Nowadays (the odd scandal aside) the Grand Ducal family in Luxembourg is broadly popular - but it wasn’t always so.

In 1919, after the tumultuous events following the end of the First World War, the question of whether Luxembourg would remain a Grand Duchy was put directly to the voters, in a decision that would have massive ramifications on the country’s future.


As we have covered in the last couple of articles, Luxembourg faced an uphill battle in striving to survive the end of the war intact, coming under threat from Belgian and French acquisitionists on the outside and from socialists at home who provoked the mutiny of January 1919, leading to the replacement of Grand Duchess Marie-Adelaide with her sister Charlotte.

Over the course of lengthy negotiations with both the French and the Belgians under the umbrella of the impending Treaty of Versailles, the Luxembourgish Prime Minister Emile Reuter was able to maintain the country’s independence by promising to hold a referendum on the country’s political future.

On the ballot

After several delays, the vote was eventually scheduled for 28 September 1919.

The main question on the ballot would concern Luxembourg’s political future. Voters were given four options:

  1. Maintain the Grand Duchy under the new Grand Duchess Charlotte;
  2. Maintain the Grand Duchy under a different monarch from the same Nassau dynasty;
  3. Maintain the Grand Duchy under a different dynasty;
  4. Create a republic


The ballot given to voters on 28 September 1919. / ©

Meanwhile, the electorate that would make this vital choice had undergone a complete transformation: in May 1919, the Chamber of Deputies granted universal suffrage to all Luxembourgers aged 21 and above – including women.

This lifted the total number of voters eligible to participate in the referendum from around the 34,000 who had voted in 1913 to more than 125,000.

Unsurprisingly, there was a hard-fought campaign on both sides of this crucial referendum.

Although socialists openly favoured a republic, the conservative elements of Luxembourgish society had been rattled by the instability of the previous years – and no doubt the example of socialist revolution coming from the Bolsheviks – and campaigned hard for Charlotte.

The results

The results of the 1919 referendum were abundantly clear.

Of the 85,871 valid ballots cast in a turnout of 72%, 66,811 (77.8%) votes were in favour of keeping Charlotte as Grand Duchess of Luxembourg, with just 16,885 (19,66%) voting for a republic.

The tallies for the other two options were negligible – 1,286 (1.5%) wanted another monarch from the reigning Nassau family, while 889 (1.04%) opted for a change of dynasty.

Grand Duchess Charlotte’s reign was thus secured – and she would remain the ceremonial head of the Luxembourgish state until 1964, when she abdicated in favour of her son Jean.


The other ballot

The political question was not the only referendum held on 28 September 1919, however.

A second unresolved issue revolved around the future of Luxembourg’s economy.

After leaving the German Zollverein in 1918, the Grand Duchy was left in need of a new economic partner, and the voters were thus given two options: to form an economic union with France, or with Belgium.

The economic question, too, delivered a resounding result: 73% voted in favour of France to 27% for Belgium.

This result would prove harder to implement, however. And as we’ll see another time, Luxembourg would indeed end up joining an economic union – with the Belgians.