150 years ago, the international press was very concerned about the fate of Luxembourg. In a very tense European context, the issue of the ownership of the fortified city ofLuxembourgran the risk of plunging the continent into a maelstrom of war – and gave Luxembourg the status of neutral country.
A small country at the heart of a European crisis
Even today, the majestic remains of Luxembourg’s former fortress still mark the topography of this very ancient city. In the mid-nineteenth century, the fortress of Luxembourg was a formidable construction nicknamed the ‘Gibraltar of the North’ and was reputed to be impregnable. Formally, Luxembourg was independent and neutral, but its fortress was occupied by a Prussian garrison, while the Grand Duchy was governed by king William II of the Netherlands as the Grand Duke of Luxembourg. What’s more, the country was a member of the Germanic Confederation and the Zollverein, the customs union initiated by Prussia.
In this situation, the French emperor Napoleon III made an offer to buy the city of Luxembourg for the price of 50 million florins. Prussia opposed this attempt, threatening France with war, while the latter refused to withdraw its offer. This ‘Luxembourg crisis’ ran the risk of destabilising the entire continent, with a mobilisation in France and Prussia.
Towards a neutral and unarmed country
At the last minute, Great Britain organised an international conference in London, inviting the other seven international powers at the time: the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Kingdom of Belgium, the French Empire, the Kingdom of Italy, The Kingdom of the Netherlands, the Kingdom of Prussia and the Russian Empire. The Grand Duchy itself was represented by the president of the government, Victor de Tornaco, and the member of the Council of State Emmanuel Servais.
The Treaty of London of 11 May 1867, which was the result of the negotiations, assigned the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg the status of perpetually neutral unarmed state.
This decision quickly led to the departure of the Prussian garrison, followed by the gradual dismantling of the fortress. Thus ended a period of Luxembourg’s occupation by foreign powers which had begun with the capture of Luxembourg by Philip II of France in 1443. On 9 September 1867, the Luxembourgish contingent entered Luxembourg. The demolition works continued until 1883 at a total cost of some 1.5 million gold francs, but liberated the city of its corset of fortifications and enabled its development.
Luxembourg’s neutral status, was maintained until 1945.
(Article written by the Luxembourg.lu portal’s editorial team)