Jodie Taylor scored her fifth goal of Euro 2017 to earn England a first win over France in 43 years and a place in the semi-finals.
The striker, who was already the tournament top scorer, clipped in on the hour after being set up by the excellent Lucy Bronze.
France dominated possession at times, but England's more direct approach worked as Millie Bright headed wide in the first half from a free-kick.
England hung on after Taylor's goal, with injured goalkeeper Karen Bardsley being replaced by Siobhan Chamberlain, as France created several goalmouth scrambles.
But they celebrated a first European Championship semi-final since 2009 and knocked out the only remaining team ranked above them.
The Lionesses will face hosts Netherlands in Enschede on Thursday with manager Mark Sampson creating his own history by becoming the first manager since Sir Alf Ramsey in 1968 to reach consecutive semi-finals at major tournaments.
The only blemish on an otherwise historic night was a yellow card for Jill Scott, who will now miss the semi-final.
England hang on to break hoodooEngland's poor record against France extended back to 1974, and included defeats in their past three major tournaments.
More recently under Sampson, they had failed to win in five previous meetings, throwing away a lead at the SheBelieves Cup in March, when Les Bleues scored a 95th-minute winner.
But without the scorer of the winner that night, suspended captain Wendie Renard, France could not find an equaliser as England produced some last-gasp defending.
It will have been a huge relief for Sampson, as the coach had risked embarrassment with his pre-match comment that England didn't need to be at their best to beat France, who have failed to reach a major tournament semi-final in their last four attempts.
But in the final analysis, England will feel that judgement was correct, and they should have more to offer when they face the Netherlands, having beaten them 1-0 in a friendly last October.
Bronze and Taylor prove the differenceHaving rested players for their final group match against Portugal, England returned to their strongest team, who had earned wins in the first two games.
Bronze and Jordan Nobbs proved England's strongest partnership again down the right side, helped by the threat of Taylor, who is one goal shy of equalling the European Championship record held by former German striker Inka Grings. It was from that avenue that the winner originated.
The dangerous Bronze had already waltzed through the France defence in the first half, and, after an hour, her endless energy nicked the ball in midfield before feeding Taylor, who made no mistake from a narrowing angle.
Manchester City right-back Bronze played a telling part in England finishing third at the 2015 World Cup, scoring a winner in the second-round victory over Norway and against hosts Canada in the last eight.
Having won the Under-19 European Championship with England, plus several trophies with her club, she is inspiring England to greater heights in the Netherlands.
Direct action works for EnglandEngland struggled to get into their rhythm in the first half against France, who had 10 Champions League winners in their squad compared with the two in Sampson's team.
Anchored by the excellent Amandine Henry, and with Camille Abily adding guile further forward, France looked more dangerous with striker Marie-Laure Delie wasting a good opening early on.
England's frustration got the better of Scott, who dived in on Henry to receive a second yellow card of the tournament, but they improved when they got the ball forward more quickly.
That tactic led to Taylor's goal, where Bronze burst down the right, but they had to defend in numbers as France poured forward for an equaliser.
As they showed against Spain, England combined clinical attacking with brilliant defending, with Jade Moore pulling off some superb blocks.
Substitute keeper Chamberlain was tested several times, but looked assured before England celebrated wildly at the final whistle.