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Although it reflects the influence of the Celts, Romans, Franks, and a series of more modern conquerors that followed, the story of Luxembourg is one of a slow path toward independence.
The roots of today’s Luxembourg first took hold in 963. Siegfried, count of the Ardennes, purchased the area of its current capital from the monks of the Abbey of Saint Maximin in Trier and constructed a fortress on the site of a Roman castle known as Lucilinburhuc (Little Burg). The town that subsequently developed here became one of the strongest fortresses in Europe, and was known as “Gibraltar of the North” for its enormity and strategic location.
During the five centuries of free rule the followed, Luxembourg's connection with German culture was strengthened, especially when its dynasty was aligned with the German-centered Holy Roman Empire. In 1443, Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, conquered Luxembourg and was responsible for its infusion with French culture. Over the next four centuries, Spain, Austria and France took control of Luxembourg and its sought-after location.
Luxembourg remained in French control until the defeat of Napoleon, when the Congress of Vienna gave it formal independence and declared it to be a Grand Duchy under the King of Netherlands, William I. However, because of its strategic importance, the fortress was claimed by Prussia, who then became responsible for its defense.
In 1867, the Treaty of London declared Luxembourg as neutral. Despite this designation, the Germans occupied the country during World War I. At the outset of World War II, Luxembourg once again declared its neutrality—and was occupied by Germany. The government and monarchy fled England during this time. Luxembourg was annexed to the Third Reich and its people became German citizens compelled to fight in the war. U.S. forces liberated most of Luxembourg in 1944, and much of the Battle of the Bulge was fought here.
Luxembourg has since given up its neutrality to become a founding member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. It is also a founding member of the European Union. Its Grand Duke, along with a cabinet of twelve ministers, holds executive power. Legislative power belongs to an elected parliament.