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
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
Roman origin : ending in 'acus', 'acum' changed in
'y' (Floracium=Fleury ; Commerciacum=Commercy)
Frank origin : ending in 'curtis' (Murici Curtis=
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
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 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
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.