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Lorraine was originally an independent kingdom. It was created in 843, when the Carolingian empire was divided between the three sons of Louis the Pious. Named after the new ruler, Holy Roman Emperor Lothar, the area and other territories controlled by Lothar became known as Lotharingia. In France, this became known as Lorraine, while in Germany, it was eventually known as Lothringen. In the Alemannic language once spoken in Lorraine, the -ingen suffix signified a property; thus, in a figurative sense, "Lotharingen" can be translated as "Land belonging to Lothar".

Between 843 and 855, Middle Francia was the territory ruled by Lothair I. Upon his death, his realm was split into three parts: the ancient Italy, Provence, and a new creation in the north, called Lotharingia from the Latin Lotharii Regnum, a designation for the son of Lothair's who ruled it: Lothair II. On Lothair's death without heirs in 869, by the Treaty of Mersen, his uncles Charles the Bald and Louis the German agreed to divide his realm. Thereafter, the reunion of divided Lotharingia was a prime ambition of most German and French monarchs. The Emperor Arnulf appointed his illegitimate son Zwentibold king in Lotharingia in 895 and on the latters death it passed to the king of Germany, Louis the Child. Charles III of France reunited the kingdom in 910 and appointed Reginar I as his margrave in Lotharingia. Subsequent wars saw Charles deposed and the duchy annexed in its entirety by Henry the Fowler of Germany. Thereafter, Lorraine was a independet stem duchy within the German kingdom from around 910 to its partition in 959.

In 959, the duchy was divided into Upper and Lower regions which became permanent following the death of Duke Bruno. Upper Lorraine was first denominated as the Duchy of the Moselle, both in charters and narrative sources, and its duke was the dux Mosellanorum. The usage of Lotharingia Superioris and Lorraine in official documents begins later, around the fifteenth century. However, the dukes of Upper Lorraine gradually came to be known simply as the dukes of Lorraine, because the significance of the Lower duchy declined greatly in the latter half of the eleventh century.

The House of Guise, which played an important role in the Wars of Religion of the 16th century, is a junior branch of the House of Lorraine.

In the 17th century, the French kings began to covet Lorraine, which lay between France proper and its possessions in Alsace. Lorraine, after siding with the Emperor in the Thirty Years' War, was largely occupied by France in 1641. In 1670, the French invaded again, forcing Duke Charles IV to flee to a Viennese exile. The French continued to occupy Lorraine for almost thirty years, only giving it up to Charles's heir by the Treaty of Ryswick which ended the Nine Years War in 1697. The Duchy was again occupied by France during the War of the Spanish Succession, although Duke Leopold Joseph continued to reign. Leopold's son and successor, Francis Stephen, was forced to give up the Duchy in 1737, after the War of the Polish Succession, in exchange for the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. Francis Stephen was betrothed to Archduchess Maria Theresa, daughter and heir to Charles VI, and the French would only approve the marriage if Francis gave up his rights to Lorraine. Francis and Maria Theresa's marriage resulted in the House of Habsburg-Lorraine. Replacing Francis Stephen in Lunéville in 1733 was the last Duke of Lorraine, Stanislaus Leszczynski, former king of Poland, Louis's son-in-law, with the understanding that it would revert to the French crown upon his death. With Stanislas's death in 1766, the long independent history of the Duchy of Lorraine came to an end, and the Duchy was annexed to France.

Lorraine, along with Alsace, has long been contested territory between France and Germany. Until the 16th and 17th centuries, the area was predominantly populated by Germans. After being annexed by Louis XIV, they opposed efforts to have the French language and customs imposed upon them, a process which Stanislaus I effectively ended during his reign but which was resumed afterwards. A part of Lorraine, along with Alsace, was united with Germany after the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 causing a small number of French people to emigrate into France. Under Bismarck's German Empire Alsace-Lorraine had (unlike other German states that were monarchies or free cities) virtually no autonomy and was ruled by a governor appointed by the Reichskanzler. The use of the French language was discouraged.[citation needed] In 1911, some degree of autonomy was granted

This part of Lorraine remained a part of Germany after the end of World War I, when the Kaiser abdicated and the Republic of Alsace-Lorraine declared itself independent, with support of the United States. France occupied the area after a few days and annexed it. Policies forbidding the use of German and requiring that of French were then begun.

The region was annexed by Germany in 1940 during World War II. Lorraine was combined with the Saarland, and Alsace with Baden. The occupation, while putting a halt to the perceived anti-Germanic oppression, subjected the region to the Nazi dictatorship, which was loathed by the majority of the people, including the ethnic Germans. The war-torn area was given again to France in November 1944 after a victorious campaign by General Patton and his army. Because of the fighting in the area, Lorraine is home to the largest American cemetery in France.