Friday, June 27, 2014

Monarch Profile: Grand Duchess Marie-Adelaide of Luxembourg

One of the most dramatic and moving true stories to come out of World War I is a story that is not very well known. Amongst the monarchs of the Great War most people know about the tragic downfall of the Czar of Russia and his family, the heroic resistance of the King of the Belgians and the villainous portrayal of the German Kaiser. Many more than in the past also now know about the Austrian Emperor who tried to make peace. Yet, how many know the story of the first female monarch of Luxembourg who lost her throne and almost brought down the monarchy with her as a result of the First World War? It is a rather surprising story from start to finish and perhaps nothing is more surprising than the fact that more people do not know about it. True enough, the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg is one of those very small European countries that attracts little attention. However, it has had a pivotal place in European history for centuries with many declaring that the possession of the fortress of Luxembourg determined who ruled the continent and the effort of France to annex Luxembourg in 1867 almost brought about the Franco-Prussian War three years early. It has long been vital and, in the wake of World War I and the reign of Grand Duchess Marie-Adelaide, it came close to disappearing from the map or at the very least becoming something totally alien to the Luxembourg of today.

Her Grand Ducal Highness Marie Adelaide Therese Hilda Wilhelmine was born on June 14, 1894 in Berg Castle in central Luxembourg to Grand Duke Guillaume IV and his Grand Duchess Marie Anne of Portugal. She was the eldest of six children, all of them girls, which was somewhat problematic for a country under Salic law. In fact, the House of Nassau had taken the throne of Luxembourg from the Dutch House of Orange, detaching it from the United Kingdom of the Netherlands, not very long before specifically because the Salic law in Luxembourg would not permit the Grand Duchy to be ruled by a woman; Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands. Initially, there was no resume to suppose that a son would not be born eventually, however, after the birth of her fifth little sister in 1902 it became clear that something would have to be done. Either the law would have to be changed or there would be a succession crisis that could, possibly, have disrupted the peace of Europe. The last thing anyone wanted was to see France and Germany start fighting over Luxembourg. So, the law was changed and on July 10, 1907 the 13-year-old Princess Marie-Adelaide was declared heir presumptive to the Grand Ducal throne.

All too soon, the Princess was face to face with destiny. On February 25, 1912 her father died and at the age of 17 Marie-Adelaide became the first reigning Grand Duchess of Luxembourg and the first Luxembourgish monarch born on native soil since Count John the Blind in 1296. The seemingly fragile girl, with her delicate beauty, was naturally charming and it helped that, for the moment, she had her mother to help her along as regent until the Grand Duchess turned 18 the following year. Her mother, a Portuguese Infanta born in Germany due to the ousting of her father King Manuel I, was only too familiar with what was necessary in a monarch. She was also responsible for the deeply held Catholic faith of the young Grand Duchess. The minority of the new monarch was soon over and on her birthday in 1912 the Luxembourgish Prime Minister, Auguste Laval, administered her oath of office amidst a respectful and happy atmosphere.

Grand Duchess Marie-Adelaide, from the beginning, even at so young and age, made it clear at her inauguration that she would be an active monarch and also showed how much the values of her family and her religion she held to. Her first speech contained many sentiments that people even today will find familiar. She said, “It is my desire to judge according to the requirements of justice and equity which will inspire all of my acts. The law and general interest will only guide me. Is judging fairly not just equal justice for all, but a protective justice for the poor and weak. The growing economic inequality between men is the greatest worry of our age. Social peace, no matter how ardently desired, remains to this day an elusive ideal. Is it not necessary to work on reconciliation and solidarity?” Alas, before her reign was over, it would seem that many of her subjects had forgotten those compassionate and heartfelt words from their Grand Duchess. And, just to further show how seriously she took her faith and her authority as monarch, she refused assent to a bill on her first day “on the job” that would have minimized the role of the clergy in education. She would be an active monarch, a devoutly Catholic monarch and, it should perhaps be most emphasized, a patriotic monarch.

Her words were timely as there were grumblings of social discontent in the little country that only a few years before had been described as rather delightfully dull. A London periodical on world affairs described the events of 1910 in Luxembourg as, “Nothing worth registering happened in this happiest of all countries”. Very soon, however, the hushed rumblings of grievances were drowned out by the growing tensions between France and Germany as well as, increasingly, most of the Great Powers of Europe. Then came the earth shattering events of 1914. In Sarajevo the Austrian Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated, a threatened war between Serbia and Austria-Hungary entangled Germany, Russia and France. The German plan for fighting a two front war called for an invasion of the Low Countries to take the French Republic in a strategic flank. This move was modified so as to avoid invading the Netherlands but Belgium and Luxembourg would not be so fortunate. The neutrality of Belgium and Luxembourg became a “scrap of paper” and it was no great secret that the Germans intended to violate it. The German government itself stated that they had broken no law for, “necessity knows no law”.

On August 2, 1914 the grey-green columns of the Imperial German Army began to march toward the borders of Luxembourg. Today, many people know of the calm and courageous leadership of King Albert I who took command of the Belgian army to wage a hopeless defense of his country against the Teutonic juggernaut. The monarch of Luxembourg, on the other hand, had far less than even the Belgians could muster in their small but determined army. Nonetheless, Grand Duchess Marie-Adelaide decided to meet the foe herself. In a dramatic move, she raced to the Luxembourg frontier and parked her car crossway in the middle of the road to block the way of the German forces. She also sent an urgent radio message to German Kaiser Wilhelm II, warning him that he would, “sacrifice the honor of Germany” if his forces violated the neutrality and sovereignty of Luxembourg. To make sure it was known that Luxembourg was not a willing accomplice of this violation she also sent a copy of the message to King George V in London. None of it, of course, could stop the German advance and Luxembourg was occupied on the first day and would remain under German control for the duration of the war.

In fact, Luxembourg became the command center of the Central Powers war effort as not long after Kaiser Wilhelm II established his headquarters in the Grand Duchy. It was an unfortunate situation but it had happened and there was nothing the Grand Duchess could do about it. Luxembourg was at the mercy of the Germans, so the Grand Duchess endeavored to make the best of a bad situation. She received the German Kaiser with all due courtesy and ensured that little to no animosity was displayed between them. Later on, the Grand Duchess would be viciously attacked because of this, but of course to have done otherwise would have only made a bad situation worse. There was also a very real danger of Luxembourg losing its independence entirely as most German planners envisioned the Grand Duchy being annexed to the German Empire in the event of a Central Powers victory. With her charm and consideration, it is also often forgotten, the Grand Duchess also prevailed upon the German Kaiser to commute the death sentences of a number of French, Belgian and Luxembourgish nationals who had been accused of anti-German activity. Many people owed Marie-Adelaide their lives.

Nonetheless, elements in the government became increasingly upset with her for a number of reasons, the war often simply providing a popular excuse to oppose the Grand Duchess for other reasons. Leftist parties, for example, had long been disgruntled by her active involvement in the governing of Luxembourg, some even going so far as to accuse her of having launched a royal coup. The fact that she championed many causes which they claimed to support made no difference to them. Using the war as an excuse became easier the longer it dragged on as Luxembourg undeniably suffered a great deal, not simply from the occupation but from the devastating impact of the Allied blockade as well (probably most of all but, of course, it wouldn’t do to complain about that when the war was over and the Allies stood victorious). One incident enemies of the monarchy seized on was a visit by the Grand Duchess to King Ludwig III of Bavaria in June of 1917. This, combined with what they termed to be royal “interference” in politics was the professed justification for the leader of the coalition government of Luxembourg to resign. What no one seemed to care about was the personal and perfectly innocent reasons the Grand Duchess had for visiting the Bavarian Royal Family.

The fact was that there was a burgeoning romance between the younger sister of the Grand Duchess, Princess Antonia of Luxembourg, and the widowed heir to the Bavarian throne Crown Prince Rupprecht, who happened to be commander of an army group on the western front and a field marshal. In fact, the two became engaged in 1918 and Princess Antonia of Luxembourg became the last Crown Princess of Bavaria. The fact that “the heart has its reasons”, that a marriage between two Catholic royal houses like Bavaria and Luxembourg was perfectly natural and that the Bavarian Crown Prince was a fine man and a humane, upstanding officer was shrugged off. It was all portrayed in the most negative way possible and the worst of the blame was heaped on the monarch Grand Duchess Marie-Adelaide who was practically made out to be a traitor, giving aid and comfort to the enemy when in fact, all she had actually done was to be courteous and civil and actually saved a number of lives in the process and probably made life easier for her subjects. It can be easily imagined that the occupation could have been made much more painful if the Grand Duchess had been openly antagonistic toward the Germans. It might also be mentioned that no one knew how it would turn out and if the Central Powers had been victorious the very existence of Luxembourg as a sovereign state might have depended on the good graces of men like the German Kaiser or the support of the King of Bavaria.

Again, much of this was likely phony outrage by people who were enemies of the Grand Duchess for political reasons. As it turned out, Luxembourg seemed to be almost in as much peril as a result of the Allied victory. The French Foreign Minister accused her of having compromised herself with the enemies of France and there was some talk of France annexing Luxembourg. Others also gave serious consideration to the idea of handing Luxembourg over to the Kingdom of Belgium. The simmering situation boiled over as soon as peace came to Europe and the Grand Duchess seemed beset by enemies. She was cruelly and most unjustly vilified as being some sort of a collaborator when, of course, no one had been more opposed to the German invasion and occupation than she had been. Still, the enemies of the monarchy did their work well and soon there was a growing republican movement in the country which only a few years before would have been positively unthinkable. A growing number of the people also voiced support for some sort of closer association with France or Belgium. In fact, in 1922 Luxembourg did enter into an economic union with Belgium. The French government encouraged such disorder by refusing to have anything to do with Luxembourg, calling the government of the Grand Duchess “gravely compromised”.

It was an astonishing position to be in. Grand Duchess Marie-Adelaide had been the first and most forceful to act when Luxembourg was faced with an invader. That she did not stop them on her own, with her one automobile, is hardly something to condemn her for; Luxembourg was simply not capable of resisting. Since resistance would have been futile and would have certainly brought about only greater suffering, the Grand Duchess adapted to the situation and did the best she could for her people and her country. She had also broken no laws and despite the complaints of her “meddling” in politics, she had never once violated the constitution or overstepped her authority in any way. However, republicans are nothing if not irrational and they raised an increasing fervor against their monarch until at one point the French Republic seized on the disorder to send in troops to occupy the country yet again. On January 9 the situation deteriorated to the extent that socialist leaders openly declared a republic. The dynasty was hanging by a thread. With great sadness, the pious and kind-hearted Grand Duchess finally felt she had no choice but to step aside in the hope of preserving the monarchy and so, on January 14, 1919, she abdicated in favor of her sister Charlotte.

Ultimately, there was a vote on whether Luxembourg should become a republic in September of 1919 and by an 80% margin the public chose to keep their monarchy and the new Grand Duchess Charlotte. That the electoral victory was so large is a clue as to just how trumped up all the vitriol against Marie-Adelaide and the monarchy had been in the first place. After her abdication, Grand Duchess Marie-Adelaide went to Italy and entered a convent, being known as Sister Marie of the Poor. However, despite being only 24 years-old at the time of her abdication, her health was rapidly failing and she was eventually forced to leave the convent so as not to be a burden on the other sisters. She went to live in Bavaria with her sister, by then Crown Princess Antonia of Bavaria (though the Bavarian monarchy had been abolished of course) and it was there that she died of influenza in 1924 before she had even reached the age of 30.

Happily, the monarchy in Luxembourg has endured with Grand Duchess Charlotte seeing it through another World War and another period of German occupation, though she went into a temporary exile in London, and today the monarchy in Luxembourg is secure and quite popular. Nonetheless, what happened to Grand Duchess Marie-Adelaide was a gross injustice. It was, at least, not as tragic as the fate suffered by the Romanovs, but it was a despicable outrage nonetheless. Never had the monarchy of Luxembourg come so close to falling and it was all based on monstrous falsehoods and malicious insinuations. Grand Duchess Marie-Adelaide deserves to be better known and indeed honored as a caring, devoted and engaged monarch, a kind and sincerely Christian young woman -for such she was and as such she should be remembered.

1 comment:

  1. A sensitive, erudite essay on Luxembourg's young, enigmatic Grand Duchess.


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