Duchy of Lorraine

Published in Issue 4 (July/August 2018), Letters, Volume 26

Sir,—The summary of the history of Lorraine at the end of the interesting article by Stephen Griffin and Jérémy Filet on Duke Leopold’s Irish subjects and Jacobitism in Lorraine, 1699–1727 (HI 26.3, May/June 2018), falls a bit short at the end in terms of factual precision and explanation of significance. As part of the negotiations leading to the Treaty of Vienna in 1738 that ended the War of the Polish Succession that had begun in 1733, a complex package of dynastic territorial exchanges without reference to the wishes of any of the inhabitants took place. They provided that Leopold’s son Francis III, who married the archduchess and future Austrian empress Maria Theresa in 1736, renounce his ancestral domain in exchange for the reversion of Tuscany in 1737. The attachment of Lorraine to the Habsburg dominions through marriage was completely unacceptable to France. Francis did not become Holy Roman Emperor Francis I till 1745, because when Charles VI died in 1740 he was succeeded by Charles VII from the rival Bavarian dynasty, till he died early in 1745. Louis XV’s father-in-law, Stanislas Leszczynski, ex-king of Poland (1705–9), who had failed, despite half-hearted French backing, to recover his throne for any length of time in 1733, was compensated by being made the nominal sovereign of Lorraine, which was administered by France till his death in 1766 and then fully incorporated into it.

These types of transactions were frowned upon by the time of the French Revolution. The origin of the right of self-determination is sometimes traced to the contribution of a lawyer who was a deputy in the National Assembly, Merlin de Douai, who commented on 28 October 1790 on the decision of the representatives of Alsace to adhere to the new order that, leaving aside previous treaties made by hereditary owners, ‘the people of Alsace had joined the French people, because they had wished it. It is solely its will which has consummated and legitimated the union’. One can contrast that with the Act of Union of 1800, or with the annexation of Alsace-Lorraine by the victorious German Reich in 1871, neither of which had popular legitimacy.—Yours etc.,



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