Julian Jackson uncovers the forgotten - and indeed in this country largely unknown - story of the French Empire. In the first of five Essays, he tells the story of France's first war of decolonisation, a slave rebellion in Haiti, sparked off by the French revolution in Paris and led by the charismatic Toussaint L'Ouverture.
The French Empire was second only to the British. At its peak in the 1930s it covered some 10 million square miles with a population of 100 million. It stretched from the West Indies to the South Pacific, from Indo-China to the Maghreb, from Sub-Saharan Africa to the Levant. The Empire may be gone now but its legacy lives on both in France and in the former colonies. With a Muslim population of 4.5 million today, France, thanks to her former Empire, has the largest Islamic population of any country in Europe; couscous is as much national dish as coq au vin (or chicken vindaloo in Britain). And with recent turbulent events in Africa and the Middle East reminding the French and us of the importance of these former links, this is a story that is worth telling in some detail.
France's imperial story which ended with the Algerian War of the 1950s in fact started over a century earlier with the first war of decolonization in the French sugar colony of St Domingue - now Haiti - in the Caribbean. A slave rebellion there, led by Toussaint L'Ouverture, resulted in his eventual capture by Napoleon, and death in a jail in the French Jura. But despite his capture, in the end the revolution was successful, 50,000 French troops perished, Napoleon suffered his first ever defeat and Haiti became independent in 1804
Producer: Simon Elmes
First broadcast in September 2011.