For more than years, from the Thirty Years' War to World War II , the political status of Alsace was heavily contested between France and various German states in wars and diplomatic conferences. The economic and cultural capital of Alsace, as well as its largest city, is Strasbourg.
The city is the seat of several international organizations and bodies. The presence of hominids can be traced back , years ago. Alsace is a plain surrounded by the Vosges mountains west and the Black Forest mountains east. It creates Foehn winds which, along with natural irrigation, contributes to the fertility of the soil.
In a world of agriculture, Alsace has always been a rich region which explains why it suffered so many invasions and annexations in its history. By 58 BC, the Romans had invaded and established Alsace as a center of viticulture. To protect this highly valued industry, the Romans built fortifications and military camps that evolved into various communities which have been inhabited continuously to the present day. The Alemanni were agricultural people, and their Germanic language formed the basis of modern-day dialects spoken along the Upper Rhine Alsatian, Alemannian, Swabian, Swiss.
Under Clovis' Merovingian successors the inhabitants were Christianized.
Alsace remained under Frankish control until the Frankish realm , following the Oaths of Strasbourg of , was formally dissolved in at the Treaty of Verdun ; the grandsons of Charlemagne divided the realm into three parts. Alsace formed part of the Middle Francia , which was ruled by the eldest grandson Lothar I. Lothar died early in and his realm was divided into three parts. The part known as Lotharingia , or Lorraine, was given to Lothar's son.
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The Kingdom of Lotharingia was short-lived, however, becoming the stem duchy of Lorraine in Eastern Francia after the Treaty of Ribemont in Alsace was united with the other Alemanni east of the Rhine into the stem duchy of Swabia. At about this time, the surrounding areas experienced recurring fragmentation and reincorporations among a number of feudal secular and ecclesiastical lordships, a common process in the Holy Roman Empire.
Alsace experienced great prosperity during the 12th and 13th centuries under Hohenstaufen emperors. Frederick I set up Alsace as a province a procuratio , not a provincia to be ruled by ministeriales , a non-noble class of civil servants. The idea was that such men would be more tractable and less likely to alienate the fief from the crown out of their own greed. The province had a single provincial court Landgericht and a central administration with its seat at Hagenau. Strasbourg began to grow to become the most populous and commercially important town in the region. In , after a long struggle with the ruling bishops, its citizens gained the status of free imperial city.
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A stop on the Paris- Vienna - Orient trade route, as well as a port on the Rhine route linking southern Germany and Switzerland to the Netherlands, England and Scandinavia , it became the political and economic center of the region. As in much of Europe, the prosperity of Alsace was brought to an end in the 14th century by a series of harsh winters, bad harvests, and the Black Death. These hardships were blamed on Jews, leading to the pogroms of and In , Jews of Alsace were accused of poisoning the wells with plague , leading to the massacre of thousands of Jews during the Strasbourg pogrom.
An additional natural disaster was the Rhine rift earthquake of , one of Europe's worst which made ruins of Basel. Prosperity returned to Alsace under Habsburg administration during the Renaissance. Holy Roman Empire central power had begun to decline following years of imperial adventures in Italian lands, often ceding hegemony in Western Europe to France, which had long since centralized power.
During the next century, France was to be militarily shattered by the Hundred Years' War , which prevented for a time any further tendencies in this direction. After the conclusion of the war, France was again free to pursue its desire to reach the Rhine and in a French army appeared in Lorraine and Alsace. It took up winter quarters, demanded the submission of Metz and Strasbourg and launched an attack on Basel. In , following the Treaty of St.
The latter was able to use this tax and a dynastic marriage to his advantage to gain back full control of Upper Alsace apart from the free towns, but including Belfort in when it became part of the demesne of the Habsburg family, who were also rulers of the empire. The town of Mulhouse joined the Swiss Confederation in , where it was to remain until By the time of the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, Strasbourg was a prosperous community, and its inhabitants accepted Protestantism in Martin Bucer was a prominent Protestant reformer in the region.
His efforts were countered by the Roman Catholic Habsburgs who tried to eradicate heresy in Upper Alsace. As a result, Alsace was transformed into a mosaic of Catholic and Protestant territories. This situation prevailed until , when most of Alsace was conquered by France to keep it out of the hands of the Spanish Habsburgs , who by secret treaty in had gained a clear road to their valuable and rebellious possessions in the Spanish Netherlands , the Spanish Road. Beset by enemies and seeking to gain a free hand in Hungary , the Habsburgs sold their Sundgau territory mostly in Upper Alsace to France in , which had occupied it, for the sum of 1.
When hostilities were concluded in with the Treaty of Westphalia , most of Alsace was recognized as part of France, although some towns remained independent. The treaty stipulations regarding Alsace were complex.
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Although the French king gained sovereignty, existing rights and customs of the inhabitants were largely preserved. France continued to maintain its customs border along the Vosges mountains where it had been, leaving Alsace more economically oriented to neighbouring German-speaking lands. The German language remained in use in local administration, in schools, and at the Lutheran University of Strasbourg , which continued to draw students from other German-speaking lands.
The Edict of Fontainebleau , by which the French king ordered the suppression of French Protestantism , was not applied in Alsace. France did endeavour to promote Catholicism. Strasbourg Cathedral , for example, which had been Lutheran from to , was returned to the Catholic Church. However, compared to the rest of France, Alsace enjoyed a climate of religious tolerance.
France consolidated its hold with the Treaties of Nijmegen , which brought most remaining towns under its control. France seized Strasbourg in in an unprovoked action. These territorial changes were recognised in the Treaty of Ryswick that ended the War of the Grand Alliance.
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But Alsace still contained islands of territory nominally under the sovereignty of German princes and an independent city-state at Mulhouse. These enclaves were established by law, prescription and international consensus. Alsatians played an active role in the French Revolution. On 21 July , after receiving news of the Storming of the Bastille in Paris, a crowd of people stormed the Strasbourg city hall, forcing the city administrators to flee and putting symbolically an end to the feudal system in Alsace.
In , Rouget de Lisle composed in Strasbourg the Revolutionary marching song " La Marseillaise " as Marching song for the Army of the Rhine , which later became the anthem of France. Mulhouse a city in southern Alsace which became part of Switzerland back in , joined France in At the same time, some Alsatians were in opposition to the Jacobins and sympathetic to the restoration of the monarchy pursued by the invading forces of Austria and Prussia who sought to crush the nascent revolutionary republic.
Many of the residents of the Sundgau made "pilgrimages" to places like Mariastein Abbey , near Basel , in Switzerland, for baptisms and weddings. When the French Revolutionary Army of the Rhine was victorious, tens of thousands fled east before it. When they were later permitted to return in some cases not until , it was often to find that their lands and homes had been confiscated.
These conditions led to emigration by hundreds of families to newly vacant lands in the Russian Empire in —4 and again in A poignant retelling of this event based on what Goethe had personally witnessed can be found in his long poem Hermann and Dorothea. In response to the "hundred day" restoration of Napoleon I of France in , Alsace along with other frontier provinces of France was occupied by foreign forces from to ,  including over , soldiers and 90, horses in Bas-Rhin alone.
This had grave effects on trade and the economy of the region since former overland trade routes were switched to newly opened Mediterranean and Atlantic seaports. The population grew rapidly, from , in to , in and 1,, in The combination of economic and demographic factors led to hunger, housing shortages and a lack of work for young people. Thus, it is not surprising that people left Alsace, not only for Paris — where the Alsatian community grew in numbers, with famous members such as Baron Haussmann — but also for more distant places like Russia and the Austrian Empire , to take advantage of the new opportunities offered there: Austria had conquered lands in Eastern Europe from the Ottoman Empire and offered generous terms to colonists as a way of consolidating its hold on the new territories.
Many Alsatians also began to sail to the United States, settling in many areas from to Some settled in Texas and Illinois, many to farm or to seek success in commercial ventures: for example, the sailing ships Sully in May and Iowa in June brought families who set up homes in northern Illinois and northern Indiana. Some Alsatian immigrants were noted for their roles in 19th-century American economic development. They were highly segregated and subject to long-standing antisemitic regulations.
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They maintained their own customs, Yiddish language, and historic traditions within the tightly-knit ghettos; they adhered to Talmudic law enforced by their rabbis. Jews were barred from most cities and instead lived in villages. They concentrated in trade, services, and especially in money lending. They financed about a third of the mortgages in Alsace. Official tolerance grew during the French Revolution, with full emancipation in However, local antisemitism also increased and Napoleon turned hostile in , imposing a one-year moratorium on all debts owed to Jews.
By , the state began paying salaries to official rabbis, and in a special legal oath for Jews was discontinued. Antisemitic local riots occasionally occurred, especially during the Revolution of The merger of Alsace into Germany in lessened antisemitic violence.
We Germans who know Germany and France know better what is good for the Alsatians than the unfortunates themselves. In the perversion of their French life they have no exact idea of what concerns Germany. The end of the war led to the unification of Germany. Unlike other members states of the German federation, which had governments of their own, the new Imperial territory of Alsace-Lorraine was under the sole authority of the Kaiser , administered directly by the imperial government in Berlin.
In , however, the Saverne Affair French: Incident de Saverne showed the limits of this new tolerance of the Alsatian identity. During the First World War, to avoid ground fights between brothers, many Alsatians served as sailors in the Kaiserliche Marine and took part in the Naval mutinies that led to the abdication of the Kaiser in November , which left Alsace-Lorraine without a nominal head of state. The sailors returned home and tried to found an independent republic. While Jacques Peirotes , at this time deputy at the Landrat Elsass-Lothringen and just elected mayor of Strasbourg , proclaimed the forfeiture of the German Empire and the advent of the French Republic , a self-proclaimed government of Alsace-Lorraine declared its independence as the " Republic of Alsace-Lorraine ".
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