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The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg

One of the smallest countries in the world, Luxembourg is also the world's only grand duchy. Less than half a million people live in this tiny, prosperous nation, which is landlocked and bordered by Belgium, France, and Germany. The national language is Luxembourgian (a German dialect), but French and German are also officially used.

Grand Duke
Grand Duke Henri of
Photo Source: Service
photographique du
Premier ministre

Luxembourg is a constitutional monarchy; the grand duke is the head of state, but he swears to observe the country's laws and has little political power.

In the early Middle Ages, Luxembourg belonged to the Frankish kingdoms of Austrasia and Lotharingia, and became part of the Holy Roman Empire. In 963, Count Siegfried of Ardennes acquired the remains of an old Roman fortress in the area called Lucilinburhuc ("small castle") from which Luxembourg takes its name. A hundred years later, Siegfried's descendant Conrad became the first count of Luxembourg.

One of Luxembourg's greatest rulers, Countess Ermesinde (or Ermesinda), reigned for over 50 years, from 1196 to 1247. Luxembourg had fallen into chaos during the rule of her father, Henry IV, but Ermesinde regained lost territories and reorganizing the government. Her great-grandson Henry VII became both king of Germany and Holy Roman Emperor. The later emperors Charles IV, Wenceslas, and Sigismund were also from the House of Luxembourg. Little wonder, then, that in the 14th century Luxembourg was elevated from a county (earldom) to a duchy.

Around 1443, the ruling duchess, Elizabeth of Görlitz, sold Luxembourg to Duke Philip III of Burgundy. Philip's granddaughter Mary of Burgundy eventually inherited Luxembourg along with the other Low Countries (or Benelux countries), Belgium and the Netherlands. Mary's marriage to future Holy Roman emperor Maximilian I put the Low Countries under the control of the Habsburg dynasty. As the Spanish Netherlands, Luxembourg and Belgium remained in Habsburg hands until the 17th century, when the territory was briefly conquered by France. It soon returned to the control of the Spanish Habsburgs; then, in 1713, it was given to the Austrian Habsburgs and became the Austrian Netherlands.

France conquered the Austrian Netherlands in 1795, and for the next 20 years Luxembourg was France's "Department of Forests." In 1815, after the overthrow of Napoleon I, the Congress of Vienna granted Luxembourg independence as a grand duchy and gave it to King William I of the Netherlands. After a rebellion against King William in the 1830s, part of the duchy became a province of Belgium.

William I's grandson, Grand Duke William III, came close to selling what was left of Luxembourg to Napoleon III, but changed his mind.

The House of Nassau

William III died in 1890 and his daughter Wilhelmina became queen of the Netherlands. Luxembourg, however, was under Salic law, which forbids female succession, so a German duke, Adolf of Nassau, became Luxembourg's new grand duke.

But Adolf's son and successor, William IV, had only daughters, so Salic Law was finally scrapped, and after William IV's death in 1912 his daughter Marie-Adélaïde inherited the throne.

During the First World War, Germany occupied Luxembourg, and many people believed Grand Duchess Marie-Adélaïde was too friendly toward the invaders. In 1919 she was forced to abdicate in favor of her sister Charlotte.

Germany invaded Luxembourg again in 1940, but Grand Duchess Charlotte did not repeat her sister's mistake. Instead of staying in Luxembourg, she fled with her family and the government. A government-in-exile was established in London. Charlotte eventually settled in Canada, where she stayed until the end of the Second World War. The grand duchess returned to Luxembourg in 1945 and was warmly welcomed by her people.

In 1964 Charlotte abdicated in favor of her eldest son, Jean. She spent the rest of her life in retirement, dying in 1985 at the age of 89. Jean and his wife, Princess Joséphine Charlotte of Belgium, had five children: Marie-Astrid, Henri, Jean, Margaretha, and Guillaume. Grand Duke Jean reigned until September 2000, when he abdicated in favor of his eldest son, Henri, who still reigns today. Jean died in 2019. Josephine-Charlotte died in 2005.

Grand Duke Henri and his wife, Maria Teresa, also have five children: Guillaume, born in 1981; Félix, born in 1984; Louis, born in 1986; Alexandra, born in 1991; and Sebastien, born in 1992. Prince Guillaume, the heir to the throne, married Stéphanie de Lannoy in 2012.

Books About Luxembourg

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Book categories: History, Travel, Belgium, France, Germany, The Netherlands, Franks, Carolingians, Holy Roman Empire, Habsburgs, Europe

History of Luxembourg

Essays on Politics, Language and Society in Luxembourg edited by Gerald Newton. A collection of essays on life in Luxembourg since the 19th century. The volume is multilingual, in order to make it accessible to readers unfamiliar with French and German. A summary of the articles appearing in these languages is given at the end of the book.

A History of the Low Countries by Paul Arblaster. The history of the Benelux area (Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg) from Roman frontier provinces to the year 2011.

Historical Dictionary of Luxembourg by Harry C. Barteau. Over 350 entries on prominent people, places, events, and institutions in Luxembourg history. Includes a chronology, maps, and a list of rulers.

Books About Charles IV of Luxemburg

Luxembourg Travel Guides

Lonely Planet Belgium & Luxembourg by Leeann Logan and Geert Cole. Includes historical information and detailed maps.

Frommer's Belgium, Holland & Luxembourg by George McDonald. Reveals the best attractions, local experiences, and restaurants.


These documentaries are formatted for North American audiences.

Globe Trekker: Belgium and Luxembourg. A look at two European countries small in stature but large in attractions.

Low Countries: Holland, Belgium & Luxembourg. A 1997 travel documentary hosted by Rick Steves. (On video only.)

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