Luxembourg is the sole remaining Grand Duchy on the planet. So what exactly is a Grand Duchy? It is a political division led by a Grand Duke or Duchess, a rank of lesser significance than King but greater than Duke. A Duke generally controlled a province directly below the King but once in awhile a particularly powerful Duke rose to prominence, one that stood above the ordinary Dukes, so something more meaningful had to be concocted: Grand Duke.
View Larger Map
Luxembourg has roots stretching back for centuries but the current Grand Duchy situation developed during the political swirl that engulfed Western Europe in the early nineteenth century. The Holy Roman Empire dissolved and Napoleon’s conquests failed within a few years of each other. Luxembourg sat geographically in a front row seat.
The Congress of Vienna in 1815 set in motion events that would create Luxembourg’s unique situation. It led to a single individual being named both the King of the Netherlands and the Grand Duke of Luxembourg. The Netherlands gained its independence and Luxembourg became a Dutch dominion. All went well until 1890 when William III died without leaving behind a male heir. The crown of the Netherlands passed to a woman, Queen Wilhelmina. However for a whole host of complexities dictated by Salic law that I won’t even attempt to describe here, the succession in Luxembourg could only pass to a man. Thus the Netherlands and Luxembourg parted amicably. Luxembourg became an independent Grand Duchy governed by a distantly-related male cousin.
Luxembourg today is a prosperous, sophisticated country strategically placed between Germany, France and Belgium. At 57 by 82 kilometers, it’s compact but it’s not "blink your eyes and you’ll miss it" tiny. Indeed there are probably twenty or so countries in the world that are smaller. I’ve traveled to Luxembourg a couple of times and have enjoyed driving through its picturesque countryside and stopping in its towns. Above is a photo I took during a visit to Vianden Castle in the northern part of the country. It conforms to what a castle should look like, almost like something out of a fairy tale, and has been painstakingly restored in recent years.
The Last Grand Duchy seems to be doing rather well.