Visiting Luxembourg City and its Place Guillaume II: an equestrian statue of Grand Duke William II

Flag of Luxembourg
Flag of Luxembourg | Source
Equestrian statue of William II, Luxembourg City
Equestrian statue of William II, Luxembourg City | Source
William II, by Nicaise De Keyser, 1846
William II, by Nicaise De Keyser, 1846 | Source

The complex nuances of commemorating a 19th century Grand Duke

This impressive equestrian statue is situated in the public square known as Place Guillaume II (or sometimes, the 'Knuedler') in Downtown Luxembourg City.

The statue

The statue was the work of two people. The figure of the rider was the creation of French sculptor Marius Jean Antonin Mercié (1845-1916). The horse was the work of French sculptor Victor Peter (1848-1918).

Coats of arms of localities in Luxembourg adorn the base of the statue.

Why the statue?

So who was William II? Explaining who William II was, and why there is a statue of him in Downtown Luxembourg City, is more complex.

For a start, he was Grand Duke of Luxembourg from 1840 until 1849. In French he was known as Guillaume II, in German as Wilhelm II and in Letzebuergesch (designated the national language of Luxembourg): Wëllem II.

He was also King of The Netherlands from 1840 until 1849. In fact, William II never actually resided for any length of time in the Grand Duchy over which he reigned as Grand Duke. Indeed, no Grand Ducal monarch in recent centuries resided there until the year 1890, when the first member of the Nassau-Weilbourg branch of the Grand Ducal dynasty came to the throne. Until then, the reigning Grand Dukes lived in The Netherlands.

So in The Netherlands he was known as Willem II.

So answering who he was and what he was called (Guillaume II, Wilhelm II, Wëllem II, Willem II) depends on the particular perspective behind the question.

Anyway, from the point of view of Luxembourg, over which William II reigned as Grand Duke, why is he chiefly remembered today? (This, at least, might seem a reasonable perspective from which to proceed.)

Well, the main, supposed reason why he is remembered in Luxembourg is that in 1848 he gave the Grand Duchy a liberal constitution. (Plus the fact that his statue is a rather visible and permanent fixture.)

So from this it might be deduced that this is why there is a statue of William II in the square, which also bears his name?

Well, maybe so.

But interestingly, until 1848, when William professed to have become a liberal overnight, William was distinctly disinclined to give approval to liberal, constitutional ideas. In fact, what William II referred to as his overnight change of mind was principally in relation to The Netherlands, to the people of which he also gave a liberal constitution.

So, in the chronology of things, the liberal constitution which he also gave the people of the Grand Duchy was really an added, if distinct, dimension to William's overnight change of mind about the Dutch constitution. Among the supposed ideas associated with the Revolutionary movements of 1848 were popular sovereignty, universal (male) suffrage and the freedom of the press. It is interesting also that in 1848 some of the professedly liberal-minded political leaders in Luxembourg were somewhat hesitant about adopting such ideas. In 1848 the conservative Luxemburger Wort newspaper was founded, which subsequently became a popular vehicle for the expression of church-influenced thinking. Thus it was that, in 19th century Luxembourg, some conservatives were in favour of ostensibly liberal notions of press freedom and universal suffrage, while some liberals, out of scepticism about the influence of the Roman Catholic church, were less than enthusiastic about them.

Where does this leave Grand Duke William's overnight change of mind about a liberal constitution?

Or, stated differently, whom should people celebrate who want to commemorate the eventually achieved universal suffrage and popular sovereignty in Luxembourg? French republican revolutionaries? One of the monarchs? Clergy, comfortable with popular support, who proved to be more influential than liberals and secularists?

But another historical fact associated with Grand Duke William II is that during his reign, native Luxembourg nationals began to be appointed to senior administrative positions in significant numbers. For professional people deemed to be liberal-minded (whatever the hesitations of some of them about notions elsewhere regarded as non-negotiables), this fact may well have concentrated their minds as much as their theoretical gratitude for the liberal constitution with which William II endowed the Grand Duchy.

Why indeed?

Metaphorically speaking, seemingly swirling round the statue of this historical personage are latent theories of sovereignty which have supposedly informed the emergence, as a modern state, of this remarkable country, the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg.

So a statue of William II because he incarnated liberal ideas in Luxembourg, or because he meant jobs for prominent Luxembourg nationals? What do you think?

Also worth seeing

In sight of the statue of William II in Place Guillaume II are the City Hall, and the Grand Ducal Palace; other sights include: the Chamber of Deputies building; the bridge over the Pétrusse valley known as the Pont Adolphe; the former ARBED building.

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How to get there: The nearest large international airport is Luxembourg (Aéroport de Luxembourg ), at Findel, from where car rental is available. For North American travellers making the London, England area their touring base, airlines flying to Luxembourg include Luxair (from London Heathrow Airport and London City Airport) and CityJet (from London City Airport). For up to date information, please check with the airline or your travel agent. You are advised to refer to appropriate consular sources for any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.

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