"The Storming of the Bastille" (detail) by Jean-Pierre Louis Laurent Houel
Few modern countries have as lengthy, dramatic, and varied a history as France. The country today is the product of a centuries-long evolution fueled by a succession of monarchs, ministers, and commanders who welded—often forcibly—a multitude of regional societies and cultures.
Historian Alexander Mikaberidze examines four historical moments crucial in the emergence of France. Accept his virtual invitation to the coronation of the greatest of medieval European rulers, to fight alongside King Philippe Auguste as he confronted an English-led coalition of monarchs, to look behind the intrigues at the French royal court, and to follow Parisians as they stormed the parapets of the Bastille.
9:30–10:45 a.m. Coronation of Charlemagne, December 800
On Christmas Day, 800 A.D., Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne emperor of the Romans in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. The King of the Franks acquired authority over a vast swath of Europe and presided over the Carolingian Renaissance, an intellectual revival that laid the foundation for French medieval society and culture. Charlemagne’s legacy endured for centuries, shaping the history of France and of Europe as whole.
11 a.m.–12:15 p.m. The Battle of Bouvines, July 1214
Although largely forgotten, the battle of Bouvines marked a crucial moment in the history of Western Europe. The future of what would become France was at stake during this showdown between the French king Philippe Auguste and an English-led coalition. Philippe Auguste’s decisive victory had profound consequences, consolidating the royal power within France and enhancing the prestige of the French monarchy in Europe.
12:15–1:15 p.m. Break
1:15–2:30 p.m. The Day of Dupes, November 1630
On November 11, 1630 a dramatic showdown occurred between King Louis XIII and the queen mother Marie de Medici. At stake was the future of the French monarchy and its domestic and foreign policies. In a deeply emotional decision, the king rejected his mother and other supporters in favor of Cardinal Richelieu. The cardinal’s mission to consolidate the king’s power at home and abroad elevated France to the ranks of Europe’s premier powers.
2:45–4 p.m. The Fall of the Bastille, July 1789
On July 14, a group of Parisians stormed the medieval fortress of the Bastille on the city’s eastern side. The event symbolized the challenge to the tyranny of the absolute monarchy in France and marked the dawning of the revolutionary era that would irrevocably transform the future of Europe.
Mikaberidze is a professor of history at Louisiana State University-Shreveport, where he also holds the Ruth Herring Noel Endowed Chair for the Curatorship of the James Smith Noel Collection.
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