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Short History of Luxembourg




The history of the Grand Duchy can be traced back to the year 963, when Count Siegfried of the Ardennes, founder of the House of Luxembourg, acquired the rocky outcrop of the “Bock”, an area situated at the very heart of the present day capital. The “castellum” called “Lucilinburhuc”, was located in the vicinity of the former Roman road from Reims to Trier. This territory was part of the western fringe of the Holy Roman Empire.


The Counts of Luxembourg succeeded in increasing their wealth rapidly through marriages, land purchase, ties of vassalage and war. They succeeded their rivals, despite suffering occasional setbacks, such as the Battle o Worringen (1288), where Count Henry VI and three of his brothers died.

In the late 13th century, Luxembourg occupied a vast area between the Meuse and the Moselle rivers and “Lucilinburhuc”, synonymous with “small fortress”, was envied for its powerful and strategic geographic position in the heart of Europe.

Following a period of regional development, the Counts of Luxembourg were in a strong position within the Roman Empire. In 1308, Count Henry VII was elected King of the Romans and a papal legate crowned him Emperor of the Holy Empire in Rome in 1312. Luxembourg became one of the most influential dynasties in Europe.

From the 15th to the 17th centuries, the Duchy belonged to the Habsburgs and in the early 18th century, the country was given to the Austrian branch of the Habsburgs. In 1684, the French troops of King Louis XIV besieged Luxembourg and the country remained under the French until 1697 before it was returned to the Habsburg. During these 13 years, Vauban redesigned the fortifications of Luxembourg to be become a reputed fortress known to be impregnable. In 1715, following the was of the Spanish Succession, the southern part of the Netherlands was included in the Austrian branch of the Habsburgs. The 18th century was a period of peace and prosperity but in 1795, French revolutionary troops besieged the fortress and Luxembourg was annexed to France. Following the Napoleonic wars, the fortress was liberated in 1814.


At the Vienna Congress in 1815, Luxembourg was given the status of a Grand Duchy and was formally declared independent but placed under the control of the Netherlands and assigned to King Wilhelm I of Orange-Nassau, who henceforth also bore the title of Grand Duke. But King Wilhelm I accepted that the Grand Duchy would become a member of the German Confederation which consolidated 39 German states. Luxembourg’s strength became a federal fortress maintained with German funds and home to a Prussian garrison.  

Following Belgium’s declaration of independence on 4 October 1830, the great powers created the Kingdom of Belgium while dividing the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg between the two adversaries (Treaty of the Twenty-Four articles on 14 October 1831) The Belgium parliament accepted, but King Wilhelm I refused during 8 years.  

The Treaty of London of 28 April 1939 imposed the division creating two Luxembourg’s:

The “Grand Duchy of Luxembourg”, remaining under the rule of the House of Orange-Nassau

and the “Belgian Luxembourg” which became a province of Belgium.

King Wilhem II declared “Luxembourg had to be governed by Luxembourgers” during his first visit in 1841. Gradually the structures of an independent State were to be put in place including the establishment of the first Constitution.   

In 1866, the Austro-Prussian War triggered the dissolution of the German Confederation and Emperor Napoleon III suggested a deal with the King-Grand-Duke Wilhelm III accepted the proposal but Prussia opposed as its garrison still occupied the fortress. This lead of a continental crisis and the “Question of Luxembourg” resulted in the Treaty of London on 11 May 1867. Prussia withdrew its garrison, the fortress was dismantled and the Grand Duchy was declared perpetually neutral under the guarantee of the signatory powers.

In 1890, after King Wilhelm III passed away, his daughter Queen Wilhelmina succeeded on the throne but in Luxembourg the Nassau family pact only considered male succession and as a result Duke Adolf of Nassau-Weilburg acceded the Luxembourg Throne becoming Sovereign and Grand-Duke of Luxembourg and founding the current reigning Dynasty.  



Between the mid 19th century and the late 20th century, the country’s fate was intrinsically linked to the Steel industry. During the 1840s, a vast deposit of iron ore stretching from the north of the Lorraine region, France, to the southern part of Luxembourg was discovered. The city of Esch-sur-Alzette in the south became the Grand Duchy’s industrial heart.

From the 1870s onwards, Luxembourg became part of the powerful “steel belt” formed by the border regions of the Saar, Lorraine and Luxembourg. In Luxembourg, the expansion in the region known as the Minett was such that as the First World War approached the area was, in proportion to its size, the world’s largest steel producer. Founded in 1911, “ARBED” (Aciéries Réunies de Burbach, Eich et Dudelange) already controlled 31% of the steel production in 1913. On the eve of the First World War, Luxembourg ranked among the world’s six largest producers.


The striking phenomenon that accompanied this industrial revolution was to be seen in the intense changes which took place amongst the country’s working population. The mines and the factories were not attracting Luxembourg’s rural population. Many Luxembourgers emigrated to France or the USA in ever increasing numbers during the second half of the 19th and the first half of the 20th century.

At the same time, the workforce needed for Luxembourg’s industrialization arrived in two periods of mass immigration; the first from Germany (1868-1939), and the second from Italy (1892-1970). Between 1908 and 1913, Italians and Germans made up almost 60% of the workforce in the steel and mining industries.


On 2 August 1914, German troops invaded the country violating Luxembourg’s neutrality. Despite the protests of Grand Duchess Marie-Adelaide and Her Government, the Germans occupied the rail network and set up their headquarters in Esch-sur-Alzette. The Occupation was military; while Luxembourg’s political institutions remained untouched during the war. Shortages, price inflation and the loss of purchasing power triggered social conflicts and in 1917 a strike broke out in the steel sector in 1917 which was harshly repressed by the German army. From the start of the war, approx. 3000 Luxembourgers joined the ranks of the French Foreign Legion.     

Caught in the cross-fire between Luxembourg’s public opinion and international schemes, Grand Duchess Marie-Adelaide decided to abdicate in favour of her younger sister Charlotte who acceded the throne on 15 January 1919. The first referendum of the country was held on28 September 1919, where women were for the first time granted the right to vote. A vast majority voted in favour of keeping the Monarchy (80%) and for an economic union with France (73%). France, however, desisted and the Luxembourg Government entered into negotiations with the Belgium Government. The Belgian-Luxembourg Economic Union (UEBL) was signed in 1921.      


From 1930 onwards, the worldwide economic crisis hit Luxembourg hard, causing severe unemployment. Two-thirds of the foreign workers lost their jobs. Industrial production advanced unregularly despite the production allocations laid down in the International Steel Agreement of 1926. 


In the morning of 10 May 1940, German troops crossed the Luxembourgish border violating the county’s neutrality for the second time. The Second World War had just begun in the Western World. Grand Duchess Charlotte and members of the Luxembourg settled the Government in exile in London at Wilton Crescent, today’s Luxembourg Embassy in London, to continue supporting the Luxembourgish resistance. The Hereditary Grand Duke Jean joined the British army as a volunteer in the Irish Guards in November 1942. He landed in Normandy on 11 June 1944 and took part in the Battle for Caen and the liberation of Brussels.  

For Luxembourg, the ordeal will be the toughest of its existence, as the aim of the occupying forces was to re-educate the people to make it a part of the Reich. The Germanisation of the country caused strikes all over the country and in response the German authorities declared martial law and summarily executed strikers by the Martial Courts. Luxembourg was placed under direct German administration and Gauleiter Gustav Simon appointed head of the civil administration. Thousands of young Luxembourgers were forcibly conscripted into the German armed forces and more than half of the Jewish Community was killed.

On 10 September 1944, Luxembourg was liberated by the American army. When German troops began to advance through the valleys on 16 December 1944, started the “Battle of the Bulge” led by General S. Patton. On 12 February 1945, the last Luxembourgish town, Vianden, was liberated. On 14 April 1945, Grand Duchess Charlotte, the Prince consort Felix and the Hereditary Grand Duke Jean returned to Luxembourg  

At the end of the WWII, must of Luxembourg’s north was lying in ruins and thousands of dead and missing people, but the Independence was saved.

Luxembourg - History


In the aftermath of the Second World War, the various Governments put an emphasis on peace build through unity and Luxembourg became a founding member of all the major international organisations and an ardent advocate of the realization of the European Union.

On 5 September 1944, the Belgium-Netherlands-Luxembourg “BENELUX” was founded. On 26 June 1945, Luxembourg signed the Charter of San Francisco and became a founding member of the United Nations. A year later, Luxembourg joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). In 1949, Luxembourg joined the Council or Europe and in 1961, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in Paris.


In 1951, Luxembourg became a founding member of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), followed by the European Economic Community (EEC) with the Treaty of Rome in 1957 and of the Community of Atomic Energy (EURATOM) in 1957.

In 1952, Luxembourg City became the provisional seat of the ECSC, and thus, the first capital of Europe. When in 1965, the executive powers of these institutions merged, Luxembourg became, along with Brussels and Strasbourg, the third capital of the European Community.

The ECSC formed the basis for a new stage of growth in the Luxembourg steel industry. The Common Market provided new opportunities for all aspects of the country’s economy, and, once again, encouraged immigration in order to enable economic expansion. Today Luxembourg is home to a number of important European Institutions: the Secretariat General of the European Parliament, the European Court of Justice, the European Investment Bank, the European Court of Auditors, the European Publications Office, among others.

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