H.R.H. Grand Duke Jean
05 January 1921
at Berg Castle, Luxembourg
Grand Duke Jean Benoît Guillaume Robert Antoine Louis Marie Adolphe Marc d’Aviano de Luxembourg, Duke of Nassau, Prince of Bourbon-Parma, was the eldest son of Grand Duchess Charlotte and Prince Félix of Bourbon-Parma. His godfather was His Holiness Pope Benedict XV.
Prince Jean spent most of his childhood at Berg Castle. He started his primary and secondary education in Luxembourg and completed it at Ampleforth College (Yorkshire) in Great Britain from 1934 to 1938. When he came of age on 5 January 1939, he received the title of Crown Prince of Luxembourg in his capacity as Heir Apparent to the Crown of the Grand Duchy.
The Crown Prince married Princess Joséphine-Charlotte of Belgium on 9 April 1953.
For more information on H.R.H. Grand Duchess Joséphine-Charlotte
Their Royal Highnesses Grand Duchess Charlotte, Prince Felix and Prince Jean
Years of exile and war
On 10 May 1940, Prince Jean left Luxembourg with his parents to escape German occupation. The family took refuge first in France, then in Spain and finally in Portugal. The next stage took them to the United States, Canada and Great Britain. In Quebec, Prince Jean studied law and political science at Laval University.
Between 1941 and 1942, Prince Jean went on a Goodwill Tour to meet the Luxemburgish diaspora in the United States and in Brazil on behalf of his mother H.R.H. Grand Duchess Charlotte and with the support of the government of Prime Minister Pierre Dupong. The objective of the tour was to create a solidarity movement and to set up a support fund for the reconstruction of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, the National Relief Fund.
This Goodwill Tour took him to major cities in the American Midwest, where a large community of Luxembourgers and their descendants lived: Chicago, Aurora, Dubuque, Luxemburg, Remsen, Milwaukee, Saint Paul, Minneapolis and Port Washington. During the Goodwill Tour, the Prince condemned the invasion of the Grand Duchy:
In his speeches, Prince Jean denounced the actions in Germany and Europe of Chancellor Adolf Hitler and called on the Americans and the Luxemburgish diaspora to show solidarity with the Grand Duchy.
Between 19 June and 8 July 1942, Prince Jean continued his tour in Brazil, where large colonies of Luxembourgers had settled as well.
Prince Jean’s military service in the British army
On 6 October 1942, the Crown Prince and his father, Prince Félix, left Canada for Great Britain to join the British army. Following the advice of King George VI, Prince Jean joined the Irish Guards. The first few months of training took the Prince to Caterham and Pirbright and eventually to the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, established in Mons Barracks, Aldershot, which he left with the rank of Second Lieutenant on 28 July 1943. On the same day, he addressed the Luxembourg people on the BBC.
In August 1943, the Prince joined the Guards training battalion at Lingfield. During this period, he was sometimes on guard outside Buckingham Palace and he always vividly remembered the 'visit’ of his mother and sisters when he was supposed to remain completely still.
In February 1944, he joined the 3rd Battalion Irish Guards in the Guards Armoured Division stationed at Malton, Yorkshire. There, the battalion received training in preparation for the Normandy landings. On 3 March 1944, Prince Jean was promoted to lieutenant. At the end of April, the battalion moved to Eastbourne in great secrecy.
Landing and liberation
On 11 June 1944, Prince Jean landed in Normandy as part of a reinforcement unit. His unit preceded the 3rd Battalion which did not land near Arromanches until 23 June. He subsequently served in Normandy in the 32nd Brigade of the Guards Armoured Division, taking part in the Battle of Caen (Operation Goodwood). Having suffered heavy losses, the Guards Armoured Division was then placed under the command of XXX Corps and was ordered to advance towards the Belgian border.
On 25 August (the day of the liberation of Paris), the soldiers of the Division crossed the Seine near Vernon; on 29 August, they were on the Somme. Liberating Arras and Douai in the process, they reached Brussels on the evening of 3 September. The next day, the division took part in the military ceremonies in front of the monument of the Unknown Soldier and in front of the Hôtel de Ville, then continued towards the east. On 7 September in Bourg-Léopold, Prince Jean received the order to join his father, Prince Félix, with the 5th American armoured division (Victory Division).
On 10 September 1944, a few hours after his father, he crossed the Luxembourg border with the American troops who liberated the Grand Duchy. In the afternoon, he arrived in Luxembourg City, where a large crowd greeted him with great enthusiasm.
On 10 September 1944, Prince Félix and Prince Jean victoriously enter Luxembourg
End of hostilities
After spending a few days in liberated Luxembourg, Prince Jean joined his unit engaged in Operation Market Garden (liberation of Arnhem) on 17 September. During the Battle of the Bulge, the Guards Armoured Division was stationed between Tienen and Namur with the mission of blocking the road to Antwerp.
On February 11th, 1945, the 32nd Brigade was engaged in the Reichswald attacks (south of Nijmegen) against the Siegfried Line. It participated in the capture of the Reichswald northwest of Wesel and continued the campaign with the Allied forces in Germany until the end of hostilities.
Once the German resistance in this sector was broken, the Guards Armoured Division moved towards Bremen and Hamburg. At the beginning of April 1945, Prince Jean was ordered to go to Luxembourg, where the return of Grand Duchess Charlotte was expected. On 14 April 1945, the Crown Prince returned to Luxembourg to witness the triumphant return of his mother.
A few days after the capitulation of Germany, he was seconded, with the rank of Captain of the Irish Guards, to the allied military mission in Luxembourg. He was sent to Berlin, where he took a particular interest in the fate of deported Luxembourgers and their repatriation. He was appointed Colonel of the newly created Luxembourgish army on 17 July 1945 and later assisted Prince Félix in the general inspection.
Prince Jean was demobilised from the Irish Guards in June 1947.
On 21 August 1984, he was promoted to Colonel of the Irish Guards and on 17 March 1995, he was appointed Honorary General of the British Army.
Grand Duke Jean holds a large number of Luxembourgish and foreign honours, including the following military decorations:
- Luxembourg Croix de Guerre avec Palme
- Silver Star Medal (USA)
- French Croix de Guerre
- Belgian Croix de Guerre 1940 avec Palme
- Oorlogsherinneringskruis (Netherlands)
- 1939–1945 Star (UK)
- France and Germany Star (UK)
- Defence Medal (GB)
- War Medal 1939–1945 (GB)
Grand Duke Jean gave an account of his involvement in World War II in an article entitled 'A Colonel’s Story’, which appeared in the Irish Guards Journal No 58 in 1999.
He accepted the honorary presidency of the Veterans’ Association and the honorary presidency of Unio’n (Union des mouvements de la Résistance luxembourgeoise – Union of the Luxembourgish resistance movements) and also became the honorary president of the Pupilles de la Nation (Wards of the Nation).
Marriage to Princess Joséphine-Charlotte of Belgium
On 9 April 1953, the Crown Prince married Princess Joséphine-Charlotte of Belgium in the Notre-Dame Cathedral of Luxembourg. The couple settled down in in Betzdorf Castle, where their children Princess Marie-Astrid (1954), Prince Henri (1955), Prince Jean (1957), Princess Margaretha (1957) and Prince Guillaume (1963) were born.
Accession to the Throne
From 1951 to 1961, the Crown Prince was a member of the Council of State, which enabled him to perfect his knowledge of the political life of the country.
On 28 April 1961, Grand Duchess Charlotte appointed Prince Jean as Lieutenant-Représentant.
H.R.H. Grand Duchess Charlotte signs the acts of abdication and accession to the Throne of H.R.H. Grand Duke Jean on 14 November 1964
On 12 November 1964, during a ceremony at the Grand Ducal Palace, Grand Duchess Charlotte signed the declaration of abdication by which she renounced the Crown of the Grand Duchy in favour of her son after 45 years of reign. On the same day, the solemn swearing-in ceremony of Grand Duke Jean took place in the Chamber of Deputies. He declared:
The Grand Duke and Grand Duchess made numerous State visits, notably to the Vatican (1965), Brazil (1965), United Kingdom (1972), the USSR (1975), Tunisia (1975), Senegal (1977), China (1979) and the United States of America (1984), to mention but a few.
For Grand Duke Jean, the official visit to the United States in November 1984 was a 'foreign policy event of exceptional significance’. The couple thus contributed to strengthening ties with many countries, also receiving 39 state visits to Luxembourg.
During the 36 years of his reign, Grand Duke Jean fulfilled his role as Head of State with dedication.
In addition to his representative functions abroad, Grand Duke Jean and Grand Duchess Joséphine-Charlotte constantly sought contact with the population in Luxembourg. While the Head of State's duty was to be conscious of the challenges and opportunities facing Luxembourg, Grand Duchess Joséphine-Charlotte was very active in the cultural and social sectors.
Grand Duke Jean was awarded honorary doctorates from the University of Strasbourg and the University of Miami on 22 November 1957 and 6 May 1979. He was also Honorary President of the Luxembourg Olympic and Sports Committee as well as a Member, and after 1998 Honorary Dean, of the International Olympic Committee.
Commitment to scouting
The Grand Duke’s connection with the scouts movement lasted over 80 years. He was appointed Chief Scout on 28 October 1945, in the aftermath of World War II. A few years earlier, on 12 February 1939, Prince Jean had become Grand Ducal Commissioner of Luxembourgish Scouting.
He presided over numerous meetings of the LBSA council and participated in many Scout events and activities, including Jubica 82, an international camp that brought together more than 3,300 Scouts from 24 countries and four continents in Betzdorf. In 1995, he was awarded the Bronze Wolf, the highest distinction awarded by the World Scout Committee 'in recognition of outstanding service’.
A few weeks before his death in 2019, Grand Duke Jean made a point of participating in the academic session celebrating the centenary of the Luxembourg Guides and Scouts on 1 March, alongside his son, Grand Duke Henri.
A tribute to the 25-year reign of Grand Duke Jean
On 13, 14 and 15 November 1989, the Luxembourg population celebrated the 25th anniversary of Grand Duke Jean’s accession to the Throne. The ceremony took place on 14 November 1989 in the Chamber of Deputies. Prime Minister Jacques Santer stated that:
'Our Dynasty is one of the pillars of our existence and one of the solid guarantees of the country’s sovereignty.'
'The constitutional monarchy that we have freely given ourselves has proved to be a blessing for Luxembourg, since the Family that has been entrusted with this fundamental choice has shown itself, in every respect, to be equal to a task that is noble, of course, but difficult to assume.'
The reign of Grand Duke Jean was one of the most prosperous periods ever experienced by the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. Although his reign may be considered less eventful than that of his mother, Grand Duchess Charlotte, it was marked by the development of unprecedented stability in the political, economic and social spheres. Grand Duke Jean and Grand Duchess Joséphine-Charlotte confirmed the dynasty’s fundamental contribution to the unity and stability of Luxembourg.
Abdication of Grand Duke Jean
Following the example of his mother, Grand Duke Jean appointed his son Henri as Lieutenant-Représentant on 4 March 1998. On 24 December 1999, after almost 36 years of reign, Grand Duke Jean announced his abdication in favour of his son, Prince Henri.
H.R.H. Grand Duke Jean gave a speech on the eve of the abdication ceremony:
After the signing of the abdication decree on 7 October 2000, Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker gave a particularly moving speech paying tribute to HRH Grand Duke Jean and his wife. He said: 'You have had a faultless career’ and 'the Grand Duchess has been your most faithful collaborator.' Addressing Grand Duke Jean in particular, the Prime Minister said: 'You are one of us and you have never given us the impression that you are different from us. (…) We have been and remain proud of you.'
Retired life in Fischbach castle
Grand Duke Jean and Grand Duchess Joséphine-Charlotte spent their retirement at Fischbach Castle. However, just five years after Grand Duke Jean’s abdication, Grand Duchess Joséphine-Charlotte died after a long illness in 2005 at the age of 77. In the same year, the Philharmonie de Luxembourg was inaugurated with the official name Salle de concerts Grande-Duchesse Joséphine-Charlotte.
Even after his abdication, Grand Duke Jean continued to take part in important events, such as the 70th commemoration of the anniversary of the Normandy Landings on 6 June 2014 in Ouistreham. He was the only one among the Heads of State and former Heads of State present to have fought in the war.
His 95th birthday was celebrated with great pomp and ceremony; several hundred personalities, representatives of the world of politics, business and culture, and other royal houses attended the gala concert at the Philharmonie in 2016.
Grand Duke Jean also continued to receive guests at Fischbach Castle, such as ministers from the Luxembourg Government, or a delegation from the National Museum of Military History in 2016.
He was also present at the exchange of views at the Grand Ducal Palace with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in January 2017, and he had no intention of missing the celebration of the centenary in March 2019 of the scout movement in Luxembourg, which has always been very close to his heart.
As he got older, he no longer travelled very often, except to join the Grand Ducal Family in Cabasson during the summer holidays.
As a nature lover, the Grand Duke was particularly interested in environmental issues and the protection of flora and fauna. In his retirement, he travelled around the country to visit churches and chapels, to walk in the vineyards along the Moselle and in the forests. His favourite places were the nature reserve in Remerschen, where observing wildlife and especially waterfowl fascinated him, and the Misery Bridge in Esch-sur-Sûre, with its magnificent view of the lake. The Misärsbréck marshland was also a national nature and bird reserve that he enjoyed visiting. He was a keen follower of the Tour de Luxembourg and an avid photographer and painter.
Grand Duke Jean had 21 grandchildren and 20 great-grandchildren.
In mid-April 2019 he fell ill with pneumonia. He died on 23 April.
In a letter addressed to the people of Luxembourg on 4 May 2019, Grand Duke Henri paid tribute to 'a person of eminently positive character’, to his father who 'remained very attentive to his family, despite the heavy burden he carried with wisdom and a great sense of duty’. He spoke of 'the deep love [Grand Duke Jean] had for his country and the great affection he had for his compatriots in their unity and diversity’ and that his father 'felt an intense pride in seeing his country’s progress over the last few decades’.
The Government declared ten days of national mourning, culminating in the official funeral on 4 May at Notre-Dame Cathedral of Luxembourg, which was attended by many national and international authorities and members of the royal families from Europe and elsewhere.
The remains of Grand Duke Jean were carried in a funeral procession from Berg Castle to the Grand Ducal Palace, where they were displayed until the day before the funeral. Thousands of citizens came to say a final farewell to Grand Duke Jean.
Grand Duke Jean in pictures
The Grand Ducal children in 1934
1936: The Grand Ducal Family
Prince Félix, Sir Winston Churchill and Prince Jean in 1946
Skiing holidays in 1947
Prince Jean and Princess Joséphine-Charlotte in 1953
Prince Jean, Princess Joséphine-Charlotte and Princess Marie-Astrid in 1954
1955: Birth of Prince Henri
1957: Grand Duke Jean and Prince Henri
Prince Jean in Scouts uniform in 1958 at Betzdorf Castle
Grand Duke Jean with the twins, Prince Jean and Princess Margaretha, in 1958
Grand Duchess Charlotte surrounded by her children in Cabasson in 1959
Grand Duke Jean with Prince Jean and Prince Henri in 1962
Family photo in 1962
1967: Family photo at Berg Castle
The Grand Ducal Family
Grand Duchess Charlotte, Grand Duke Jean, Prince Henri and Princess Maria Teresa
Grand Duke Jean in 1982
Grand Duke Jean with his dog Bronco
Grand Duke Jean and Grand Duchess Joséphine-Charlotte in 1989
The Grand Ducal Couple, Prince Henri and Princess Maria Teresa
St Patrick's Day in 2000
Visit to the exhibition on the life of Grand Duchess Charlotte in 2010
95th birthday of HRH Grand Duke Jean
Grand Duke Jean on his terrace at Fischbach Castle
To find out more about H.R.H. Grand Duchess Joséphine-Charlotte