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Alsace-Lorraine - History


ALSACE-LORRAINE - HISTORY The term Alsace-Lorraine came into use only after the Peace of Frankfurt (May 1871). It was used to describe a hybrid crea tion, artificially forged by Bismarck out of the whole of Alsace and part of Lorraine ; both provinces having been annexed from .France. These two countries (from earliest times a part of Bel gian Gaul) had hitherto lived a separate existence since the 5th century when, after 450 years of Roman domination and civiliza tion, they were invaded by Germans (principally Alemanni), who had crossed the Rhine.

Lorraine.—Since her true history began, Lorraine had pre served her Latin-speaking population through the greater part of her territory; the German barbarians having established them selves only in the north-east, on the borders of the Moselle, the Sarre and the Nied, beyond a line running approximately from Thionville to Sarrebourg. Besides its dependency, together with the county (later duchy) of Bar, and the three bishoprics of Metz, Toul and Verdun, Lorraine included the duchy of that name, the capital of which was at Nancy. Long disputed between the kingdom of France and the Germanic Holy Roman empire, these countries, which, after the Frank era (511-925), had be longed to Germany, de facto up to the end of the 13th century, and nominally up to the i6th century, had retained a real inde pendence, under their dukes, until the 18th century; at which epoch, after the rule of the dethroned king of Poland, Stanislaus Augustus, father-in-law of Louis XV., king of France, Lorraine was reunited to the French crown in 1766.

Alsace.—Duringthis time Alsace had become a purely Ger manic country in consequence of the invasions and penetration of the Alemanni in the 5th and 6th cen turies. Its civilization and religion had, however, come from the West—brought by the Merovingian kings and Irish, Scottish and Anglo-Saxon monks. After Charle magne, it was at first a frontier country (bi-lingual Oath of Strasbourg, 842 ; Treaty of Verdun, 843, constituting "Lotharingia" a buffer state between France and Germany) . Then, in the period of decadence of the Frank monarchy and of the constitution of the Germanic em pire, which in 962 became the Holy Ro man empire, it formed part of the Ger manic world (as a portion of the duchy of Suabia or Alamania) from 870 or 887 to 1648, or seven and a half centuries.

During this long period Alsace enjoyed, actually, a large degree of independence. For a hundred years only (the 12th cen tury) the imperial house of Hohenstaufen was popular in the provinces, during which time the emperors visited the country more than once ; but this popularity was due to the municipal franchises granted by them to the cities. There was an intense municipal activity throughout the middle ages, witnessed by the league of the ten free "Imperial" cities, or "Decapolis." The repre sentatives of the emperor (imperial bailiwick and subordinate bailiffs) enjoyed no real influence, and were frequently defied by the barons of fortified towns situated on the escarpments of the Vosges. But the clergy exercised a strong authority in a country which is deeply religious (Saint Odil is the patron saint of Alsace), and the bishops of Strasbourg and Basle were the real masters of lower and upper Alsace.

In the 14th and 15th centuries, the Habsburgs of Vienna, the successors of the Hohenstaufen in the imperial dignity, exercised only a purely nominal power over Alsace. In the i6th century the Reformation was at first very successful throughout the coun try. In the 17th century the religious Thirty Years War brought thither the Protestant Swedes, followed by their ally, the king of France, who annexed the country under the Treaty of West phalia (1648) . It was thus as ally of the Protestants of Germany and as adversary of the imperial unity that the king of France conquered Alsace.

The treaties of Westphalia had left the ten imperial free cities and the rights of the German princes holding lands in Alsace out side the authority of the French king. The former were annexed by Louis XIV. in peace-time (Chambers of Reunion, 1681), while the latter were suppressed by the French Revolution.

The ancien regime had respected the status quo in Alsace, and left Protestantism undisturbed, even after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. Alsatian manners, customs and tongue had, as a rule, been preserved. The Revolution, which was hailed with enthusiasm throughout the country, popularized the French language, which was looked on as the "language of liberty." The festivals of the "Federation of the Rhine," or "Confederation of Strasbourg," June 11-13, 1790 (oath of the Butchers' Field), laid the foundations of that Alsace which henceforward, like Lorraine, was to partake of the life of France until the day when Bismarck annexed the whole of Alsace and part of Lorraine, to "form a glacis" against France. The German law of June 3, 1871, declared these territories imperial territories (Reichsland). On that day Alsace-Lorraine was born.

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