The creation of medieval history in Luxembourg

The creation of medieval history in Luxembourg

By Pit Peporte

PhD Dissertation, Edinburgh University, 2008

Abstract: In the Grand-Duchy of Luxembourg, the Middle Ages provide several of the most important historical reference points for national identity. This thesis analyses how this period was given its significance. It studies the presentation of several medieval figures through historiography from their own lifetime to the present, how they entered collective memory and a national narrative of history, and how the symbolic values attributed to them shifted according to changing political needs. In addition, it identifies those figures that were forgotten, so as to explore the mechanisms of historiographical selection.

The purported founder of Luxembourg is the tenth-century Count Sigefroid, who was (wrongly) regarded as the first ‘count of Luxembourg’ by the late sixteenth century. In his posthumous career he became the builder of the local castle and city, the creator of the country and father of the nation. He is often joined by his mythological fish-tailed wife Melusine, borrowed from a late medieval French roman that already hints at links to the rulers of Luxembourg.

The two founders are linked to later themes through Countess Ermesinde. She was a thirteenth-century ruler, rediscovered by nineteenth-century liberals as an early precursor to their political ideals, while a group of Belgian Jesuits used her to foster a pilgrimage tradition. Historiography of the past two hundred years preferred her persona rather than her two husbands’ for creating a continuity within the different medieval dynasties, adding to their national character. Her descendant John of Bohemia was transformed quickly into the national hero par excellence. This process had its origin in late medieval literature where his ‘heroic’ death at the battle of Crécy is remembered. His tomb within the city of Luxembourg helped to keep him in local memory, while the loss of his remains to Prussia in the early nineteenth century created simmering discontent that lasted until their recovery in 1946.

Interestingly, John stands for the pinnacle of a glorious age, whereas his successor Emperor Sigismund tended to embody the miserable decline of an era, despite having been endowed with many crowns and titles. This thesis borrows some of its theoretical framework from the study of lieux de mémoire, and makes use of a broad range of different sources, from historical writing to literature, visual art and popular gimmickry.

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