The French kings refused to accept the division of the world between Spain and Portugal, defined in 1491 by the Treaty of Tordesillas. King Francis I financed the voyages of Jacques Cartier, who explored the Saint Lawrence River in Canada (1534-1543). With the last missions of Champlain, that territory later became New France. In the 14th century, France owned Canada, Mauritius and Réunion, in the Indian Ocean, and some trading posts in India. After the Treaty of Paris, Louisiana lost. The French Empire suffered the consequences of the Anglo-French Wars, especially in the case of Canada and India. With Napoleon III, France conquered Algeria and Senegal and annexed New Caledonia (1853) and Cochinchina (1862-1867). The intervention in Mexico in 1864 was a huge failure.
Francis I was King of France between 1515 and 1547. He sponsored Jacques Cartier's voyages of exploration to the territories that would become Canada
Nevertheless, the French colonial expansion took place after the defeat of France against Prussia, in the war of 1870-1871. In 1881, France forced the King of Tunis to accept a French protectorate over its territory, due in large part to growing Italian interest in Tunis. In Morocco, it was only a matter of time before the French imposed their economic dominance. At the Conference of Algecíras (1906), southern Morocco was recognized as an area of French influence and, in 1912, the French protectorate was established.
Equatorial Africa was explored by Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza, between 1875 and 1880, and, in 1910, the territories of French possession were grouped under the name of Federation of French Equatorial Africa. Something similar happened in West Africa, where, after the occupation of Ivory Coast (1883), Guinea (1896), Benin (1892), Senegal and Chad joined to form the Federation of West Africa in 1895. In Indochina, the French concentrated their efforts on Tokin, a place they wanted to convert into an access zone for China. There, in 1884, they established a protectorate and, in 1893, the Indochina Union was proclaimed.
France developed an administration and a culture trying to establish unity among the colonies, but without reaching an agreement on the relationship that these territories should maintain with the metropolis. The opinion of French leftist political parties, against colonialism, allowed the emergence of an opinion that demanded changes within the French Empire.
With the Constitution of 1946, the French Empire was renamed the French Union, which expressed the denial not only of independence, but also of self-government.
The rejection of the French Union provoked several wars. The first took place in Indochina. In 1945, Indochina resistance forces, under Ho Chi Minh's orders, proclaimed their independence from France. After the defeat of Dien Bien Phu, Pierre Mendès-France negotiated the Geneva Accords, which ended the French presence in Indochina.
In November 1954, the Algerian War began. In France, there was a climate of decline and failure, which allowed Charles de Gaulle to return to power, as he was the negotiator for Algeria's independence.
De Gaulle sought to ensure control over the African colonies and, for that purpose, created the French Community (1958). However, African leaders sought independence and refused to integrate it. As with Tunis in 1954 and Morocco in 1958, the French colonies of Black Africa gained independence in the 1960s.
What remains of the former French Empire are Guyana and the islands of Guadeloupe, Martinique and Réunion.