Joan of Arc was the teenage French heroine who the English burnt at the stake in Rouen in 1431. A lesser known fact: it was a member of the House of Luxembourg, John II, who sold Joan to the English for 10,000 pounds. / © The capture of Jean d’Arc by Adolphe Dillens | © WikiCommons
This week's article by British Ambassador to Luxembourg John Marshall explores history's oldest connections between Luxembourg and the UK.
The oldest #LuxUKLink I have found dates back to Roman times. In 2005 a Roman cavalry memorial stone was unearthed near a Roman road leading into Lancaster. The stone bears the inscription “Insus, son of Vodellus, member of the Treveri tribe.” The stone is believed to date to between 75 and 125 AD and is now in the Lancaster Museum. The Treveri tribe inhabited an area in the lower Moselle Valley which included present day Luxembourg. While Trier was the capital of the Treveri region during the Roman Empire there is strong evidence that the tribe’s capital had previously been at Titelberg in Luxembourg. You can visit the remains of Titelberg on a circular walk from Lamadeleine, near Pétange (and visit the three RAF graves at Lamadeleine cemetery while you are in the neighbourhood).
The Roman cavalry stone was unearthed near Lancaster.
I haven’t been able to identify any #LuxUKLinks for the following 800 years or so but the end of the 7th Century brings us one of the most famous. The story of Willibrord, the Benedictine monk who established the Abbey of Echternach in 698AD is well-known to both Luxembourgers and foreign residents, not least because of the UNESCO-listed Dancing Procession that celebrates his life. Many people think St. Willibrord was Irish. But he was born in Northumbria, in the north-east of England. He was educated in Ireland however, which explains the mistake.
The Benedictine monk Willibrord established the Abbey of Echternach in 698AD.
A rather more delicate link is that King John of Bohemia, Count of Luxembourg, commonly known as John the Blind, died fighting English led forces at the Battle of Crecy in 1346. There is a popular myth that the heraldic badge of the Prince of Wales, first used by the Black Prince, son of Edward III, derives from John the Blind. The badge features three ostrich feathers inside a crown above the motto “ich dien”.
The story has it that John the Blind also used this motto and that the Black Prince took the feathers from his dead body on the battlefield. But others have disproved the theory and the feathers are now thought to have been a gift to the Black Prince from his mother. Nevertheless the myth endures and has been recounted to me on many occasions.
At risk of being thought to have it in for one of Luxembourg’s heroic sons I note that John the Blind was also well-known in England as a counterfeiter of English sterling coins. So well known in fact that such counterfeit coins were widely known in England as “lusshebournes” or “lushburgs”. Their import into England was made punishable by death in 1352.
John the Blind’s grandson Sigismund of Luxembourg (1368-1437) was a major figure of the Middle Ages, becoming King of Hungary, Germany, Bohemia and Italy during the course of his life. He was also Holy Roman Emperor from 1433 to 1437. A ceremonial sword belonging to Sigismund has belonged to the City of York since 1439.The sword is carried upright in front of the Lord Mayor of York on ceremonial occasions. The rest of the time it is on display at York Mansion House.
How did it end up in York? Well, in 1416 King Henry V, who was building an alliance against France, made Sigismund a Knight of the Garter of the Knights of St. George. In keeping with tradition Sigismund sent one of his swords to hang in St. George’s chapel in Windsor. It is thought that following Sigismund’s death in 1437 the sword was given by Henry Hannslapp, the dean of Windsor, to the City of York.
British and, I assume, French children grow up learning the story of Joan of Arc, the teenage French heroine who the English burnt at the stake in Rouen in 1431 having found her guilty of heresy. Less well-known perhaps is that it was a member of the House of Luxembourg, John II, who sold Joan to the English for 10,000 pounds. Joan had been captured in the siege of Compiegne the year before by a nobleman serving under John II, who was an ally of Philip III, Duke of Burgundy, himself an ally of the English in their war against French King Charles VII.
Joan of Arc.
Finally from the 15th century, there was Jacquetta of Luxembourg, who I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, whose daughter Elizabeth Woodville married Edward IVth. Jacquetta of Luxembourg was therefore the grandmother of the Princes in the Tower, assumed to have been murdered by their uncle Richard III, and the great-grandmother of Henry VIII.