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The Grand Duke of Luxembourg is the ruler of the geo-political entity known as Luxembourg, more formally as the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg or in the Letzeburgish, as the Grousherzogdem Lezebuurg, in German as the Großherzogtum Luxemburg and in French as the Grand-Duché de Luxembourg.

Luxembourg has a previous history as an independent medieval county and duchy (see Duke of Luxemburg) which was in existence from the tenth to the fifteenth centuries before it was swallowed by the Duchy of Burgundy and thereafter shared a similar fate as the rest of the Burgundian Netherlands. It is the accepted practice to refer to the modern Grand Duchy as Luxembourg (i.e French) and the old medieval Duchy as Luxemburg (i.e. German).

The origins of the Grand Duchy

Along with much of the rest of Europe, Luxembourg was swallowed up in the Napoleonic Empire at the end of the eighteenth century and at the conclusion of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, the Congress of Vienna decided to create the Kingdom of the Netherlands (as a result of the British foreign policy objective of establishing a counterweight to future French expansionism) and to accord Luxembourg its own separate status as a Grand Duchy subject to the king of the Netherlands. This was partially to compensate the Dutch king William of Orange for the loss of his German territories (confiscated by Naploeon Bonaparte in 1806 and now given to Prussia) and partially because Great Britain regarded this as preferable to granting possession of Luxembourg to either France or Prussia.

Luxembourg was treated differently from the remainder of the Netherlands as Luxemburg/Luxembourg had always been regarded as being part of the Holy Roman Empire and indeed remained a member of the German Confederation from 1815 onwards.

The House of Orange

Therefore William of Orange became both king William I of the Netherlands and Grand Duke William I of Luxembourg, but despite William's best efforts, the Kingdom of the Netherlands proved to be an unsustainable political construct, and in 1830 the largely French speaking and Roman Catholic inhabitants of the southern provinces revolted and established their own kingdom of Belgium. Luxembourg largely supported the Belgian seccessionists but the German Confederation sent in an army to occupy the city of Luxembourg itself. Eventually the treaty of London of 1838 partitioned the old Luxembourg between the two states; the western half became the Belgian province of Luxembourg whilst the king of the Netherlands as grand duke retained the eastern half.

In 1866 the 'Luxembourg question' reared up again when the German Confederation was dissolved and Luxembourg was not included in the succeeding North German Confederation; William III of the Netherlands appeared happy to sell Luxembourg to the French, but the British were naturally opposed to any expansion in French influence. The issue was settled by another treaty of London in May 1867, when the European powers decided to recognise Luxembourg as a sovereign and independent state rather than an appenage of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and further guaranteed its neutrality.

House of Nassau

Therefore between the years 1815 and 1890 Luxemburg was ruled by three kings of the Netherlands in succession all of whom were named William. However the last of these William III had a problem in that his only heir was his daughter Wilhelmina. Whilst the Dutch were happy to change their law of succession to accommodate a queen, Luxembourg insisted on applying the so-called Salic Law. The obvious alternative in these circumstances was William's younger brother Henrik or Henry who was therefore appointed stadtholder of Luxembourg in 1850 in preparation for his succession as Grand Duke, but Henry died without sons in 1879. William therefore hunted around for another suitable male relative to succeed in Luxembourg and found one in Adolph of Nassau, the titular Duke of Nassau who had been deposed by Prussia in 1866 after supporting Austria in the Six Weeks War.

William therefore appointed Adolph as stadtholder in succession to his brother in 1879 and when William finally died in 1890, Adolph became the first Grand Duke of the House of Nassau. Through his second marriage to Adelaide von Anhalt-Dessau, Adolph had five children, the eldest of whom William Alexis became William IV after his death in 1905. William married Maria Annade Bragança, the Infanta of Portugal in 1893, and together the had six children; Marie Adelaïde (born 1894) Charlotte (1896), Hilda (1897), Antoinette (1899), Elizabeth (1901), and Sophie (1902) - daughters each and every one. Notwithstanding the decision that had previously been made Luxembourg now decided to forget all about the Salic Law and changed the laws of succession by a Family Statute of the 16th April 1907 in order to permit female succession.

Thus with the death of William Alexis in 1912 his eldest daughter Marie Adélaïde became Grand Duchess. Of course within a couple of years World War I began and Luxembourg found itself under military occupation by Germany. During the course of the German occupation Marie Adélaïde attracted the reputation of being too pro-German and her unopularity led her to abdicate in 1919. Since she had never married the title therefore passed to her sister Charlotte who thus became Grand Duchess on the 15th January 1919.

Charlotte had to first surmount the hurdle of a referendum held on the 28th September 1919 which rejected the option of becoming a republic, following which on the 6th November 1919, Charlotte married Félix of Bourbon-Parma and was busy producing a total of six children over the next decade. Together with her family Charlotte fled into exile during the years 1940 to 1945 when Luxembourg was once again subject to occupation by Germany, during which time the country was incorporated into the German Reich and ceased to exist as a separate entity.

House of Bourbon-Parma

After the defeat of Germany in 1945 Charlotte resumed her rule in Luxembourg but eventually abdicated in 1964 in favour of her eldest son John or Jean the first Grand Duke of the House of Bourbon-Parma.

Jean married Joséphine-Charlotte of Belgium and produced a family of five children, three boys and two girls. Having reached the age of seventy-nine Jean of Bourbon-Parma decided to abdicate in the year 2000 in favour of his eldest son Henri. Henri was married Maria Teresa Mestre y Batista, daughter of Jose Antonio Mestre and Maria Teresa Batista y Falla, in 1981 and has since produced a total of five children including four sons, the eldest of whom Guillaume Jean Joseph Marie de Bourbon is the heir apparent.


THE GRAND DUKES OF LUXEMBOURG

ORANGE

NASSAU

BOURBON-PARMA

  • John or Jean (1964-2000)
  • Henry or Henri (2000-to date)

SOURCES

  • Francia Media, Lorraine at http://www.friesian.com/lorraine.htm
  • Grand Duché De Luxembourg (The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg) http://www.nettyroyal.nl/luxemburg1.html
  • A genealogical survey of the peerage of Britain at www.thepeerage.com
  • Charles Arnold Baker The Companion to British History (Longcross Press, 1996)

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