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Lorraine, Duchy of


LORRAINE, DUCHY OF. Nestled between France and the Holy Roman Empire, the Duchy of Lorraine experienced a turbulent existence during the early modern period. Lorraine was an irrational patchwork of different sovereignties and jurisdictions. The duke's two largest territories were the Duchies of Bar and Lorraine; however, in the heart of ducal lands lay three sovereign bishoprics: Metz, Toul, and Verdun. Like other small states, Lorraine was vulnerable to outside forces and thus could not escape involvement in international affairs. Trade was a positive aspect of this involvement. Straddling the Meuse and Moselle rivers, and stretching from the Vosges Mountains to Luxembourg, Lorraine sat astride two major trading axes, east to west and north to south, and thus goods, people, and ideas constantly flowed through the duchy. However, Lorraine lacked the power to keep larger rivals out of its affairs and its territories. This weakness led to Lorraine's loss of independence.

The duchy's approximately 800,000 inhabitants in 1600 occupied an overwhelmingly rural territory. Lorraine's population was dominated by its natural environment, which ranged from mountains toward the southeast to rolling plains in the west. Dense forests blanketed the region. The largest urban center of the area, the sovereign bishopric of Metz, boasted a population of around 19,000. In contrast, at the beginning of the seventeenth century, the most important city under ducal control, the capital Nancy, only had about 8,000 residents. Agriculture formed the foundation of the duchy's economy, with the majority of peasants engaged in the growing of various cereal crops. A crucial aspect of Lorraine's economy was its industrial production, especially glass manufacturing and salt mining. These products as well as agricultural surpluses were sold throughout Europe and helped the duchy prosper in the sixteenth century. Although the ducal economy was devastated by mid-seventeenth-century crises, the eighteenth century witnessed gradual economic recovery.

At the beginning of the 1500s, Lorraine held the political status of an imperial fief. This situation changed in the mid-sixteenth century with two events that would define the parameters of Lorraine's geopolitical situation until the 1730s. In August 1542, Duke Antoine (ruled 15081544) and Emperor Charles V (ruled 15191556) approved the Treaty of Nuremberg, which recognized Lorraine's independence in exchange for the duke's continuing liability for certain imperial taxes. Ten years later, French King Henry II (ruled 15471559), as part of his dynastic wars with the Habsburgs, occupied the three bishoprics. Henry placed them under French "protection" until 1648, when the Holy Roman Empire ceded complete sovereignty over the cities. From the 1550s onward, France enjoyed a physical presence in the middle of ducal lands, and exerted increasing pressure upon the dukes.

Despite the arrival of the French, the next seventy-five years saw relative peace and prosperity for Lorraine. Lorraine's larger neighbors left the duchy alone because of their own internal crises. Close personal connections to France marked the reigns of Dukes Charles III (ruled 15451608) and his son Henry II (ruled 16081624). Lorraine elites, such as the Guise family, moved easily into positions of power within France. The period witnessed an artistic flowering, producing artists like Jacques Callot and Georges de la Tour. Because of its brilliance in comparison with what followed, the period has been called "Lorraine's renaissance."

Rebirth turned into chaos with the ascension of Charles IV (ruled 16241675) to the ducal throne. A strident Catholic like many of his countrymen, and more a warrior than a statesman, Charles actively opposed Cardinal Richelieu's pro-Protestant policies during the Thirty Years' War (16181648). This stance resulted in French occupation of Lorraine and ducal exile. Excepting the 1660s, French occupation lasted from 1634 until 1697. The dukes became imperial generals, fighting the French and the Ottoman Turks. Their greatest moment came in 1683, when Charles V (ruled 16751690) successfully defended Vienna against the Ottomans. Lorraine itself suffered terribly during these years. In addition to the horrors of military occupation, there was an epidemic of plague in 1635. As a consequence of these disasters, Lorraine lost nearly half of its prewar population.

In 1697, Louis XIV of France (16431715) restored Lorraine to its ruling dynasty. Upon his return, Duke Leopold I (ruled 16901729) found that although his lands were devastated, his personal power had been increased. Traditional limitations on ducal power had been eliminated; war and occupation had decimated Lorraine's elites, and the French had destroyed institutions that previously limited sovereign power. Although Leopold's predecessors had aspired to absolutism, he was able to institute it to a great extent and used his power to forward a program of internal reconstruction. Externally, he attempted to maintain good relations with both France and the Holy Roman Empire, attaining recognition of Lorraine's neutrality in the 1720s.

However, less than a decade after Leopold's death in 1729, the duchy lost its independence. In 1731 Duke Francis III (ruled 17291737) married Maria Theresa of Austria, the heiress to the Holy Roman Empire. The French viewed this marriage as a threat because of the potential reunion of Lorraine with the empire. After lengthy negotiations, Francis agreed in 1737 to give Lorraine to Louis XV's father-in-law Stanislaus Leszczynski, the deposed king of Poland, effectively ending Lorraine's independence. Francis attained the imperial crown in 1745. Stanislaus ruled until his death in 1766, after which the duchy was incorporated into France. Interested more in Enlightenment culture than politics, he let a French chancellor run Lorraine and concentrated upon patronizing the arts and sciences and the founding of charitable institutions. In the process, Stanislaus became extremely popular and effectively prepared Lorraine for the transition from independent state to French province.

See also France ; Guise Family ; Thirty Years' War (16181648) .


Briggs, Robin. Communities of Belief: Cultural and Social Tension in Early Modern France. Oxford, 1989.

Parisot, Robert. Histoire de Lorraine (Duché de Lorraine, duché de Bar, Trois-Évêchés). 4 vols. Paris, 19191924.

Parisse, Michel, ed. Histoire de Lorraine. Toulouse, 1977.

Charles Lipp

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