French period

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Ernst Henseler : From the French Period (1894)

The period of French rule over large parts of Europe between 1792 and 1815 ( Napoleonic Wars ) was referred to as the French period - especially in German-language literature of the 19th century . It was often equated with the reign of Napoleon Bonaparte and meant in particular the time of the French occupation of large parts of the then Germany, their direct affiliation to the French Empire or to Napoleonic vassal states such as the Kingdom of Westphalia . The French era ended with Napoleon's military defeat in the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

Because of the anti-French resentment it caused, the time was considered to be the incubation period for a German national identity to be distinguished from the so-called “ hereditary enemy ”. In the course of the reconciliation between Germany and France after the Second World War, the term lost its political relevance. While historians are looking for more meaningless terms such as Sattelzeit or Rheinbundzeit , which should include the long-term, civil effects of the Napoleonic occupation, it continues to be used primarily in the context of local history.

Concept history

The term arose after the end of the French occupation of German states in 1815; it was shaped for the Low German- speaking area by Fritz Reuter's popular work Ut de Franzosentid (1860). Used in part pejoratively , it has long been part of the anti-French historiography of the small German nation-building.

After the end of the Second World War , friendly relations developed between Germany and France ; the term was avoided at the time of the Bonn Republic and was only rarely used for the French occupation of the German southwest from 1945 to 1955 .

In Dutch, French rule in Belgium and the Netherlands is known as Franse tijd . In Luxembourg one speaks of the Fransousenzäit , also in Romansh-speaking areas outside of France there are similar conceptions.

French rule in the German states

In the part of Germany on the left bank of the Rhine , the French era began with the occupation by French troops in 1794 as a result of the First Coalition War ; on the right of the Rhine the era lasted from around 1804 to 1815. Often times, the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806 and the Battle of Nations near Leipzig in 1813.

Territorial changes

French departments 1812

The French military expansion after the revolution caused a territorial reorganization in Germany and was characterized by territorial cedings and dependencies between German states and France. After the defeat of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation and Austria in the Second Coalition War , France annexed the areas of the empire on the left bank of the Rhine in the Peace of Lunéville . However, through the Reichsdeputationshauptschluss 1803, the principalities affected were partially compensated many times over for the territorial losses they had suffered ( secularization and mediatization ): For example, Baden received more than seven times its lost territories. Overall, particularism in Germany has been significantly reduced. But despite these many advances, criticism of Napoleon grew steadily, as his rule also meant more wars for the "German lands", such as the Russian campaign in 1812. From 1806, Napoleon controlled the German princes in the Rhine Confederation and established them for his brother-in-law Joachim Murat the Grand Duchy of Berg and the Kingdom of Westphalia for his brother Jérôme Bonaparte . With the withdrawal of the Confederation of the Rhine from the empire and finally with a French ultimatum, Emperor Franz II was forced a little later to announce the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. After the defeat of Prussia in the Fourth Coalition War , it had to give up almost half of its national territory in the Peace of Tilsit in 1807. To enforce the continental barrier against England, Napoleon annexed the German North Sea coast to the Elbe in 1811 and divided the hinterland into four Hanseatic departments .

The territorial changes in the German states remained largely intact even after the fall of Napoleon with the resolutions of the Congress of Vienna . With the retreat of Franz II into his Austrian hereditary lands, Prussia and Austria were also politically separated, which was a starting point for the later separation of Austria from the formation of a nation state ( German question , German dualism ).

Defensive modernization

Prussia responded to the contributions established in the Peace of Tilsit with internal reforms : From 1807, Prussian statesmen such as Freiherr vom Stein and later Karl August von Hardenberg began working out reforms to reorganize the financial system, the military, the educational institutions and changes in social status of subjects on state domains ( Edict of October 1807). Reforms were also carried out in the new federal states of the Rhine and the French model states of Westphalia and Berg. On the one hand, the great financial need of the countries and the troops to be provided for Napoleon urged the internal renewal of the administration and jurisdiction of the Ancien Régime . On the other hand, the princes were faced with the task of unifying their heterogeneous territorial gains under a central administration. The Code Napoléon was introduced unmodified in the new French-ruled countries . Napoleon incorporated ideals from the French Revolution in this civil legal code . Through supraregional publication organs, the Code Napoléon also found its way into the discourse of constitutional lawyers and patriots in non-French areas, who also thought about its introduction in the new medium-sized states. The historian Hans-Ulrich Wehler described the process of reshuffling the state in order to meet the financial and military requirements of the time, and the associated social reforms that were initiated by Napoleon's influence, as "defensive modernization".

Early German national consciousness in the wars of liberation

Even before the beginning of the wars of liberation , there were uprisings in French-occupied areas and in the new central states such as the Tyrolean uprising , but these remained regionally limited and were not given a "national" character.

After the defeat of Napoleon's Grande Armée in the Russian campaign in 1812 , the commanding general of the Prussian auxiliary corps of the Grande Armée , Yorck , concluded an armistice with the Russian troops in the Tauroggen Convention on December 30, 1812 . This was the decisive impetus for the outbreak of the wars of freedom in the following years.

In the long run, the “French era” contributed to the emergence of the unity and national consciousness in the German states. The many regions with their different dialects found themselves in the fight against the occupation in a common anti-French definition of “German” or “freedom”. In the wars of liberation, conscription based on the model of levée en masse was introduced in Prussia by General Gerhard von Scharnhorst as part of the Prussian army reform explicitly formulated against the French occupation . At the Wartburg Festival in 1817, the movement of many student fraternities and student associations that had been newly founded since 1813 was formed . The colors black, red and gold, modeled on the uniforms of the Lützow Freikorps , became the symbol of this movement.

The politically motivated folk songs that were composed during this period include Das Fluchtlied and the Andreas Hofer Lied .


The French rule included, directly or indirectly, the following areas:


  • Annemarie Hopp, Bernd Jürgen Warneken : Enemies, friends, strangers. Memories of the Tübingen "French Period" (= Tübingen catalogs. Vol. 44). Cultural Office, Tübingen 1995.
  • Silke Klaes: The post office in the Rhineland. Law and administration in the French period (1792–1815) (= legal historical writings. Vol. 14). Böhlau, Cologne 2001, ISBN 3-412-15500-4 .
  • Helmut Stubbe da Luz : "French times" in Northern Germany (1803-1814). Napoleon's Hanseatic Departments. Edition Temmen, Bremen 2003, ISBN 3-86108-384-1 .
  • Kerstin Theis, Jürgen Wilhelm (Ed.): France on the Rhine. The traces of the "French era" in western Germany. Greven, Cologne 2008, ISBN 978-3-7743-0409-3 .
  • Jürgen Wilhelm (ed.) In collaboration with Georg Mölich and Alexander Schmalz: Napoleon on the Rhine, the effect and memory of an era. Greven, Cologne 2012, ISBN 978-3-7743-0497-0 .
  • Matthias Blazek : The Electorate of Hanover and the years of foreign rule 1803-1813. Ibidem, Stuttgart 2007, ISBN 3-89821-777-9 .
  • Michaela Neubert : The Napoleonic Age and the Wars of Liberation, depicted on selected objects in the collection of the Institute for Higher Education at the University of Würzburg . Once and Now, Yearbook of the Association for Corporate Student History Research, Vol. 58 (2013), pp. 49–94.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Armin Owzar : From the topos of foreign rule to the modernization paradigm. For the introduction. In: Gerd Dethlefs, Armin Owzar, Gisela Weiß (ed.): Model and Reality. Politics, culture and society in the Grand Duchy of Berg and in the Kingdom of Westphalia (= research on regional history. Vol. 56). Paderborn 2008, p. 10 ff.
  2. 1806-1813: Franse Tijd. In: Rijksmuseum .nl (Dutch); De Franse Tijd (1794-1815). In: (Flemish).
  3. Nouvellen from eiser Gemeng Nº 6, July 2002 ( Memento from September 19, 2011 in the Internet Archive ) (PDF; 2.2 MB) Waldbredimus municipality (Lux), accessed on March 21, 2011 (Luxembourgish).
  4. The Rhineland under the French 1794-1815 . Landschaftsverband Rheinland (LVR), accessed on March 18, 2011.
  5. Cf. Elisabeth Fehrenbach : Traditional society and revolutionary law. Göttingen 1974, p. 10 ff.
  6. ^ Hans-Ulrich Wehler: German history of society. 4th edition. Vol. 1, part 2, Munich 2006, passim.