The Principality of Salm, a state in the Holy Roman Empire, was located in the present-day French departments of Vosges and Bas-Rhin. With the cooperation of the Abbey of Senones, semi-sovereign Imperial counts ruled since 1457. After being divided several times, Salm was never a major player in Europe.
By the late 16th century, the wars of religion surrounded Salm. To the West, Lorraine and France fought to retain their Catholic heritage. To the East, the Protestant Reformation embroiled the Holy Roman Empire.
The Coup d’etat
Three counts shared the rule of Salm. Two Catholics, Jean IX de Salm (also Count of Kyrburg) and his brother Paul who served as attorney general. Their brother-in-law, Frédéric Sauvage du Rhin et de Salm, called Rhingrave, converted to the Reformation and became a Protestant.
On December 29, 1571, the counts achieved an ingenious coup d’état against the Abbey of Senones. They called a meeting of representatives of the entire lordship at the abbey, hosting a lavish banquet. During the meal, they asked the attendees if they would accept both counts as their lords.
How could these lowly peasants refuse after being treated with such elegance?
The people agreed, raised their hands, and took the oath of obedience and loyalty to the counts.
The monks and abbots of Senones regarded the coup as null and void and took their case to the Holy Roman Emperor, Maximilian II. Unfortunately for the abbey, the emperor found in favor of the counts. The Catholic rule of Salm became a shared rule where Protestants and Catholics could live together in relative peace. This unusual situation kept Salm out of the Wars of Religion, which raged all around them.
Bizarre History of Salm – Marriage to Lorraine
In 1597, the counts secured an alliance with Lorraine by the marriage of Chrestienne de Salm, the only daughter and heiress of Count Paul to François de Vaudémont, son of Duke Charles II. The terms of the betrothal contract, however, created the bizarre history of Salm.
The dowry called for half of Salm to be annexed to Lorraine, along with the incredible amount of 100,000 crowns. However, no matter where they drew the dividing line, economic assets could not be divided equally. Consequently, a sharing plan, never seen before or since, divided each village in half, giving Lorraine and Salm the same numbers of inhabitants and income.
Though Count Frédéric Sauvage and his descendants ruled the other half of Salm until the French Revolution, the progressive religious tolerance only lasted until 1623.
Philip Othon, Frédéric’s son bowed to the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II and converted to Catholicism. In exchange for his conversion, Philip received the title of Prince of Salm.
Immediately, he banished Reformed pastors throughout the region and required the entire Protestant population to convert to Catholicism within one year or be exiled. As a result, most of the Protestant community migrated to Saint-Marie-aux-mines where they could worship however they wanted. On March 2, 1793, the French Republic annexed the remainder of Salm and sold the castles and princely estates as national property.
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