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History

The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg is a nation state that was established in its present form as a result of the Congress of Vienna (1815) and the Belgian Revolution of 1830.

The Beginnings

The name Luxembourg – or Lucilinburhuc, meaning “small castle” in Old High German – first appeared around 963 in a deed of barter that gave the small fort around which the town later developed to Count Siegfried. From here, the members of the House of Luxembourg expanded their territory. Due to significant expansion, as well as changing power relations under the medieval feudal system, the historic territory under the House of Luxembourg cannot be compared to today’s nation state.

The House of Luxembourg

Within the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, the Luxembourg dynasty – partly through the acquisition of Bohemia – became the dominant power during the 14th and 15th centuries, when it produced several kings and emperors. In 1437, the death of Emperor Sigismund marked the end of the Luxembourg dynasty. Soon thereafter, Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, conquered Luxembourg and incorporated the duchy into his domain.

Changes in Sovereignty

During the ensuing centuries, sovereignty over Luxembourg changed several times. After falling into the hands of the Hapsburgs in 1477, it passed to the Spanish line of the Hapsburgs upon Charles V’s abdication. In 1684, Luxembourg was conquered by Louis XIV, whose military engineer Vauban expanded the city of Luxembourg’s fortifications. However, this period of French rule did not last long, in 1714 the Spanish Netherlands were ceded to Charles VI of Austria following the War of the Spanish Succession. The reign of Charles VI, as well as that of Maria Theresa and Joseph II, brought several reforms: for example, equality of taxation and introduction of the so-called Theresian Cadastre. In 1795, French revolutionary troops ended Austria’s rule over Luxembourg and annexed the duchy to France.

The Congress of Vienna and Independence

The restructuring of Europe at the 1815 Congress of Vienna once again freed Luxembourg from French rule. The newly formed Grand Duchy of Luxembourg was awarded to William I, King of the Netherlands, in the form of a personal union, although Luxembourg was now also a part of the German Confederation. The Belgian Revolution of 1830 and subsequent Treaty of London (1839) led to the partitioning of a section of Luxembourg territory between Belgium and the Dutch king, which resulted in the Grand Duchy’s present-day geographical borders. William II of the Netherlands subsequently granted Luxembourg a constitution of its own, and in 1867 the country was declared perpetually neutral and disarmed by the Second Treaty of London.

End of the Personal Union with the Netherlands and the Period of the Two World Wars

In 1890, upon the death of Dutch King William III, the House of Orange-Nassau was left without a male heir and the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg passed to Adolph of Nassau Weilburg. This ended the personal union between the Netherlands and Luxembourg, and Luxembourg now had its own dynasty. At the beginning of World War I, the German Army invaded the Grand Duchy in violation of its neutrality and held it occupied until the end of the war. In 1919, Luxemburg fell into a constitutional crisis. Grand Duchess Marie-Adélaïde abdicated to her sister Charlotte, who was later confirmed by a narrow majority in a referendum on retaining the monarchy. In 1940, Grand Duchess Charlotte and the government fled into exile in London after Germany again occupied Luxembourg. Whereas the southern part of the country was liberated in September 1944, the rest of Luxembourg suffered greatly under the German Ardennes Offensive that winter.

The Path into the 21st Century

After World War II, Luxembourg abandoned strict neutrality and the country has since pursued active international engagement. For example, Luxembourg is a founding member of the United Nations, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the Council of Europe, and the European Coal and Steel Community. This opening to the outside world coincides with the Grand Duchy’s economic development since the1970s, which has seen it become one of the world’s leading financial centers as a result of corresponding legislation. In addition, the large number of immigrants in recent years has led to steady population growth and a multicultural society.

Additional information on the history of Luxembourg can be found in the following brochure.

National Archive: www.anlux.lu

National Library: www.bnl.public.lu

Friends of the History of the Fortress Luxembourg: www.ffgl.lu