Lorraine Becomes Part of France Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

In the Treaty of Vienna (1738), which ended the War of the Polish Succession, the deposed king of Poland, Stanisław I, was installed as the sovereign duke of the independent duchy of Lorraine. The treaty stipulated that upon Stanisław’s death the duchy would revert to the French crown. Thus, when he died in 1766, Lorraine lost its independence and was absorbed into France.

Summary of Event

Located between France and Germany, the territory of Lorraine, which gets its name from King Lothair I, was for many centuries a major source of rivalry and conflict. From the tenth century, Lorraine was a German-speaking duchy of the Holy Roman Empire. In 1648, France annexed three of the duchy’s cities, Metz, Toul, and Verdun. However, with its capital in Nancy, the imperial portion of Lorraine continued to constitute a large and prosperous region. Although French troops occupied Lorraine from 1648 to 1661 and again from 1670 to 1697, it became an independent duchy connected to the empire in the Treaty of Ryswick (1697). Ryswick, Treaty of (1697) The first duke of autonomous Lorraine, Leopold Joseph, took measures to avoid conflict with France: He disbanded the army, dismantled fortresses, welcomed French immigrants, and concentrated on developing industry and trade. Thus, during Leopold Joseph’s reign, the French government tolerated the duchy’s autonomy. [kw]Lorraine Becomes Part of France (Feb. 24, 1766) [kw]France, Lorraine Becomes Part of (Feb. 24, 1766) Lorraine French Lorraine [g]France;Feb. 24, 1766: Lorraine Becomes Part of France[1790] [c]Expansion and land acquisition;Feb. 24, 1766: Lorraine Becomes Part of France[1790] [c]Government and politics;Feb. 24, 1766: Lorraine Becomes Part of France[1790] [c]Diplomacy and international relations;Feb. 24, 1766: Lorraine Becomes Part of France[1790] Louis XV Stanis{lstrok}aw I Marie (queen of France) Fleury, André-Hercule de Chauvelin, Germain Louis Leopold Joseph Francis I

When Leopold died in 1729, however, Louis XV and his officials were alarmed to observe that the new duke, Francis I, lived in Vienna and was betrothed to Maria Theresa, heiress to the Habsburg Empire. Habsburg Empire Such an enhancement of Habsburg control over Lorraine was unacceptable to the French. For two centuries, the Habsburgs had been their most dangerous enemy, and in the event of war, an imperial army could easily invade France through Lorraine. Louis XV’s chief minister, André-Hercule de Fleury, although a man of patience and conciliation, was determined, at a minimum, to ensure Lorraine’s neutrality. His foreign minister, Germain Louis Chauvelin, pushed for a more militaristic approach. France and the Holy Roman Empire appeared to be drifting into another armed conflict, and Lorraine was stuck right in the middle.

Rather than Lorraine, however, it was the controversy over the Polish throne that served as the cause of war between the two powers. When Poland’s elective throne became vacant in 1733, the French government gave its strong support to the former king of Poland, Stanisław I, whose daughter Marie was married to Louis XV. A French squadron smuggled Stanisław into Poland, where he was elected by one faction of the Polish diet. Another faction, supported by Russia and the Holy Roman Emperor, recognized a different monarch—Augustus, elector of Saxony—as King Augustus III.

In the resulting War of the Polish Succession (1733-1735), Spain and Sardinia were allies of France, and the fighting rapidly spread to various locations in Western Europe. The three allies, despite the pleas of Stanisław I, were unwilling to commit large numbers of troops for the Polish crown, which allowed Russian and Austrian troops to prevail within the Polish theater of the war. Louis XV’s government was naturally much more concerned about the future of Lorraine and its small neighbor, the duchy of Bar, both of which were occupied by French troops.

In November, 1735, the diplomatic representatives of the powers ended the fighting by agreeing to the preliminary Treaty of Vienna Vienna, Treaty of (1738) (ratified three years later), which included a reshuffling of several dynastic claims. Among the terms of the complex settlement, Stanisław again renounced his claims to the Polish throne while retaining his royal title. As compensation, he was awarded lifelong rule over the duchies of Lorraine and Bar, which were to revert to the French crown at his death. Francis was compensated with the duchy of Tuscany, and he signed a formal document recognizing the transfer of sovereignty over Lorraine and Bar. Emperor Charles VI agreed to accept the transfer in exchange for an endorsement of the Pragmatic Sanction, Pragmatic Sanction Women;royal succession which set aside the Salic law of succession and recognized his daughter Maria Theresa as his heir.

In 1738, the sixty-year-old Stanisław was officially installed as the duke of Lorraine and Bar. In a secret compact with Louis XV, he had agreed to give Louis full authority over the financial administration of the duchy in exchange for a generous pension. The French intendant, Chaumont de La Galaizière, who represented Louis, was responsible for organizing the French system of taxation in the duchies. Because Lorraine had been a German-speaking province of the Holy Roman Empire for centuries, one of the major tasks of the new government was to make the province more culturally and linguistically French.

Duke Stanisław I’s thirty-year reign was generally prosperous and peaceful. Lorraine managed to avoid serious military involvement in the War of the Austrian Succession (1741-1748) and the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763). Stanisław resided in an impressive court at Lunéville, just south of Nancy, which was often called the Little Versailles. He devoted most of his time to intellectual, economic, and charitable activities. Frequently called a “beneficent philosopher,” he became famous for his patronage of art, literature, and architure. He funded several free schools and established the Royal Society of Sciences and Literature. In Nancy, he is particularly remembered for the beautification of the city, where the Place Stanislas still exhibits his good taste and judgment in the choice of architects.

Stanisław, to the consternation of his pious daughter, was committed to the skeptical and liberal ideas of the Enlightenment. His court at Lunéville frequently served as a refuge for those who shared his values. In 1748-1749, Voltaire and the marquise du Châtelet took advantage of his hospitality. Even though Stanisław devoted most of his efforts to developing projects in Lorraine, he continued to take a lively interest in Polish affairs. Prominent Poles were among the members of his court. He wrote thoughtful essays in both Polish and French, and he corresponded with various intellectuals, particularly Jean-Jacques Rousseau. His most famous tract, “Glos Worlny Wolnosc Uberzpieczajacy” (1749; a free voice ensuring freedom), criticized the weakness of Polish institutions and advocated progressive changes, including greater democracy and additional liberties for the lower social classes.

Stanisław I died at the age of eighty-eight in Lunéville on February 23, 1766. On the day after the death, Louis XV’s representatives informed the Estates of Lorraine and Bar that henceforth they were under the sovereignty of the French crown. The royal fleur-de-lys quickly replaced Stanisław’s coat of arms. Within a few years, the two duchies were rejoined with the territories around Metz and Verdun to form the province of Lorraine.


The acquisition of Lorraine represented France’s largest territorial addition since Louis XIV had annexed Franche-Comté in 1674. For two centuries, French kings had tried but failed to gain sovereignty over the duchy. The accomplishment was all the more remarkable because it required so little military or financial expenditure. The addition of Lorraine, however, did not adequately compensate for the loss of France’s overseas empire in the French and Indian War and the Seven Years’ War.

After becoming a French province, Lorraine was allowed to keep many of its special exemptions and privileges. The preliminary treaty of 1735 had guaranteed the continuation of Lorraine’s common law, its separate customs tariffs, and the traditional prerogatives of the social orders, all of which were retained until the French Revolution.

After 1766, the population of Lorraine adopted the French language and developed a strong sense of French identity, whereas the neighboring province of Alsace retained much more of its Germanic culture. With the growth of nationalism in the nineteenth century, Germans would become increasingly discontented with the status of Alsace and Lorraine, which they would conquer and annex in 1871 and again in 1940. Possession of the two provinces was not definitively settled until after World War II.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bernier, Olivier. Louis the Beloved: The Life of Louis XV. New York: Doubleday, 1984. In contrast to most accounts, this well-written biography presents an extremely favorable account of the monarch and his policies.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Briggs, Robin. Communities of Belief: Cultural and Social Tension in Early Modern France. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989. Includes information about Lorraine under Stanisław I.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Fedorowicz, J. K., ed. Republic of Nobles: Studies in Polish History to 1864. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1982. Includes scholarly essays about Stanisław I and the Polish enlightenment.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gooch, George P. Louis XV: The Monarchy in Decline. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1976. A standard and well-respected narrative that emphasizes Louis’s foreign and domestic policy.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Jones, Colin. The Great Nation: France from Louis XV to Napoleon, 1715-99. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002. This historical survey provides a good summary of Fleury’s policies in annexing Lorraine.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Putnam, Ruth. Alsace and Lorraine: From Caesar to Kaiser, 56 B.C.-1871 A.D. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons. Although somewhat dated, this is one of the few English-language works devoted to the history of the two provinces. Many books and articles, of course, are available in French.

Early Enlightenment in France

War of the Polish Succession

Treaty of Vienna

Maria Theresa Succeeds to the Austrian Throne

War of the Austrian Succession

French and Indian War

Seven Years’ War

Peace of Paris

Early Wars of the French Revolution

Related Articles in <i>Great Lives from History: The Eighteenth Century</i>

Charles VI; Marquise du Châtelet; André-Hercule de Fleury; Louis XV; Maria Theresa; Jean-Jacques Rousseau; Voltaire. Lorraine French Lorraine

Categories: History