The Last Duke of Lorraine


By Richard Arnold Jones, published 31st May 2005

The Place Stanislas in Nancy has a high reputation. But expectations are far surpassed as one surveys the beautifully proportioned square, with its imposing buildings such as the Hôtel de Ville and the Governor's Palace, its Arc de Triomphe and its magnificent iron work. It is a reminder of how Nancy was once the capital of an independent duchy, itself the vestigial remains of the extensive middle kingdom named after the eldest grandson of Charlemagne. Lorraine thus lay between France and Germany and for many years was ruled by German princes before becoming a part of France in 1766. However, its last duke was neither French nor German, but the exiled King of Poland, Stanislas, after whom the square is now named. The reasons for this surprising development were one of the points of interest raised by the Historical Association tour of Lorraine in 2003, which included visits to the three bishoprics: Metz, where Bazaine surrendered to the Prussians in 1870, and where Foch in 1918 found the sight of French troops marching past the Hôtel de Ville an ample reward for all his efforts; Toul, which Hilaire Belloc left by the Nancy gate at the start of his path to Rome; Verdun, with its grim reminders of the First World War, the Ossuary and Fort Douaumont; and to Plombières, where Napoleon III plotted with Cavour; and Lunéville, the ducal equivalent of Versailles.

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