“I defend myself, and I often capitulate”: a diplomatic history of Napoleon III’s attempt to purchase the Grand-Duchy of Luxembourg
Napoleon III’s attempt to purchase Luxembourg in 1867 and the subsequent diplomatic crisis that unfolded has been remembered by diplomatic historians as one catalyst of the Franco-Prussian War of 1871. However, the affair should be considered as a distinctive event in nineteenth century diplomatic history, rather than a prelude to an inevitable conflict. This thesis explores how Napoleon III’s bid to purchase a country was possible under contemporary diplomatic norms and addresses the geopolitical and personal motives for the attempted purchase. Though modern understandings of national sovereignty have become ossified, the Luxembourg Affair suggests historical understandings of sovereignty and nationality were more flexible. Through an analysis of French diplomatic sources, such as official and personal correspondences, treaties, conventions, and diplomatic protocols, this thesis argues that previous scholars have both minimized Napoleon III’s role in the event as well as the event itself. Napoleon III’s attempt to purchase Luxembourg, and the subsequent Luxembourg Crisis serves as a microcosm of the wider themes of the ‘long nineteenth century’. Such themes include the introduction of politics of nationalism into French foreign policy considerations, the creation & negotiation of the limits of the nation-state, and the mobilization of competing notions of sovereignty. The nation-states of France and Prussia negotiated the utmost limits of justifiably French or German lands and people during the nineteenth century. Representing both German and French national interests, the Luxembourg Affair helps to explain the emergence and solidification of the nation state by embodying a conflict between nation-states over a ‘borderland’.