The Making of a Grand Duchy

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Luxembourg is today’s only remaining grand duchy, headed since 2000 by Henri, Grand Duke of Luxembourg of the House of Nassau-Weilburg. He is married to Cuban-born Maria Teresa Mestre y Batista, now known as Maria Teresa, Grand Duchess of Luxembourg. The couple has five children:

  • Guillaume, Hereditary Grand Duke of Luxembourg, who married Countess Stéphanie de Lannoy in 2012
  • Prince Félix
  • Prince Louis
  • Princess Alexandra
  • Prince Sébastien

Have you ever wondered why Luxembourg is a Grand Duchy and where the Grand-Ducal family comes from?


The French and the Dutch

To answer this question, we have to go back, way back to the beginning of the 19th century, when French revolutionaries, followed by Napoleon, occupied Luxembourg between 1794 and 1813. When Napoleon was defeated in 1815, it was the aim of the Congress of Vienna to set new boundaries within Europe. To appease King William I of the Netherlands, who had lost territories to Prussia, and to createa buffer state between Prussia and France, Great Britain pressed to make Luxembourg a sovereign state under the possession of William I. In this way, King William I of the House of Orange-Nassau of the Netherlands, became the first Grand Duke of Luxembourg.

Luxembourg’s first Dutch King to rule as Grand Duke however, was not very popular as he ruled Luxembourg like a conquered territory and heavily taxed its people. In addition, a famine broke out and lasted all the way through the first half of the 19th century, making this a very difficult time for many Luxembourgers. They started to emigrate to a large extent to the US. In fact,60,000 to 70,000 of them are thought to have emigrated to the US in the 19th century. To put that number into perspective, that represents one third of the population of Luxembourg at the time.


Enter: the Belgians

In 1830, the people of Luxembourg supported a Belgian revolution against the rule of King William I, which eventually ended in the independence of Belgium. The political situation of the next decade or so is very complex: Belgium declared that Luxembourg belonged to Belgium, then a deal was made to divide Luxembourg between the Netherlands and Belgium. Even though this deal was refused by Luxembourg, the territory (with the exception of Luxembourg City) was still governed by Belgium until the Treaty of London in 1839, when Luxembourg, in return for being granted autonomy, lost all of its western territories including Arlon to Belgium and returned under the reign of King William I of the Netherlands until his abdication in 1840.


The Dutch again

After his father’s abdication, William II, took over as the second Dutch King to rule as Grand Duke of Luxembourg. In 1849, he, in turn, was succeeded by his son, William III under whom Luxembourg received a Constitution in 1867 and was thus fully independent. When William III died in 1890 without a male successor, the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg passed to Adolphe of the House of Nassau-Weilburg, the family still in power today. Adolphe was the 17th cousin once removed of King William III, which apparently is the greatest distance a crown has ever traveled.


Constitutional Monarchy

From here on in, the Netherlands and Luxembourg were reigned by two different monarchs. Adolphe, the first independent Grand Duke of Luxembourg, was in his seventies when he inherited the crown, and knew little of Luxembourgish politics. He thus left the governing of Luxembourgish affairs to Prime Minister Paul Eyschen, thereby setting the precedent for the tradition still followed today where the Grand Duke remains absent from the daily politics of Luxembourg. In this sense, Luxembourg is the embodiment of a constitutional monarchy: the Grand Duke is the Head of State, whose powers are limited by an elected Parliament.


What does the Grand Duke do?

So if Henri, today’s Grand Duke of Luxembourg, is not engaged in the legislative governing of the country, what does he do? 

His mission can probably best be described as a representative responsibility: his goal is to represent Luxembourg abroad, to promote its economy and commercial opportunities, and to act as an ambassador of various charitable causes in Luxembourg and abroad.


Glorious place to live

From the will to create a buffer state between Prussia and France to the slow acquisition of autonomy over repeated assaults and losses of territories, the creation of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg has been a turbulent but triumphant affair marked today by political stability ranked higher than that of the US or Canada and featured regularly as a glorious place to live.


This story also appeared on City Savvy Luxembourg.

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