Some History




Some History


Even if the name of Alsace appeared first in the 7th Century, the origin of the name of this province is unsure. It might be of German origin (Alis-lauti-sat : a founding in a foreign country), of of Celtic origin (Alis-atia : the area at the bottom of a mountain), or it might derive from the words Ell (Ill river) Sass (inhabitant in old German).

The Romans occupied the plain of Alsace and they were followed by the Alamanni after the Great Invasions which happened as soon as the 4th Century. The Alamanni imposed their language and transformed the roman city of Argentoratum into Stratebourg or 'city of the roads'.

After the invasion by the Huns and Barbarian tribes, the Alamanni reorganized the region with the help of the Church. In 842, the Oath of Strasbourg written in Old German and in Old French was the starting point of the division of Charlemagne's Europe. Alsace was part of the Holy Roman Empire from the 9th Century until 1648 when it became part of France.

From the 12th Century, many peasants leave their fields and they become craftsmen or shopkeepers in towns which are growing. Strasbourg liberates itself of the protection of its bishop, and becomes a free city in 1262. Colmar, Sélestat and Obernai are surrounded by walls.

In 1354, the towns of Munster, Turckheim, Kaysersberg, Sélestat, Obernai, Rosheim, Wissembourg, Haguenau, Colmar and Mulhouse join together to form a league, the Decapole, which is put under the imperial protection, but remains however independant. The region suffers many disasters like the invasion of troops during the Hundred Years War, a Black Death outbreak in 1349, and everlasting feudal wars.

From 1519 in Strasbourg, thanks to Gutenberg, printing presses can be used to publish Luther's works. As soon as the end of the 15th Century, the flaws of the society, more particularly those of the clergy, are fought against. The Reformation spreads. In the country, a rebellion roars among the peasants who hope for an improvement in their condition. Armed bands muster and a bloody war occurs, ending in 1525 after the slaughter of 18,000 peasants.

In 1555, the Peace of Augsbourg clarifies the distribution of Catholics and Protestants across the country : your religion is the religion of the lord who owns the land you live in.

Between 1618 and 1648, Alsace becomes a battlefield for the armies of the Thirty Years War. The soldiers ransack villages and slaughter their inhabitants. The region loses more than half its population. In 1648, Alsace, broken up into many lordly territories, becomes French by the Treaty of Westphalia. However Alsace keeps many particularities in its institutions and in its traditions. The revocation of the Edict of Nantes was not applied and the use of the French language was not made compulsory, even if German was the usual written language of most Alsatians. However French becomes the official language, and the Catholic religion becomes the only acknowledged religion, but predominent Catholics cohabit with Lutheran or reformed Protestants, all of them having their parishes.

The capitulation of Strasbourg occurs in 1681 and sets the city as a part of France, but its privileges in local administration and in religion matters are still preserved. The Treaty of Ryswick, drawn up in 1697, confirms the annexation of Alsace to France.

During the French Revolution, on July 21st 1789 as the people hears of the fall of the Bastille, the city hall of Strasbourg is ransacked. The departements of Bas-Rhin and of Haut-Rhin are created in 1790. The Revolution puts Alsace under the same laws as the rest of France, overturning habits and mentalities.

During the Napoleonian wars, Alsace provided many soldiers, generals (Kellermann, Kléber, Rapp, Lefèvre...) and supplies to the armies. After 1815 et the allied occupation, the region suffered from a major economic crisis and Alsace had to wait for the industrial rise to get out of recession about 1850.

Between 1870 and 1918, the region, except an area that will become later the Territoire de Belfort, is annexed by the Germans. Alsace becomes an "Imperial Territory" (Reichsland) and gains a particular regime in many domains. The province returns to France at the end of the First World War, and remains French until 1940. Annexed to the third German Reich during the Second World War, Alsace returns to France when it is liberated on March 20th, 1945.


Celtic tribes lived in Lorraine before the Romans occupied the region. Divodurum, which will become Mettis, and later Metz, is one of the main towns of the Roman Gaul.

After the invasion of the Huns, Franks and Alamanni tribes cohabit in Lorraine with Gallo-Romans. From this time, a language frontier which will survive until nowadays, splits Lorraine between Germanic people, who live mainly in the north of the region, and Gallo-Romanic people in the south.

The origin of the placenames

Celtic origin : ending in 'dunum' (Verdunum=Verdun)
Roman origin : ending in 'acus', 'acum' changed in 'y' (Floracium=Fleury ; Commerciacum=Commercy)
Frank origin : ending in 'curtis' (Murici Curtis= Mirecourt)
German origin : ending in 'ing' or 'ingen' sometimes changed to 'ange' or 'ache' ; ending in 'dorf', 'strof' or 'heim'

Lorraine forms part of the Kingdom of Austrasia which includes regions today called Belgium, Holland, Champagne, Rhineland and Alsace. This kingdom, which lies at the center of Charlemagne's Empire, goes to Lothar I, and becomes Lothringen in 855 when it becomes the kingdom of Lothar II.

In 959, the territory is split into two parts: the Dukedom of Lower Lorraine which spreads from the North Sea to Luxembourg, and the Dukedom of Upper Lorraine which is almost what will be later the province of Lorraine, the region of Trier added. The cities of the Three Dioceses - Metz, Toul and Verdun - are excluded from this share. The County of Bar is founded and it goes to the Duke of Upper Lorraine.

From 1047, the dynasty which begins with Gérard of Alsace will provide sovereigns to the Dukedom of Lorraine for more than three centuries.

In 1301, the "moving Barrois" is created on the left bank of the Meuse river under the protection of the King of France. In 1354, the County of Bar becomes a Dukedom.

René II, Count of Vaudémont opposes Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, who dies near Nancy in 1477.

Metz and some lords of the German Lorraine are in favour of the Reformation, but Lutheranism and Calvinism have only a limited audience in the Dukedom. Antoine, son of René II, encourages the Counter Reformation. In 1525, he defeats the revolted peasants in Saverne. In 1552, France occupies the cities of Metz, Toul and Verdun, putting an end to the independance of the Three Dioceses.

After 1630, the population of Lorraine is decimated by war and plague. In 1648, the Three Dioceses - Metz, Toul and Verdun - are integrated into the Kingdom of France.

In 1670, the Dukedom is invaded by French troops. The Treaty of Ryswick, drawn up in 1697, returns Lorraine to the Duke Léopold I who must give up Longwy and Dillingen.

In 1766, at the death of Stanislas Leszczynski, father-in-law of Louis XV the King of France, Lorraine becomes part of France. Three territories which belong to German families become foreign enclaves : the abbey of Senones which belongs to the Princes of Salm, the County of Dabo which belongs to the Leiningen family, and Drulingen which belongs to the Counts of Nassau-Sarrebrück. 

In 1790, Lorraine is divided into four departements: Meurthe, Meuse, Moselle and Vosges. The annexation of some foreign enclaves takes place in 1793.

In 1815, Lorraine loses Sarrelouis and Sarrebrück to the benefit of Prussia.

In 1871 after the French defeat, almost all the departement of Moselle and a part of the departement of Meurthe are annexed by Germany. According to the Treaty of Franckfurt, the inhabitants of Lorraine may choose to keep their French nationality and leave the annexed territories before October 31st 1872. In Metz, twenty per cent of the population left the city.

Between 1914 and 1918, the first World War devastates the agricultural areas around Verdun and Pont-à-Mousson, but the industrial areas are preserved. The annexed territories return to France at the end of the war.

Between 1940 and 1944, Moselle is re-annexed by Germany. More than 100,000 French speaking people have to leave. Eventually Moselle returns to France in 1945.

Alsace-Lorraine (1871-1918)

Alsace and partly Lorraine became German after the French defeat of 1870. It was only from 1871 when the Treaty of Frankfurt which stated the split of Lorraine was signed, that the expression Alsace-Lorraine (Imperial Territory of Alsace-Lorraine - Reichsland Elsaß-Lothringen) was used. From Lorraine, the Prussians annexed a territory which is nowadays the departement of Moselle. The whole territory of what is now the French region of Alsace was annexed too.

On May 10th 1871, the Treaty of Frankfurt confirms the annexation of Alsace-Lorraine by the Prussians, and states that its inhabitants will be allowed to declare that they want to keep their French nationality and leave the region before October 31st 1872. After this date, they would become German. About 159,000 inhabitants of Alsace-Lorraine chose to keep their French nationality. More than 50,000 of them left their friends and their home behind them. But many others remained and protested against their incorporation to the German Empire without their consent.

Under German administration, the province is divided into three regions : Lorraine (Lothringen), Upper Alsace (Oberelsasz) and Lower Alsace (Unterelsasz). These regions become the departements of Moselle, of Haut-Rhin and of Bas-Rhin when they return to France in 1918. The annexation of Alsace-Lorraine to the German Empire give to this province institutions copied from the German system or kept from the French system, and some which are completely new. Local law, to which Alsatians are so devoted and which relates to domains like real estate, social insurance, religion and education, hunting or associations, will remain into effect after the return to France in 1918, and even after 1945.

During the First World War, about 250,000 soldiers of Alsace-Lorraine are mobilized in the German army, but 17,000 volunteers join the French troops and they are then followed by many deserters. After November 1918, the return of Alsace-Lorraine to France takes place with some difficulties: expulsion of about 110,000 inhabitants of full or of partial German origin, blunders of the French administration which aggravate autonomist feelings.


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