History of Luxembourg

Luxembourg History

Early History

In the territory now covered by the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, there is evidence of primitive inhabitants right back to the Paleolithic or old stone age over 35,000 years ago. The oldest artifacts from this period are decorated bones found at Oetrange.

However, the first real evidence of civilisation is from the Neolithic or 5th millennium BC when houses began to appear. Traces have been found in the south of Luxembourg at Grevenmacher, Diekirch, Aspelt and Weiler-la-Tour. The dwellings were made of a combination of tree trunks for the basic structure, mud-clad wickerwork walls, and roofs of thatched reeds or straw. Pottery from this period has been found near Remerschen.

While there is not much evidence of communities in Luxembourg at the beginning of the Bronze Age, a number of sites dating back to the period between the 13th and the 8th century BC provide evidence of dwellings and reveal artifacts such as pottery, knives and jewellery. These include Nospelt, Dalheim, Mompach and Remerschen.

Celtic Luxembourg existed during the period from roughly 600 BC until 100 AD, when the Celts inhabited what is now the territory of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg.The Celts inhabited large areas of Europe from the Danube to the Rhine and Rhône during this time. It was around 100 BC that the Treveri, one of the Celtic tribes, entered a period of prosperity. They constructed a number of fortified settlements or oppida near the Moselle valley in what is now southern Luxembourg, western Germany and eastern France.

The Celtic civilisation reached its height in the 1st century BC, prior to the Roman conquest in 54 BC. Most of the evidence from that period has been discovered in tombs, many closely associated with Titelberg, a 50 ha site which reveals much about the dwellings and handicrafts of the period.

The Celtic tribe in what is now Luxembourg during and after the La Tène period was known as the Treveri. By and large, the Treveri were more co-operative with the Romans, who completed their occupation in 53 BC under Julius Caesar, than most Gallic tribes. Two first-century revolts did not permanently damage their cordial relations with Rome, and the Treveri adapted readily to Roman civilisation.

Medieval Period

The history of Luxembourg properly began with the construction of Luxembourg Castle in the Middle Ages. It was Siegfried I, Count of Ardennes who traded some of his ancestral lands with the monks of the Abbey of St. Maximin in Trier in 963 for an ancient, supposedly Roman, fort by the name of Lucilinburhuc. Modern historians explain the etymology of the word with Letze, meaning fortification which might have referred to either the remains of a Roman watchtower or to a primitive refuge of the early Middle Ages.

Around this fort a town gradually developed, which became the centre of a small but important state of great strategic value to France, Germany and the Netherlands. Luxembourg’s fortress, located on a rocky outcrop known as the Bock, was steadily enlarged and strengthened over the years by successive owners, among others the Bourbons, Habsburgs and Hohenzollerns, which made it one of the strongest fortresses on the European continent. Its formidable defences and strategic location caused it to become known as the ‘Gibraltar of the North’.

The Luxembourgish dynasty provided several Holy Roman Emperors, Kings of Bohemia, as well as Archbishops of Trier and Mainz. From the Early Middle Ages to the Renaissance, Luxembourg bore multiple names, depending on the author. These include Lucilinburhuc, Lutzburg, Lützelburg, Luccelemburc, Lichtburg, among others.

Luxembourg remained an independent fief (county) of the Holy Roman Empire until 1354, when the emperor Charles IV elevated it to the status of a duchy. At that time the Luxembourg family held the Crown of Bohemia, but the duchy was usually possessed as appanage by a separate branch of the family. In 1437 the imperial Luxembourg family became extinct in the male line. At that time, the duchy and castle were held by the Bohemian princess Elisabeth of Gorlitz, Duchess of Luxembourg, a cadet granddaughter of emperor Charles IV, who however was childless, and in 1440 made a treaty with her powerful neighbour Philip III, Duke of Burgundy that Philip would administer the duchy and would inherit it after the Duchess Elisabeth’s death, which occurred in 1451 – Philip however accelerated things by expelling Elisabeth in 1443. The heirs of the main Luxembourg dynasty were not happy with the arrangement the Burgundians had made, and managed at times to wrest the possession from Burgundy: the Habsburg prince Ladislas the Posthumous, king of Bohemia and Hungary (d 1457) held the title in the 1450s, and after his death, his brother-in-law William of Thuringia (1425 to 1482) held (or at least claimed) it from 1457 to 1469. In 1467, Elisabeth, Queen of Poland, the last surviving sister of Ladislas, renounced her right in favour of Burgundy by treaty and some concessions, since the possession was next to impossible to hold against Burgundian actions. After being captured by Philip of Burgundy in 1443 and ultimately from 1467 to 1469, the duchy became one of the 17 Provinces of the Netherlands. With the marriage of Mary of Burgundy in 1477 all the Netherlands provinces, including Luxembourg, came under Habsburg rule in the person of her husband Maximilian, and later their son Philip the Handsome.

Habsburg Rule (1477-1815)

In these centuries the electors of Brandenburg, later kings of Prussia (Borussia), advanced their claim to the Luxembourg patrimony, being heirs-general to William of Thuringia and his wife Anna of Bohemia, the disputed dukes of Luxembourg of the 1460s – Anna was the eldest daughter of the last Luxembourg heiress. From 1609 onwards, they had a territorial base in the vicinity, the Duchy of Cleves, the starting-point of the future Prussian Rhineland. This Brandenburger claim ultimately produced some results when some districts of Luxembourg were united with Prussia in 1813.

The first Hohenzollern claimant to descend from both Anna and her younger sister Elisabeth, was John George, Elector of Brandenburg (1525-98), his maternal grandmother having been Barbara of Poland. In the late 18th century, the younger line of Orange-Nassau (the princes who held sway in the neighbouring Dutch oligarchy) also became related to the Brandenburgers.

In 1598, the then possessor, Philip II of Spain bequeathed Luxembourg and the other Low Countries to his daughter the Infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia and her husband Albert VII, Archduke of Austria, Albert being an heir and descendant of Elisabeth of Austria (d. 1505), queen of Poland, the youngest granddaughter of Sigismund of Luxembourg, the Holy Roman Emperor. Thus, Luxembourg returned to the heirs of the old Luxembourg dynasty – at least those of the line of Elisabeth. The Low Countries were a separate political entity during the couple’s reign. After Albert’s childless death in 1621, Luxembourg passed to his great-nephew and heir Philip IV of Spain, who through his paternal grandmother Anna of Austria, Queen of Spain, Albert’s sister, was the primogenitural heir to the aforementioned Queen Elisabeth of Poland.

Luxembourg was invaded by Louis XIV of France (husband of Maria Theresa, daughter of Philip IV) in 1684, an action that caused alarm among France’s neighbours and resulted in the formation of the League of Augsburg in 1686. In the ensuing war France was forced to give up the duchy, which was returned to the Habsburgs by the Treaty of Ryswick in 1697. During this period of French rule the defences of the fortress were strengthened by the famous siege engineer Vauban. The French king’s great-grandson Louis (1710-74) was, from 1712, the first heir-general of Albert VII who additionally was a descendant of Anna of Bohemia and William of Thuringia, having that blood through his mother’s Danish great-great-grandmother (he however was not the heir-general of that line, he was just heir-general of the other). Louis was the first real claimant of Luxembourg to descend from both sisters, the daughters of Elisabeth II of Bohemia, the last Luxembourg empress.

Habsburg rule was confirmed in 1715, and Luxembourg was integrated into the Austrian Netherlands. Emperor Joseph and his successor Emperor Charles VI were, in addition to their descent from Spanish kings who were heirs of Albert VII, also descendants of Anna of Bohemia and William of Thuringia, having that blood through their mother (although they were heirs-general of neither line). Charles was the first ruler of Luxembourg to descend from both sisters, daughters of Elisabeth II of Bohemia, the last Luxembourg empress.

Austrian rulers were more or less ready to exchange Luxembourg and other territories in the Low Countries. Their purpose was to round out and enlarge their power base, which in geographical terms was centred around Vienna. Thus, Bavarian candidate(s) emerged to take over the Duchy of Luxembourg, but this plan led to nothing permanent. Emperor Joseph II however made a preliminary pact to make a neighbour of Luxembourg, Charles Theodore, Elector Palatine, as Duke of Luxembourg and king in the Low Countries, in exchange of his possessions in Bavaria and Franconia. However, this scheme was aborted. Charles Theodore, who would thus have become Duke Of Luxembourg, was genealogically a junior descendant of both Anna and Elisabeth, but main heir of neither.

During the War of the First Coalition, Luxemburg was conquered and annexed by Revolutionary France, becoming part of the département of the Forêts in 1795. The annexation was formalised at Campo Formio in 1797. In 1798 Luxembourgish peasants rebelled against the French but the Rebellion was rapidly oppressed.This short Rebellion is called the Peasant’s War.

19th Century

Luxembourg remained more or less under French rule until the defeat of Napoleon in 1815, when the Congress of Vienna gave formal autonomy to Luxembourg. The Prussians had already in 1813 managed to wrest lands from Luxembourg, to strengthen the Prussian-possessed Duchy of Julich. The Bourbons of France held a strong claim to Luxembourg, the Emperor of Austria on the other hand had controlled the duchy until the revolutionary forces had joined it to the French republic (he reportedly was not enthusiastic about regaining Luxembourg and the Low Countries, being more interested in the Balkans). The King of Prussia held the claim of the senior heiress, Anna. An additional claimant emerged, William VI, Prince of Orange who now ruled the Netherlands, and whose mother and wife were descendants of the Prussian royal family and thus also descendants of both daughters of the last Luxembourg heiress. Prussia and Orange-Nassau made the following exchange deal: Prussia received the ancestral lands of Nassau in Central Germany (Dillenburg, Dietz, Siegen, Hadamar, Beilstein); the Prince of Orange in turn received Luxembourg.

Luxembourg, somewhat diminished in size (as the medieval lands had been slightly reduced by the French and Prussian heirs), was augmented in another way through the elevation to the status of grand duchy and placed under the rule of William I of the Netherlands. This was the first time that the duchy had a monarch who had no claim to inheritance of the medieval patrimony (as lineages through his mother and wife had a better entitled claimant, the Prussian king himself). However, Luxembourg’s military value to Prussia prevented it from becoming a part of the Dutch kingdom. The fortress, ancestral seat of the medieval Luxembourgers, was taken over by Prussian forces, following Napoleon’s defeat, and Luxembourg became a member of the German Confederation with Prussia responsible for its defence.

Much of the Luxembourgish population joined the Belgian revolution against Dutch rule. Except for the fortress and its immediate vicinity Luxembourg was considered a province of the new Belgian state from 1830 to 1839. By the Treaty of London in 1839 the status of the grand duchy was confirmed as sovereign and in personal union to the king of the Netherlands. In turn, the predominantly French speaking part of the duchy was ceded to Belgium as the province de Luxembourg. This loss left the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg a predominantly German state, although French cultural influence remained strong. The loss of Belgian markets also caused painful economic problems for the state. Recognising this, the Grand Duke integrated it into the German Zollverein in 1842. Nevertheless, Luxembourg remained an underdeveloped agrarian country for most of the century. As a result of this about one in five of the inhabitants emigrated to the United States between 1841 and 1891.

It was not until 1867 that Luxembourg’s independence was formally ratified, after a turbulent period which even included a brief time of civil unrest against plans to annex Luxembourg to Belgium, Germany or France. The crisis of 1867 almost resulted in war between France and Prussia over the status of Luxembourg. The issue was resolved by the second Treaty of London which guaranteed the perpetual independence and neutrality of the state. The fortress walls were pulled down and the Prussian garrison was withdrawn.
Famous visitors to Luxembourg in the 18th and 19th centuries included the German poet Goethe, the French writers Emile Zola and Victor Hugo, the composer Franz Liszt, and the English painter Joseph Mallord William Turner.

Luxembourg remained a possession of the kings of the Netherlands until the death of William III in 1890, when the grand duchy passed to the House of Nassau-Weilburg due to a Nassau inheritance pact of 1783.

Early 20th Century

World War I affected Luxembourg at a time when the nation-building process was far from complete. The small grand duchy (about 260,000 inhabitants in 1914) opted for an ambiguous policy between 1914 and 1918. With the country occupied by Germans troops, the government, led by Paul Eyschen, chose to remain neutral. This strategy had been elaborated with the approval of Marie-Adélaïde, Grand Duchess of Luxembourg. Although continuity prevailed on the political level, the war caused social upheaval, which laid the foundation for the first trades union in Luxembourg.

The end of the occupation in November 1918 squared with a time of uncertainty on the international as well as the national level. The victorious Allies disapproved of the choices made by the local élites, and some Belgian politicians even demanded the integration of the country into a greater Belgium. Within Luxembourg a strong minority asked for the instauration of a republic. In the end, the grand duchy remained a monarchy but was led by a new head of state, Charlotte. In 1921 it entered into an economic and monetary union with Belgium, the Union Économique Belgo-Luxembourgeoise (UEBL). During most of the 20th century, however, Germany remained its most important economic partner.

The introduction of universal suffrage for men and women favoured the Rechtspartei (party of the Right), which played the dominant role in the government throughout the 20th century (with the exception of 1925-26 and 1974-79), when the two other important parties, the Liberal and the Social-Democratic, formed a coalition. The success of the resulting party was due partly to the support of the church – the population was more than 90% Catholic – and of its newspaper, the Luxemburger Wort. On the international level, the interwar period was characterised by an attempt to put Luxembourg on the map. Especially under Joseph Bech, head of the Department of Foreign Affairs, the country participated more actively in several international organisations, in order to ensure its autonomy. On the economic level, the 1920s and the 1930s saw the decline of the agricultural sector in favour of industry, but above all of the service sector. The proportion of the active population in this last sector rose from 18% in 1907 to 31% in 1935.

In the 1930s the internal situation deteriorated, as Luxembourgish politics were influenced by European left- and right-wing politics. The government tried to counter Communist-led unrest in the industrial areas and continued friendly policies towards Nazi Germany, which led to much criticism. The attempts to quell unrest peaked with the Maulkuerfgesetz, the “muzzle” Law, which was an attempt to outlaw the Communist Party. The law was turned down in a 1937 referendum.

World War II

During World War II the Luxembourgish government and monarchy was swept away into exile by the German invasion of 10 May 1940, although German troops actually occupied Luxembourg City during the night of 9 May. Throughout the war, Grand Duchess Charlotte broadcast via on BBC to Luxembourg to give hope to the people. The state was placed under military occupation until August 1942, when it was formally annexed by the Third Reich as part of the Gau Moselland. Luxembourgers were declared to be German citizens and 13,000 were called up for military service. 2,848 Luxembourgers eventually died fighting in the German army.

Luxembourgish opposition to this annexation took the form of passive resistance at first, as in the Spéngelskrich (lit. “War of the Pins”), and by the refusal to speak German. As French was forbidden, many Luxembourgers resorted to resuscitating old Luxembourgish words, which led to a renaissance of the language. Other measures included deportation, forced labour, forced conscription and, more drastically, internment, deportation to concentration camps and execution. The latter measure was applied after a so called general strike from 1 September to 3 September 1942, which paralysed the administration, agriculture, industry and education as response to the declaration of forced conscription by the German administration on 30 August 1942. It was violently suppressed: 21 strikers were executed and hundreds more deported to concentration camps. The then civilian administrator of Luxembourg, Gauleiter Gustav Simon had declared conscription necessary to support the German war effort. It was to remain one of only two mass strikes against the German war machinery in Western Europe.

US forces again liberated most of the country in September 1944, although they were briefly forced to withdraw during the Ardennes Offensive (Battle of the Bulge) which had German troops take back most of northern Luxembourg for a few weeks. The Germans were finally expelled in January 1945. Altogether, of a pre-war population of 293,000, 5,259 Luxembourgers lost their lives during the hostilities.

Post World War II to Present

After World War II Luxembourg abandoned its politics of neutrality when it became a founding member of NATO (1949) and the United Nations. It is a signatory of the Treaty of Rome and constituted a monetary union with Belgium (Benelux Customs Union in 1948), and an economic union with Belgium and The Netherlands, the so-called BeNeLux.

Between 1945 and 2005, the economic structure of Luxembourg changed significantly. The crisis of the metallurgy sector, which began in the mid-1970s and lasted till the late 1980s, nearly pushed the country into economic recession, given the monolithic dominance of that sector. The Tripartite Coordination Committee, consisting of members of the government, management representatives, and trade union leaders, succeeded in preventing major social unrest during those years, thus creating the myth of a “Luxembourg model” characterised by social peace. Although in the early years of the 21st century Luxembourg enjoyed one of the highest GNP per capita in the world, this was mainly due to the strength of its financial standing, which gained importance at the end of the 1960s. 35 years later, one-third of the tax proceeds originated from that sector. The harmonisation of the tax system across Europe could, however, seriously undermine the financial situation of the grand duchy.

Luxembourg has been one of the strongest advocates of the European Union in the tradition of Robert Schuman. In 1957, Luxembourg became one of the six founding countries of the European Economic Community (later the European Union) and in 1999 it joined the euro currency area.

Encouraged by the contacts established with the Dutch and Belgian governments in exile, Luxembourg pursued a policy of presence in international organisations. It was one of the six founding members of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) in 1952 and of the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1957. In the context of the Cold War, Luxembourg clearly opted for the West by joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1949, thus renouncing its traditional neutrality, which had determined its international policy since the founding of the state. Engagement in European construction was rarely questioned subsequently, either by politicians or by the greater population.

Despite its small proportions, Luxembourg often played an intermediary role between larger countries. This role of mediator, especially between the two large and often bellicose nations of Germany and France, was considered one of the main characteristics of national identity, allowing the Luxembourger not to have to choose between one of these two neighbors. The country also hosted a large number of European institutions such as the European Court of Justice.

Luxembourg’s small size no longer seemed to be a challenge to the existence of the country, and the creation of the Banque Centrale du Luxembourg (1998) and of the University of Luxembourg (2003) was evidence of the continuing desire to become a ”real” nation. The decision in 1985 to declare Lëtzebuergesch (Luxembourgian) the national language was also a step in the affirmation of the country’s independence. In fact, the linguistic situation in Luxembourg was characterized by trilinguilism: Lëtzebuergesch was the spoken vehicular language, German the written language, in which Luxembourgers were most fluent, and French the language of official letters and law.

In 1985, the country became victim to a mysterious bombing spree, which was targeted mostly at electrical masts and other installations.

In 1995 Luxembourg provided the President of the European Commission, former Prime Minister Jacques Santer who later had to resign over corruption accusations against other commission members.

The current Prime Minister, Jean-Claude Juncker follows this European tradition. On 10 September 2004, Mr Juncker became the semi-permanent President of the group of finance ministers from the 12 countries that share the euro, a role dubbed “Mr Euro”.

The present sovereign is Grand Duke Henri. Henri’s father, Jean, succeeded his mother, Charlotte, on 12 November 1964. Jean’s eldest son, Prince Henri, was appointed Lieutenant Représentant (Hereditary Grand Duke) on 4 March 1998. On 24 December 1999, Prime Minister Juncker announced Grand Duke Jean’s decision to abdicate the throne on 7 October 2000, in favour of Prince Henri who assumed the title and constitutional duties of Grand Duke.

On 10 July 2005, after threats of resignation by Prime Minister Juncker, the proposed European Constitution was approved by 56.52% of voters.

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