King Louis XIV of France (1643-1715). / © Public domain
RTL Today contributor Thomas Tutton investigates the first major French occupation of Luxembourg under Louis XIV.
As we learnt last time, from the early 16th century the Duchy of Luxembourg became embroiled in a never-ending series of conflicts between the French and the Habsburg family.
By 1659, Luxembourg had suffered its first partition, and there would be plenty more suffering to come during the reign of King Louis XIV of France.
Young Louis XIV
The birth of Louis XIV in 1638 was considered a minor miracle.
His mother had had four stillborn children between 1619 and 1631, and Louis thus earned the nickname Dieudonné (God-given).
His childhood was not easy, however.
He became King at the age of 4 after the death of Louis XIII, and during his early years, the French nobility rose against his mother, the regent, in the Fronde civil war.
Louis became King in 1643 at the grand old age of 4. / © Public domain
Louis came of age in 1651, but largely left the administration of France to his adviser Cardinal Mazarin, who concluded the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659, under the terms of which Louis married Maria Theresa of Spain.
After the death of Cardinal Mazarin in 1661, Louis assumed the governance of France and quickly began to centralise power enormously, while also building a little palace for himself at Versailles.
Having come of age, it was now time for Louis to wage war on Europe, which would keep him pretty busy for the next 50 years of his reign.
Louis Takes Luxembourg
Louis’ first step was to improve his position in Flanders, attacking the Spanish Netherlands under the War of Devolution in 1667-68.
He then abandoned the traditional alliance with the Dutch against the Habsburgs, and attacked them during the Franco-Dutch War of 1672-78.
Under the 1678 Treaties of Nijmegen, France won control over further territories from the Spanish Netherlands, including Cambrai, Valenciennes and Maubeuge.
The specific borders were never well delineated, though, so Louis resorted to legal means to argue that great swathes of land now belonged to him – including Luxembourg.
The so-called War of the Reunions thus began in 1681 with the French entering Strasbourg, and by 1682 Louis had ordered his troops to begin besieging the fortress of Luxembourg.
The Siege of Luxembourg (1684). / © Public domain
With the Ottomans at the gates of Vienna, though, the siege was actually delayed for a while, as it was felt to be wrong for France to be attacking the Habsburgs.
But in December 1683, the conflict began again as Spain declared war on France, and French troops began to bombard Luxembourg.
The great French military engineer, the Marquis de Vauban, was in charge of the Siege of Luxembourg, which saw extremely heavy fighting throughout the months of April and May 1684, until the garrison finally capitulated in early June.
The French had lost some 8,000 men, but gained one of the most important fortresses in Europe, and the news of Luxembourg’s capture quickly spread around Europe.
Unwilling to carry on the fight, the Habsburgs and French concluded the Truce of Ratisbon in 1684, which allowed Louis to retain his gains in Strasbourg and Luxembourg in exchange for a twenty-year peace.
Luxembourg under Louis XIV
Luxembourg would remain under French occupation for the next 14 years.
The biggest impact of Louis XIV’s reign would be the military fortifications built by Vauban, which surrounded the city, including for the first time the lower levels of the city in the Alzette valley, such as the districts of Pfaffenthal, Grund and Clausen.
The heights from which it was so easy to bombard the city (in modern-day Kirchberg) were to be defended with forts as well.
The Marquis de Vauban fortified the fortress of Luxembourg. / © Public domain
This work suggests that the French were determined to make Luxembourg theirs permanently.
The Sun King, as Louis would come to be known, even visited the city in 1687, accompanied by the great French playwright Jean Racine.
In accordance with Louis’ centralising aims, the provincial estates that governed Luxembourg were swept away, and the Duchy seemed to be on its way to full incorporation in the Kingdom of France.
But then – you guessed it, more wars.
In 1688, the Nine Years’ War – otherwise known as the War of the League of Augsburg, or of the Grand Alliance – broke out between France and basically the whole of Europe (apart from some Scots).
Louis wanted to increase his realms, but over the course of the war he was beaten back by the Allied forces, and by 1697 all parties were desperate to end the bloody war, which had luckily largely passed Luxembourg by.
Under the Treaty of Ryswick of 1697, the Duchy of Luxembourg was returned to the Spanish Habsburgs – for all of three years, as in 1700 the terribly inbred Charles II of Spain finally died, leading to the War of the Spanish Succession.
Louis XIV on one of his many campaigns. / © Public domain
Luxembourg was immediately reoccupied by French forces in 1701, and the Duchy would be once again ravaged by war for the next ten years.
With the end of the war in 1714, Luxembourg and the Southern Netherlands would be granted to the Austrian Habsburgs, who, as we shall see next time, would prove far more competent than their Spanish cousins.
As to the Sun King, Louis finally died after 72 years on the throne in 1715, ushering in Luxembourg's first extended period of peace for centuries.