On 5 January 1921, Jean Benoît Guillaume Robert Antoine Louis Marie Adolphe Marc d’Aviano, or the then Hereditary Grand Duke of Luxembourg, was born in Berg Castle in central Luxembourg to Grand Duchess Charlotte of Luxembourg and Prince Félix. He had four younger sisters (Princesses Elisabeth, Marie-Adélaïde, Marie Gabrielle and Alix) and one younger brother (Prince Charles). Of his siblings, only Princess Marie Gabrielle remains alive.
Prince Jean completed his primary education and began his secondary schooling in Luxembourg, before finishing it at Ampleforth College, a Roman Catholic boarding school in the Yorkshire countryside in England. Upon reaching the age of 18 (and thus maturity) on 5 January 1938, Prince Jean was styled Hereditary Grand Duke, recognising his status as heir apparent.
On 10 May 1940, Germany invaded Luxembourg, beginning a four-year occupation. Having been warned of an imminent invasion, the Grand Ducal Family escaped the previous night, initially seeking refuge in Paris, before fleeing France only weeks later. The Grand Ducal Family then sought refuge in the United States, renting an estate in Brookville, New York. Hereditary Grand Duke Jean studied law and political science at the French-speaking Université Laval, Quebec City in Canada, during this period. Several of his Imperial cousins were students at the university too, and he even shared a room with Archdukes Carl-Ludwig and Rudolph of Austria for a time.
On 6 October 1942, Prince Félix and his son, Hereditary Grand Duke Jean left Canada for the United Kingdom of their own accord to join the British Army. Prince Jean joined the Irish Guards on the advice of King George VI of the United Kingdom and, after some preliminary training (in which the Prince served under the name of “John Luxembourg”), completed his military education at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. Jean was commissioned as a lieutenant on 28 July 1943 and addressed the people of Luxembourg via BBC radio that afternoon.
In August 1943, the Prince continued his training at the Guards’ training battalion at Lingfield. During this time, he served as a guard at Buckingham Palace. He remembers well his mother and sisters’ ‘visit’ while on duty, having to remain motionless the whole time. In February 1944, he joined the 3rd Battalion of the Irish Guards at the Guards Armoured Division based at Malton, Yorkshire. This is where the battalion received training for the Normandy landings on D-Day. On 3 March 1944, Prince Jean was promoted to the rank of captain.
The Hereditary Grand Duke landed near Bayeux, Normandy on 11 June 1944, five days after D-Day. He took part in the Battle for Caen and the liberation of Brussels. On 10 September 1944, he took part in the liberation of Luxembourg before travelling to Arnhem to participate in the invasion of Germany. Once the German resistance had been broken in the region, the Guards Armoured Division of which Hereditary Grand Duke Jean was a member, began moving towards Bremen and Hamburg. At the beginning of April 1945, Prince Jean received the order to return to Luxembourg, where the arrival of Grand Duchess Charlotte was expected. On 14 April 1945, he was in the country to greet his mother and an overjoyed population, even riding into the city on one of General George S. Patton’s tanks. For his military service, Hereditary Grand Duke received many honours, including the US Silver Star, the French Croix-de-Guerre, the Belgian Croix-de-Guerre, the UK Defence Medal and the Luxembourg War Cross with Palm.
Following the war, Prince Jean was dispatched to Berlin, where he became particularly concerned about the deported Luxembourg nationals and the question of their repatriation. His Royal Highness then returned to the service of representing the interests of Luxembourg within Europe and overseas. An athletic young man, Jean practised fencing, tennis, swimming, and skiing, later patronising several Luxembourgish organisations devoted to sports as well serving as a member of the International Olympics Committee from the close of World War II until the 1990s. Prince Jean also had a keen interest in the environment, particularly in the preservation of native vegetation and animal life. His Royal Highness also developed an interest in the American West, spending considerable time in Arizona and Wyoming.
Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom appointed Grand Duke Jean a Colonel of the Regiment of the Irish Guards on 21 August 1984, and from this period to his abdication, His Royal Highness could often be seen riding behind The Queen in uniform during the Sovereign’s Birthday Parade. Queen Elizabeth later made the Grand Duke an Honorary General of the British Army on 17 March 1995.
In October 1952, Hereditary Grand Duke Jean became officially engaged to Her Royal Highness, Princess Joséphine-Charlotte of Belgium, the only daughter of the disgraced King Leopold III of the Belgians and his first wife, Princess Astrid of Sweden. The engagement was not announced to the public until the 26 December 2015, despite rumours swirling in the Benelux press of an imminent engagement between Belgium and Luxembourg. The wedding was planned for 9 April 1953, and a ball was held in Brussels the day after the announcement to celebrate the event.
Speculation began early on that the match had been arranged for political reasons due to Belgium and Luxembourg’s shared interests and neighbouring status. It was rumoured that the Dowager Queen Elisabeth of Belgium, the bride’s grandmother and Grand Duchess Charlotte of Luxembourg, the groom’s mother, were the main instigators of the match. Due to the belief that the union was arranged, the press seemed to conclude that the marriage would, therefore, be unhappy and loveless. It was written that at various times both Prince Jean and Princess Joséphine-Charlotte were said to have fallen in love and wanted to marry commoners, but were prevented from doing so by their disapproving families. However, other press reports and news articles portrayed the heroic war hero heir to the throne and the beautiful and vivacious Belgian Princess as longtime sweethearts, a surprising love match that bloomed after a lifetime of casual friendship.
The belief that the match was arranged was further backed up on the day of the religious wedding itself by the bride’s behaviour, however, before that tradition demanded that Hereditary Grand Duke Jean and Princess Joséphine-Charlotte were married in a civil ceremony in the Hall of Ceremonies in the Grand Ducal Palace in Luxembourg’s capital. The service was officiated by the Mayor of Luxembourg City, Emile Hamilius and was attended by the couple’s respective families.
The following day saw the religious ceremony take place at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Luxembourg City. A crowd of 100,000-140,000 packed the damp streets to watch the events unfold, 100,000 of which were said to be visitors from Belgium. The former King Leopold led his daughter to the altar. Prince Alexandre of Belgium, Joséphine-Charlotte’s younger half-brother and godson, carried her train. The couple had no additional attendants. The bride was said to have appeared pale and nervous during the processional. Upon the commencement of the ceremony, the Princess took up the wrong side of the altar (to Prince Jean’s right) causing both sets of families to switch sides of the church. Concerned over his bride’s behaviour, Jean was reported to have repeatedly asked her if she was all right during the ceremony. The bride then appeared dazed, confusing the order of responses to her vows. This resulted in the Princess breaking down in tears, while a worried Prince Jean attempted to comfort her, before almost fainting while trying to curtsey to her father. During the recessional, the still-upset bride stepped on her train three times to avoid some overeager wedding guests crowding the couple. It was later said that she collapsed back at the Grand Ducal Palace and that the couple had to postpone their honeymoon.
Despite these events and original rumours, the couple appeared to have had a happy and warm 52-year long marriage, which sadly ended with Her Royal Highness’s death from lung cancer in 2005. The couple had five children: Princess Marie-Astrid, Archduchess of Austria (born in 1954); the current Grand Duke, Henri (born in 1955); Prince Jean (born in 1957); Princess Margaretha of Liechtenstein (born in 1957); and Prince Guillaume (born in 1963). The Hereditary Grand Duke lived at the Château de Betzdorf.
On 26 April 1961, Grand Duchess Charlotte made the Hereditary Grand Duke her Lieutenant Représentant. On 12 November 1964, Grand Duchess Charlotte signed her act of abdication and Jean, the Hereditary Grand Duke, became the eighth Luxembourg sovereign since the founding of the Grand Duchy in 1815. The reign of Grand Duke Jean is one of the most prosperous ever known by the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. Even though the events which marked his reign are considered somewhat less notable than those that took place during the reign of his mother, Grand Duchess Charlotte, they have still contributed to the blossoming of political, economic and social life in Luxembourg, as well as unprecedented stability for the country. Most notably, Grand Duke Jean and Grand Duchess Joséphine-Charlotte affirmed the dynasty’s fundamental contribution to the unity and security of the country.
On 4 March 1998, Grand Duke Jean took advantage of his constitutional right, making his son and heir, Henri his Lieutenant Représentant, following the example of his mother, Grand Duchess Charlotte, who had done the same in 1961. On 7 October 2000, Grand Duke Jean ended his reign, stepping down in favour of his son, Grand Duke Henri. He retained the title of Grand Duke. Although His Royal Highness reduced his workload considerably due to his age, the Grand Duke continued to take part in family events and celebrations up until a month before his death.
His final public engagement was when he visited the “Stand Speak Rise Up” seminar in March 2019. The workshop was an initiative taken by his daughter-in-law, Grand Duchess Maria Teresa and had the goal to end sexual violence in conflict-stricken areas.
The Grand Duke was admitted to hospital in April 2019 with a pulmonary infection. The Grand Ducal Court announced several days later that his health was improving.
However, on Easter Sunday, the Court announced that his health had significantly worsened and that the family was at his bedside.
Grand Duke Jean died on 23 April 2019 at 6.01 am with his family at his bedside in Luxembourg. His son, Grand Duke Henri made the announcement, “It is with great sadness that I inform you of the death of my beloved father, His Royal Highness Grand Duke Jean, who has passed away in peace, surrounded by the affection of his family.”
Grand Duke Jean was 98.