H.R.H. Grand Duchess Charlotte
23 January 1896
at Berg Castle, Luxembourg
Grand Duchess Charlotte Adelgonde Élisabeth Marie Wilhelmine of Luxembourg, Duchess of Nassau, was the second daughter of Grand Duke Guillaume IV and Grand Duchess Maria Ana, born Princess of Braganza. She was Grand Duchess of Luxembourg from 1919 until her abdication in 1964.
She had six children with Prince Félix of Bourbon-Parma:
- Prince Jean (1921–2019),
- Princess Elisabeth (1922–2011),
- Princess Marie-Adélaïde (1924– 2007),
- Princess Marie-Gabrielle (1925-),
- Prince Charles (1927–1977),
- Princess Alix (1929–2019).
She died on 9 July 1985 at Fischbach Castle.
Portrait of H.R.H. Grand Duchess Charlotte
Early years and accession to the Throne
Princess Charlotte spent her childhood years at Berg Castle and Hohenburg Castle. While she did not receive any specific education to prepare her for her duties as future Grand Duchess, she was the first generation of the Grand Ducal Family, along with her five sisters, to receive lessons in Luxembourgish language and culture.
Grand Duchess Charlotte and her sisters
Charlotte ascended the Throne following the abdication of her sister, Marie-Adélaïde, a few days before her 23rd birthday. On 15 January 1919, she took the oath of office before a delegation from the Chamber of Deputies at Berg Castle. On the previous day, 30 deputies had voted in favour of sending the delegation to the swearing-in ceremony, 19 had voted against.
On 18 January, she issued a proclamation, in which she stated:
With these words, the Grand Duchess Charlotte clearly indicated that she intended to respect the political balance of power and thus stay above the political fray. Moreover, she overcame the distance with the Luxemburgish nation that Grand Duchess Marie-Adélaïde had left by surrounding herself with a Germanophile entourage. Grand Duchess Charlotte was the first sovereign of the country to address the population in Luxembourgish.
Portrait of H.R.H. Grand Duchess Charlotte
Nine months later, a double referendum was held on the economic orientation of the country (economic union with France or Belgium), and on the question of the future political system of the State on 28 September 1919. The result was a clear vote in favour of maintaining the dynasty under Grand Duchess Charlotte (77.8% of the valid votes), who could hence rely on a double legitimacy, constitutional and democratic.
Marriage in Luxembourg
H.R.H. Grand Duchess Charlotte marries Prince Félix
On 6 November 1919, Grand Duchess Charlotte married Prince Félix of Bourbon-Parma in Luxembourg. This was the first Grand Ducal wedding to take place in Luxembourg, which helped anchor the Grand Ducal Family in the hearts of the nation.
Prince Félix and Grand Duchess Charlotte in front of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem during their honeymoon
The interwar years
The interwar years were marked by Luxembourg's entry into the League of Nations in December 1920, and by the creation of the Belgian-Luxembourg Economic Union (UEBL – Union économique belgo-luxembourgeoise) in 1921. Luxembourg managed to get through the global economic crisis and Joseph Bech's government pursued an active foreign policy that enabled Luxembourg to secure its position on the international stage.
In the following years, Grand Duchess Charlotte managed to win the respect of Luxembourgers through showing great tact and sensitivity. Her grace, elegance and simplicity, combined with a finesse of mind and discernment, served her admirably in this work of bringing people together.
Portrait of H.R.H. Grand Duchess Charlotte of Luxembourg
Building a strong link with the population
Grand Duchess Charlotte acted under new conditions, instituted by the revision of the Constitution in 1919, which redefined and circumscribed the prerogatives of the Crown. From then on, the sovereign power no longer resided in the person of the sovereign, but in the Nation. Finally, the sovereign's powers were limited to 'those formally attributed to him by the Constitution and special laws'. This made it impossible for the Grand Duchess to initiate any personal policy.
Consequently, during the ministerial crisis of 1925 and the events of 1937 surrounding the so-called law on order, Charlotte did not intervene. Moreover, from 1926 until the end of her reign, she maintained cordial and trusting relations with the Prime Minister and later Foreign Affairs Minister Joseph Bech.
The threat of war resurfaced in the mid-1930s. Faced with the danger of annexation by Nazi Germany, Luxembourgers developed patriotic feelings, at the heart of which they placed the dynasty.
TT.RR.HH. Grand Duchess Charlotte and Prince Félix at one of the official events celebrating the centenary of the independence of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg
During the celebration of the centenary of independence in 1939, Grand Duchess Charlotte was at the centre of the festivities both in the Luxembourg City and in the cantonal capitals.
On 22 April 1939, before the Chamber of Deputies, she expressed her faith in the country's future:
In exile during World War II
On 1 September 1939, Germany attacked Poland and, eight months later, its troops violated Luxembourg's unarmed neutrality. On the night of 9 to 10 May 1940, the Germans invaded the Grand Duchy. The day before, an extraordinary meeting of the Ministerial Council in the capital decided that the Grand Ducal Family should leave Luxembourg to escape the Germans and place itself under the protection of France. Grand Duchess Charlotte declared that it was a 'difficult, but necessary decision'. Together with her Government, she thus joined the Allied camp.
From France, the Grand Duchess and her family endured a long journey through Spain, Portugal, to the United States of America, Great Britain and Canada. Nazi Germany tried to convince Charlotte to return to the Grand Duchy, but she replied: 'My heart says yes, but my reasoning tells me not to'. The Grand Duchess was distressed at being unable to support Luxembourgers at home, but she understood that she could serve them better overseas.
On the quays of a Portuguese port, H.R.H. Grand Duchess Charlotte is in full discussion with Ministers of the Luxembourg Government in exile
The official seat of the Luxembourg Government was established in London. In 1941, the Grand Duchess settled there and encouraged Luxembourgers to resist German occupation. Indeed, Grand Duchess Charlotte addressed the Luxembourgish people through BBC radio from 1940 onwards. She expressed her solidarity in a speech on 5 September 1940:
"E Gro’ss aus de’fstem Hêrz dén ech glëcklech an dankbar sinn un iech rîchten ze können. Dir wesst we‘ gären ech bei iech bliwe wär, fir mat iech d’Suergen an d’Léd ze délen, de‘ di Deitsch den 10. Mê iwer onst klengt Lang bruocht hun.
D’Wuel and Zo’konft vum Land hun et ânescht gewollt. Et ass nô lânger Iwerléong dat mir ons zu dém Schrött entschloss hun vun iech fortzegoen. Et wor dât ê schwe’ren, mä no’twendege Schrött. An trotzdém ech wéss, dat me‘ we‘ é Letzeburger net domat averstân wor, an trotzdém onse Feind meng Ofeiesenhét vun dohém op all Art a Weis exploite’ert, wôr dé Schrött mir nach kén Ableck léd! En huet mir an der Regierong erlâbt, an aller Freihét, virun der ganzer Welt, bei allen freien Natio’nen, fir d’Rechter and d’Interessen vun onsem Land anzetrieden.
Zönter ve’er Me’nt si mer un der Arbecht.
An haut kennt d’ganz Welt dât Onrecht dât onst Land vun den Deitschen erliden huet an d’Willkür, där d’Lëtzebuerger Vollek ausgesât ass."
'Greetings from the bottom of my heart, which I am happy and thankful to be able to send you. You know how much I would have liked to stay with you to share the worries and pain, which the Germans have inflicted on our small country since 10 May.
The wellbeing and future of our country have led me on a different path. After long and careful consideration, we decided to go away. This was a difficult, but necessary step. And even though I know that more than a few Luxembourgers disagreed with that decision, and even though our enemy takes advantage of my absence in every way, I have not regretted that step for a single moment! It has allowed me and the government to advocate freely for the rights and interests of our country in front of the whole world and of all the free nations.
We've been working on this for the past four months.
And today, the whole world knows about the injustice that our country suffers under the Germans and the despotism which the Luxembourgish people are subjected to.'
Reception in honour of the birthday of H.R.H. Grand Duchess Charlotte and Luxembourg's National Day during the British exile in January 1942
But it was not only the Grand Duchess who played a role in the war: while her husband, Prince Félix, served in the Northern Command of the British Army, her son, Prince Jean, joined the British Irish Guards and took part in several battles.
Her family also suffered under the yoke of Nazi Germany. Her sister, Princess Antonia of Luxembourg, wife of Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria, was deported to the Dachau camp and then to the Flossenburg camp, where she suffered ill treatment from which she never recovered.
The Grand Duchess and Prince Félix review a squad of Luxembourg volunteers outside the Luxembourg embassy in London in 1944
Together with the Government, the Grand Duchess was working towards the recognition of Luxembourg's independence. She met with US President Franklin D. Roosevelt on several occasions and travelled throughout the United States to try to convince US citizens to enter the war. Upon her arrival in New York on 4 October 1940, she declared:
'As I set foot on American soil, I am happy to be among the people of the United States who, under the enlightened leadership of President Roosevelt, have become the guardians of freedom and justice. President Roosevelt's statement that the United States will never recognize territorial changes brought about by violence is a strong comfort to the small and weak. My first duty will be to thank President Roosevelt for all that he has already done for my country.'
Members of the Grand Ducal Family on the balcony of the Grand Ducal Palace during the triumphant return of H.R.H. the Grand Duchess
In September 1944, Prince Jean, accompanied by his father, took part in the liberation of the Grand Duchy with the Allied troops. However, the German occupiers launched the Ardennes offensive between 16 December 1944 and 23 January 1945, which devastated the North and East of the Grand Duchy.
On her return on 14 April 1945, the Grand Duchess was welcomed by an enthusiastic crowd who saw in her more than just a sovereign; she now embodied the symbol of the country's resistance and was seen as the protector of the Luxembourg people. By visiting the regions devastated by the war, she strengthened the country's sense of solidarity.
On 16 April 1945, the Grand Duchess gave a moving speech in the Chamber of Deputies. Paying homage to the resistance of the Luxembourg people, she declared:
'We shall build, despite the ravages and moral wear and tear of years of oppression, a humane city, more just, more habitable especially for the working classes who defended the country with such love, courage and self-sacrifice… I renew the expression of my faith in the patriotic union of Luxembourgers. Hand in hand, we will march forward into the future.'
H.R.H. the Grand Duchess Charlotte is warmly welcomed by the inhabitants of a devastated village in the North of Luxembourg
After these years of war, Grand Duchess Charlotte remained the symbol of a united Luxemburgish nation. She also continued to work for the international recognition of Luxembourg.
In the 1950s and 1960s, the Grand Duchess made numerous official visits abroad, proving to the population that Luxembourg was fully recognised on the international scene. It was during her reign that State visits were no longer restricted to neighbouring countries, but extended across the Atlantic. The beginnings of European integration also took place under her reign.
TT.RR.HH. the Grand Duchess and the Crown Prince are welcomed by the American President, Mr. John F. Kennedy, during Luxembourg's State visit to the USA in 1963
Abdication and retreat at Fischbach Castle
On November 12 1964, H.R.H. Grand Duchess Charlotte abdicates in favour of her son, H.R.H. Grand Duke Jean
On 12 November 1964, after 45 years on the Throne, Grand Duchess Charlotte abdicated in favour of her eldest son Jean and retired to Fischbach Castle.
75th anniversary of Prince Félix at Berg Castle, 28 September 1968
A grandmother of 27 grandchildren, she had a mischievous spirit and her charisma made her whole family gather around her.
Family Christmas at Fischbach Castle in 1984
She wrote poems in English, French and German and had a real gift for painting, drawing and music. She also held a special passion for her garden and flowers. This contact with nature was essential to her. Her strong sense of respect for the environment was passed onto her family and thus can be found in Grand Duke Henri and Prince Guillaume.
She died on 9 July 1985 at the age of 89, fifteen years after Prince Félix.
Funeral of H.R.H. Grand Duchess Charlotte on 13 July 1985
A monument has been erected in her memory on the Place de Clairefontaine, a sign of love and respect of the Luxembourgish people. The 2.75 m high bronze statue of the French sculptor Jean Cardot was inaugurated on 29 April 1990.
Commemoration at the Philharmonie of the centenary of the accession to the throne of H.R.H. Grand Duchess Charlotte
For the celebration of the 100th anniversary of her accession to the Throne in 2019, Grand Duke Henri invited the population to the screening of the film Léif Lëtzebuerger (Dear Luxembourgers) at the Luxembourg Philharmonie, where he paid tribute to his grandmother. The film, which was released in 2014, traces Grand Duchess Charlotte's important contribution during World War II and her struggle to support the Luxembourgish people and the country's independence.
Grand Duchess Charlotte in pictures
Princess Charlotte surrounded by her sisters at Berg Castle
Grand Duchess Charlotte and Prince Jean
Grand Duchess Charlotte and Winston Churchill on the balcony of the Grand Ducal Palace
Portrait of Grand Duchess Charlotte
Grand Duchess Charlotte on the balcony of the Grand Ducal Palace
Grand Duchess Charlotte and President Jean F. Kennedy on the State visit to the United States in 1963
Grand Duchess Charlotte in 1964
Abdication of Grand Duchess Charlotte in 1964
Grand Duchess Charlotte surrounded by four of her grandchildren
The Grand Ducal Family in 1973
Grand Duchess Charlotte and Prince Félix
Grand Duchess Charlotte and Grand Duke Jean