France Faction History Overview
In 843 the Empire of Charlemagne was split up between his grandchildren. Lotharius got the central part, from the Low Countries to Italy, the heart of this realm being in Lorraine; Louis the German received the eastern part and, because it was the least wealthy, also got the imperial crown for compensation; France, the richest part, went to Charles the Bald. However, the wealth attracted the attention of many seeking riches, including the Vikings. They hit France hard, and Normandy was granted as a duchy to the Northmen, or Normans. A variety of weak French kings followed, and in 987, upon the death of Louis the Lazy, the Capetians would replace the Carolingians as the ruling dynasty. Hugo Capet, originally the lord of Paris, proved capable, and his successors worked for centuries to improve the French royal position.
When Henry II of England married into Aquitaine (1152), the balance of power in France was seriously disturbed. Henry owned more lands than the king of France himself, and could field large armies to maintain these. However, not all of Henry's offspring shared his martial abilities, and king Philippe II Augustus, an aggressive, intelligent ruler, took back most of England's possessions from king John.
France's growth reflected the international status of its rulers; yet France was anything but a homogenous realm. Many different languages were spoken in it: French, Flemish, Gascon, Basque, Catalan and Occitan, to name but a few. All these languages had their own cultures, sometimes in rebellion against French rule: the Flemish and Gascons traditionally sided with the English, whereas the Occitans were often practicing heretical religions (the most notable being the Cathar faith) rather than being good Christians. Their cultural identity went against the plans of the king, but sometimes sacrifices had to be made to maintain the state, and so an Estates General was created where the clerics, noblemen and burghers could advise their lord. However, its power was only noticeable during wartime, when they would sometimes veto further taxes.
With so many different cultures in a single realm, the unifying factor within the kingdom of France was the Christian faith, and the French gave serious support during every Crusade - so much so, that the Muslims habitually referred to the Crusaders as 'Franks'. The popularity of the Crusades was, however, more of a thing for the population than for the royal family - only three French kings actually went on Crusade, the first, Louis VII, achieved little; the second, Philippe II Augustus, left very quickly, after taking Acre, which he considered enough to satisfy the clergy. The final crusading king, Louis IX, was the only French king to muster any real enthusiasm: he was a devoted man, but his military skills proved inadequate to turn either of his Crusades into a success: he died of old age before achieving anything, but was sanctified afterwards.
Following the Investiture conflict between the Holy Roman Empire and the Papacy, in which the emperors fought for the right to appoint their own bishops, the Papacy severed its ties with the emperors as their long-standing protectors. In search of a new powerful ally, they chose the growing French empire and settled in Avignon in 1309. A strong bond grew between the kings of France and the popes of Avignon, as they shared similar interests, and France proved more than receptive to the Papacy's ideas of persecuting religious malcontents. Already in the 13th century they had religiously weeded out all traces of the Cathar heresies. When that mystic branch of Christianity sprung up again, in the first two decades of the 14th century, there was no hesitation to teach them the Church's message. Contrary to popular belief, executions were limited and punishment was primarily dealt with prison terms, forced conversion and 'Cathar crosses' stitched to the offender's clothes, to mark him or her as a former heretic.
French court culture was defining for the period, with many other courts mimicking or copying French royal customs. Literature flourished and so did art, often in combination: the manuscript collection of the National Library of France serves as a testament to that. Architecture was refined, with symbolism and the most complicated techniques intertwining to create outstanding structures, standing to this very day. But where French culture became defining, for a period the French royal line collapsed into mediocrity and suffered a string of serious setbacks against the English.
The Hundred Years War was a conflict named thus in the 19th century; for those who lived through part of it, it was mostly a continuation of earlier conflicts; it can easily be argued that the war lasted from roughly 1150 to 1450. Despite occasional setbacks, it was a clear victory for the French. English conquests or battlefield victories were usually lost within a few decades, with the French resurging each time to reclaim their territory. Largely, it was a struggle between the French ruling classes of both countries: but as the Normans who had conquered England in 1066 became increasingly English, they lost their touch with France, and could eventually count on little sympathy from the French populace.
The end of the war was marked by an increasing growth of French royal power, the roots of the absolute state it would be under Louis XIV becoming clearly apparent. Both Charles VII and Louis XI faced multiple revolts of the higher nobility, but these were crushed or talked into a cease-fire, noble powers being curbed after each attempt. Only the Burgundians could maintain their independence for some time. However, the middles ages ended on a high note for France, when duke Charles of Burgundy was killed in Lorraine. French armies were quick to seize the initiative and reconquer their lost Burgundy province, meanwhile extending their influence over Lorraine and Savoy.