Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

A Slapstick History of the Cockpit of Europe

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

A Slapstick History of the Cockpit of Europe

Article excerpt

Lotharingia: A Personal History of Europe's Lost Country by Simon Winder (Picador, PS20) Richard Bassett IT WAS Winston Churchill who in a moment of bleak candour during the depths of the Second World War observed: "Of all the crosses I have to bear none is more onerous than the cross of Lorraine." He was referring of course to De Gaulle and the truculent Free French, but Simon Winder reminds us that Lorraine, or rather Lotharingia, as he correctly if ponderously calls it, refers to something bigger than that, an area of the continent which our school history books dubbed the "cockpit of Europe".

Flanders, or the Austrian Netherlands, was for centuries a kind of political and economic joint-stock company owned and administered by the Habsburgs with the full support and investment of the British. The great Anglo-Austrian victories over the French led by Prince Eugene and Marlborough, culminating in Malplaquet in 1709, ensured that France never obtained control over this sensitive area even after the advent of Napoleon.

It was Napoleon's victory at Marengo in Italy nearly 100 years later which gave the Austrians the chance to tighten their lines of communication and finally liberate themselves from the expense of centuries of governing these distant provinces. Count Thugut, the brilliant Austrian chancellor, adroitly ceded them in return for the much closer Veneto and the Dalmatian empire of the Serenissima. Thereafter without the Austrians, poor Lorraine became the poisonous bone of contention between the late emerging Germany and France, two states doomed to mutual destruction by their obsession with the mono-national and monocultural. Only the multi-confessional, multi-ethnic empire of the Habsburgs had guaranteed the security and prosperity of such a complex part of Europe. For Winder, however, an acolyte of the Prussophile historian Christopher Clark, the Catholic Habsburgs are never to be taken too seriously. …

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