Thursday, August 29, 2013

Luxarazzi 101: Bürgergarde Weilburg

The main reason for the Hereditary Grand Duke's and Hereditary Grand Duchess' visit to Hesse, which is taking place this weekend, is the 200th anniversary of the Weilburger Bürgergarde which was founded on the occasion of the wedding of Duke Wilhelm of Nassau (1792-1839) and Princess Louise of Saxe-Hildburghausen (1794-1825), parents of (Grand) Duke Adolph in 1813.

   Grand Duke Henri taking the salute in 2012  
(Photo: Luxarazzi)
So what is the Weilburger Bürgergarde that has led (and is still leading) various members of the Grand Ducal Family of Luxembourg to the small town north-west of Frankfurt? While the German word Bürgergarde is often translated as militia into English, the best way to describe it probably is as a civil guard as its main role was as a guard of honour.

In advance to the aforementioned wedding of the then Hereditary Prince of Nassau-Weilburg and the daughter of Duke Friedrich of Saxe-Hildburghausen, later of Saxe-Altenburg (1763-1834) and his wife Duchess Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1769-1818), the town lieutenant of Weilburg had the idea to form a guard of honour to celebrate the happy occasion. His idea met with open ears in the Ducal Family and thus the citizens were asked to form a guard with a military order. Already before, similar organisations had existed but had been dissolved.

On June 26, the day of the domum deductio procession, the newly formed guard marched in front of the Landtor, one of the gateways to Schloss Weilburg, to honour the bridal couple. About two months later, on August 31, the state ministry declared the the Bürgergarde to be permanent upon the instruction of the Duke of Nassau. On the occasion, the guard was given 120 rifles by the Ducal House.

In 1814, the Bürgergarde became an independant unit and militia company of the Landsturm company though seven years later they seperated from the Landsturm and started to exist as a private institution with permanent right to exist granted by the state.

Reburial of Grand Duke Adolph
Photo: Bürgergarde Weilburg
During the revolution of 1848, the civil guard largely was replaced by an actual militia. After its end and the beginning of the restoration period, the Bürgergarde was reshaped under a new captain.

After the annexation of Nassau in 1866, King Wilhelm III of Prussia granted the Bürgergarde a new right to exist in same the form previously approved by the Ducal House of Nassau.

Already during a speech in 1848, Duke Adolph had described the special bond between the people of Weilburg and the branch of the House of Nassau by the same name, "Yet I cannot and will not believe that in spite of all new the old Weilburger haven't remained the same. The loyalty and allegiance of the people of Weilburg to their old dynasty have become proverbial in our country."

In the following years after the annexation by Prussia, the relations between the people of Weilburg and the ousted Ducal Family remained close. On the occasion of the 1000th anniversary of the town in 1906, Grand Duke Wilhelm IV visited Weilburg alongside Prince Eitel Friedrich of Prussia, son of Emperor Wilhelm II. During his visit, the Grand Duke of Luxembourg and nominal Duke of Nassau gave a silver cup to the civil guard. In 1910, Wilhelm's wife and regent, Grand Duchess Maria-Ana, gifted the restored flag to the Bürgergarde.

During the funerals of Grand Duke Wilhelm IV in 1912 and his mother Grand Duchess Adelheid-Marie in 1916, the Weilburger Bürgergarde stood guard. Both of them were laid to rest in the chapel of Schloss Weilburg.

After the end of World War II, the American occupying forces prohibited the civil guard and all historical weapons and uniforms were burnt. A few years later, a citizen's association was founded and since 1959 they are a registered association. Only in 1966, the Bürgergarde received new riffles. To this day they are wearing expensive replicas of the historical uniforms.

The first major post-war event was the transfer of the remains of Grand Duke Adolph into the castle chapel in Weilburg in 1953. On the occasion, Grand Duke Jean and his siblings Prince Charles, Princess Elisabeth and Princess Marie-Adélaïde visited the home of their ancestors. To this day, the Bürgergarde stands guard for Nassau's last ruler on November 17, the day of his death.

Grand Duke Jean and Grand Duchess
Joséphine-Charlotte in Weilburg
(Photo: Weilburger Bürgergarde)
Grand Duke Jean and Grand Duchess Joséphine-Charlotte visited Weilburg at least three times; in 1977 on a state visit, in 1990 together with Germany's president Richard von Weizäcker and in 1997. Since becoming head of state, Grand Duke Henri has visited the town at least twice. Together with Grand Duchess Maria Teresa and Hereditary Grand Duke Guillaume in 2005 to mark the centenary of Grand Duke Adolph's death and one more time accompanied only by his wife last year to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the death of Grand Duke Wilhelm IV.
Every time members of the Grand Ducal Family are on an official visit to Weilburg, the Bürgergarde is out in full force to form a guard of honour, which isn't too surprising considering that the reigning Grand Duke is always also the Duke of Nassau and thus colonel-in-cief of the civil guard. If a new captain is chosen, the Grand Duke is notified and over the years many members of the Bürgergarde have received the Luxembourgish Civil and Military Order of Merit of Adolphe of Nassau. The celebrations for the 200th anniversary of the guard takes place under the patronage of no other than the Grand Duke himself.

As you can see, by visiting the ancestral home of their branch of the House of Nassau, Hereditary Grand Duke Guillaume and Hereditary Grand Duchess Stéphanie, who are also the Hereditary Prince and Hereditary Princess of Nassau, follow the footsteps set by many other family members.

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