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Text, Knowledge and Truth In the Duchy of Luxembourg, 1666-1781



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Zago, Tom 


This dissertation investigates the processes, procedures, and performances by which communities in the Habsburg Duchy of Luxembourg produced texts, generated knowledge and claimed truth between the first Marian election of 1666 and the centenary celebration of her patronage in 1781.

The introduction identifies the Duchy as a contested historiographical entity and disputed spatial imaginary by revisiting the prejudices of traditional Luxembourgish scholarship, which has favoured teleological and progressivist interpretations of national genesis.

Chapter I introduces the idea of the inauguration rite as the epitome of royal absenteeism and systemic component of the Duchy’s political culture. It establishes the main actors and proxy agents of the Duchy as a dominion of the Habsburg Monarchy and discusses the challenges they faced as well as the structural opportunities created most notably by the inauguration of Maria Theresa as Duchess of Luxembourg in 1744.

Chapter II contrasts the previous discussion by demonstrating the political and logistical strains caused by royal visits in the second half of the eighteenth century. Adding depth to the local architecture of knowledge circulation, it demonstrates how a handful of actors succeeded in monopolising access to administrative and diplomatic knowledge.

Chapter III observes the translation of knowledge into contemporary historiographical narratives, while slowly shifting our attention towards the temporalisation of a language of identity and community. Taking as its chronological scope the combined lifespan of the Jesuits Alexandre Wiltheim (1604-1684) and Jean Bertholet (1688-1750), the chapter discusses how knowledge remained firmly in the hands of a local elite.

Chapter IV counters the logic of exclusivity of knowledge circulation embodied by Wiltheim and Bertholet by focusing on how it slowly migrated into the more stable – but politically destabilising – medium of print around the mid-eighteenth century.

Chapter V returns to the seventeenth century and analyses how the Jesuits placed renewed emphasis on the figure of the Virgin Mary, thereby generating an alternative collective imaginary dominated by the Jesuit Order and enshrined in the Marian elections of 1666 and 1678.

Chaper VI analyses how this Marian community answered changing political circumstances and shifting dynastic alliances in the early and mid-eighteenth century. Observing the translation of the Marian veneration into a post-Jesuit reality following the Order’s suppression in 1773, the core discussion centres around the centenary celebration of 1781 and how it negotiated the cult’s public nature anew.

The conclusion will outline how, in the nineteenth century, these ceremonies and the truth they represented came to define the cornerstones of a Luxembourgish national sentiment and thus the hallmarks of a distinct state-formation process.





O'Reilly, William
Thompson, Andrew


cultures of knowledge, early modern Luxembourg, history of historiography, Jesuit order, Luxembourg, Luxembourg studies


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge