Beloved. A few decades later, the mood is very different. Loss of Canada, Louisiana and the Indies following the disastrous Seven Years' War, expensive festivals, influence of his mistresses, reforms too timid or too late ... the reproaches are legion. Of a vague character, Louis XV proved incapable of promoting the reforms necessary to modernize the country and meet the new aspirations of his subjects. Royal absolutism is in crisis and the seeds of the French Revolution are planted.

Louis IX, who will become Saint Louis, is a legendary figure of thehistory of France and Christianity. A model of prince, knight and crusader, he reigned at the height of the French Middle Ages. Thanks to the writings of Jean de Joinville, we know quite well his long reign which spanned the 13th century. Concerned about order and justice, this great Capetian led many reforms. Very pious, Louis IX participated in two crusades. The failure of his enterprise to the Holy Land and his death in Tunis brought him back to posterity and opened the way to a rapid canonization.

French politician who has already had a long career, François Mitterrand won the election to the presidency of the Republic on May 10, 1981 against Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, opening for the first time under the 5th a political alternation. At the same time humanist, European and not devoid of Machiavellianism, François Mitterrand, will have known how to incarnate, as much by his ambiguities as by his action, the socio-cultural changes which deeply transformed his country in the second half of the XXth century.

King of France Philippe II, known as PhilippeAugust, is the one who really allowed the Capetian dynasty to consolidate its power and expand the royal domain. Better still, through his conquests and reforms, he is often considered one of the greatest rulers in the history of France and as one of the founders of what has become of the French nation. On July 27, 1214, Philippe Auguste's victory at the Battle of Bouvines against a coalition of European powers will become the most famous event of his reign.

Henry III, murdered in 1589, was the last ruler of the Valois dynasty. A skilled legislator, he demonstrated a strong desire for national unity in a France then undermined by the Wars of Religion. Intelligent and cultured, this king of France left a contrasting image of himself, sometimes hostage to a black legend, where homophobia and accusations of inconstancy and even tyranny mingle. Beyond this perception, the political action of Henri III allowed his successor Henri de Navarre to put an end to the civil war.

Napoleon Bonaparte, become Napoleon I in 1804, is a key figure in history and a precursor of the European Union. However, beyond the many campaigns, what are the different faces behind the military and future emperor? Accompanied by extracts from letters and quotes, several of his facets will be highlighted: the lonely child, the brilliant student, the passionate husband, the strategist, the victorious general and the administrator. The unmistakable legacy he left behind also came at a heavy price.

The name of Francis I is closely linked to the battle of Marignan, won by the "king-knight" at the dawn of his reign one fine day in 1515. Great lover of women and hunting, great prince of the French Renaissance and protector of the arts and letters , his reign deeply marked the 16th century. However, of this tall young man of two meters of whom he did not have a good opinion, his predecessor Louis XII will say: "this big boy will ruin everything". And in fact, the reign of François Ier came close to disaster on several occasions.

Both First President of the Republic and last Emperor of the French, Napoleon III left an ambivalent memory. His work, oscillating between grandeur and decadence, was for a long time obscured by systematic opposition to the loser of the war of 1870. The Fifth Republic is however directly the heir of this "Caesarism", so much criticized at the time. Nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte can be considered as one of the builders of modern France, he who erected Vercingétorix as a figure of French identity, rebellious to any foreign oppression.

Deputy, President of the Senate, Minister, President of the Republic, Gaston Doumergue is a character with an incredible destiny, cumulating the high functions without ever asking or doing anything to obtain them! He was never a party man and yet in 1924 left and right agreed to appoint him President of the Republic! He was even affectionately nicknamed "Gastounet" by his peers and by the Nation, thanks to his affable courtesy, his legendary smile and his "art and his way of doing".

Of king of France louis XIII, Alexandre Dumas will paint an unflattering portrait: "Vain sovereign, capricious and unfaithful, capable of the coldest cruelty, weak heart lacking in generosity ...". Beyond the image conveyed by the swashbuckling novels, Louis XIII was against him to see his glory eclipsed by that of his father Henri IV and his son Louis XIV. And yet during his reign of 33 years, what changes in the Kingdom of France! Reinforcement of royal authority, affirmation of the role of France in Europe, development of trade and the navy. In many ways this is the " Great Century »Which begins.

Turbulent son of the winner of the Hundred Years War (Charles VII), the King of France Louis XI has a reputation as a tough ruler, sometimes seen as a tyrant. His reign was fundamental, however, both in the fight to the death he delivered to the Duke of Burgundy Charles the Bold, and in the affirmation of a monarchy increasingly centralized over the person of the king. While France is once again experiencing economic growth, the reign of Louis XI, however authoritarian it may be, will allow the advent of the Renaissance kings and with it the influence of France, which becomes the leading European power.

King of Navarre and leader of the Huguenots during the wars of religion, Henry IV became king of France in 1589. First sovereign of the Bourbon dynasty, he worked to pacify the kingdom (Edit of Nantes), and to restore the authority of the monarchy undermined by the civil war. His assassination by Ravaillac on May 14, 1610 forged his legend and made him enter the popular imagery in the pantheon of just and good kings. Henri IV will remain in the collective imagination as the "green galant", the ardent creator of the chicken in the pot, the "human" King, close to his subjects and their misery ... What is he hiding behind the golden legend crowned with eternal glory?

Louis XVI, King of France from 1774 to 1789 then King of the French until 1792, was the last ruler of the Ancien Régime. Long portrayed as mediocre to see silly, the monarch is much more subtle than we have been allowed to say and his reign is punctuated by some successes: alliance with Austria, support for the insurgents in America, encouragement for scientific discoveries. However, his confrontation with an economic, social and financial crisis without precedent in France will end in a tragic way for Louis XVI. Heir and guardian of a breathless French monarchy, he will end up carried away by the tumult of the Revolution.


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