“A Manifest Illusion”: The Battle over Sovereignty in Early Modern Alsace in the Mid-Eighteenth Century

Sunday, January 5, 2014: 8:30 AM
Columbia Hall 12 (Washington Hilton)
Stephen Andrew Lazer, University of Miami
For most historians, the battle over early modern Alsace ended with the confirmation of French sovereignty after the War of Spanish Succession. The failure to reach any agreement on where exactly Alsace’s borders lay, however, meant that much of northern Alsace remained a zone of contested authority. One border territory ruled by the dukes of Pfalz-Zweibrücken, Cleebourg, became the scene of intense legal battles at the provincial and international levels. Analyzing the exchanges between Versailles and Zweibrücken regarding legal jurisdiction reveals the central role these juridical justifications played in early modern claims. Mere conquest was not enough to secure legitimate sovereignty; instead, it demanded historical and legal rationalization, which both sides used to defend their rightful rule. The Sovereign Council, Alsace’s highest court, became the primary vehicle for reviving France’s claims by asserting its judicial authority on the basis of royal sovereignty. That step enabled inhabitants of Cleebourg to turn to the Sovereign Council if they believed that it gave them a better opportunity to obtain justice (or the result they desired) than Zweibrücken’s courts. Appeals to the Sovereign Council thus threatened imperial sovereignty and quickly provoked protests. This second avenue of legal recourse severely undermined the duke’s authority, opening the way for France’s last territorial acquisitions before the French Revolution.
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