The history of Luxembourg begins with it's founded in the year 963, when Sigefroid, Count of Ardennes, acquired the ruins of an old Roman fort called "Castellum Lucilinburhuc"1 from the monks of the Abbey of St. Maximin in Trier.
The Castellum Lucilinburhuc, located on a rocky outcrop known as the Bock, was steadily enlarged and strengthened over the years, making it by the nineteenth century one of the strongest fortresses in Europe. Its formidable defences and strategic location caused it to become known as the 'Gibraltar of the North'.
Luxembourg remained an independent earldom of the Holy Roman Empire until 1354, when the emperor Charles IV elevated it to the status of duchy. In 1437 the ruling family became extinct and the castle passed briefly into Hapsburg hands, before being captured by Philip of Burgundy in 1443. With the death of Mary of Burgundy in 1482 Luxembourg returned to Hapsburg rule.
Luxembourg was annexed by Louis XIV of France in 1684, an action that caused alarm among France's neighbours and resulted in the formation of the League of Augsburg in 1686. In the ensuing war France was forced to give up the duchy, which was returned to the Hapsburgs by the Treaty of Ryswick in 1697. During this period of French rule the defences of the fortress were strengthened by the famous siege engineer Vauban. Hapsburg rule was confirmed in 1715, and Luxembourg was integrated into the Austrian Netherlands. After the French revolution Luxembourg was reconquered by France and became a département of the Republic2 in 1795, a situation formalized in 1797.
It remained under French rule until the defeat of Napoleon in 1815, when it was elevated to the status of grand duchy and placed under the rule of the king of the Netherlands. However, its military value to Germany prevented it from becoming a part of the Dutch kingdom. Instead it was made a member of the German Confederation with Prussia responsible for defence. Luxembourg remained a possession of the kings of the Netherlands until the death of William III in 1890, when the grand duchy passed to the House of Nassau-Weilburg due to Salic Law.
The rebellion of Belgium against Dutch rule in 1830 had serious consequences for Luxembourg. The country declared independence in 1835, and this was recognized by the grand duke three years later. By the Treaty of London in 1839 the grand duchy was cut in two, losing more than half of its territory to the new Belgian state. The loss of its French-speaking lands left Luxembourg as a predominantly German nation, although French cultural influence remained strong. The loss of Belgian markets also caused painful economic problems for the state. Recognizing this, the grand duke integrated it into the German Zollverein in 1842. Nevertheless, Luxembourg remained an underdeveloped agrarian country for most of the century. As a result of this about one in five of the inhabitants emigrated to the United States between 1841 and 1891.
The crisis of 1867 almost resulted in war between France and Germany over the status of Luxembourg. The issue was resolved by the second Treaty of London which guaranteed the perpetual independence and neutrality of the state. The fortress walls were pulled down and the Prussian garrison was withdrawn.
Luxembourg was conquered by Germany during World War I and remained under occupation until 1918, when it was liberated by U.S. and French troops. Two American divisions were based in the state in the years following the War. At Versailles the Belgian claim to Luxembourg was rejected and its independence reaffirmed.
The Germans returned during World War II. In 1940 the Wehrmacht attacked Luxembourg and quickly defeated its small defence force. The state was placed under military occupation until August 1942, when it was formally incorporated into the Third Reich: Luxembourgers were declared to be German citizens and 13,000 were called up for military service.
This action provoked a general strike against the occupying authorities which was violently suppressed: 21 strikers were executed and hundreds more deported to concentration camps. 2,848 Luxembourgers eventually died fighting in the German army. U.S. forces again liberated Luxembourg in September 1944, although they were briefly forced to withdraw during the Battle of the Bulge. The Germans were finally expelled in January 1945. Altogether, of a pre-war population of 293,000, 5,259 Luxembourgers lost their lives during the hostilities.
Luxembourg ended its neutrality in 1945 by becoming a charter member of the United Nations. It also became a member of the Benelux Customs Union in 1948 and of NATO in 1949. In 1957, Luxembourg became one of the six founding countries of the European Economic Community (later the European Union) and in 1999 it joined the euro currency area.
The present sovereign, is Grand Duke Henri. Henri's father, Grand Duke Jean, succeeded his mother, Grand Duchess Charlotte, on November 12, 1964. Grand Duke Jean's eldest son, Prince Henri, was appointed "Lieutenant Représentant" (Hereditary Grand Duke) on March 4, 1998.
On December 24, 1999, Prime Minister Juncker announced Grand Duke Jean's decision to abdicate the throne in October 7, 2000, in favor of Prince Henri who assumed the title and constitutional duties of Grand Duke.
1 "Little Castle"
2 Département des Forêts, in reference to the Ardennes.