Happy Birthday to His Royal Highness Grand Duke Jean Benoît Guillaume Robert Antoine Louis Marie Adolphe Marc d’Aviano of Luxembourg!
Ninety years ago today, Jean was born to the reigning Grand Duchess of Luxembourg, Charlotte and her spouse, Prince Félix de Bourbon de Parme. On that day, a tree was planted to commemorate his birth. It’s still growing, in one of my favorite little parks in Luxembourg City. Although the park is near the well-traveled tourist routes and the major shopping district, it feels secluded. (It’s also close to the Best Retirement Home in the World.) What’s more, the park also opens onto a breathtaking view of the Alzette Valley. The photo of the tree is not my own. I do have a photo of the tree, taken on the day that I discovered it with Anita’s mom, Cindy. But as you can imagine, keeping my collection organized is a constant struggle and it would take as long to find it as it took to write this post. The photo of the view over the Alzette is mine, photographed earlier this week.
Back to Jean’s story: He was the presumptive heir to the throne of Luxembourg when Germany invaded Luxembourg in May 1940. The Grand Ducal family escaped the day before the invasion, to Paris. As the war continued, they lived in the UK, Canada and the USA.
In November of 1942, at 21 years old, Jean volunteered for the Irish Guards, an infantry regiment in the British Army. One week after D-Day (1944), he landed in Normandy. In September of that year, he arrived at the border of Luxembourg with the American troops who would liberate his country. (That’s Jean with his father, Prince Félix, at the liberation of Luxembourg City.)
Grand Duchess Charlotte abdicated twenty years later, beginning Grand Duke Jean’s reign. (Abdications are ordinary and proper in modern Luxembourg, unlike some contemporary monarchies.) Jean’s 35 year reign saw Luxembourg become the country it is today: leading the way in European integration, shifting its economic focus from steel to banking, and forging an identity beyond the domination of its neighbors.
In October 2000, Jean abdicated in favor of his son, the currently reigning Grand Duke Henri.
Fun facts about Grand Duke of Luxembourg, Duke of Nassau, Count Palatine of the Rhine, Count of Sayn, Königstein, Katzenelnbogen and Diez, Burgrave of Hammerstein, Lord of Mahlberg, Wiesbaden, Idstein, Merenberg, Limburg and Eppstein:
- He’ll celebrate his birthday at the Philharmonie in Luxembourg City, listening to a specially commissioned piece of orchestral music, as well as symphonies by Beethoven and Mozart. Most of the Grand Ducal family is expected to attend.
- This year, Jean will be depicted on Luxembourg’s Euro coinage for the first time.
- Jean remained a member of the Irish Guards, frequently participating in British Army ceremonies. In 1984, he was made Colonel of the Regiment, the ceremonial head of the Irish Guards.