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Language of early French (West-Frankish) kings

Language of early French (West-Frankish) kings

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When did Old French displace Frankish as the language spoken in the West-Frankish court, and who was the first natively "French" king?

Like other commenters wrote, the transition from Latin and Old Frankish to the Langues d'oïl was progressive but, the first text considered to be written in Old French are the Oaths of Strasbourg (842).

So, even though the concepts of “French” and “France” were not defined at that time, you could say that Charles the Bald (823-877) was the first French-speaking king.


Our editors will review what you’ve submitted and determine whether to revise the article.

Frank, member of a Germanic-speaking people who invaded the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century. Dominating present-day northern France, Belgium, and western Germany, the Franks established the most powerful Christian kingdom of early medieval western Europe. The name France (Francia) is derived from their name.

The Franks emerged into recorded history in the 3rd century ce as a Germanic tribe living on the east bank of the lower Rhine River. Linguistically, they belonged to the Rhine-Weser group of Germanic speakers. At this time they were divided into three groups: the Salians, the Ripuarians, and the Chatti, or Hessians. These branches were related to each other by language and custom, but politically they were independent tribes. In the mid-3rd century the Franks tried unsuccessfully to expand westward across the Rhine into Roman-held Gaul. In the mid-4th century the Franks again attempted to invade Gaul, and in 358 Rome was compelled to abandon the area between the Meuse and Scheldt rivers (now in Belgium) to the Salian Franks. During the course of these drawn-out struggles the Franks were gradually influenced by Roman civilization. Some Frankish leaders became Roman allies (foederati) in the defense of the Roman frontier, and many Franks served as auxiliary soldiers in the Roman army.

The Vandals launched a massive invasion of Gaul in 406, and in the ensuing decades the Franks took advantage of the overstrained Roman defenses. They solidified their hold on what is now Belgium, took permanent control of the lands immediately west of the middle Rhine River, and edged into what is now northeastern France. The firm establishment of the Franks in northeastern Gaul by the year 480 meant that both the former Roman province of Germania and part of the two former Belgic provinces were lost to Roman rule. The small Gallo-Roman population there became submerged among the German immigrants, and Latin ceased to be the language of everyday speech. The extreme limit of Frankish settlement at this time is marked by the linguistic frontier that still divides the Romance-speaking peoples of France and southern Belgium from the Germanic-speaking peoples of northern Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany.

In 481/482 Clovis I succeeded his father, Childeric, as the ruler of the Salian Franks of Tournai. In the following years Clovis compelled the other Salian and Ripuarian tribes to submit to his authority. He then took advantage of the disintegration of the Roman Empire and led the united Franks in a series of campaigns that brought all of northern Gaul under his rule by 494. He stemmed the Alemannic migrations into Gaul from east of the Rhine, and in 507 he drove southward, subduing the Visigoths who had established themselves in southern Gaul. A unified Frankish kingdom in northern Gaul was thus established and secured. Clovis converted to Catholicism, and the mass adoption of orthodox Christianity by the Franks further served to unite them into one people. It also won them the support of the orthodox clergy and the remaining Gallo-Roman elements in Gaul, since most other Germanic tribes had adopted Arianism.

Clovis belonged to the Merovingian dynasty, so named for his grandfather Merovech. Under Clovis’s successors, the Merovingians were able to extend Frankish power east of the Rhine. The Merovingian dynasty ruled the Frankish territories until they were displaced by the Carolingian family in the 8th century. The Carolingian Charlemagne (Charles the Great, reigned 768–814) restored the western Roman Empire in cooperation with the papacy and spread Christianity into central and northern Germany. His empire disintegrated by the mid-9th century.

In succeeding centuries the people of the west Frankish kingdom (France) continued to call themselves Franks, although the Frankish element merged with the older population. In Germany the name survived as Franconia (Franken), a duchy extending from the Rhineland east along the Main River.

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica This article was most recently revised and updated by Michael Ray, Editor.

6 Answers 6

After the Norman Conquest in 1066 French quickly replaced English in all domains associated with power. French was used at the royal court, by the clergy, the aristocracy, in law courts. But the vast majority of the population continued to speak English. Had the aristocracy and clergy miraculously vanished in 1100 English would have taken over right away. In reality it took until the 14th c. for English to slowly supplant French in many of these domains. There are several reasons for this:

    (King of England) lost Normandy to the King of France. This meant that his and the Norman aristocracy's focus shifted to England. He still had possessions in the South of France, but these were too far off to shift the focus away from England.
  • Society used to be split into a French-speaking aristocracy and clergy who wielded all the power, and English-speaking peasants without power. Now an urban and English-speaking middle class (traders, artisans, etc.) came up, and acquired wealth and power.
  • The French-speaking population was ultimately rather small in number. Looking at it from this perspective one might ask why French stayed that important for such a long time. French did remain the language of power for two centuries or so, but ultimately the aristocracy slowly shifted towards English because their attachment with France had waned.

By the 14th c. people started making fun of the French spoken by the Norman Aristocracy. Chaucer, in the Prioress's Tale in the Canterbury Tales says about the Prioress (a nun):

And Frenssh she spak ful faire and fetisly,

After the scole of Stratford-atte-Bowe,

For Frenssh of Parys was to hir unknowe.

The Prioress only knew the kind of French taught in England (Stratford here) and not the kind of French spoken in Paris (seen as more desirable). This was at a time when text books for teaching French to the aristocracy came up. They now needed instruction in French because they didn't learn it at home any more.

The Norman conquest was hardly a case of 'French' colonization. France barely existed at the time. The Normans were fervently not French in their self-identity and can't even really be said to have spoken 'French'- rather they spoke a dialect of the Latin-based languages spoken across the old Roman world, the Parisian dialect of which would later develop into the standard French language of more recent centuries. The Normans of 1066 would simply have called their language 'Romanz' i.e. Roman.

The Normans appear to have adopted English as their first language far more quickly than generally thought, some scholars believe this transition was complete as early as the 1150s. There is a court record of a knight unable to speak Norman/French at all soon after that date. From that point on a more modern French (rather than the older Norman dialect) was spoken as an acquired prestige language, rather like the clergy spoke Latin. So the idea of a Francophone aristocracy throughout the medieval period is misleading - the powers that be did speak Norman and then French during the early middle ages, but mostly as a second language and only in certain contexts. Eventually this fascinating cultural fashion simply died out.

I suspect the difference may be due to the fact that language used to be less “politicized”, i.e., the conquerors did speak French, but there was no conscious effort to impose the French language on the colonized people: Everybody essentially just used whatever language seemed most useful to communicate in a given situation. This still favored the conquerors’ language, because they tended to be the people with money and power, but over time, there was a creolization of the languages.

In the 19th century, as the concept of a nation state developed, language started being considered part of the national identity, so there was more of an effort to impose the national language on every subject of a nation. As an example, the English Education Act of 1835 switched money previously spent on educating Indian elites in Sanskrit and Arabic to educating them in English.

I would question the assumption that "in many countries around the world, especially in Africa, the people natively speak both an indigenous language and French due to French colonization". It is correct that French is an official language in a number of former colonies, but I believe the assumption that the populace of D.R. Congo, for example, natively speak French is untrue. First, there is a difference between natively speaking a language, and learning a language to a reasonable degree of fluency in school. Second, especially in Africa, there is a difference between the linguistic habits of the urban intelligentsia and the habits of the general population. French is widely used with the middle and upper class in francophone cities, but not so much with rural farmers. Also note that among educated city-dwellers in Africa (esp. Cameroon or Cote d'Ivoire), francophones often do not natively speak some indigenous language, instead, they just speak French (and maybe know enough Bamileke to talk to grandma). Whether or not French ultimately expands or contracts in the former colonies depends largely on the extent to which formal education expands to transplant the urban experience into rural areas.

An obvious difference between England and the former French colonies is the amount of time between the departure of the French (finessing a few assumptions about "French" and "departing"), which alone could account for any actual difference in the status of French in these cases. A less obvious difference is the vastly different statuses of formal education (not important in Medieval England, quite important in modern Africa).

  • The suggestion above that the Anglo-Norman/French language was just a fad of some sort in the English court is rather untrue. Although it was very mixed, there was a long period during which most of the aristocracy spoke little, if any, English. They were true Francophones, although as mentioned their language was not exactly Parisian.
  • During the colonial period the colonial powers were often far more advanced than the nations they conquered so it was somewhat natural, albeit unfortunate, for their national languages to be overshadowed by their conquerors. You can see something similar during the Roman Empire. In the east where Greeks, Syrians, Egyptians, etc. were at least if not more advanced than the Romans, the local languages survived. In the West where the Celtic, Germanic, etc. cultures were substantially less advanced than the Romans, they largely picked up Latin. Indeed, even later when the various Gothic/Vandal tribes conquered the western Roman provinces, they themselves adopted Latin (albeit a very bastardized version) rather than preserving their own languages (i.e. the conquerors adopted the language of the conquered). In the case of Norman conquest, the Normans were arguably somewhat more advanced than the Anglo-Saxons but not that much more. So there was a culture war which ultimately resulted in a creole language that more heavily favored English.

The Norman spoke French as well as every elite in the world, France has many versions of its language, as many as it has region and you can still take it as test to finish high school. I am a Norman, since Rollo became Duc of Normandy and gave his allegiance to the French king. my familly was at the battle of Hastings and became Duc of Normandy later around 1830 under the bourbon restauration. Normans came from Rollo Viking descent that gave his allegiance to the French king (the simple, I think), technically they became part of what France was at that point by allegiance. it is a classic king move to re-enforce and stabilize his kingdom. Willian the conqueror did not speak a word of English and spoke French only, the French Norman version of it, but everyone in France has a different French dialect depending on its historic affiliation, so it is not a valid point to say that it was not French, especially it is as close as it gets to modern French. Even people from Paris have their own dialect called L'Argot. Now at the time of Rollo and William and probably because of them, France went from Carolingian to Capetian, which is known to be the first established kingdom. The French language was spoken in every countries elite for one main reason: Print did not existed and the only one deciphering, translating Latin and writing books were. French priests and they did it at a very high pace and very well, so at that time and for a long time if you wanted to learn, be educated and read books you had no choices beside French or Latin, and French was easier and more practical because of business. Actually France legal system from Bonaparte are still in place all over the world, even in the USA in which 2 states use the Dalloz code for civil law.

The Glossa

The story of Charlemagne, the first sovereign of both France and Germany, is a rich one. In this article, Deputy Editor Sarah Jones looks at Europe’s development and progression with regards to Charlemagne’s rule.

Charlemagne (c.747-851 AD), (Charles le Grand or Karl der Große) has an ambiguous place in European history. Undoubtedly the greatest European ruler since the collapse of the Western Roman Empire three centuries before, Charlemagne is claimed as the first sovereign of both France and Germany. As such his inheritance points us towards a time of history where the map of Europe was unrecognisable according to modern territorial boundaries, yet his sudden death in 851 AD paved the way for France and Germany, as well as their respective cultural-linguistic realms, to begin taking on the shapes that we see in them today.

The Carolingian Conquest of Europe

Link many early medieval rulers, the exact date of Charlemagne’s birth is unknown. Einhard, a courtier and scholar, calculates Charlemagne’s birth year as 742 AD. The Annales Petaviani instead state the year 747 despite contradictions with other contemporary sources. The calendar at Lorsch Abbey, Germany suggests the date of 2 April. Most sources claim that Charlemagne was a septuagenarian at the time of his death in 851, and so 2 April 747 is the most commonly-accepted date. Nonetheless, the confusion surrounding the birth of Charlemagne prefigures the same haziness that engulfs the national inheritance of the Carolinginian Empire. The unsure birth date points towards an unsure cultural heritage.

After the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, well and truly over by 476 AD, Europe had been overrun by Germanic ‘barbarian’ tribes including the Visigoths, Ostrogoths and Vandals. After these groups faded into obscurity, the Franks began to rise to power and eventually consolidated their power into the Merovingian Empire. Charles Martel was replaced in 741 by his sons Carloman and Pepin the Short, the father of Charlemagne. After some quintessential medieval argy-bargy the pope decreed that Pepin should be made king and, after his election, the end of the Merovingian dynasty was sealed after nearly three hundred years of undisturbed reign.

After his father’s death in 768, Charlemagne was crowned King of the Franks. Following campaigns in Italy he was crowned King of the Lombards in 774, which was followed by extensive campaigns to the south and east of Francia. His military efforts reached into Navarre, Corsica, Sardinia, Saxony, Bavaria, modern-day Hungary and even into the Balkans. By 800, Europe was dominated by a vast Frankish Empire.

Following more papal argy-bargy of a similar genre that gave Pepin a knee-up into the Frankish throne, Charlemagne was eventually crowned as Emperor by Pope Leo III on 25 December 800. The papal coronation sealed the deal for Charlemagne: bestowing a new tinge of legitimacy and authority to his reign (and also paving the way for the ascendency of the Pope in the coming centuries). What followed was the largest-scale, and most sophisticated, Empire that Western Europe had seen since Rome. Charlemagne’s rule included reform in nearly all major domains: military, economic, monetary, education, political and ecclesiastical. Charlemagne may have united Western Europe, and the lands that now constitute modern France and Germany, but is the events after his death that truly shaped Europe for the next thousand years.

The Division of Europe

In 813 Charlemagne had crowned his sole surviving legitimate son, Louis the Pious, the king of Aquitaine, as co-King of the Franks. After succeeding Charlemagne’s throne after his death, Louis’s empire only lasted for one more generation until it dissolved into what is known as the tenth-century successor states.

Louis the Pious planned to divide his empire between his three sons by his first wife Lothair, Pepin and Louis. Years of civil war between the brothers fostered animosity and destroyed the chance at a coherent Frankish inheritance, particularly due to Louis’s attempts to include Charles, his son by his second wife, in his inheritance plans. On his death in 840, and in the years following, the major titles of the Frankish Empire had passed through almost all of the brothers’ hands. The Treaty of Verdun in 843 eventually divided Louis the Pious’s empire into three sections: Lothair I became Emperor, although only tangibly ruled the Middle Frankish Kingdom Louis the German became king of the East Frankish Kingdom Charles the Bald became the King of the West Frankish Kingdom. Middle Francia only lasted for another three decades: Lothair’s three sons divided the kingdom into Lotharingia (similar to the borders of Lorraine, France), Burgundy, and Lombardy (Northern Italy). Not only were the modern borders of France and Germany seen for the first time, but the sons of Louis also founded the next ruling dynasties of Europe that began to take on particular regional identities. Charles the Bald in West Francia founded the Capetian Dynasty that ruled the Kingdom of France until 1328. Louis the German’s lands in the East formed the original kernel from which sprung the Holy Roman Empire which covered much of Central and Eastern Europe until 1806, and of which the Kingdom of Germany was its largest province.

The division of Francia after the death of Charlemagne

The death of Charlemagne thus heralded a new era in European history: the beginning of territories that were to become the sources of modern French and German identity. But was Charlemagne himself French or German? To suggest a response, the question must first be declared void. Notions of Frenchness of Germanness did not yet exist in the ninth century, and according to Eric Hobsbawm were only cemented in one thousand years later, and so ‘French’ and ‘German’ are both anachronistic terms. The details of Charlemagne’s birth and life are also unhelpfully hazily. He was probably born in Aachen, Germany and most likely spoke Rhenish Franconian, a dialect of Old High German. Ecclesiastical reforms reflected the multilingual landscape of his kingdom: the Council of Tours in 813 ruled that priests must preach in either rusticam Romanam linguam (Romance) or Theotiscam (the Germanic vernacular) as Latin was not widely understood. According to Einhard, Charlemagne dressed in traditional Frankish garb. Charlemagne’s life therefore reflected the multifaceted nature of Frankish identity empirically speaking, he was neither French nor German, but Frankish.

Charlemagne: A historical and cultural icon

But history is more than what our sources tell us. Despite probably being a Frank in his own lifetime, Charlemagne’s identity has far outlived him. Claimed as the founding father of both France and Germany, here are the claims that each side make.

France’s claim to genealogy partly stems from etymology (that favoured French pursuit). Frank closely resembles French, particularly in French (franc and français). This means that slippage in the understanding of Charlemagne is easily made. The first piece of prose written in French, La Chanson de Roland, addresses ‘all Franks’ the appellation, combined with its privileged status in the modern French canon, renders it easy for Frankish to become elided with French. Its central position in the French curriculum further solidified its importance, even being read to French troops in twentieth century trenches. In addition, the idea of a Frankish king harks back to Clovis I, the alleged first King of the Franks. Clovis, a Merovingian, was one of the barbarian leaders that provoked the fall of Rome, and his territory coincided with a large portion of modern France. Clovis was supposedly crowned where Reims cathedral now stands. Usefully, then, Clovis encapsulated the quintessential rebellious spirit of the by-then disappeared Gauls, as well as coinciding with something resembling modern French borders.

For germanophones, there is less of a visual link between modern German and the Franks (Franken). Nevertheless, there is more linguistic evidence for a link: Charlemagne spoke a dialect of German, and the Franks themselves were a Germanic tribe that pushed into the territories of modern France. Thus, to some extent, French identity could seem to be built on a substratum of Germanic history. The German claim to Charlemagne rests primarily on the historical inheritance of the Holy Roman Empire, which evolved out of Louis the German’s East Frankish Kingdom. Otto I is credited as the first Holy Roman Emperor, yet Charlemagne’s empire was an important forerunner in terms of territorial resemblance, military might and administrative reform. Pride in the Holy Roman Empire, in part, continues due to its abrupt end in 1806: when Francis II dissolved it after its defeat by Napoleon in 1806. This event gestures how French and German identities are, and were, always predicated on the idea of the ‘other’ that lay just across the Rhine.

However, the territories of France and Germany have long been contested, as the recent histories of Alsace and Lorraine testify. The very fact of conflict over the cultural belonging of Charlemagne is evidence in favour of the statement that there is no direct history from the medieval past to the modern, from Charlemagne to Charles de Gaulle or to Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire. The narrative of Charlemagne also fails to mention important moments in France and Germany’s history: the thirteenth-century war over England’s territories in France, or the eighteenth century German duchies. The medieval past is therefore useful in the creation of modern national identities. Charlemagne unites otherwise disparate groups, providing the national community with a shared past and thus beckons towards a unified future. It is tempting to see Charlemagne as heralding the modern face of Europe, but history has its own way of always perverting the path towards the end goal.

Robert Bartlett, The Making of Modern Europe: Conquest, Colonisation and Cultural Change 950-1350 (Penguin, 1994)

David MacCulloch, A History of Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years (Penguin, 2010)

Christ Wickham, The Inheritance of Rome: A History of Europe from 400 to 1000 (Penguin, 2009)

Family and Community Dynamics


The French educational system, which was initiated during Napoleon's rule, has had a marked influence on schooling in the United States since the early 1800s. The French system features innovative nursery and primary schools, followed by collèges, the equivalent of American junior high schools. Students then must decide whether to complete their secondary education at an academic or a vocational lycée —a three-year preparatory school similar to American high schools. Admission to French universities is based upon a rigorous, competitive examination in a specific subject area. Only top students may attend the grandes écoles, or elite schools, that serve as a prerequisite for top jobs in business and government. Educators in the United States emulated the French system of progressive schooling culminating in admission to a private or municipal university. In France, however, the entire educational system is administered by the Ministry of National Education, while in the United States education is controlled by states or local communities. Proponents of the French system claim that it is superior, in that it demands students' best efforts and rewards exceptional performance. On the other hand, some detractors claim that the system works to maintain a social class system in France, since the vast majority of students at the grandes écoles hail from upper-class backgrounds.


Religion is at the heart of French Canadian life. While in Canada, French Canadians were staunch Roman Catholics this did not change when they immigrated to the United States. In fact, as was true in Canada, the church was an integral part of the early settlements—often the priest acted as counselor in secular matters, in addition to spiritual leader. Some of the earliest parishes were established in the 1830s and 1840s in rural northern Maine. By the turn of the century, there were 89 Franco-American parishes.

In his book Ethnic Diversity in Catholic America, Harold J. Abramson states that the completeness with which French-Canadian Americans transplanted their religion, especially to the New England area, was partly due to being close to Canada. Basically, the immigrants set up the same sort of parish-centered social organization that had existed in the home country. In his book about Franco-American life in New England, The Shadows in the Trees, Jacques Ducharme wrote: "The Franco-Americans are profoundly attached to their parish church, and there one may see them every Sunday. From Maine to Connecticut these churches stand, forming a forest of steeples where men, women and children come to pray in French and listen to sermons in French. When the tabernacle bell rings, know that it proclaims the presence of le bon dieu. "

Despite their proximity to Canada, French Canadians in New England experienced many of the trials typical to new immigrants, including discrimination by religion and language. The church offered them a place where their language could be freely spoken and celebrated. But in the early days, mass was often conducted by priests who spoke little

The fight for French masses began in earnest in the late nineteenth century. For example, in October of 1884 parishioners at the Notre-Dame-de-Lourdes Church in Fall River, Massachusetts, began a two-year struggle against the Irish American Bishop of Providence, Rhode Island, to gain a French-speaking priest after the death of their French Canadian pastor. Their battle successfully ended what became known as "the Flint Affair."

Often it was the Irish Americans who opposed French-language services. In May 1897, for example, French-Canadian Americans in North Brook-field, Massachusetts, wrote to the Papal Delegate to tell him that their Irish American priest would not allow religious services or teaching in French. It was not until 1903 that a French priest and French services were permitted. Such fights also went on in Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Maine communities. It was also a matter of some time before French Canadians assumed positions of power within the Catholic church. The first Franco-American bishop was Georges-Albert Guertin (1869-1931), named Bishop of Manchester in 1906. He was followed by, among others, Ernest J. Primeau (1960-1974) and Odore J. Gendreau (1975– ).

These battles with the Irish Americans over religious issues continued into the 1920s. One of the most notable was the "Sentinelle Affair" of 1924-1929.

Religion played another role in Franco-American communities through religiously affiliated fraternal organizations. Like other ethnic groups, the French-Canadian Americans set these up to offer insurance as well as language and cultural activities to new and recent immigrants. The oldest of the two most prominent mutual benefit and advocacy organizations is the Association Canado-Américaine, founded in 1896, followed by the Union St. Jean Baptiste in 1900. Both still exist today, although the Union has since become affiliated with Catholic Family Life Insurance.

A brief history of Anglo-French relations

The French-speaking descendent of a Viking leader originally awarded land in northern France in return for not attacking Paris decides to invade England. William, duke of Normandy, becomes William I (the Conqueror) and brings nobles, churchmen and a legal system from the other side of the channel to cement his rule.

Henry II and sons, 1154-1216

The accession of Henry II - a French nobleman with more territory than the king of France - brings fighting. An attempt to divide his continental dominions between his legitimate sons backfires and they go to war against him, often with the support of the king of France. When not on crusades, Henry's successor Richard the Lionheart battles in France with English resources.

Hundred years war, 1337-1453

Edward III of England claims the French throne. Battles - including English victories at Poitier and Crecy - continue for the next 40 years, but it is not until Henry V's victory at Agincourt in 1415 that an English monarch is accepted as the king of France's heir. Henry dies in 1422 - as does Charles VI of France - and his baby son is crowned King of England and France. Supporters of Charles VI's son resume hostilities and under Joan of Arc French troops beat the English in Orleans and Reims, and crown their former king's son Charles VII. An alliance between England and Burgundy then breaks down and Paris falls to the French in 1441. England's possessions in France are soon restricted to Calais.

Field of the cloth of gold, 1520

An attempt by Henry VIII of England to improve relations with Francis I of France, whom he has recently been fighting. Gold cloth tents and wine fountains accompany the meeting between the two rivals, but they fail to make an alliance.

The fall of Calais, 1558

The Duke of Guise captures the Channel port, the final remnant of the English crown's once vast possessions in France. Mary I of England - who had been led into war against France by her husband, Philip II of Spain, the previous year - says that its loss will be engraved on her heart.

War of the Spanish succession, 1701-14

Louis XIV of France attempts to take the Spanish throne, opposed by England, the Netherlands, Austria and Bavaria. The Treaty of Utrecht concludes the fighting, giving Gibraltar, Minorca and French colonial possessions to Britain.

Seven years war, 1750s-1763

France and Britain go to war. It lasts seven years in Europe but goes on for more than 15 in India, where the French are defeated by Robert Clive, and nine years in North America as James Wolfe wins Canada for Britain.

The American war of independence, 1775-83

France supports the American colonists in their fight against British rule. Declares war on Britain in 1778.

The French revolution, 1789

Britain fears the revolution may spread north and sends armies to France to support the royalists.

A year before he had crowned himself emperor, Napoleon had made plans to invade England. Battle is not too far in the future, and in 1805 he is defeated by Admiral Nelson at the battle of Trafalgar. Napoleon then turns his attentions to continental Europe and attempts to ruin British trade by stopping British goods from being landed anywhere under his influence. Russia ends the boycott in 1812 and the French emperor launches a catastrophic invasion. Prussia and Austria then ally with Britain against France. A British army led by the Duke of Wellington then defeats Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815 with Prussian assistance.

The Fashoda crisis, 1898

French troops under Captain Marchand attempt to take a town along the Nile (then Fashoda, but now Kodok in Sudan) that Britain wanted for a trade route linking Cairo to Cape Town. An Anglo-Egyptian army under Lord Kitchener arrives to contest the claim and the two countries come close to war.

Entente cordiale, 1904

An agreement specifying both countries' spheres of influence in north Africa brings a rapprochement between Paris and London that ultimately leads to the first world war alliance against Germany, the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires.

The Normandy landings, 1944

US and British forces land in Nazi-occupied France and force out the Germans. Free French troops under General Charles de Gaulle liberate Paris.

French and British troops join an Israeli campaign against Egypt in the hoping of regaining control of the Suez canal. They withdraw under US pressure.

European economic community, 1958

Britain stays out of the EEC.

The French leader blocks Britain's application to join the community.

Opening of the Channel tunnel, 1994

An underground link joins the two countries by rail.

The Blair-Chirac row, 2002

The French president, Jacques Chirac, cancels an Anglo-French summit after accusing the British prime minister, Tony Blair, of speaking to him with unprecedented rudeness over the common agricultural policy and Africa.

Relations again come under strain over the Iraq crisis. Britain backs America's tough stance against Saddam Hussein France wants the UN weapons inspectors to be given more time before military action. President Chirac is particularly angry over a letter, signed by eight European leaders, including Tony Blair, backing the US president, George Bush. France was not invited to sign.

The two countries' African ambitions again collide when France invites Zimbabwe's president, Robert Mugabe, to a Paris summit. The French want to engage with the Zimbabwe leader, particularly over the search for peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo, whereas the British want to isolate him by continuing sanctions.

Creation of West Francia 843

After a period of civil war, Charlemagne’s three grandsons agreed to a division of the Empire in the Treaty of Verdun in 843. Part of this settlement was the creation of West Francia (Francia Occidentalis) under Charles II ("Charles the Bald," 823–877), a kingdom in the west of the Carolingian lands which covered much of the western part of modern France. Parts of eastern France came under the control of Emperor Lothar I (795–855) in Francia Media.

Taking shape

As a child of the Big Easy, Brignac says she didn’t immediately appreciate the world around her. “I was surrounded by history in New Orleans, but it’s really easy to take it for granted.” She didn’t have a clear picture of what kind of career she wanted to pursue, but never thought of getting her Ph.D. because “in high school, I didn’t know what a Ph.D. was.”

Brignac was an outstanding student, however, and received a full scholarship to Millsaps College, a small liberal arts school in Mississippi. There, she embraced her passion for study and began to develop a love of academia. She also met Professor Amy Forbes, a scholar of French history who sparked Brignac’s interest in an academic career. “She had such a profound impact on my education,” Brignac says. “She put the professional interests and the personal interests together.”

With Forbes’ encouragement, Brignac obtained her B.A. from Millsaps and an M.A. from Vanderbilt University, both in history. When she arrived at GSAS in 2015, she had her general research topic in mind — the slave trade and slavery in the French Empire. Brignac felt compelled to study the history of slavery because she was descended from French colonialists, had grown up in a former slave port, and, perhaps most of all, because it wasn’t taught to her in high school.

“When I went to college, I started understanding there’s this whole other side to not only New Orleans but also the rest of the world,” she said — and that stoked her intellectual curiosity. When she traveled to Senegal and France to do research, the topic of her dissertation started to take shape.

Mobile Emerges Triumphant

The city's post-Civil War recovery was aided by port-related activity the shipping channel was deepened and shipbuilding increased. In the 1870s, Mobile began to serve as a major center for the importation of Brazilian coffee. Railroad expansion also contributed to Mobile's emergence as a major distribution center. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the city's port underwent further development and modernization, and in the 1920s the Alabama State Docks were conceived and realized as a means of providing and maintaining adequate port facilities. Mobile's shipbuilding contributed to the war efforts during World War I, and in the 1940s the city's shipyards were packed with shifts of workers welding hulls for World War II naval operations.

While Mobile found itself weathering the violent racial tensions that swept the nation in the 1960s, the city was and is often the site of damaging tropical storms. Mobile sustained heavy losses after hurricane Camille hit the Gulf Coast in 1969, destroying a total of $1.5 billion worth of property along the coast and claiming 250 lives in Mobile. Ten years later hurricane Frederic was especially brutal for the city, with property damage in Mobile mounting to $1 billion. In 2004, hurricane Ivan attacked the Gulf Coast, leaving Mobile another hefty bill.

An economically diverse community, Mobile now counts oil and gas reserves, discovered in the 1970s, among its economic resources. The city continues to benefit from port activities and is also a center for manufacturing. The area produces chemicals, steel, wood pulp and paper products, furniture, rayon fibers, and clothing, and is a growing center for medical care, research, and education. Tourists and conventioneers enjoy the city's Creole charm and nearby coastal beaches. Mobile's long-term French and Spanish heritage make it unique in Alabama and places the city among the elite urban centers of the South. In 2002, Mobile celebrated its 300th birthday with events around the city.

Historical Information: Historic Mobile Preservation Society, 300 Oakleigh Place, Mobile, AL 36606 telephone (251)432-6161. Bienville Historical Society, The Center for Gulf Studies Library, 606 Government Street, Mobile, AL 36602 telephone (205)457-5242

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