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Keywords: alsace | elsass | crowns: 6 (yellow) | alsace-lorraine | elsass-lothringen | soviet | flag song | red flag |
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Flag of Alsace - Image by Arnaud Leroy, 9 December 2002
Alsace was colonized by the Romans from 58 BP to the 5th century. The region was then invaded by the Alamans, who were eventually defeated by Clovis, King of the Franks, in Tolbiac (now Zülpich, near Bonn in Germany) in 496 or 506.
A Duchy during the Merovingian period (6th-8th centuries), Alsace became a County during the Carolingian period. The name of Alsace appeared in the 7th century with Duke Etichon (aka Adalric), the father of St. Odile, the patron saint of Alsace. The division in Upper- and Lower-Alsace, matching the counties of Sundgau and Nordgau, respectively, was probably based on the Roman dioceses of Basle and Strasbourg.
In 843, the Treaty of Verdun shared the Carolingian Empire among the three sons of Louis the Pious (778-840), Charlemagne's son and successor. Charles the Bald (823-877) and his brother Louis the German (805-876) forced their third brother Lothair (795-855) to sign the treaty. While Charles the Bald was crowned King of Francia occidentalis (West France), Louis the German, formerly King of the Eastern Franks, was crowned King of Germania (Germany). Lothair, who had once expected to keep the whole empire for himself, received an area sandwiched between Francia and Germania, called in Latin Lotharingia, later transalted as Lothringen in German and Lorraine in French. Lothair was succeeded by his son Lothair II (835-869), who promised to retrocede Alsace to his uncle Louis the German. After Lothair II had died without a heir, the Treaty of Mersen (8 April 870) incorporated Alsace to Germania, later the Holy Roman Empire.
In the middle of the 16th century, King of France Henri II (1519-1559), allied with the German Protestant princes, revendicated the ancient Kingdom of Austrasia, which was limited by the Rhine river and, therefore, included Lorraine and Alsace, against Emperor Charles V. Henri II seized Metz, Toul and Verdun (the Three Bishoprics) in 1552 but failed to seize Strasbourg, the capital of Alsace.
In 1648, by the Treaty of Munster, the Emperor ceded both Landgraviates of Lower- and Upper Alsace to France, as well as the ten Imperial Towns (Haguenau, Landau [later ceded to Bavarian Palatinate in 1815], Wissembourg, Rosheim, Obernai, Sélestat, Kaysersberg, Turckheim, Colmar and Munster) which had constituted the rich Decapole in 1354. Strasbourg was not mentioned in the treaty, but article 57 forbid the building of any kind of fortress on the Rhine downstream from Basle. In 1678, the Treaty of Nijmegen confirmed the incorporation of Alsace to France, explicitely including Strasbourg, eventually included in 1681. The Republic of Mulhouse was incorporated to France only in 1798.
The modern history of Alsace following its forced incorporation to Germany is detailed below.
Ivan Sache, 9 December 2002
The flag of Alsace is a banner of the traditional arms of the province, Parti : au premier de gueules à la barre d'argent côtoyée de deux cotices fleuronnées du même, au second aussi de gueules à la bande d'or accompagnée de six couronnes du même, trois en chef et trois renversées en pointe (GASO) - "Per pale gules a bend sinister cotised fleury argent and gules a bend between six crowns bendwise or" (Brian Timms)
The arms show per pale the arms of Lower- and Upper-Alsace.
In his Notice historique sur les blasons des anciennes provinces de France (Historical note on the coats of arms of the ancient French provinces, 1941), Jacques Meurgey gives the arms of Alsace as De gueules à la bande d'or accostée de six couronnes du même posées en orle, celles du chef opposées à celles de la pointe, that is the former coat of arms of Upper Alsace, indeed placed in the right half of the flag of Alsace.
Meurgey further claims that Lower Alsace used De gueules à une barre dentelée d'or, which is not correct.
Ivan Sache, 14 June 2009
Flag of Alsace hoisted upside down - Image by Arnaud Leroy, 29 August 2009In Les Dernières Nouvelles d'Alsace, 5 August 2009, Marie-Thérèse Fischer complains about the incorrect hoisting of the Alsatian flag, with a photo of the flag hoisted upside down, "somewhere in the arrondissement of Molsheim".
Ivan Sache, 29 August 2009
From 1870 to 1919, Alsace-Lorraine (indeed Alsace-Moselle) was an Imperial Territory (Reichsland) of Germany; accordingly the only official (national) flag was the black-white-red national flag. The Reichsland's coat of arms was was a combination of the arms of Lower and Upper-Alsace with, oddly enough, the arms of Lorraine. Oddly, because the territory of what is now the Department of Moselle was not completely included in the old Duchy of Lorraine, its Lorraine part representing only a small part of the old duchy. The shield, surmounted by a princely crown, was placed on the breast of the German Imperial eagle surmounted by an Imperial crown. This coat of arms should be used only by the authorities of the territory. There was also a service flag for the authorities of the Reichsland, which was the national flag with the central shield of the coat of arms surmounted by the princely crown placed in the canton.
There was no official flag for the population, either for the territory of Alsace-Lorraine, or for each of the districts: Upper-Alsace, Lower-Alsace and Lorraine. However, flags were used unofficially. According to written sources of that time:
- the flag of Alsace was horizontally divided yellow-red;
- the flag of Lorraine was horizontally divided red-yellow;
- the flag of Alsace-Lorraine (the whole territory) was horizontally divided white-red-yellow.
The colours of the flag came from the central shield of the coat of arms of the territory. In fact, the flags actually used at that time were quite different.
Traditional flag of Alsace - Image by Ivan Sache, 6 August 1998
The flag of Alsace was not yellow-red, but red-white.
The flag of Lorraine was not red-yellow, or yellow-red or white-red-yellow but blue-white! The origins of these colours are unknown. This flag was short-lived and it is mentioned that the Alsatian flag became de facto the flag of the territory in the beginning of the 20th century. The service flag was also used as a national flag, unofficially.
In 1911, the territory was granted a new Constitution prescribing more autonomy. Two flag proposals were designed, the first yellow-red-white (designed by the Prussian Heraldry Office), and the second red-white (based on the Alsatian flag) with a big yellow Cross of Lorraine in the canton. Adopted by the Alsace-Lorraine Assembly, the second proposal was rejected by the German authorities. This flag never had any official status, but is used now by the Alsace-Lorraine National Forum.
Source: Pascal Vagnat. Les identités régionales, nationales et supranationales dans la grande région Saar-Lor-Lux à travers les emblèmes : histoire, perceptions, conflits. Unpublished University memory
Pascal Vagnat, 6 August 1998
The Alsatian Flag Song Das Elsässische Fahnenlied was written, in German, by Emil Woerth in 1911. Although Alsatian and German are two different languages, the written form of Alsatian is German.
1. Sei gegrüsst, du unsres Landes Zeichen
Elsass Fahne flatternd froh im Wind
Deine Farben, lieblich ohnen Gleichen
Leuchten stets, wo wir versammelt sind
Weiss un rot,
Die Fahne sehen wir schweben
Bis zum Tod,
Sind treu wir ihr ergeben
2. Echt und recht, wie unsre Väter waren
Wollen wir in Tat und Worten sein
Unsre Art, wir wollen sie bewahren
Auch in Zukunft makellos und rein
3. Und ob Glück, ob Leid das Zeitgetriebe
Jemals bringe unserm Elsassland
Immer stehn wir in unentwegter Liebe
Freudig wir zu ihm mit Herz und Hand
4. Lasst uns drum auf unsre Fahne schwören
Brüder ihr vom Wasgau bis zum Rhein
Niemals soll uns im fremder Hand betören
Treu dem Elsass wollen stets wir sein
1. Be saluted, you, the emblem of our country,
The Alsatian flag joyously flying in the wind.
Your colours, graciously peerless,
Shall shine for ever where we get together.
White and red,
We shall see the flag flying,
We shall be faithfully devoted to him.
2. Genuine and right, like our fathers,
That is how we want to be in our acts and talks
We want to preserve our manners
Also in the future, unblemished and pure.
3. And if time brings either luck or misfortune
To our Alsatian land,
We shall keep love for ever
To it with heart and hand.
4. Let us therefore swear on our flag,
Brothers from Wasgau to the Rhine
We shall never be placed in foreign hands
We want to remain faithful to Alsace forever.
Ivan Sache, 21 June 2003
Soviet red flag - Image by Santiago Dotor, 26 November 2001
In October 1918, a few German generals, led by Luddendorff, refusing to recognize that the war was lost, decided to attempt a last-ditch struggle, using the powerful German Navy. In Kiel, the main German port on the Baltic Sea, seamen mutinied and established a Soviet. Workers' trade-unions joined them, and the insurgents, carrying red flags, marched against the neighbouring towns.
At that time, several of the 15,000 Alsatians and Lorrains incorporated into the Kriegsmarine joined the uprising and decided to rouse their homeland to revolt. On 8 November, the proclamation of the Republic of Councils in Bavaria was aired in Strasbourg, the capital of Alsace. Next day, thousands of demonstrators rallied on the Kléber Square, the main square in Strasbourg, to acclaim the first insurgents returning from northern Germany. When a train controlled by insurgents was blocked on the Kehl bridge, a loyalist commander ordered to shoot. One insurgent was killed, but his fellows took the control of the town of Kehl.
The insurged seamen established a Council of Strasbourg Soldiers and took the control of the town. Red flags were hoisted all over the town, including on the spire of the cathedral (142 m above ground level). A Council of Workers and Soldiers was then established, presided by the leader of the brewery workers' union. Their motto was: "We have nothing in common with capitalist states, our motto is: neither German neither French nor neutral. The red flag won." [There are three negations in the original sentence, which is also grammatically incorrect in French].
The social-democrat leader in Strasbourg, Jacques Peirotes, required the French generals "to bring forward the entrance of French troops in the town, the domination by the Reds being about to have a tragical outcome". Scheduled to 25 November, the entrance of the troops was brought forward to 22 November. The Council of Workers and Soldiers transferred all power to the French army and all the decrees it had proclaimed were immediatly cancelled.
Such Soviets were also established in other Alsatian towns: the first of them was founded in Haguenau on 9 November, followed by Mulhouse, Sélestat and Colmar. All over the front, French and German soldiers fraternized and marched with red flags. In Lorraine, several Italian immigrants joined the insurrection. In Metz, the insurgents' Council occupied the town hall, on which was hoisted a Turkish flag whose crescent and star had been coloured with red lead paint.
Source: Didier Daeninckx, 11 novembre 1918: le drapeau rouge flotte sur Strasbourg et l'Alsace proclame la République des soviets... Amnistia. net, 10 November 2000.
Ivan Sache, 26 November 2001
After the First World War, the only official flag in Alsace was the French Tricolor. As the return to France was somewhat difficult, an autonomist movement appeared in Alsace, promoting the red-white flag. This flag is reported to have been used mainly in the Alsatian countryside. The Lorraine flag had vanished. The Second World War had as consequence the vanishing of the emblems used during the period 1870-1919 in Alsace and Moselle.
Source: Pascal Vagnat. Les identités régionales, nationales et supranationales dans la grande région Saar-Lor-Lux à travers les emblèmes : histoire, perceptions, conflits. Unpublished university memory
Pascal Vagnat, 21 September 1998