John Adamson

A Fine Ligne

Prince of Europe: The Life of Charles-Joseph De Ligne, 1735-1814

By

Weidenfeld & Nicolson 384pp £25 order from our bookshop

THE HOLY ROMAN Empire, Voltaire famously (and inaccurately) remarked, ‘was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire’. As a put-down, it could hardly have been more successful. For while most schoolboys can tell you about the Third Reich, and a select few can even identify the Second (of 1871-1918), almost none have the slightest idea about the First – ironically, the only one of the three that I really did ‘last for a thousand years’, until its dissolution at the hands of Napoleon in 1806. If there is a single reason why we English, habituated for centuries to the constitutional simplicities of our nation-state, fail to understand Continental thinking on the ‘European project’, it is our almost total ignorance of this complicated, but extraordinarily successful, institution: a maze of 111 and partial sovereignties that provided a unified juridical framework for much of Europe – from Brussels to Berlin, the Adriatic to the Baltic – throughout most of the pre-Napoleonic millennium.

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