Neuchâtel : some history
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Inside view of the Red church : Click to enlarge picture
Notre-Dame in Neuchâtel
© Nicolas Friedli

In 1011, Rudolf III of Burgundy presented a new castle (neu-châtel) on the lakeshore to his wife Irmengarde. The first counts of Neuchâtel were named shortly afterwards, and in 1214 their domain was officially dubbed a city. For three centuries, the Earldom of Neuchâtel flourished, and in 1530, the people of Neuchâtel accepted the Reformation, and their city and territory were proclaimed to be indivisible from then on. Future rulers were required to seek investiture from the citizens.

With increasing power and prestige, Neuchâtel was raised to the level of a principality at the beginning of the seventeenth century. On the death in 1707 of Mary of Orléans, Duchess of Nemours and Princess of Neuchâtel, the people had to choose her successor from among fifteen claimants. They wanted their new prince first and foremost to be a Protestant, and also to be strong enough to protect their territory but based far enough away to leave them to their own devices. Louis XIV actively promoted the many French pretenders to the title, but the Neuchâtelois people passed them over in favour of Frederick I, King of Prussia, who claimed his entitlement in a rather complicated fashion through the Houses of Orange and Nassau. With the requisite stability assured, Neuchâtel entered its golden age, with commerce and industry (including watchmaking and lace) and banking undergoing steady expansion.

At the turn of the nineteenth century, the King of Prussia was defeated by Napoleon and was forced to give up Neuchâtel in order to keep Hanover. Napoleon’s marshal, Berthier, became Prince of Neuchâtel, building roads and restoring infrastructure, but never actually setting foot in his domain. After the fall of Napoleon, Frederick III of Prussia reasserted his rights by proposing that Neuchâtel be linked with the other Swiss cantons (the better to exert influence over the lot of them). On September 12, 1814, Neuchâtel became the 21st canton, but also remained a Prussian principality. It took a bloodless revolution in the decades following for Neuchâtel to shake off its princely past and declare itself, in 1848, a republic within the Swiss Confederation. To this day, the Republic and Canton of Neuchâtel is the only one of the 26 to proudly fly a tricolour – green, white and red, with a minute Swiss cross hanging in the top corner.

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