The Tragi-Comedy of Lorraine

W.R. Jeudwine unearths the 17th century roots of France's age-old struggle for influence and power in the province of Lorraine.

Throughout the history of France that stretch of territory bounded on the north and south by the modern frontiers of Luxembourg and Switzerland, and on the east and west by the Rhine and Upper Meuse, has been almost continuously a battleground. In the early seventeenth century, only the bishoprics of Metz, Toul and Verdun belonged to France; Lorraine had been an independent duchy for six hundred years and, in the south, Alsace and the Breisgau formed part of the Austrian empire, while the Franche-Comte belonged to Spain. But although Lorraine was not French politically, French was the universal language, and the local rulers took their manners and way of life from the French court. It was inevitable that a France now united and powerful should come to regard these border states as her legitimate prey, and that the desire to make her eastern frontier on the Rhine should emerge as a permanent feature of French policy. Richelieu’s accession to power in 1624 marks the start of a long and chequered process of conquest and absorption.

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