France, officially the French Republic, is a country whose metropolitan territory is located in Western Europe and that also comprises various overseas islands and territories located in other continents. French people often refer to Metropolitan France as L'Hexagone (The "Hexagon") because of the geometric shape of its territory.

The French Republic is a unitary semi-presidential republic with more than 200 years of democratic traditions, and about 500 years as a unified European state.

France ranks among the world's most influential centers of cultural development. It is the place of origin of the French language and civil law forms the basis of the legal systems of many countries. The nation was the center of the French Empire, and the birthplace of the French Revolution. French political and social ideas influenced Europe and America.

Christianity took root in France in the second century, and became so firmly established that France obtained the title "Eldest daughter of the Church," and the French would adopt this as justification for calling themselves "the Most Christian Kingdom of France." Later France produced a series of philosophers noted for radical skepticism, and atheism.


Map of metropolitan France.Satellite picture of metropolitan France, August 2002.

The name "France" comes from Latin Francia, which literally means "land of the Franks" or "Frankland." France is bordered by Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Monaco, Andorra, and Spain. It is also linked to the United Kingdom by the Channel Tunnel, which passes underneath the English Channel. Corsica lies off the Mediterranean coast.

While Metropolitan France is located in Western Europe, France also has a number of territories in North America, the Caribbean, South America, the southern Indian Ocean, the Pacific Ocean, and Antarctica. These territories have varying forms of government ranging from overseas department to overseas collectivity.

Metropolitan France covers 213,010 square miles (551,695 square kilometers), making it the largest country in area in the European Union, being only slightly larger than Spain, or slightly less than the size of Texas, in the United States.

France possesses a wide variety of landscapes, from coastal plains in the north and west to mountain ranges of the Alps in the southeast, the Massif Central in the southcentral and Pyrenees in the southwest. At 15,770 feet (4807 meters) above sea-level, the highest point in Western Europe, Mont Blanc, is situated in the Alps on the border between France and Italy.

Metropolitan France lies within the northern temperate zone. The north and northwest have a temperate climate, however, a combination of maritime influences, latitude and altitude produce a varied climate in the rest of the country. In the southeast a Mediterranean climate prevails. In the west, the climate is predominantly oceanic with a high level of rainfall, mild winters and cool summers. Inland the climate becomes more continental with hot, stormy summers, colder winters and less rain. The climate of the Alps and other mountainous regions are mainly alpine in nature with the number of days with temperatures below freezing over 150 per year and snowcover lasting for up to six months.

France has extensive river systems such as the Loire, the Garonne, the Seine and the Rhône, which divides the Massif Central from the Alps and flows into the Mediterranean Sea at the Camargue. The lowest point in France is 6.5 feet (two meters) below sea level.

A major divide, running from the southern end of the Vosges down the eastern and southeastern edge of the Massif Central to the Noire Mountains, is the source of most of the rivers of the larger, western part of the country, including the Seine and the Loire. Other main rivers are the Garonne, flowing from the Pyrenees, and the Rhône and the Rhine, originating in the Alps.

France has forests of chestnut and beech in the Massif Central, juniper and dwarf pine in the sub-alpine zone, with pine forests and various oaks in the south. Eucalyptus from Australia and dwarf pines abound in Provence, while olive trees, vines, mulberry, fig trees, as well as laurel, wild herbs, and maquis scrub grow in the Mediterranean area.

Brown bear, chamois, marmot, and alpine hare live in the Pyrenees and the Alps. Polecats, marten, wild boar, and various deer live in the forests. Hedgehog, shrew, fox, weasel, bat, squirrel, badger, rabbit, mouse, otter, and beaver are common. Birds include warblers, thrushes, magpies, owls, buzzards, and gulls. There are storks in Alsace, eagles and falcons in the mountains, pheasants and partridge in the south. Flamingos, terns, buntings, herons, and egrets are found in the Mediterranean zone. The rivers contain eels, pike, perch, carp, roach, salmon, and trout, while lobster and crayfish are found in the Mediterranean Sea.

France's natural resources includes coal, iron ore, bauxite, fish, timber, potash, and zinc. Natural hazards include flooding, avalanches, and forest fires. Environmental issues include forest damage from acid rain, air pollution from industrial and vehicle emissions, water pollution from urban wastes, and agricultural run-off.

Paris, the capital city, is situated on the River Seine, in northern France, at the heart of the Île-de-France region. The city of Paris had an estimated population of 2,153,600 within its administrative limits in 2006. The Paris urban area extends well beyond the administrative city limits and has a population of 9.93 million. An important settlement for more than two millennia, Paris is today one of the world's leading business and cultural centers, and its influence in politics, education, entertainment, media, fashion, science and the arts all contribute to its status as one of the world's major global cities.



The Menec alignments, the most well-known megalithic site amongst the Carnac stones.


The Neanderthals, the earliest Homo sapiens to occupy Europe, are thought to have arrived there around 300,000 B.C.E., but seem to have died out by about by 30,000 B.C.E. The earliest modern humans-Cro-Magnons-entered Europe (including France) around 40,000 years ago during a long interglacial period, when Europe was relatively warm, and food was plentiful. They brought with them sculpture, engraving, painting, body ornamentation, music and the painstaking decoration of utilitarian objects. Some of the oldest works of art in the world, such as the cave paintings at Lascaux in southern France, are datable to shortly after this migration.

During the Neolithic period (ca. 4500 B.C.E.-1700 B.C.E.), which is characterized by the adoption of agriculture, the development of pottery and more complex, larger settlements, there was an expansion of peoples from southwest Asia into Europe. From the Neolithic to the Bronze Age (2000-800 B.C.E.), Indo-European and Proto-Celtic peoples spread across Western Europe. By 800 B.C.E., the Hallstatt people, who were warriors and shepherds from the Alpine region, introduced the techniques of working with iron. In the fifth century B.C.E., the La Tène culture gradually transformed into Celtic culture.


Covering large parts of modern day France, Belgium, and northwest Germany, Gaul was inhabited by many Celtic tribes whom the Romans referred to as Gauls and who spoke the Gaulish language. On the lower Garonne the people spoke an archaic language related to Basque, the Aquitanian language. The Celts founded cities such as Lutetia Parisiorum (Paris) and Burdigala (Bordeaux) while the Aquitanians founded Tolosa (Toulouse).

Long before any Roman settlements, Greek navigators settled in what would become Provence. The Phoceans founded important cities such as Massalia (Marseilles) and Nicaea (Nice), bringing them in to conflict with the neighboring Celts and Ligurians. The Celts themselves often fought with Aquitanians and Germans, and a Gaulish war band led by Brennus invaded Rome circa 390 or 387 B.C.E. following the Battle of the Allia. When Hannibal Barca fought the Romans, he recruited several Gaulish mercenaries who fought on his side at Cannae. It was this Gaulish participation that caused Roman Republic to annex Provence in 121 B.C.E. Despite Gaulish opposition led by Vercingetorix, the Overking of the Warriors, Gauls succumbed to the Roman onslaught; the Gauls had some success at first at Gergovia, but were ultimately defeated at Alesia 52 B.C.E.

Roman Gaul

Map of Gaul circa 58 B.C.E.

Roman Gaul consisted of an area of provincial rule in the Roman Empire, in modern day France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and western Germany. Roman control of the area lasted for 600 years. The Roman Empire began its takeover of what was Celtic Gaul in 121 B.C.E., when it conquered and annexed the southern reaches of the area. Julius Caesar completed the task by defeating the Celtic tribes in the Gallic Wars of 58-51 B.C.E… The Romans displaced populations in order to prevent local identities to become a threat to Roman control. The Romans divided Gaul into several provinces, and founded cities such as Lugdunum (Lyon) and Narbonensis (Narbonne). The Gauls eventually adopted Roman speech (Latin, from which the French language evolved) and Roman culture. The Roman administration finally collapsed as remaining troops were withdrawn southeast to protect Italy. Between 455 and 475, the Visigoths, the Burgundians, and the Franks assumed power in Gaul.

Clovis unites Franks

Clovis I (c. 466 - 511) succeeded his father Childeric I in 481 as King of the Salian Franks, who occupied the area west of the lower Rhine, with their centre around Tournai and Cambrai along the modern frontier between France and Belgium. In 486, Clovis I defeated Syagrius at Soissons and subsequently united most of northern and central Gaul under his rule. In 496, Clovis converted to Roman Catholicism, as opposed to the Arianism common among Germanic peoples, at the instigation of his wife, the Burgundian Clotilda, a Catholic. He was baptized in the Cathedral of Rheims. This act was of immense importance in the subsequent history of France and Western Europe in general, for Clovis expanded his dominion over almost all of the old Roman province of Gaul (roughly modern France). He is considered the founder both of France (which his state closely resembled geographically at his death) and the Merovingian dynasty which ruled the Franks from the mid-fifth to the mid-eighth century. Merovingian rule was ended by a palace coup in 751 when Pippin the Short formally deposed Childeric III, beginning the Carolingian monarchy.

Christianity took root in the second century and third century, and became so firmly established by the fourth and fifth centuries that Saint Jerome wrote that Gaul was the only region "free from heresy." France obtained the title "Eldest daughter of the Church" (La fille ainée de l'Église), and the French would adopt this as justification for calling themselves "the Most Christian Kingdom of France."

Charlemagne and the Holy Roman Empire

Charlemagne, portrait by Albrecht Dürer.

The Carolingian dynasty was a Frankish noble family with its origins in the Arnulfing and Pippinid clans of the seventh century. The name "Carolingian" itself comes from the Latin spelling of Charles Martel, (686-741)-Carolus Martellus-who defeated the Moors at the Battle of Tours in 732. The greatest Carolingian monarch was Charlemagne (742 or 747 to 814), a champion of Christianity and supporter of the papacy. Charlemagne fought the Slavs south of the Danube, annexed southern Germany, and subdued and converted pagan Saxons in the north-west. Charlemagne had himself crowned Emperor by Pope Leo III at Rome in 800, an event which revived the Roman imperial tradition in the west, and set a precedent for the dependence of the emperors on papal approval.

He is often seen as the Father of Europe and is an iconic figure, instrumental in defining European identity. His was the first truly imperial power in the West since the fall of Rome. Latin was the official language of the court and the Church, although the West Franks in Gaul adopted the Latinate vernacular that became French. East Franks and other Germanic people spoke various languages that became German. Carolingian rulers encouraged missionary work among the Germans. Non-Frankish Germans, however, retained much pagan belief beneath their newly acquired faith.

Empire divided

Charlemagne's third son Louis the Pious (778-840) was Emperor and King of the Franks from 814 to his death in 840. Under Frankish custom, all the king's possessions, including the royal title, were divided among his sons, a practice that often resulted in civil war. The surviving adult Carolingians fought a three-year civil war ending in the Treaty of Verdun (843), which divided the empire among Charlemagne's three grandsons. One received West Francia (modern France), another acquired the imperial title and a territory extending from the North Sea to Italy, while the third, Louis the German (804-876), received East Francia (modern Germany). The Treaty of Mersen (870) divided the middle kingdom, with Lotharingia going to East Francia and the rest to West Francia. In 881, Charles the Fat (839-888) of East Francia, heir of Louis the German, received the imperial title. Six years later he was deposed by Arnulf of Carinthia (850-899), a bastard child of a legitimate Carolingian king, the last Carolingian emperor.

The Vikings and Normandy

Under the Carolingians, the kingdom was ravaged by Viking raiders. In this struggle some important figures such as Count Odo of Paris and his brother King Robert rose to fame and became kings. This emerging dynasty, called the Robertines, was the predecessor of the Capetian Dynasty, who were descended from the Robertines. Led by Rollo, the Vikings had settled in Normandy and were granted the land first as counts and then as dukes by King Charles the Simple. The people that emerged from the interactions between Vikings and the mix of Franks and Gallo-Romans became known as the Normans.

The Capetians

Tenth century West Francia.

The Carolingians ruled France until 987, when Hugh Capet, Duke of France and Count of Paris, was crowned king. He was recorded to be recognized king by the Gauls, Bretons, Danes, Aquitanians, Goths, Spanish and Gascons. Hugh had his son Robert crowned, as Robert II in 996. His son, Henry, became King in 1031. The Capetians eventually passed the crown through a direct male line for more than three centuries, from 987 until 1328.

The French kingdom was very decentralized. If the king ventured outside of his own territory, he risked being captured by his vassals. In the late eleventh century, vassals William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy, and Hugh the Great, abbot of Cluny, were more powerful than the Capetian King Philip I (who reigned 1060-1108).

Philip's successor, Louis VI (who reigned 1108-1137), consolidated royal power in the Île-de-France, a region centering on Paris, by suppressing feudal opposition. In 1137, he arranged for his son, the future Louis VII, to marry Eleanor, heiress to the Duchy of Aquitaine, thereby gaining control of extensive territories between the River Loire and the Pyrenees Mountains. Louis VII was well served by a competent advisor, Abbot Suger, whose vision of construction became known as the Gothic Architecture during the later Renaissance.

But the marriage was not agreeable to Eleanor, adultery was alleged, and she had not produced a male heir, so the marriage was annulled 1152. Eleanor married Henry Plantagenet, Count of Anjou and Duke of Normandy, who in 1154 became King of England as Henry II. Aquitaine passed to the English Crown, and the regions controlled by Henry II in France (the Angevin Empire) exceeded those of his feudal lord, Louis VII.

Later Capetians

The seal of Philip Augustus, shown holding a fleur de lis in his right hand.Coronation of Philip III.

Philip II Augustus (1165-1223) was King of France from 1180 until his death. Philip was one of the most successful medieval French monarchs in expanding the royal demesne and the influence of the monarchy. He broke up the great Angevin Empire and defeated a coalition of his rivals at the Battle of Bouvines in 1214. He reorganized the government, bringing financial stability to the country and thus making possible a sharp increase in prosperity. His reign was popular with ordinary people because he checked the power of the nobles and passed some of it on to the growing middle class. Philip Augustus founded the Sorbonne university and made Paris a city of scholars.

His son Louis VIII led a successful campaign that resulted in the extension of the royal domain south to the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Louis IX (1215-1270), commonly Saint Louis, was King of France from 1226 to his death, on a Crusade when he was struck down by disease and died while attacking Tunis. He is the only canonized king of France. He established the Parlement of Paris. Philip III (1245-1285), called "the Bold," was declared king at the age of 25 when his father died, and also died on a Crusade. He arranged for the marriage of his son to the heiress of Champagne, adding that county to royal possessions.

Philip IV (1268-1314), called "the Fair" was so powerful that he could name popes and emperors, unlike the early Capetians. Costly policies led him to try to tax the clergy, and this in turn brought him into sharp conflict with Pope Boniface VIII. In 1305, Philip secured the election of a French pope, Clement V. The papal court moved from Rome to Avignon in 1309, and Philip was cleared of any charges of impropriety in their dealings with Boniface. Philip strengthened the royal government, and was the first to summon the Estates-General, an assembly of the different classes of French subjects, but his high-handed methods lost public respect. His three sons --Louis X, Philip V, and Charles IV-each held the throne successively, and all died without male heirs

Hundred Years' War

The Battle of Agincourt, fifteenth century miniature.Portrait of Jacques Cartier by Théophile Hamel, ca. 1844. No contemporary portraits of Cartier are known.Francis I of France.

The Hundred Years' War was a conflict between France and England, lasting 116 years from 1337 to 1453. It was fought primarily over claims by the English kings to the French throne. On the death of Charles IV, the French crown passed to Philip IV's nephew, Philip of Valois, who reigned as Philip VI from 1328 to 1350. The English King Edward II had married the daughter of Philip IV Isabella of France without succession problems, but her son Edward III (who reigned 1327-1377) put forward a claim in 1337 to the French throne as the legitimate grandson of Philip the Fair and the sole surviving male heir according to the law of primogeniture.

The Hundred Years' War was punctuated by several brief and two lengthy periods of peace before it finally ended in the expulsion of the English from France, with the exception of the Calais. Thus, the war was in fact a series of conflicts and is commonly divided into three or four phases: the Edwardian War (1337-1360), the Caroline War (1369-1389), the Lancastrian War (1415-1429), and the slow decline of English fortunes after the appearance of Joan of Arc. During this war, France evolved politically and militarily. Humiliating defeats of Poitiers (1356) and Agincourt (1415) forced the French nobility to realize they could not stand just as armored knights without an organized army. Charles VII established the first French standing army.

Black Death

The Black Death bubonic plague, one of the most deadly pandemics in human history, entered France via Marseille in 1348, and engulfed the country in two years, killing up to one-third of the population. The plague recurred in 1361, 1362, 1369, 1372, 1382, 1388, and 1398. Children were especially vulnerable. Obsession with death pervaded, and fanatical religious movements spread. Peasants caught between high prices, and landlords who tried to increase production and freeze wages rebelled, the most famous and widespread being the Jacquerie uprising of 1358. The Estates-General, the assembly of clergy, nobles, and commoners first summoned by Philip IV and used as a form for the king to present policy, gained in power.

Joan of Arc

Joan of Arc.

Joan of Arc (Jeanne d'Arc) (1412-1431) was a fifteenth century national heroine of France. Joan asserted that she had visions from God which told her to recover her homeland from English domination late in the Hundred Years' War. The uncrowned Charles VII of France sent her to the siege at Orléans (1428-1429) as part of a relief mission. She gained prominence when she overcame the dismissive attitude of veteran commanders and lifted the siege in only nine days. Several more swift victories led to Charles VII's coronation at Reims and settled the disputed succession to the throne. A politically motivated trial convicted her of heresy and she was burnt at the stake when she was only 19 years old. The judgment was broken by the Pope and she was declared innocent and a martyr 24 years later.

Renaissance France

By 1500, France evolved from a feudal country to an increasingly centralized state organized around a powerful absolute monarchy that relied on the doctrine of the Divine Right of Kings and the explicit support of the established Church. The Renaissance writer François Rabelais (probably born in 1494) helped to shape the French language as a literary language. During the sixteenth century the French kingdom began to claim North American territories as colonies. Jacques Cartier was one of the great explorers who ventured deep into American territories during the sixteenth century. The largest group of French colonies became known as New France, and several cities such as Quebec City, Montreal, Detroit and New Orleans were founded by the French.

Francis I

Francis I (1494 - 1547), who is considered to be France's first Renaissance monarch, significantly increased both the power and the prestige of the Crown. He regarded himself as the monarchy's sole lawmaker and never called the Estates-General. He was a patron of the arts and learning, and buildings surviving from his reign show the power and wealth of the monarchy. France engaged in the long Italian Wars (1494-1559), which marked the beginning of early modern France. Francis I was captured at Pavia in 1525 by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and later freed after granting concessions. The French monarchy allied with the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman Admiral Barbarossa captured Nice in August 1543 and handed it down to Francis I.

During the sixteenth century, the Spanish and Austrian Habsburgs were the dominant power in Europe. Charles Quint, as Count of Burgundy, Holy Roman Emperor, King of Aragon, Castile and Germany (among many other titles) encircled France. The Spanish Tercio was used with great success against French knights and remained undefeated for a long time. Finally on January 7, 1558, the Duke of Guise seized Calais from the English.

The Reformation

John Calvin.

Lutheranism was introduced in France after about 1520. Initially, King Francis I was tolerant of religious reformers, but after the Affair of the Placards in 1534, in which notices appeared in the streets denouncing the Papal Mass, he began to view Protestants as a threat and openly moved against them. One French Protestant, John Calvin (1509-1564), created the doctrine and the institutions of French Protestantism. He found refuge in Geneva, where he came to hold great influence on the reform movement. During the reign of Henry II (1547-1559), Calvinism gained numerous converts in France among the French nobility, the middle class, and the intelligentsia. Although Huguenots accounted for only a small fraction of the French population, the great wealth and influence that many of them possessed began to cause bitterness. In 1559, delegates from 66 Calvinist congregations in France met secretly at Paris in a national synod which drew up a confession of faith and a book of discipline. Thus was organized the first national Protestant church of France.

Wars of religion

Painting of the Saint Bartholomew's Day Massacre by François Dubois.

The French Wars of Religion, (1562 to 1598) were a series of conflicts in France fought between Catholics and Huguenots (Protestants) from the middle of the sixteenth century to the Edict of Nantes in 1598, including civil infighting as well as military operations. In addition to the religious elements, they involved a struggle for control over the ruling of the country between the powerful House of Guise (Lorraine) and the Catholic League, on the one hand, and the House of Bourbon on the other.

Renewed Catholic reaction headed by the powerful duke of Guise, led to a massacre of Huguenots at Vassy in 1562, starting the first of the French Wars of Religion, during which English, German, and Spanish forces intervened on the side of rival Protestant and Catholic forces. In the most notorious incident, thousands of Huguenots were murdered in the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre of 1572. The Wars of Religion culminated in the War of the Three Henrys in which Henry III assassinated Henry de Guise, leader of the Spanish-backed Catholic league, and the king was murdered in return. Following this war Henry III of Navarre became king of France as Henry IV and enforced the Edict of Nantes (1598), which granted a degree of religious toleration to Protestants.

Louis XIII and Cardinal Richelieu

Cardinal Richelieu.Louis XIV-The Sun King.

Religious conflicts resumed under Louis XIII (1601-1643) when Armand Jean du Plessis, Cardinal Richelieu (1585-1642), the effective ruler of France for 18 years from 1624, forced Protestants to disarm. This conflict ended in the Siege of La Rochelle (1627-1628), in which Protestants and their English supporters were defeated. The following Peace of Alais confirmed religious freedom yet dismantled the Protestant defenses.

As a result of Richelieu's work, Louis XIII became one of the first exemplars of an absolute monarch. Under Louis XIII, the French nobility was firmly kept in line behind their King, and the political and military privileges granted to the Huguenots by his father were retracted (while their religious freedoms were maintained). Richelieu had executed several eminent and dangerous nobles and demolished castles that could be used as centers of resistance to break the political power of the nobility. Richelieu divided the country into 30 new administrative districts and appointed a royal officer to control each.

Richelieu joined the Thirty Years War on the side of the Catholic Habsburgs in 1636 because it was the national interest, but imperial Habsburg forces invaded France, ravaged Champagne, and threatened Paris. Richelieu died in 1642 and was replaced by Mazarin, while Louis XIII died one year later and was succeeded by Louis XIV, then aged five years. The French forces won a decisive victory at Rocroi (1643), and the Spanish army was decimated. The Truce of Ulm (1647) and the Peace of Westphalia (1648) brought an end to the war.

Louis XIV

Louis XIV (1638-1715), known as Louis the Great or the Sun King, ruled as King of France and of Navarre from 1643, a few months before his fifth birthday, but did not assume actual personal control of the government until the death of his First Minister Jules Cardinal Mazarin, in 1661. Louis would remain on the throne till his death just prior to his 77th birthday in 1715. Louis established an absolute state structure early, with a number of councils to advise him and to carry out his instructions. He gave the potentially dangerous nobility ceremonial court positions, leaving them no time for political activity. The government's active promotion of commerce kept the wealthy bourgeoisie happy. The king could appoint bishops, thus keeping control of an obedient clergy, who provided the theological justification of the divine right of Louis XIV. Louis built a great palace at Versailles, patronized the arts, founded the Academy of Fine Arts and the French Academy in Rome, supported authors with pensions, appointed a superintendent of music to raise standards, and established the Academy of Science.

Louis's minister for commerce and finance, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, subsidized industries, limited foreign competition, developed colonial markets for French traders, rebuilt the navy, and built roads, bridges, and canals. But the costs of Louis's wars unraveled much of Colbert's economic development. Then in 1685, Louis revoked the Edict of Nantes, prompting between 200,000 and 300,000 Huguenots to leave France, many of them skilled craftsmen, intellectuals, army officers whom France could not afford to lose.

Eighteenth century France

Louis XV (reigned 1715-1774) sought escape in pleasure, discredited the monarchy, and was so unpopular that his body was buried secretly. His grandson, Louis XVI (reigned 1774-1792), was weak-willed, and his young queen, Marie Antoinette, frivolous and extravagant. In the eighteenth century, France was the richest and most powerful nation on the Continent. French architecture, design, fashion, and taste were imitated through the Western world, while French political and social ideas influenced Europe and America. It was a period of great economic growth. The country's industrial revolution began in that century, when the France was the leading industrial power in the world.

But the income of urban laborers and artisans, was eroded by inflation, and peasants were heavily burdened by taxes, tithes, and feudal obligations. The tax system, which exempted the lands of the nobility and the clergy, deprived the government of a significant source of revenue, and put an unfair burden on the peasantry and the bourgeoisie.

Successive ministries tried to establish a balanced taxation system of all wealth, but were blocked by privileged groups and by the lack of support from the King. The nobility in the parliaments led opposition to royal initiatives, posing as defenders of public liberties, but were advocating a return to government by the aristocracy. The philosophes, French writers on political, social, and economic problems, led intellectual opposition, arguing that all people had certain natural rights--life,