Haguenau was founded by German dukes and has swapped back and forth several times between Germany and France over the centuries, with its spelling altering between "Hagenau" and "Haguenau" by the turn. It was last German at the end of World War I, then briefly part of the independent Republic of Alsace-Lorraine before being annexed by France in 1919.
Haguenau is a rapidly growing town, its population having increased from 22,644 inhabitants in 1968 to 34,891 inhabitants in 2006. Haguenau's metropolitan area has grown from 43,904 inhabitants in 1968 to 64,562 inhabitants in 2006.
Haguenau dates from the beginning of the 12th century, when the German dukes of Swabia erected a hunting lodge on an island in the Moder River. The medieval King and Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa fortified the settlement and gave it town rights, important for further development, in 1154. On the site of the hunting lodge he founded an imperial palace he regarded as his favourite residence. In this palace were preserved the "Crown Jewels of the Holy Roman Empire", i.e. the jewelled imperial crown, sceptre, imperial orb, and sword of Charlemagne.
Richard of Cornwall, King of the Romans, made it an imperial city in 1257. Subsequently through Rudolph I of Germany (House of Habsburg) Haguenau became the seat of the Landvogt of Hagenau, the German imperial advocatus in Lower Alsace. In the 14th century, it housed the executive council of the Decapole, a defensive and offensive association of ten German towns in Alsace against French aggression and related political instability. In the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, the Alsace was ceded to France, which had, in the past, repeatedly invaded and looted the region. In 1673 King Louis XIV had the fortifications as well as the remains of the king's palace razed in order to extinguish German traditions. Haguenau was recaptured by German troops in 1675, but was taken again by the French two years later, when it was nearly destroyed by fire set by looting French troops.
In 1793 Prussians and Austrians had occupied Lower Alsace from the Lauter to Moder to support the Royalists and before the year's end were driven back over the border by the French Revolutionary Army, causing the “great flight”.
World War II
In the Second World War, Germany retook the town in 1940. In November 1944 the area surrounding Haguenau was under the control of the 256th Volksgrenadier Division under the command of General Gerhard Franz.
On 1 December 1944, the 314th Infantry Regiment of the 79th Division, XV Corps, 7th U.S. Army, moved into the area near Haguenau, and on 7 December the regiment was given the assignment to take it and the town forest just north that included German ammunition dumps. The attack began at 0645, 9 December, and sometime during the night of 10 December and the early morning of 11 December the Germans withdrew under of the cover of darkness leaving the town proper largely under American control.
Before they withdrew, the Germans demolished bridges, useful buildings, and even the town park. However, as experienced by Haguenau throughout its history, the Germans came back and retook the town in late January. Most of the inhabitants fled with the assistance of the U.S. Army. The Americans launched an immediate counterattack to retake the town. The 313th Infantry Regiment of the 79th Division was relieved by the 506th PIR of the 101st Airborne Division on 5 February 1945. The 36th Infantry Division would relieve the 101st on 23 February 1945. On March 15 the Allied Operation Undertone, a combined effort of the U.S. Seventh and French 1st Armies of the U.S. Sixth Army Group was launched to drive the Germans back along a 75 km line from Saarbrücken to Haguenau. The last German soldier was not cleared out of the town until March 19, 1945, after brutal house-to-house fighting.
Much of the town had been destroyed despite the Allied reluctance to use artillery to clear out the Germans. The town is the site where Medal of Honor recipient Morris E. Crain (Technical Sergeant, U.S. Army, Company E, 141st Infantry, 36th Infantry Division) earned the medal at the cost of his life to give covering fire for his men on 13 March 1945.