The Course of French History

The Course of French History

The Course of French History

The Course of French History


This stimulating one-volume history traces the social and economic evolution of France as a nation from the founding of the monarchy in 987, to the present day.Against a background of structural change, Goubert etches a vivid account of key events and personalities. His perspective is a popular one, and his main interest is in how political events and famous people affect the nation as a whole. The book incorporates the findings and perspectives of recent monographic studies with clarity and precision, but it is Goubert's own judgements, direct, forceful and iconoclastic, which make this an invaluable text.



The last thousand years of French history began in July 987, at Noyon. This ancient town, located in a prosperous grain-growing region of northern France, had been the site of a bishopric for four centuries. Charlemagne had been crowned king of Neustria there in 768. But in 987 Noyon did not yet have its gothic cathedral, so plainly visible today from express trains rushing along the main railway line between Brussels and Paris. Noyon in the tenth century was little more than a village, a meeting place for a dozen of the most important counts and dukes of Western Francia, a remnant of Charlemagne’s once-great empire. These men spent several weeks bargaining; then, encouraged by Archbishop Adalbero of Reims, they chose one of their number king. The honor fell to Hugh Capet, first of the Capetian kings: from this obscure event arose the kingdom of France.


Hugh came from a powerful family of counts of Paris and dukes of France. They had fought the Norman invaders, disputed the rule of the last descendants of Charlemagne, and even displaced them on two occasions. From time to time these lords possessed or at least dominated vast forests, lands, and strongholds from the Aisne River in the north down to the Loire. Hugh, perhaps called ‘Capet’ because he wore the cappa as lay abbot of Saint-Martin of Tours, was the bearer of a great name and enjoyed the support of the Church. His personal domains were scattered from Compiègne to Orléans, a distance of 120 miles. Yet at times, bandit-vassals obstructed his passage, and he found it difficult to travel through his own lands. Actually this weakness may have been to his advantage in establishing the monarchy, for at first other rulers took little notice of him. Hugh acted wisely in having himself crowned and becoming ‘the Lord’s anointed,’ a quasi-religious figure. Six months later, he ordered another ceremony ‘associating’ his son Robert with the crown. Robert was also duly anointed and recognized by all the great nobles, and he was able to succeed to the royal title on his father’s death. So began the rule of a dynasty that lasted for more than eight centuries. But in the beginning no one could foresee that it

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