Grand Duchess Marie Adelaide Greets General Pershing
Grand Duchess Marie Adelaide-Wikimedia Commons
by Kathy Warnes
Marie Adelaide, Grand Duchess of Luxembourg, created much controversy in her short life – June 24, 1894-January 29, 1924- but remained true to her beliefs.
In 1912, Marie Adelaide of Nassau-Weilburg had assumed Luxembourg’s throne on wave of popularity, the first monarch since 1296 to be born in Luxembourg. Succeeding her Protestant father, the devoutly Catholic Grand Duchess Marie Adelaide faced serious problems, including war, modernism, protecting the territorial integrity of her country, and ruling as a Catholic monarch in the twentieth century.
She had barely resumed her duties as a Catholic ruler when she landed in bitter controversy. In her coronation day speech she had said". . . I will be faithful to the noble motto of our ancient house, ‘I will stand fast!’"
To Grand Duchess Marie Adelaide’s way of thinking, "standing fast" meant promoting the good of her subjects, including defending their Catholic faith to the full extent of the powers that the constitution of Luxembourg afford her. "I will not allow their most precious heritage to be stolen while I have the key," she vowed.
According to a Stars and Stripes story of November 29, 1918, Grand Duchess Marie Adelaide of Luxembourg acted decisively when the Germans invaded her country. On the morning of Sunday, August 2, 1914, the Grand Duchess maneuvered her motor car across the road in Luxembourg City, trying to block the invading German motorcade that streamed across the Adolfe Bridge into her neutral country.
Germany Breaks Its Promise and Invades Luxembourg
Germany had guaranteed the neutrality of the Duchy of Luxembourg, but the logic of the Schlieffen Plan of conquest made it imperative for Germany to attack France. The most efficient way to attack the French forts on the border with Germany would be a scythe movement through Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg, freeing up the rest of the German Army to maintain defensive positions in the east against the Russians. In 1914, Germany invaded Belgium and Luxembourg.
Luxembourg is surrounded by Belgium, France, and Germany, countries which have at times cast covetous, annexing glances at Luxembourg. The Congress of Vienna settlements, especially the Treaty of London in 1839, established Luxembourg as an independent duchy and another Treaty of London in 1867, guaranteed the neutrality of the Duchy. When World War I broke out, Luxembourg couldn’t defend itself from German invasion.
After the German invasion of Luxembourg on the pretext of protecting the railroads, Marie Adelaide and the Luxembourg government formally protested, but the Germans occupied their country. From August 1914 until November 1918, The Germans allowed Luxembourg to keep its government and political system, but the long, ominous shadow of the Germany Army covered the country. The people of Luxembourg tried to live as normally as possible and the political parties attempted to focus on matters like the economy, education, and constitutional reform.
Grand Duchess Marie Adelaide is Accused of German Sympathies
Although Marie Adelaide and her country did not organize a resistance to German occupation, they did attempt to maintain their neutrality and resist the Germans as best they could. The victorious allies and her own countrymen would later castigate Marie Adelaide for not actively resisting the Germans and some said that she fraternized with them.
Throughout the war, Grand Duchess Marie Adelaide worked tirelessly for the Red Cross in Luxembourg and nursed soldiers from both sides, but her fellow citizens consistently suspected her of German sympathies. Since part of her family tree descended from German branches, she had agreed to her sister’s marriage to a German prince, and she attended the funeral of an elderly relative in Germany.
Most damaging of all, she had received the Kaiser in her palace. In fact, she only heard of the Kaiser’s visit when he was already on his way, and against her better judgment and on the advice of her prime minister she agreed to receive the Kaiser.
Her father had not schooled Marie Adelaide in statecraft, so she relied heavily on the advice of experienced government ministers, especially Minster of State Paul Eyschen. Minister Eyschen had been a major influence during the reign of Marie Adelaide’s father and gained even more influence after the Grand Duke died and his wife had ruled from 1907 to 1912. Grand Duchess Marie Adelaide stood up to Minister Eyschen more than both of her parents had done. They first argued over the appointments of political radicals to government posts. Communism, socialism, and anti-clericalism gradually gained momentum in Luxembourg and their adherents managed to create opposition to the Catholic monarchy.
Marie Adelaide, herself, was a deeply devout Catholic developed to Carmelite spirituality, and determined to maintain and increase the faith of her people. She revived pilgrimages and processions of the sacraments that her Protestant father had allowed to lapse and took part in them herself. "Their faith must not be less, but greater when I die," she argued.
Grand Duchess Marie Adelaide had her most serious argument with Minister Eyschen when she refused to sign a proposal to reduce religious instruction in the schools that the minister endorsed. Minister Eyschen had prepared to sign his resignation just before he had a heart attack in 1915 and died. The ministries after Minister Eyschen’s death proved to be unstable and leftist political power grew powerful enough to prompt Grand Duchess Marie Adelaide to dissolve the Chambre and call new elections. The new elections produced serious losses to the left wing parties which made them fiercely determined to defeat the Grand Duchess.
Although she took care to keep within constitutional limits, Grand Duchess Marie Adelaide had made many enemies. The left wing parties and the enemies of the Catholic Church used her political difficulties to agitate public sentiment against her and they charged her with yielding to clerical influence and authoritarianism.
The German invasion of Luxembourg soon provided more ammunition to her enemies. The Congress of Vienna created Luxembourg as an independent duchy, but it was surrounded by Belgium, France, and Germany and its neighbors sometimes coveted its land. Although the Treaty of London in 1839 and the Treaty of London in 1867 guaranteed its sovereignty and neutrality, on August 2, 1914, Germany violated Luxembourg neutrality and invaded and occupied the country.
Guided by Grand Duchess Marie Adelaide and her government, the Luxembourgers did not resist the occupying German Army but remained neutral throughout World War I. The Grand Duchess did much Red Cross Work and nursed soldiers from both armies, but later the victorious Allies treated her like she had collaborated with the Germans. Throughout and after the war, hostile leftists worked to discredit her, citing her German blood, her German relatives, and her receiving of the German Kaiser Wilhelm at the palace.
Belgium had waged a diplomatic and propaganda campaign to annex Luxembourg once World War I ended and some of Grand Duchess Marie Adelaide’s domestic political enemies supported the Belgian campaign. The attitude of the Allies after the Armistice also eroded the position of the Grand Duchess since their democratic ideology favored establishing republics everywhere instead of upholding the monarchy.
Many people in Luxembourg believed that Grand Duchess Marie Adelaide had pro German sympathies and this attitude seemed to predominate and eventually bring about her downfall. In December 1918, the French government declared that it didn’t consider it possible to have contact or negotiations with the Government of the Grand Duchess of Luxembourg, "whom it considers as gravely compromised with the enemies of France."
The deliberations and machinations of the Luxembourg crisis involved the monarchy, the left, and French and Belgian aspirations. Supporters of the monarchy realized that Marie Adelaide had lost her mandate to rule and supported her abdication and the succession of her sister Charlotte. The leftists continued to demand a republic. Belgium seemed to regard a republic as more favorable to its goal of annexation and France began to regard the monarchy as a bulwark against Belgian claims.
In the end, Grand Duchess Marie Adelaide bowed to the intense pressure and abdicated in favor of her sister, Charlotte. An amendment to the Luxembourg Constitution reduced the power of Charlotte and her successor, and sovereignty now rests with the nation and not the ruler.
Grand Duchess Marie Adelaide found herself embroiled in a struggle over the entire conception of monarchy and overtaken by national and international events. With Grand Duchess Marie Adelaide’s abdication, the figure of the monarch fully exercising constitutional prerogatives and intervening in political debates disappeared.
Grand Duchess Marie Adelaide Welcomes General John Joseph Pershing to Luxembourg
On November 21, 1918, in Luxembourg City, Grand Duchess Adelaide stood beside John J. Pershing, Commander in Chief of the American troops, smiling at the American Doughboys as they passed. The helmeted and heavy packed doughboys, a battalion from the battle scarred 18th infantry, marched between houses draped with the colors of France and Luxembourg and America. The soldiers estimated that the Stars and Stripes flew from a hundred house fronts. They marched under welcoming banners with such legends as “Welcome to Our Deliverers,” and Welcome to Our Saviors.”
From every window and from every sidewalk the people cheered, while the children ran alongside shouting, “Eep, Eep, Ooray” From up there on the balcony of the palace, where she stood beside General Pershing, the Duchess of Luxemburg smiled down on the Yankees.
Luxembourg householders found a picture of William McKinley and displayed it and picture post cards of Le President Woodrow Wilson miraculously appeared in every shop window. The bookstalls displayed American fiction like “Onekel Tomus Hutte”, von Beecher Stowe and “Der Letzie Mohikaner,” von Fennimore Cooper.
The orchestra at the Casino practiced on some ragtime and some old Sousa marches. The clocks in the city were moved forward from German to French time, the barkeeps got out some faded recipes for Martini cocktails. The price marks in the stores were changed from 4 marks to 12 francs. Luxemburg welcomed the American Doughboys!
General John Joseph Pershing Issues a Proclamation
The Stars and Stripes printed General Pershing’s proclamation to the people of Luxembourg:
"After four years in which its territory has been violated, the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg has just been happily freed. Your liberation from the German occupation was exacted from the invaders by the American and Allied Armies as one of the conditions of the present armistice. It becomes necessary now for the American troops to pass through the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg and to establish and maintain there for a while their lines of supply.
The American troops have come into the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg as friends and will bear themselves strictly according to international law. Their presence which will not be prolonged further than is absolutely necessary will be no burden for you. The functioning of your government and of your institutions will be in no way interfered with. Your life and your occupations will not be disturbed. Your persons and your property will be respected.
It will be necessary for the American Army to use certain installations railways, telegraphs and telephones and perhaps other public works for its needs in shelter and transport furthermore, that which it is necessary to use will be paid for according to a just valuation.
It is assumed that you will commit no act of aggression against the American Army and will give no information, aid, or assistance to its enemies. You will always act in accordance with the instructions which the American command will give for the safety of its troops and for your own protection.”
Luxembourg Welcomes the American Soldiers
Luxembourg citizens welcomed every American soldier from corporal to colonel with offers of a dozen rooms. Luxembourgers led Doughboys to sumptuous suites, beseeching them to make themselves at home indefinitely. The sounds of revelry by night wafted through the city. The doors of the Casino, the luxurious Luxembourg club that no German could warm or bully his way through during the war, stood wide open. There were toasts, speeches, music, and dancing. A general and a private were the first dancers on the floor and gossip the next day said the general did not dance with the prettiest girl.
Luxembourgers welcomed the Americans so enthusiastically because they disliked the Germans and they had a special fondness for America and Americans. So many Luxembourg citizens had immigrated to America that tradition had it that Chicago had a larger number of immigrant Luxembourgers than the city of Luxembourg itself. Some of the Luxembourgers who had left their native land six years ago returned to liberate it in olive drab.
Grand Duchess Marie Adelaide Abdicates
Despite Luxembourgh's liberation, the political voices against Duchess Marie Adelaide had grown in strength throughout World War I and the German occupation and many Luxembourgers still perceived her as being a German sympathizer. Although she hadn’t done anything unconstitutional, in 1919, voices in the Luxembourg Parliament began to demand Marie Adelaide’s abdication.
For years, prominent political figures in both France and Belgium harbored annexationist plans toward Luxembourg, so they too, had a stake in discrediting Marie Adelaide. After much soul searching and consulting with the Luxembourg Prime Minister, she abdicated on January 14, 1919. Her younger sister Charlotte succeeded her.
Grand Duchess Marie Adelaide Redirects Her Life
After her abdication, Marie Adelaide tried to redirect her life. Believing she had a vocation, she entered an Italian convent, taking the name of “Sister Marie of the Poor.” After some time in the convent, she decided she needed to receive some medical training so that she could better help people, but her declining health forced her to curtail her training.
Grand Duchess Marie Adelaide died of influenza at Hohenburg Castle on January 29, 1924, and she is buried in the Ducal Crypt of the Notre Dame Cathedral in the city of Luxembourg, the same city where she tried to stop the German invasion and welcomed the invading American General John Joseph Pershing.
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