25th November 2021

History of Luxembourg: From the Eponymity to the Battle of Worringen

by Marc Burggraf

The origin of the name Luxembourg goes back to an exchange act dated to 963 (Fig. 1).

In it, Siegfried , from the House of the Counts of Ardennes, ceded an estate in the north of what is now Luxembourg to the Abbey of St. Maxminin in Trier. In return, he received the ruins of a supposed Roman fort called Lucilinburhuc. In the following years, he built a castle on this site, the Bockfels, whose name changed over time to today's Luxembourg. Over the next few decades, a first town centre developed around the newly built castle. This included in particular today's St. Michael's Church, which had its origins as a chapel of the counts.



Fig. 1 - Exchange act of 963 

© Luxembourg City Museum

Fig. 2 - Stained glass window in the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Luxembourg (Artist: Josef Oberberberger / Frant Braunmiller - 1936)

It should be noted that Siegfried's (Fig. 2) ancestry is disputed. The older theory that he was a son of the Ardennes Count Wigerich is still considered the most probable. Other possible fathers are also mentioned, including Giselbert, Duke of Lotharingia. Siegfried himself was Count of Bidgau, but had extensive possessions in the Ardennes and the Eifel.


It was not until the 11th century that a descendant of Siegfried called himself  Count of Luxembourg. This was Konrad I., a son of Count Giselbert of Salm. Konrad's brother, Hermann, Count of Salm, was elected counter-king in 1081 and crowned at Goslar. This first dynasty of the 'Counts of Luxembourg' went extinct in 1136 with the death of Konrad II.



By order of the Roman Emperor Lothar III, the county was transferred to Henry IV. of Namur, called the Blind, a cousin of Konrad II. Henry inherited four counties in the Ardennes in the course of his long life, ca 1112 - 1196. These were Luxembourg, Namur, Durbuy and Laroche. Thus Henry IV became one of the most powerful rulers in the area of present-day Luxembourg and Belgium. 

At an advanced age, he sold his allodia to his nephew Balduin V. of Hainault, and also recognised him as his heir. The latter asked the Emperor Frederick Barbarossa to elevate his expected inheritance, without Luxembourg, to the Margraviate of Namur. However, Agnes of Guelders, Henry the Blind's second wife, gave birth to a daughter named Ermesinde in 1186. (Fig. 3)     


The succesion of the four Ardennes counties was thus called into question and war broke out with Balduin of Hainault, who conquered all of Henry IV's territories exept the county of Luxembourg itself. Balduin died in 1195, one year before Henry, but the question of ownership of the four counties remained unresolved.


The counties of Namur, Laroche and Durbuy went to Phillip I., a son of Balduin V., who thus became Margrave of Namur. Luxembourg itself went to the brother of Emperor Henry VI., Count Palatine Otto I. of Burgundy

Fig. 3 - Seal of Ermesinde, Countess of Luxembourg. 

© Archives Nationales

Fig. 4 - Seal of Henri V. Count of Luxembourg


Ermesinde herself received only the lordship over Longwy and was betrothed early on to Count Henry II. of Champagne. The latter, however, broke this promise a few years later to join the 3rd Crusade. Ermesinde finally married Theobald I., Count of Bar-Mousson, in 1197. He succeeded in making Ermesinde Countess of Lxuembourg after Otto's death and waged war against the Margrave of Namur to regain his father-in-law's other possessions. Theobald died in 1214 without a male heir.


In the same year, Ermesinde married a second time to Walram III/IV., the future Duke of Limburg. The latter and his sons, from both marriages, conquered the counties of Laroche and Durbuy and parts of the county of Namur in the following years. When Walram died in 1226, his eldest son from his first marriage, Henry IV. became Duke of Limburg. His second son Walram became Lord of Monschau and Valkenburg.


Ermesinde retained Lordship of the counties of Luxembourg, Laroche and Durbuy as well as the margraviate of Arlon. She was supported in this role by her stepson , and custodian, Walram and later by her own son, Henri V. of Luxembourg (Fig. 4).


When Ermesinde died in 1247, Luxembourg, Laroche and Arlon passed to Henri V. and Durbuy to his brother Gerhard.

Thus the sphere of power of the Counts of Luxembourg had greatly expanded within a hundred years, On the west, their possesions bordered on the County of Namur, which had however, lost parts of its territory south of the Meuse, as well as the Prince-bishopric of Liège.


The counties of Salm and Vianden to the north of Luxembourg both became vassals of Count Henri V., called the Blonde, around the middle of the 13th century.


In the east, the expansion of the Luxembourg counts was limited by the Archbishopric of Trier.


To the south lay the County of Bar, the Bishopric of Metz and the Duchy of Lorraine.


Ermesinde, her husbands, stepsons and sons waged war with all these neighbours, with changing alliances, which also led to several excommunications.


Fig. 5. The county of Luxembourg in the middle of the 13th century.

© Michel Margue

Fig. 6 - Seal of Henri VI. Count of Luxembourg


However, one must not think of these luxembourgish counties as a territorial unit. It was a complicated network of territories with their own laws and customs. Between them, smaller lordships continued to exist, with changing feudal relationships and their own jurisdiction. It was only in the course of the following centuries that these various territories were reorganised by the counts and later dukes and slowly became a political and legal entity.


In 1281, Henri V died and was succeeded as Count of Luxembourg, Laroche, Arlon by his son, HenrI VI, called the Lion. 


His second son Walram became Lord of Ligny in the County of Bar.


Previously, both sons had twice held the regency of this territory. The first time, when their father was captured at the battle of Prény in the war against his cousin and brother in law, Count Theobald II. of Bar. The second time when Henri V. took part in the Seventh Crusade, which he also

co-commanded after the death of Louis IX. of France.


After the death of Walram V. of Limburg in 1280, the War of the Limburg Succession began.


Henri VI., his brother Walram of Ligny and their cousin Walram of Valkenburg played decisive roles in this conflict.

Opposing them were Johann I., Duke of Brabant, the Counts Adolf V. of Berg, who also came from the Hous of Limburg, and Eberhard I. Count of the Mark. Gottfried of Vianden also joined the Brabant side and thus fought against his main liege lord, the Count of Luxembourg. Through the Counts of Berg and Mark, Siegfried of Westerburg, Archbishop of Cologne, was also drawn in the war, so that in the course of the decade most of the ruling houses of the region hat joined one side or the other in this conflict. The city of Cologne and other towns along the Rhine also joined in.


Gerhard of Durbuy, the uncle of Henry VI. of Luxembourg, sold his claims for Limburg to the Duke of Brabant, but otherwise remained neutral in the conflict.


At the Battle of Worringen (Fig. 7) , east of Cologne, on 5th June 1288, Henri VI of Luxembourg fell with three of his brothers, Walram of Ligny, Henry of Houffalize and Balduin, the latter two being bastards of Henry V.


With the fatal end of this war, Luxembourg's westward expansion also ended. It was also because of this, that the Counts and later Dukes of Luxembourg pursued a greater role in the politics of the Holy Roman Empire in the following two centuries, resulting in three members of the Luxembourg-Limburg dynasty attaining the imperial crown.

Fig. 7 - The Battle of Worringen in the Brabantsche Yeesten - MS. IV 684. Miniatures from 1440/1450  © AGR