“Nurse and Baby”

June 1, 1867

artist unknown

“Nurse and Baby”

Children, Symbolic; Colonialism/Imperialism;

No 'People' indexed for this cartoon.

France; Holland; Luxembourg; Russia;

Nurse Holland (dangling Baby Luxemburg). "It's no use, Jentlemans, she vill not go to no vone."

This unsigned Harper’s Weekly cartoon depicts the birth of Luxembourg as an independent nation.  King Willem III of Holland cradles the infant Luxembourg, for which he has been grand duke, while Napoleon III of France and Wilhelm I of Prussia futilely try to gain the baby’s attention and affection with baubles emblematic of their respective nations.

Authority over the small area called Luxembourg, strategically nestled between France and Germany, shifted over the centuries between various governing entities:  the Holy Roman Empire, Belgium, the Spanish Netherlands, the Austrian Hapsburgs, and France.  At the conclusion of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, the Congress of Vienna designated Luxembourg as a Grand Duchy and placed it under the auspices of King Willem I of the Netherlands.  Under this international agreement, the status of Luxembourg was complex, if not contradictory.  It was officially independent, yet was the personal possession of the Dutch monarch and was part of the German Confederation, thus quartering a Prussian military garrison in its capital. 

King Willem I, however, ignored other aspects of the accord and levied high taxes on Luxembourg as a conquered land, causing its standard of living to decline.  In retaliation, Luxembourgians supported the Belgian rebellion against Willem in 1830, after which Belgium announced its assimilation of the duchy.  With Willem I still claiming sovereignty, a Great Powers conference the next year reaffirmed Luxembourg as a member of the German Confederation.  The conference also divided sovereignty between Willem, who got the Luxembourgian-speaking region, and Belgium, which received the French-speaking portion.  Although Belgium readily agreed, Willem I did not accept the settlement until 1839.

Willem II granted Luxembourg its own limited constitution in 1841 and a more liberal one in 1848 that allowed a representative legislature.  The Netherlands also ratified a trade treaty with Prussia in 1842 that made Luxembourg part of the Prussian Customs Union and transformed the country from an agricultural to an industrial region.  In 1850, Willem III named his son as Luxembourg’s governor, and Prince Henry moved the Grand Duchy steadily toward independence.  Despite the economic partnership with Prussia, most Luxembourgians did not favor political union with Germany.  French culture exerted increased influence with the educated middle class in Luxembourg, but nationalistic sentiments outweighed thoughts of political alliance with France.

In the wake of the Austro-Prussian War of 1866, the old German Confederation dissolved and Luxembourg was consequently no longer beholden to Prussia, although the military garrison remained.  The status of the Grand Duchy once again became the focus of European power politics.  In an effort to appease Prussia and keep control of the province of Limburg (formerly aligned with the old German Confederation), the Dutch king was willing to relinquish his remaining authority over Luxembourg.  Meanwhile, the enmity between France and Prussia, which would finally erupt in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, prodded both nations to seek control over the Grand Duchy.  Willem III agreed to sell Luxembourg to Napoleon III (note the “for sale” poster in the cartoon), but relented after pressure from Chancellor Otto von Bismarck of Prussia. 

As tensions rose between France and Prussia, diplomats from other European nations, primarily Great Britain, intervened to bring the parties to the negotiating table.  On May 11, 1867, an international accord recognized Luxembourg’s status as an independent and perpetually neutral state and stipulated the withdrawal of the Prussian garrison.  The Dutch royal house of Nassau remained as the titular rulers, but essentially refrained from interfering in Luxembourg’s internal affairs.  Luxembourg was occupied by Germany in World War I and II, and in 1949 gave up its official neutrality by joining NATO.

Robert C. Kennedy

“Nurse and Baby”
July 14, 2024

Home | About | Contact || Access | Features 

Website design © 2001-2008 HarpWeek, LLC
All Content © 1998-2008 HarpWeek, LLC
Please submit questions to