French empire

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The colonial empire of France. France under the Valois family had come to approximate its modern boundaries by the end of the 15th century. Most of its colonial possessions were acquired during the 17th century, these included parts of America, Canada, India, and the Caribbean. In the 18th century a long rivalry with Britain ended with the loss of Quebec and recognition of British supremacy in India. By 1815 only some West Indian Islands, French Guiana, and Senegal and Gabon were left. However, the 19th century witnessed a rapid revival of the empire. The conquest of Algeria began (1830), while Far Eastern possessions – Cochin China, Cambodia, and New Caledonia – were added. In the ‘Scramble for Africa’, Tunisia became a protectorate (1881), and by 1912 Morocco, Madagascar, and French Somaliland (Djibouti) had been added to French Equatorial Africa and French West Africa to make the African empire 20 times the size of France itself. Britain frustrated French aspirations in Egypt and the Sudan, and rivalry at Fashoda (1898) nearly caused war until the Entente Cordiale brought agreement. After World War I Togoland and the Cameroons, former German colonies, became French Mandates, as did Syria and Lebanon (1923). Defeat in World War II and short-lived post-war governments prevented urgent reforms, causing the loss of both Far Eastern and African empires. In Indo-China the communist leader, Ho Chi Minh, established his Vietnamese republic (1945) which France refused to recognize. Open warfare (1946–54) ended with the French capitulation at Dienbienphu and the consequent independence of Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. In Algeria almost the entire French army failed to quell an Arab rising (1954). By 1958 de Gaulle realized that independence was inevitable, it followed in 1962. In 1946 the empire was formed into the French Union, which was replaced in 1958 by the French Community.

Subjects: World History — Contemporary History (Post 1945).

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