French colonies

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The period of colonialism began for France with the acquisition of the first colonies in the middle of the 16th century. In the 19th century France became the second largest colonial power in the world. After 1945 the French colonial empire quickly fell apart. The dissolution process accelerated in the 1950s. In the “African Year” 1960 alone , 14 French colonies became independent.


At the beginning of the 17th century, America in particular was the main objective of colonization for France . In North America , it claimed the eastern half of what is now Canada , the entire central area of ​​what is now the United States and some Caribbean islands , as well as part of India . The Peace of Paris at the end of the Seven Years' War forced France to cede most of its American and Indian possessions to Great Britain ; West Louisiana had previously given it to the allied Spain so as not to let it fall into British hands.

Therefore, the history of the French colonies is divided into a first colonial empire marked in green on the map , which was lost except for a few coastal stations in Senegal in 1763, and a second colonial empire , dark blue on the map , which began in 1830 with the occupation of Algiers . Between the two phases lies the time of the British-French colonial conflict with French rule over Egypt (1798–1801) and the restoration of French rule in Louisiana (1800–1803), which is not shown on the map . At the time of the Napoleonic Empire , however, other colonies briefly came to France until 1812 (see map from 1812).

From 1830 France concentrated on Africa , starting on the opposite coast of the Maghreb , and between 1845 and 1897 conquered the entire Sahara , most of West and Central Africa . Since a large part of the population in the conquered territories were Muslims, France endeavored from the 1890s to become a puissance musulmane , that is, an imperial power that had its Muslim subjects under control.

In 1898 a French force met the British near Faschoda on the Nile , but did not get involved in a conflict and withdrew. Since the Second Empire , French colonialism spread to Southeast Asia ; Indochina was considered a gem of the colonial empire. There were also smaller possessions in India and China .

In addition, France ruled large parts of the island world of the Indian Ocean and Oceania . In 1954 the end of the French colonial empire came in Asia, and in 1960 also in Africa. Many of the former French colonies are still today considered developing countries . In some of these countries, France still financed up to 50 percent of national budgets at the end of the 20th century.

Possessions, colonies, protectorates

The areas highlighted in yellow in the list are still part of France or linked to France. Today France owes to these remaining areas or their territorial waters the second largest sea area in the world (after the USA) (11 million km²). An overview map of the remaining areas can be found here: French overseas territories

French colonial empire (green: first acquisitions in the 16th century, blue: acquisitions up to 1920, not shown: areas of influence in China (1885–1940) and Siam (1897–1939))
Possession Acquisition loss story
Egypt 1798 1801 conquered by Napoleon ( Egyptian expedition ), Ottoman again in 1801
Fessan 1943 1951 Occupied in World War II , from 1947 trustee territory of the UN, 1951 to the independent Libya
French North Africa 1830 1962 In 1830 the conquest of Algeria began , in 1881 Tunisia was occupied and in 1911 also Morocco , independent in 1956, Algeria only in 1962
French West Africa 1895 1960 from 1612 establishment of the first French outpost in Senegal , 1677 expulsion of the Dutch and establishment as a French colony, British occupied 1758–1779 and 1809–1816, 1840 beginning of the conquest of all of Senegal and West Africa, 1895 establishment of French West Africa, 1958 dissolved and the colonies With the exception of Guinea's autonomous republics within the French Community , became independent in 1960
French Equatorial Africa 1663 1960 In 1875 Gabon became a French colony, further conquests and establishment of French Equatorial Africa 1910, 1958 dissolved and the colonies became autonomous republics within the French community , 1960 (“ African year ”), see History of Gabon
French Somaliland 1862 1977 1862 acquisition of Obock , 1888 acquisition of Djibouti , in 1896 Djibouti became a colony of French Somaliland , in 1967 renamed the Afar and Issa Territories, and in 1977 again fully independent as Djibouti
Madagascar 1885 1960 In the 17th and 18th centuries, a controversy between England and France, 1883 invasion of France, in 1885 awarded to France by the Congo Conference and establishment of the colonies of Nosy Be and Sainte Marie , 1896 conquest of the main island and formation of a French protectorate, 1958 autonomous within the French community, fully independent in 1960
Comoros 1841 1975 1841 French protectorate, 1886 part of the French protectorate of Mayotte , 1887 "Protectorate of the Comoros", 1908 merger with Mayotte, 1914 subordinate to the governor general of Madagascar, 1961 largely autonomous, 1975 with the exception of Mayotte completely independent
Cameroon 1919 1960 In 1919 owned by the League of Nations, 4/5 Cameroons went to France as a mandate, in 1945 UN trustee area, in 1960 East Cameroon became independent
Reunion 1640 Occupied by France in 1640, converted into a French overseas department in 1946 , French overseas region and part of the EU in 1982
Mauritius 1715 1810 Conquered by France, French crown colony in 1767, conquered by Great Britain in 1810
French territories on St. Helena 1858 1858 at the instigation of Napoleon III. bought by the French state, since then French state property
Seychelles 1756 1811 First French expedition in 1742, formally French in 1756, de facto French colony in 1770, disputed between France and Great Britain during the Napoleonic Wars, finally British in 1811
Togo 1919 1960 In 1919 owned by the League of Nations, around 3/5 went to France as a mandate, in 1945 UN trust territory, independent in 1960
Possession Acquisition loss story
New France 1534 1759 1524 first French research expedition, 1534 conquest of the Saint Lawrence River by Jacques Cartier , 1608 founding of Québec , part of France from 1663, conquered by Great Britain in 1759, officially assigned to Great Britain in the Peace of Paris in 1763
Acadia 1604 1710 1598 first attempts at a French settlement, in 1604 by Samuel de Champlain establishment of the first permanent French settlement in Port Royal , subject of dispute between France and England, conquered by Great Britain during the War of the Spanish Succession in 1710, formally ceded by France to Great Britain in the Peace of Utrecht in 1713
Louisiana 1683
1682 founding of St. Louis , in the same year Robert Cavelier de La Salle reached the mouth of the Mississippi and took possession of all the lands lying on the river for France under the name Louisiana, 1718 founding of New Orleans , 1758 occupation of the Ohio Valley by Great Britain, 1760 surrender of the French armed forces, in the preliminary truce of Fontainebleau in 1762 cession of West Louisiana and the "Isle of New Orleans" to Spain, in the Peace of Paris in 1763 eastern Louisiana was ceded to Great Britain, under pressure from Napoleon in 1800 western Louisiana is again French, 1803 sold to the USA
Saint-Pierre and Miquelon 1670 first French fishing settlements, British in 1778, returned to France in 1814, official handover in 1816, Overseas Department in 1976, regional authority of the French Republic in 1985, collectivité d'outre-mer (COM) since 2003
Clipperton Island 1858 Discovered by French sailors in 1711, annexed by France in 1858, claimed by Mexico in 1905 , finally to France and French overseas territory by arbitration in 1931
Dominica 1763 by the Peace of Paris in 1763 to Great Britain
Falkland Islands 1764 1767 1764 first French settlement Port Louise , sold to Spain in 1767
Fort Caroline 1564 1568 First French expedition in 1562, Fort Caroline founded in 1564, conquered by Spain in 1568
France Antarctique 1555 1567 1555 Foundation of Fort Coligny near Rio de Janeiro , again Portuguese in 1567
France Equatoriale 1801 1802/09 Efforts to reach the Amazon border from French Guiana since the 17th century , such as the area of ​​today's Brazilian state of Amapá, was French between the peace treaties of Badajoz and Amiens, and was finally recaptured from Portugal in 1807/09, but French claims against Brazil until 1900
France Équinoxiale 1612 1615 1604 Exploration of the Maranhão coast by Seigneur de la Ravardière , 1612 beginning of the French settlement and establishment of Saint Louis , 1615 Portuguese
French Guiana 1604 1604 establishment of the colony, from 1794 penal colony, 1930–1946 division into French Guiana and Inini , reunited since 1946 and overseas department, part of the EU
French West Indies 1635 1635 French colonization of Guadeloupe , Martinique and some islands of the Lesser Antilles , since 1946 overseas department and part of the EU
Grenada 1649 1763 Bought by France in 1649, to Great Britain through the Peace of Paris in 1763
Saint-Domingue 1697 1804 In 1697, the small western part of Hispaniola ceded to France by Spain, the Treaty of Basel in 1795 made all of Hispaniola French, in 1804 only the western part became independent as Haiti , the eastern part remained French until 1808
St. Lucia 1650 1814 from 1650 conquest of the island, 1746 foundation of Soufrière , 1814 to Great Britain
St. Vincent and the Grenadines 1719 1783 Disputed between France and Great Britain in the 17th century, first permanent French settlements from 1719, ceded to Great Britain in 1783
Tobago 1783 1814 fought between Dutch, British and French
Possession Acquisition loss story
French India 1673 1956 1673 Beginning of the colonization of Indian territories, 1674 acquisition of Pondichérys , 1721 Mahé , 1738 Karaikal , 1751 Yanam , 1949 annexation of Chandernagor to India , 1956 incorporation of the remaining French territories
Songkhla (Siam) 1685 1688 After the conclusion of an alliance with France, Siam ceded the southern port city of Songkhla to France (and the right to fortify it), in 1687 and 1688, respectively, Songkhlas were swapped for the right to man two French fortresses in Bangkok and Mergui , after the anti-French popular uprising and death lost by the pro-French king
French Indochina 1863 1954 In 1863 the southern provinces of Vietnam were ceded to France ( Cochinchina ), during the Franco-Chinese War in 1885 all of Vietnam was conquered and the Annam and Tongking protectorates were established , in 1887 Annam, Tongking, Cochinchina and the Khmer Empire (now Cambodia ) became the French colony -Indochina created, 1893 annexation of Laos , from 1900 the lease area Kwangtschouwan was also under the administration of the colony, during the Second World War a condominium with Japan , through the Indochina Conference 1954 completely independent as Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos
Cheikh Said 1868 1871 Acquired by a private French trading company in 1868, purchase canceled by the local ruler in 1869, final withdrawal in 1871, no state claims whatsoever
Sanjak Alexandrette 1918 1938 administered by France as a League of Nations mandate within Syria by the Treaty of Sanremo , 1923 separation from Syria and internal autonomy, 1938 independent as the State of Hatay , 1939 annexation to Turkey
Cilicia 1919 1921 Occupied in 1919, returned to Turkey in 1921
Kwangtschouwan 1899 1943/46 Occupied by France in 1898, leased by China for 99 years in 1899, under the administration of French Indochina in 1900, occupied by Japan in 1943, formal return to China in 1946
Lebanon 1920 1943 1920 French League of Nations mandate, 1941 invasion of Allied troops, 1943 completely independent
Syria 1920 1946 Occupied by French troops in 1920 and, after the Sanremo Conference, French League of Nations mandate, autonomous in 1944, completely independent in 1946
French concession in Shanghai 1847 1945 1847 by treaty of Huangpu to France, 1945 back to China
French concession in Tientsin 1860 1940 1860 by the Beijing Convention finally to France in 1940 during the Second World War lost
French concession in Shamian 1859 1946 In the course of the Second Opium War in 1859, the island was given 2/5 to France, returned to China in 1946
French concession in Hankou 1896 1946 1896 to France, 1946 returned to China
Australia and Oceania
French Polynesia 1842 1842 establishment of the French protectorate of Tahiti , from 1880 French colony, 1881 conquest of the remaining islands, since 2004 French overseas territory, since 2013 on the UN decolonization list
Dirk Hartog Island 1772 ? Taken in possession for France by the French navigator Louis Aleno de Saint-Aloüarn in 1772 , but not internationally recognized
Hawaii 1849 1849 Short-term invasion of Honolulu by French navy captain Louis Tromelin
New Hebrides Condominium 1887 1980 officially under British-French rule since 1887, 1906 foundation of a condominium between France and Great Britain, 1980 as Vanuatu independent
New Caledonia 1853 Settled by Great Britain and France during the first half of the 19th century, finally French in 1853, penal colony from 1864, French overseas territory in 1946, with special status since 2003, planned referendum on the further status of the islands until 2018
Wallis and Futuna 1842 1842 Declaration as a French protected area, only officially French protectorate in 1888, from 1961 French overseas territory
French Southern and Antarctic Lands 1772
1772 discovery of the Crozet Islands and the Kerguelen , 1892 occupation of the islands of Amsterdam and Sankt-Paul , from 1924 under the administration of Madagascar, since 1955 French overseas territory, also the Adélieland discovered in 1840 is claimed by France, but is due to the Antarctic- Contract not recognized internationally

European territories

Here, areas in Europe are described that were temporarily under French rule or administration, but these are not to be equated with the overseas colonies and possessions, as they had a fundamentally different legal status.

Possession Acquisition loss story
European territories
Kingdom of Navarre
(Lower Navarra )
1589 - Disputed since the end of the 15th century between Spain and the French noble Grailly family , 1512 conquest of the southern part of Navarre (Upper Navarra) by Spain, the northern part ( Lower Navarra ) goes to the House of Albret in 1516 and becomes dependent on the French crown through feudal connections of the family, In 1572 Navarre goes to the Bourbons , in 1589 Henry III. of Navarre as Henry IV. also King of France, so Navarre and France are linked in personal union, in 1620 the status is changed to a real union , since the French Revolution as the Basses-Pyrénées (now Pyrénées-Atlantiques ) French province
Kingdom of Naples 1500 1504 1500 by King Ludwig XII. conquered by France, returned to Spain in 1504
Duchy of Milan 1499
Conquered by France in 1499, ousted by the Swiss again in 1513 , French again under King Francis I in 1515, independent again in 1521, French again briefly in 1524, occupied by Roman-German troops in 1525.
Spanish Netherlands
Austrian Netherlands
(now Belgium )
In the War of Devolution , France was able to conquer the Free County of Burgundy , but had to return it to Spain in the First Peace of Aachen in 1668, only Hainaut , Lille , Charleroi , Kortrijk , Tournai and Oudenaarde remained French, in the Franco-Dutch War in 1672 France occupied the north of the Spanish Netherlands , by the Peace of Nijmegen, France finally received the Free County of Burgundy in 1679, but had to vacate the north of the Spanish Netherlands again, in 1745–1748 and 1794 France occupied the now Austrian Netherlands, which was formally transferred from Austria to France in the Peace of Campo Formio in 1797 ceded, annexed to the Netherlands in 1814
Luxembourg 1684
1697 (?)
1684 as a result of the reunions of Louis XIV. In French possession, 1714 to the Austrian Netherlands, 1795 renewed French occupation, 1815 independent as the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg .
Dalmatia 1809 1814 In the Peace of Pressburg ceded by Austria to France, but passed to Italy, France, 1809, to 1815 in Austria back
Menorca 1756 1763 Occupied in the Seven Years' War in 1756, returned to Great Britain in 1763
Illyrian provinces 1809 1814 1809 ceded by Austria to France in the Treaty of Schönbrunn , in 1814 again Austrian as the Kingdom of Illyria
Elba 1802 1815 Awarded to France in 1802 by the Peace of Amiens , annexed to Tuscany in 1815
Ionian islands 1797 1809 fell to France through the peace of Campo Formio , occupied by Great Britain in 1809
Catalonia 1640
as the remainder of the Spanish Mark until 1137 formally under the sovereignty of the French king, 1640–1652 and 1808 occupied by France, annexed to France in 1812, again Spanish in 1813
Corfu 1797
Fallen to France through the Peace of Campo Formio , Russian protectorate in 1798, French again in 1805, British protectorate in 1815
Corsica 1401
Corsica was fiercely disputed between Pisa , Genoa , the Crown of Aragon and France , before France bought it from Genoa in 1768 and annexed it in 1769, it was briefly occupied by Great Britain during the French Revolution in 1794–1796 and again in 1814 by the Napoleonic Wars, today a French region with separatist tendencies
Malta 1268
French for a short time already in the Middle Ages, conquered by Napoleon in 1798, but abandoned again in 1801
Memelland 1920 1923 Separated from East Prussia in 1918 , under French protection in 1920, annexed to Lithuania in 1923
Monaco 1641
French protectorate, formally independent in 1918. The earlier regulation that Monaco would have reverted to France if there had been no heir to the throne of the Grimaldis was abolished in the second Monaco-French agreement in 2002. That is why Monaco would remain a sovereign state even after the Grimaldi dynasty eventually expired.
Netherlands 1795 1813 Founding of the Batavian Republic dependent on France , renamed the Kingdom of Holland in 1806 , annexed to France in 1810, independent again in 1813
large areas:
of Switzerland
and Italy
1793 1814 formally French departments
Saarland ("Saar Basin Area") 1680
French 1680–1697 and 1795/98 to 1814 (Saarlouis 1680–1815 French), then initially to Prussia, granted France as a League of Nations mandate in the Treaty of Versailles , returned to Germany in 1935, occupied by France after the end of World War II, officially French protectorate in 1946 , returned to Germany after a referendum in 1957

See also


  • Tom Burgis: The Curse of Wealth - Warlords, Corporations, Smugglers and the Looting of Africa , Westend, Frankfurt 2016, ISBN 978-3-86489-148-9 , p. 172 and ff.
  • Günther Fuchs, Hans Henseke: The French colonial empire . Verlag "Das Europäische Buch", Berlin [West] 1988. ISBN 3-88436-188-0 (License from the "German Publishing House of Science", Berlin [East] 1987. ISBN 3-326-00209-2 ).
  • Udo Scholze, Detlev Zimmermann, Günther Fuchs: Under the lily banner and tricolor . On the history of the French colonial empire. Presentation and documents. In: course . Leipziger Universitäts-Verlag, Leipzig 2001, ISBN 3-934565-96-4 .

Web links

Commons : French Colonialism  - Collection of Images, Videos and Audio Files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ David Robinson: Paths of accommodation: Muslim societies and French colonial authorities in Senegal and Mauritania, 1880–1920 . Ohio University Press, Athens, Ohio 2000. pp. 75f.
  2. Deutsche Verkehrs-Zeitung of January 5, 2010: Paris Blue Book for Green Marine Policy
  3. ^ UN General Assembly: Independence for French Polynesia ; The press, May 17, 2013