France, occupying a most advantageous position between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, is a compact hexagonal mass, bounded N. by the Channel and the Strait of Dover, NE. by Belgium and Luxemburg, E. by Lorraine, Alsace, Switzerland, and Italy, S. by the Mediterranean Sea and Spain, from which it is separated by the Pyrenees, and W. by the Atlantic. Its utmost extremities are comprised between 51° 5' - 42° 20' N. lat. and the 4° 42' W. - 7° 39' E. long. ; its greatest dimensions being 606 miles from N. to S., 556 miles from W. to E., and 675 miles from NW. to SE. As diminished in 1871 by the loss of Alsace and part of Lorraine (5590 sq. m.), France covers, by the measurement of 1894, an area of 206,381 sq. m. - one-eighteenth part of Europe. Pop. (1872) 36,102,921 ; (1901) 38,961,945, or about one-tenth of the population of Europe.


France, formerly divided Into some 30 provinces (Normandy, Brittany, Champagne, Burgundy, Auvergne, Languedoc, Provence, etc. - see the separate articles), was at the Revolution re-distributed into deps. named generally after the rivers. These deps., mostly between 1500 and 2500 sq. m. in area, are, including Corsica and the territory of Bel fort, 87 in number, and each is separately discussed in this work. Except the island of Corsica, which, geographically and ethnologically, belongs rather to Italy, France has no islands of importance. The islands off the Mediterranean coast, as well as those off Brittany, are practically but small detached fragments of the mainland ; while the Channel Islands, situated between Brittany and the Cotentin peninsula, belong to Great Britain.

The possessions of France outside of Europe, both colonies and protected countries, cover an aggregate of 4,000,000 sq. m., and have a pop. of more than 51,000,000 inhabitants. Of them Algeria (q.v.) is rapidly becoming a part of France proper, and is considered as such for nearly all administrative purposes. The large territory of Tunis has since 1881-83 been under French protection. By a treaty signed in 1885 Madagascar was placed under the protection of France, which also now holds a large area in West Africa, in Guinea, the Ivory Coast, and on the Gaboon and Congo. In Asia, Tonkin was annexed to France in 1884, and Annam placed under its protectorate, and portions of Siam acquired in 1893. The details of the French colonies and protectorates are given in the subjoined table:

In Asia -

Area in sq. m.


French India .........................................



Cochin-China ......................................



Tonkin and Laos .................................



Annam .................................................



Cambodia .............................................



In Africa -

Algeria .................................................



Tunis ....................................................



Western Sahara ..................................



Senegal ................................................



Sengegambia and Niger .......................



French Guinea ......................................



Ivory Coast ..........................................



Dahomey ..............................................



Congo ..................................................



Somali Coast ........................................



Reunion ...............................................



Comoro Isles .......................................



Mayotte ................................................



Madagascar ..........................................



In America -

Guiana .................................................



Guadeloupe, etc. .................................



Martinique ...........................................



St Pierre and Miquelon ........................



In Oceania -

New Caledonia, etc. .............................



Establishments, Oceania ......................






A general idea of the leading geographical features of France can be given in a few words. Its territory embodies highlands in the south and south-east only: in the south it comprises the northern slopes of the Pyrenees, and towards the south-east frontier part of the Alps. The remainder of the territory is nearly equally divided between extensive lowlands in the northwest and a great plateau, which covers the southeastern half, but is separated from the Alps by the broad and deep valley of the Lower Rhone. The climate of France, its vegetation, the distribution of its population, and its very history have been determined by these leading features of its orography.

The extensive mass of elevated plains which rises between the lowlands of the Mediterranean coast and those sloping towards the Atlantic reaches a height of from 3000 to 4000 feet in its higher central parts only ; several chains, partly of volcanic origin, piled over its surface, attain from 5000 to 6000 feet; while the river-valleys are dug so deeply into the plateau that it often assumes a hilly aspect. The whole slopes gently towards the north-west, gradually melting into the lowlands of the Garonne, the Loire, and the Seine; but the plateau has a short steep slope towards the valley of the Rhone and the Mediterranean coast, and the southern part of that slope is fringed by the Cevennes Mountains, which raise their granitic and crystalline summits to more than 5000 feet above the sea (Mont Mezenc, 5754 feet). This lofty chain separates two entirely different worlds - the fertile, sunny, and warm plains of the Lower Rhone and Languedoc from the plains of the Rouergue, dreary, cold, and 3000 feet high, upon which only rye is grown, and flocks of sheep find rich grazing-grounds. The sunny slopes of the Monts du Beaujolais, turned towards the Saone, are covered with rich vineyards; while the plateau to the west of them is dotted with ironworks, coal-mines, and manufacturing cities. The Vosges, although making a steep descent to the valley of the Rhine, rise but gently over the plateau, their highest points being not more than from 3300 to 4000 feet above the sea (the Ballon de Soultz, 4579 feet, is now on German territory). The Massif Central of Auvergne, the highest part of the plateau, covers nearly one-seventh of France's total area, and is a region of granites, gneisses, and crystalline slates fringed by Jurassic deposits, and dotted on its surface with extinct volcanic cones surrounded by wide sheets of lava. The heights of the Massif Central, suffering as they do from a protracted winter, have but a poor, rapidly-diminishing population. The forests which once covered them have mostly been destroyed, save in the picturesque Margeride chain, and only flocks of sheep graze on their meagre pasture-grounds. The Causses receive rain in abundance, but are exceedingly dry - the water rapidly disappearing in the numberless crevices of the soil. A narrow passage near Belfort (la Trouee de Belfort), utilised by both the canal which connects the Sa6ne with the Rhine and the railway which leads from Paris to Switzerland, separates the Vosges from the limestone plateaus of the Jura, part of which belongs to France. Since the annexation of Savoy in 1860 the Alps of Savoy, as well as a portion of the main chain, including Mont Blanc (15,780 feet), belong to France. The Pyrenees, a wild complex of lofty chains, extends for a length of 260 miles between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. A plateau, from 1600 to 2000 feet high (Lanne-mezan), spreads out at the northern foot of the Pyrenees. Its limestone soil is exceedingly dry, and its grazing-lands have to be irrigated.

The whole of north-western France, with the exception of a few hilly tracts in La Vendee, Brittany, and Normandy, is occupied by wide plains which constitute the real wealth of the country. Taking them in order from the south-west, we have first the Landes - a wide triangular space between the Bay of Biscay, the Adour, and the Loire, covered with Pliocene sands, which would be an immense marshy fever-den, bordered by shifting sands on the sea-coast, if it were not intersected by canals, and the sands were not fixed by plantations of trees. The Adour River fringes the Landes. The Dordogne and the Garonne join to form the Gironde, which is a true marine estuary, with the left bank bordered by the low hills of Medoc, covered with vineyards yielding every year not less than 2,200,000 gallons of the finest wines. The monotony of the rich plains between the Gironde and the Loire, which include the old province of Poitou, is broken by the dreary hills of the Gatine, a link between the chains of Margeride and Limousin and the hilly tracts of Brittany. Next we have the immense plains watered by the Loire, which becomes a great river after receiving the Allier, and has a drainage area covering one-fifth of the area of France. The peninsula of Brittany is formed by two ridges of granitic hills, from 1000 to 1200 feet high, separated by a region of crystalline slates. Its scenery and moist climate, as well as those of the Cotentin peninsula, remind one of England. The plateaus of Normandy (Le Perche), which rise from 1000 to 1300 feet above the surrounding plains, are also covered with beautiful meadows, cornfields, and forests, and French agriculture reaches there its highest development. The Seine separates them from the cretaceous chalky plains of the Caux, which raise their cliffs over the Channel, and are deeply cleft by valleys of a remarkable fertility. The wide Tertiary basin which the Seine and its tributaries water has from remote antiquity been the dominant portion of historical France. Numerous large cities, as Auxerre, Sens, Troyes, Chalons, Rheims, Laon, Rennes, and Paris, are situated either on the Seine or on its right-bank tributaries which water the fertile plains of Champagne. Havre is the great port at the mouth of the river. Artois and French Flanders are low tracts of land to some extent conquered from the sea. They have a flourishing agriculture, vast coalfields, and a great industry in their chief cities. At the other extremity of France the lowlands of the south occupy the sea-coast and the broad valley of the Rhone, along which they extend between the Alps and the plateau, as far north as Lyons, to be continued farther north by the valley of the Saone. The littoral of Provence has no great fertility, and, except the stony or marshy plains in the neighbourhood of the Rhone, there is but a narrow strip of land left between the mountains and the sea-coast, which is utilised for vineyards and fruit-gardens. The eastern part of the coast, acquired from Italy in 1860, is well known for its mild climate and rich vegetation, which render Nice, Villefranche, Cannes, and Mentone the chief resort of the invalids of Europe.

France enjoys on the whole a very fine climate; not so continental as that of central Europe, nor so maritime as that of England. If we omit the high hilly tracts of the Alps and the Pyrenees, the coldest region of France is evidently that of the high plateau with its cold winters, though it has hot summer days. The climate of Brittany is very much like that of the south-west of England; while that of the plains on the Bay of Biscay is warm and dry, and Pau, on the slopes of the Pyrenees, has the deserved reputation of a sanitary station. The climate of Lan-guedoc and Provence assumes to some extent an African character - a temperate winter is succeeded by a burning hot summer, moderated from time to time by the mistral.

The dominant language of France is French, a Romance tongue developed out of the lingua Romana rustica of the Roman conquerors, which displaced the native Celtic tongues, and was afterwards modified in vocabulary and phonetics (but not in structure) by the invading Teutonic Franks, who gave their own name both to the language and to the country. In the south the Provengal, another Romance type, is still the popular dialect. In the north-west the ancient Celtic Breton tongue survives ; and in the southwest the distinct and peculiar Basque language is spoken in the dep. of Basses Pyrenees. Flemish is spoken in French Flanders ; the Walloons speak their own Romance dialect in the northeast of France; and German is still spoken in some districts of those parts of Alsace and Lorraine still left to France. The character of the French people combines the impressionability, the vivacity, the rapidity of conception, and the artistic feeling of the men of the south with the persistence, laboriousness, and rationalism of the men of the north.

Pop. (1801) 27,349,003; (1831) 32,569,223 ; (1861) 37,382,225 ; (1872) 36,102,921 - the decrease being mainly due to the war with Germany and loss of territory ; (1881) 37,672,048 ; (1891) 38,343,192 ; (1901) 38,961,945. But between 1886 and 1891 there was an actual decrease in 55 of the departments. The annual increase throughout France is notably slower than in the other chief countries of Europe, and its low rate is due to the relatively small number of married people, and to the small proportion of children in each family - 2.'7 births per 1000 inhabitants (1902), as against 29 in Great Britain, and over 40 in Germany. This low birth-rate does not hold good for all France : the small yearly increase of the total population is chiefly due to the more numerous births in the north and centre. Frenchmen emigrate but little. Still, the last census showed 300,000 Frenchmen in Algeria ; besides, there are 200,000 in the Argentine Republic and Uruguay, 110,000 in the United States, 54,000 in Switzerland, 45,000 in Belgium, and more than 20,000 in Spain. On the other hand, no less than 1,037,800 foreigners (chiefly Belgians, Italians, Germans, Spaniards, and Swiss) were returned in the census of 1901 as living in France. In 1850, 75 per cent. of the population lived in the country, and 25 only in the cities; but at present some 37.4 per cent. live in the cities. Migration is especially active into Paris and its neighbourhood, and to the seaports. In 1901 over 7,500,000 people lived in the seventy-one chief cities having each more than 30,000 inhabitants; and fifteen cities have pops, of more than 100,000: Paris (2,715,000), Marseilles (491,000), Lyons (459,100), Bordeaux (257,600), Lille (210,700), Toulouse, St Etienne, Roubaix, Nantes, Le Havre, Rouen, Rheims, Nice, Nancy, and Toulon. Nearly one-half of the population still live by agriculture.

The land-holdings are subdivided into small plots of less than five acres apiece on an average, and this subdivision is the source of many drawbacks. Cereals cover about 25 per cent. of the territory. Beet-root for sugar covers about 850,000 acres. The terrible ravages of the phylloxera have reduced the area under vineyards from 6,382,000 acres in 1875 to little more than 4,000,000 in 1901. One of the most promising features of French agriculture is the high development of nursery-gardening, which achieves most remarkable results in variety and richness of crops. The exports of cattle, butter, eggs, cheese, and poultry, especially to England, are very large. The fisheries are of great importance for France, both the deep-sea fishery (especially about Newfoundland) and also the coast fisheries. There are over 600 mines of all kinds at work in France, and the total annual value of the products is over 22,000,000. The metal ores raised annually suffice to turn out in all about 5,000,000 tons of iron, 61,500 tons zinc, 20,600 tons lead, 10,000 tons antimony, and 3500 tons copper. Ores to the value of over 3,000,000 are imported annually into France. The coal-mines scattered over the north, the region of the Upper Loire, and in Languedoc, doubled their produce between 1870 and 1900, and now produce over 32,000,000 tons annually, while over 11,000,000 tons are imported.

Manufactures have made rapid progress during the 19th century. The textile industry gives occupation to at least 2,000,000 persons. In silks France has no longer the monopoly she formerly had; but she still occupies the first rank, especially with regard to the finer stuffs and the production of new ones. Then there are also sugar-works, chemical industries, potteries, paper-mills, and industries connected with furniture, dress, carriages, and all possible articles of luxury. In the small industries, which occupy two-thirds of the French industrial workers, the artistic taste and inventive genius of the nation are especially apparent. Paris is the world's emporium for such small industries.

The highways in France as a rule are kept in an excellent state, and no less than 120,000 miles of routes nationales, and twice as many miles of district roads, are the feeding-arteries of the network of railway lines, which covered an aggregate length of 24,250 miles in 1902. The navigable rivers and canals have a length of 6510 miles. The French mercantile marine is behind not only those of Britain, the United States, and Norway, but even of Germany and Italy. Nevertheless, three-fourths of the French coasting and foreign trade is carried on under the flag of the republic. France is an illustration of the fact that a country having a well-developed agriculture may be very wealthy without having a great foreign trade. During the years 1881-1902 the annual foreign trade varied in value from 161,040,000 to 240,000,000 for the imports, and from 123,524,000 to 224,000,000 for the exports. The chief import is raw produce, and the chief item of export is manufactured goods. Raw silk, cotton, and wool are imported both for home use and for re-exportation in the shape of stuffs. Hides are imported to be manufactured into fine leather, gloves, or shoes; timber leaves France in the shape of artistic furniture, etc. France imports, as already said, a good deal of coal and iron ore, as well as of colonial wares, cattle, cereals, and other alimentary substances. None of the French colonies is a source of enrichment to the mother-country.

The unit of French administration is the commune, which administers its own local affairs by means of an elected municipal council and an elected mayor. Every ten to fifteen communes constitute a canton, and next comes the arrondissement, or district, composed of not more than nine cantons; this has Its own elected council, entrusted with the assessment of the local taxes, and subject to the sub-prefect. Four arrondissements on an average compose a department. Each dep. has a 'general council' elected by universal suffrage - each canton electing one councillor. The general councils have wide powers as regards taxation and the promotion of institutions of public utility; but their decisions are jealously controlled by the prefect (prefet), who is the representative of the state in the dep. The legislative functions of the central government are vested in the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate ; and the executive power in the ministry and the President of the Republic. A fonnidable army of functionaries stands under the central government, in subjection to the prefects, who themselves are wholly under the authority of the Ministry of the Interior, and exercise a powerful influence on the results of the elections through their subordinates.

There is complete religious toleration in France, but till the separation of church and state, in 1905, three faiths were supported by the state - the Jewish as well as the Roman Catholic and Protestant, in proportion to numbers. There has been no religious census in France since 1872, but it is estimated that about three-fourths of the population are (nominally at least) Roman Catholic ; the Protestants are estimated at 2,000,000, chiefly Calvinist, and the Jews at about 80,000. The statistics for 1903 show an aggregate of 42,000priests, besides 4376 teachersand 8500 pupils in ecclesiastical seminaries. Compulsory and free primary education has been introduced under the control of the state ; the privileges of the church have been abolished; and, instead of religious teaching, the teaching of ' civic morality' from handbooks issued by the state has been introduced. But there is constant controversy on the relation of the schools to the church. Private schools of all degrees are permitted, provided the teachers pass the obligatory examinations. France is divided into seventeen educational districts called academies, the rectors of which are entrusted with the administration of higher and secondary education, as also with the inspection of the primary schools. Each educational district has an academic council, and each dep. has a council. Nearly one-tenth of the recruits are still illiterate. Secondary education, which may be classical, scientific, or technical, is provided for in upwards of 110 lycees and 250 colleges for boys, and 71 lycees and colleges for girls, the latter of quite recent introduction. Under the law of 1901 (which caused much debate), about 14,000 clerical schools had been closed in 1904, but more than one-half of these had been re-opened under private direction. Higher education, given in the facultis (universities), is of a high standard, and almost quite free. The chief centres are at Paris, Lyons, Bordeaux, Toulouse, Montpellier, Nancy, Lille, Nantes, and Grenoble; but most of these have only three, two, or even one of the four separate facvltes (law, medicine, natural science, literature). Indeed, there is but one University of France, officially so called, which comprises the facidtes at all the various centres. Altogether, these have 1600 professors and about 18,000 students. The clergy have their own 'free universities.' Various special institutions, such as the College de France, the Museum of Natural History, the Polytechnic School, and many others, have a high reputation of long standing.

At the outbreak of the German war of 1870-71

France met the invaders with less than 400,000 men and 1250 guns ; and it was not till after the fall of Napoleon that 700,000 men, mostly untrained and very badly provisioned, could be brought into the field. The whole system was totally reorganised in 1872-89. Every Frenchman twenty years old, if not infirm, or exempted from service for educational reasons, must enter the army and serve three years In the active army, ten in the reserve, six in the territorial army, and six in the territorial reserve. Nearly 300,000 young men are called out every year, and more than 200,000 enter the ranks. The army numbers 600,000 men and has 643,000 horses in time of peace. But in war it can be raised to 2 1/2 million men; and 1 1/4 million more, all having received military training, may be added to the number. The French navy is second only to that of Great Britain. It consists of 43 ironclad battle-ships (first, second, and third class), 65 cruisers (armoured or protected), over 200 gunboats and destroyers, and 50 submarines, with a total strength of over 51,000 men.

The chief source of revenue is indirect taxation (excise, registry, customs, and stamps), which forms about 62 per cent. of the revenue; the direct taxation (land, trade licenses, personal property, and doors and windows) comes next and makes 15 per cent. of the revenue; the monopolies (such as tobacco) and the remunerative services (e.g. the post-office) supply 20 per cent. of the yearly income, and all these sources together have yielded annually during the ten years 1898-1903 over 3500 million francs (140,000,000). But, as the expenditure usually exceeds the income, extraordinary sources of revenue - chiefly loans - have frequently to be resorted to. Between 1869 and 1905 the ordinary revenue had more than doubled, irrespective of these 'comptes speciaux' or budgets for special purposes. The French debt is now heavier than that of Great Britain, and the more so as France pays much higher interest on it. In 1903 the total debt was calculated at 30,345 million francs (1,213,825,200), and the interest and annuities at 1216 million francs (48,677,400). The aggregate debts of the separate municipalities reach about 3800 million francs. Paris is one of the most heavily indebted cities of Europe.

At the dawn of history what is now France was occupied by a multiplicity of tribes, belonging to several different races; but the Celtic Gauls were the dominant people, and held the greater part of the country. The Ligurians occupied the neighbourhood of the Mediterranean shores ; the Iberians or Basques held the southwest ; and in the north-east were the Belgae, who seem to have been Germanic immigrants who had adopted a Celtic tongue, or Celts who had been in some respects Germanised or mixed with Germans. The Gauls were sufficiently energetic to have conquered North Italy and terrorised Rome from the 5th century b.c. to the middle of the 3d century B.C., and even pushed victorious armies into Thrace and Galatia. But the Romans conquered the Cisalpine Gauls about 225 b.c, and by 150 had conquered the south of Transalpine Gaul (Provence); and in 58-50 b.c. Julius Caesar conquered the sixty-four different states in Gaul, and from that time the Gauls rapidly adopted the Roman polity, the Latin speech, and Roman manners. From the 4th century a.d. on, Romanised Gaiil - now Christian - was invaded by swarms of Teutonic barbarians, of whom the Visigoths founded a state in the southwest of Gaul, the Burgundians in the valleys of the Saone and Rhone, and the Franks in the north-east. Chlodwig or Clovis, the Frank, laid the foundations of the future kingdom of France, and established the Merovingian dynasty; but the Franks, like the other German invaders, speedily adopted the language, laws, manners, and Christian religion of their Celtic subjects. Charlemagne established a military monarchy from the Ebro to the Elbe and the North Sea, which fell to pieces under his Carlovingian successors. In the 10th century the Rhine became the eastern boundary of France, and Paris its capital; and the Northmen occupied Normandy, now called after them. In the 12th century the kings of England, dukes also of Normandy, acquired by inheritance or marriage Brittany, Maine, Touraine, Poitou, Guienne, and Gascony, and were more powerful in France than the native kings. Philippe Auguste (1180-1223) recovered much of this area from the English John, and at the end of the Hundred Years' War (1451) only Calais remained to England of all her continental possessions. Under Louis XI. and Charles VIII. (1461-98), last of the Valois kings in the direct descent, the hold of France on Maine, Anjou, Provence, and part of Burgundy (the dukedom) was definitely established. Francis I., of the Valois-Angouleme house, secured all Burgundy for France. The horrors of the Huguenot wars were put an end to by Henry IV. of Navarre, first of the Bourbons, who passed the Edict of Nantes (1598) - to be revoked by Louis XIV., whose minister Richelieu crushed the Fronde insurrection, and put all powers and classes under the heel of the monarch. Wars disastrous to France in the middle of the 18th century deprived her of her power in India, which fell to Britain ; and by the peace of Paris in 1763, she ceded to Britain Nova Scotia, Cape Breton, Canada, and the Mississippi Valley (New France), as well as the islands of Grenada, St Vincent, Dominica, and Tobago. The ancien regime disappeared in the Revolution (1789-99); as First Consul (1799) Napoleon paved his way to the Empire (1804) with its military glories and the extension of French domination over Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, and parts of Germany. After the disastrous Russian campaign (1812) the empire fell, and the Bourbons were restored in the person of Louis XVIII. (1814). The 'Hundred Days' of Napoleon's recovered popularity and power ended with Waterloo (1815) and his abdication, and the renewed restoration of the Bourbons. The elder line of Bourbons was superseded by Louis-Philippe, the citizen king, at the 'July Revolution' of 1830. The Second Republic commenced with the ' February Revolution ' of 1848, and was succeeded in 1852 by the coup d'etat and the second empire of Napoleon III., which fell in the disasters of the Franco-German war of 1870-71. The Third Republic had to suppress the Commune, pay the milliards to Germany, and cede Alsace-Lorraine. Since then the Republic has been on the whole confirmed in the affections of the nation. The colonial possessions of France in Indo-China and in Africa were greatly extended in the last decades of the 19th century. The alliance with Russia (1895) was followed in 1905 by the entente cordiale with Britain; and 1905 saw the disestablishment of the Roman Catholic Church.

See France as It is, by Lebon and Pelletier (1888); French and English, by Hamerton (1889); Modern France, by Bodley (1898); France of Today, and The French at Home, by Miss Betham Edwards (1892-1905); La France Coloniale, by Rambaud (6th ed. 1893). For the history of France, besides the French works by Michelet, Martin, Guizot, Thierry, Thiers, Lamartine, Louis Blanc, and Taine, dealing with the whole or with periods (several of them translated), see Kitchin's History of France (1873-77), and the short works by Mrs Brook and Miss Yonge ; Carlyle's French Revolution (1837), and Morse Stephens's French Revolution (2 vols. 1886-92).