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History of the ducal and princely families in Belgium
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Among the 1,300 families belonging to the Belgian nobility at present, eight of them stand out at the top of the hierachy : the Arenberg, Beaufort-Spontin, Caraman-Chimay, Cro˙, Ligne, Looz-Corswarem, Merode and Ursel. Each of them has shaped the history of the country and left a indelible mark on the national heritage, as for instance with the castles and palaces.

Ranking

Of the eight highest ranking noble families in Belgium, five are ducal and three princely (Caraman-Chimay, Ligne, Merode). The title of duke being always held by the head of the family, other members may have the title of prince (Arenberg, Cro˙), or count (Beaufort-Spontin, Looz-Corswarem, Ursel). Some ruling families were mediatised, and are thus considered as non-ruling monarchies nowadays, with the style of "Serene Highness". This gives them a higher ranking than non-mediatised families.

  1. Arenberg (prince since 1576, duke since 1644, heir of the line of Cro˙-Aerschot, heir of the House of La Marck, mediatised in 1810)

  2. Cro˙ (duke since 1767, mediatised in 1806)

  3. Looz-Corswarem (duke since 1792, mediatised in 1806)

  4. Ursel (count since 1638, duke since 1716)

  5. Beaufort-Spontin (count since 1713, duke since 1782)

  6. Ligne (prince since 1601, mediatised in 1806)

  7. Merode (marquess since 1626, prince since 1759)

  8. Caraman-Chimay (prince since 1804)

Other notable Belgian families

We could also mention a few families that do not have the rank of duke or prince, but are nonetheless of considerable historical importance.

This is the case of the Counts of Limburg-Stirum and the Counts of Aspremont-Lynden, who were both sovereign monarchies of the Holy Roman Empire. Their mediatisation occurred before the founding of the Confederation of the Rhine, they are not counted officially as mediatised monarchies. The Limburg-Stirum descends from the Ezzonen dynasty in the 9th century, making them one of the oldest families in Europe.

The Counts of Oultremont can boast to be the only surviving Belgian family to have had a Prince-bishop of Liege from their lineage, in the person of Charles-Nicolas d’Oultremont (1716-1771).

During French & Belgian Revolutions

In Napoleonic times, allegiances were different according to each family. The Duke of Arenberg supported the Emperor of the French, and married the Emperess' niece. The Duke of Beaufort-Spontin, who was chamberlain of François of Austria-Hungary, supported the Habsburgs. Count Felix of Merode backed the candidacy of Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, who eventually became Leopold I of Belgium.

After the Belgian Revolution, Duke Prosper-Louis of Arenberg was the candidate of the Holy See for the Belgian throne. Duke Frederic of Beaufort-Spontin negociated for a junior branch of the Habsburg to obtain the kingdom. The Prince of Caraman-Chimay was faithfull to the King of the Netherlands, as did the Duke of Looz-Corswarem, who even became chamberlain of the House of Orange-Nassau.

Shortly after the instauration of the Kingdom of Belgium, the Prince of Ligne became President of the Senate (1852-1879), as did later two counts of Merode Westerloo (1885-1892 and 1903-1908), and the 6th Duke of Ursel (1899-1903).


House of Arenberg

Arms of the House of Ligne-Arenberg Official family website

The House of Arenberg originated in the Eifel region in the Rhineland-Palatinate. The first Count of Arenberg was mentioned in the early 12th century. Although the County itself was in present-day Germany, the Arenberg resided mostly in the Southern Netherlands, in what is now Belgium.

The present Duke and Princes of Arenberg descend from Charles of Arenberg (1550-1616), Count of Arenberg, elevated to the rank of Prince-Count of Arenberg in 1576. In 1587, he married Anne of Cro˙ (1564-1635), Duchess of Aerschot and Princess of Chimay. Anne's brother, Charles II de Cro˙ (1560-1612), died childless, passing the line of Cro˙-Aerschot to the House of Arenberg.

In 1644, Emperor Ferdinand III of Habsburg conferred the title of Duke of Arenberg to Philip Francis of Arenberg, and his descendents in male primogeniture, and the title of prince to all other family members of the name.

The Arenberg married several times into the powerful La Marck family - the first time in 1299. In 1748, the last Countess of La Marck marries Duke Charles of Arenberg, with all the fortune that accompany this inheritance.

In 1808, Napoleon granted new land to the Duke of Arenberg, who married a niece of Josephine of Beauharnais. The Dukes of Arenberg are since then also Dukes of Meppen and Princes of Recklinghausen. The possession of the Arenberg expanded from 413 km² to 3,388 km². The Arenberg family was mediatised in 1810, which has permitted them to retain the style of HSH (His/Her Serene Highness).

The home of the Arenberg family in Belgium is the castle of Champlon-Famenne in Waha, near Marche-en-Famenne.

House of Beaufort-Spontin

Arms of the House of Beaufort-Spontin

The House of Beaufort-Spontin descends from the Counts of Beaufort, who originated near Huy in the early 11th century. This family split into several branches in Spontin, Goesnes, Vierset, Fallais and Vêves, that is to say in the Condroz region, between Huy and Dinant. The present Counts of Liedekerke-Beaufort descend from the branch of Vêves

The branch of Beaufort-Spontin settled in Fre˙r after the marriage of James of Beaufort-Spontin to Mary of Rochefort-Orjol, heiress of Fre˙r, in 1410.

Frederic August Alexandre of Beaufort-Spontin (1751-1817), Count of Beaufort, Marquess of Spontin and of Florennes, was elevated to the rank of Duke of Beaufort in 1782. He was the last Governor of the Austrian Netherlands. Chosen Governor of the Netherlands by the Allies in 1814, the Duke of Beaufort-Spontin tried to established a Kingdom of Belgium as early as 1815, with a Habsburg as sovereign.

The family moved to Austria in the late 19th century, where they still live nowadays.

House of Caraman-Chimay

The Princes of Caraman-Chimay descend from the Pierre-Paul de Riquet (1604-1680), creator of the Canal du Midi in the South of France, that connects the Garonne River to the Mediterranean Sea.

His son, Jean-Mathias de Riquet, had grown immensely rich thanks to his father's investment, and was created Baron of Bonrepos. He married a daughter of the Duke of Broglie. His grandson, Victor Maurice de Riquet (1727-1807), was a favourite of King Stanislaw Leszczynski, ruler of Lorraine, and was elevated to the rank Marquess of Caraman. He married a daughter of Alexander of Hénin-Liétard (1681-1745), 12th Prince of Chimay.

They had 9 children, including two sons, who founded the two existing lines of the Caraman family. The eldest, Victor Louis Charles (1762-1839), married a Princess of Merode-Westerloo, and became the 1st Duke of Caraman in 1830. His progeniture bear the surname "de Riquet de Caraman".

Last of the 9 children, François Joseph Philippe (1771-1843), Count of Caraman, went on to be the 16th Prince of Chimay in 1804, after the male heirs of the Hénin-Liétard line had all passed away. The next year, he married, not without scandal, Teresa Cabarrús (1773-1835), a Franco-Spanish beauty better known under the name of Madame Tallien. She was the ex-wife of Jean-Lambert Tallien, a leader of the French Revolution who played a major role in the fall and execution of Maximilien Robespierre.

Joseph and Teresa's first son, Joseph Philippe (1808-1886), 17th Prince of Chimay, was created Prince of Caraman in 1867.

The Caraman-Chimay have been active patrons of the arts, especially in the field of classical music. Numerous celebrated composers played in the opera of the castle of Chimay, such as Schumann, Liszt, Saint-Saëns, Gounod, Auber or Cherubini. Louisa of Caraman-Chimay was a personal friend of Wagner and Liszt, and in her later years the patron of young Russian composers like Borodin, Rimsky-Korsakov or Rubinstein.

Since 2000, Prince Philip of Chimay and his wife have launched an annual festival of Baroque music and songs.

House of Cro˙

Arms of the House of Cro˙ Genealogy of the House of Cro˙

The House of Cro˙ originated from the castle of Cro˙, in the Belgian province of Hainaut.

Among the more illustrious members of the House of Cro˙ were two bishops-dukes of Cambrai, two cardinals (one being also the Archbishop of Toledo and the other being the Archbishop of Rouen), five bishops (those of Therouanne, Tournai, Cammin, Arras, and Ypres), one Prince of Masovia, one Grand-Bouteiller, Grand-Maitre and Marshal of France, one Grand Equerry of the King of Spain, several imperial field marshals and twenty generals, a couple of governors of the Netherlands, one Russian Field-Marshal, as well as numerous ambassadors and senators in France, Austria, Belgium, and thirty two knights of the Order of the Golden Fleece.

Origins

A Hungarian lord allegedly settled in Hainaut in 1147, and married Catherine of Cro˙, heiress to the barony of Cro˙, in 1178. The Cro˙ went to acquire the barony d'Airaines by marriage in 1287, and that of Renty in 1345.

One of the most important family member was John I of Cro˙, who served Philip the Bold (1363-1404), Duke of Burgundy, and his son John the Fearless (1371-1419) as councillor and chamberlain. In 1384, he married Marie de Craon, a wealthy heiress. In 1397, John acquired the lordship of Chimay, which was to become a core dominion of the Cro˙ family. In 1401, he was appointed Governor of Artois.

John and two of his sons died at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. One of John's daughter, Agnes of Cro˙, was the mistress of John the Fearless and had an illegitimate child with him, who would become the future Prince-Bishop of Cambrai and Archbishop of Trier.

John's son, Anthony I "the Great" of Cro˙ (1385-1475), was Governor General of the Netherlands and Luxembourg, while his brother, John II of Cro˙ (1395-1473), Count of Chimay, served as Governor of Hainaut and Namur. Anthony also secured the lordship and peerage of Roeulx. Three years later married a Princess of Lorraine, who brought Arschot to his family as her dowry. He was made Count of Porcean and of Guines by Charles VII of France in 1455.

The House of Cro˙ split into five branches in the 15th century. The eldest branch, descending from William I of Cro˙ (1458-1521), became known as the Cro˙-Aerschot, which went exctinct into the Princes of Arenberg in the early 17th century. The second and third branches, the Cro˙-Havré, descend from John III's grandson, Charles Philip of Cro˙ (1549-1613).

Cro˙-Aerschot (duke from 1515 - extinct in 1635)

William I of Cro˙ was the chief tutor and first chamberlain to the future Emperor Charles V. He became the power behind the Spanish throne during his pupil's minority. He obtained the titles of Count of Beaumont, Marquess of Aerschot and Duke of Soria and Arce.

Philip II of Cro˙ (1496-1549) became Duke of Aerschot. His son, Charles I of Cro˙, inherited the principality of Chimay from his mother upon her death in 1539.

They were elevated to the rank of Imperial Princes in 1594. A nephew, Anthony III of Cro˙, was elevated to the rank Prince of Porcéan.

Philip III of Cro˙ (1526-1595), 3rd Duke of Arschot and Prince of Porcéan, served as Governor-General of Flanders. His son, Charles II of Cro˙ (1560-1612), was created Duke of Cro˙ by Henri IV of France in 1598. He died childless and the Duchy of Aerschot passed to his sister Anna, who married Karl, Prince of Arenberg.

Cro˙-Havré (prince from 1594, duke from 1627 - extinct in 1839)

Charles I's brother, Charles Philip of Cro˙ (1549-1613), a successful imperial general, was created Prince of the Holy Roman Empire in 1594. It was the first time when a simple baron was admitted among Princes of the Empire.

His son, Charles Alexandre of Cro˙ (1581-1624) , Marquess of Havré, inherited the title of Prince of Cro˙ from his father, that of Count of Fontenoy from his mother, and that of Duke of Cro˙ from his childless cousin. He served as a hereditary marshal of the Holy Empire, and chamberlain of Archduke Albert of Austria, Governor of Netherlands.

His only daughter, Marie Claire (1605-1664), married a distant cousin, Charles Philip de Cro˙, Marquess of Renty. then his brother Philip Francis of Cro˙, Count of Solre (see "Cro˙-Solre" below), so as to preclude the family estates from passing to another family. Philip III of Spain raised her marquessate of Havré to a dukedom. Her son by the second marriage, Ferdinand Francis Joseph of Cro˙-Solre, inherited the ducal title.

This line came to an end in 1839, when the 7th Duke of Havré and Cro˙ died in Paris aged 95, having outlived all of his sons.. His sister, Louise Elisabeth of Cro˙-Havré (1749-1832), was a close friend of Queen Marie Antoinette, and served as Royal Governess, with particular care for the future Louis XVII. She narrowly escaped the guillotine during the French Revolution and remains well known for her memoirs.

Cro˙-Roeulx (duke from 1684 - extinct in 1767)

The 1st Count of Roeulx, Adrian of Cro˙, served as Governor of Flanders and Artois. In 1609, the senior line of the Counts of Roeulx went extinct, and the county passed to a cadet line, represented by Eustache of Cro˙ (1608-73), Governor of Lille and Douai.

His son, Ferdinand Gaston Lamoral of Cro˙, unexpectedly succeeded to the Duchy of Cro˙ in 1684, when the most senior member of the house, Ernst Bogislaw von Cro˙, died in Königsberg.

After Ferdinand's grandson, 6th Duke of Cro˙, died childless at Le Roeulx in 1767, the line of Cro˙-Roeulx expired and the chateau du Roeulx together with the ducal title passed to the line of Cro˙-Solre (see below).

Cro˙-Solre (prince since 1486, duke since 1767)

This branch was based in the town of Chimay. In 1486, Emperor Maximilian elevated the county of Chimay to a principality and admitted Charles of Cro˙ into the Imperial Diet (parliament of the Holy Roman Empire), a hereditary seat that the family kept until the Diet's dissolution in 1806.

The title of 'Prince of Chimay' passed to the Hénin-Liétard, then to the Riquet-Caraman (see "Caraman-Chimay" above).

Upon the death of the 6th Duke of Cro˙ in 1767 (see "Cro˙-Roeulx" above), the dukedom passed to the Cro˙-Solre. From the 10th Duke's children, the House of Cro˙-Solre split into 7 main branches. The eldest branch is based in Westphalia, Germany. The head of the family is presently the 15th Duke, Rudolf von Cro˙ (born in 1955). The second branch is located in Bohemia (Czech Republic), the third in France, and the seventh in Austria. The three others have remained in Belgium. The title of Prince of Cro˙-Roeulx was re-created in 1927 for the fifth branch, who kept the ancestral Castle of Roeulx. The same was done for the fourth branch with the title of Prince of Cro˙-Solre in 1933.

House of Ligne

Arms of the House of Ligne

Originating from the village of Ligne, between Tournai and Ath, in the 11th century, the lords of Ligne fought alongside the Count of Hainaut during the Crusades, and are made barons in the 11th century. They distinguish themselves at the battle of Bouvignes in 1214. Three centuries later, the House of Ligne receives the titles of Counts of Fauquemberghe and Princes of Épinoy.

The first Prince of Ligne was Lamoral I (1563-1624), a diplomat made Prince of the Holy Roman Empire by Emperor Rudolf II in 1601, then first-class Grandee of Spain and Knight of the Golden Fleece by King Philip IV of Spain. Lamoral married Marie of Melun, Marchioness of Roubaix et Baroness of Antoing.

Claude-Lamoral I of Ligne (1618-1679) was a diplomat working for the King of Spain. He is remembered for his official visit to London in 1660, where he was received in great pomp by King Charles II. In 1669, he would serve as viceroy of Sicily.

Claude Lamoral II (1685-1766), sixth prince of Ligne, spent millions to expand the family castle of Beloeil, with a particular emphasis on the park and gardens, inspired by Versailles.

House of Looz-Corswarem

Arms of the House of Looz-Corswarem

The Corswarem are an old family of knights from the Hesbaye (Haspengouw) region, between Huy and Sint-Truiden.

Francis II of Corswaren (1628-1694) obtained the rank of baron. His son, Joseph married his second cousin Madeleine Thérèse of Corswarem. He was made count and added the name "Looz" in front of "Corswarem", to show the family connection with the prestigious Counts of Looz (or Loon in Dutch). The Knights of Menten, marrying into the Looz-Corswarem family, would do the same a few generations later, adding "de Hornes" to their surname, displaying the heritage of the no less famous Counts of Hornes.

William Joseph of Looz-Corswarem (1732-1803), Count of Niel, was created Duke of Looz-Corswarem in 1792. He obtained the sovereignty of the state of Rheina-Wolbeck between 1803 and 1806 in compensation for the annexation of his lands in the Southern Netherlands by France.

His grandson, Charles of Looz-Corswarem (1804-1896), served as chamberlain of the Kinfg of the Netherlands.

Note that only the head of the Looz Corswarem family bears the title of duke, while his children are princes, and other family members are counts. The duke and his children now reside in France.

House of Merode

Arms of the House of Merode

This very influencial family traces its roots to the village of Merode, near Düren, between Aachen and Köln, in North Rhineland.

The marriage between Richard von Merode, Baron of the Holy Roman Empire, and Margareth van Wesemael marked a new age in the family’s history. Due to this marriage the house of Merode inherited important domains in Brabant, such as Westerloo, and the County of Oolen. Jean II de Mérode married with Adelheid van Hoorn in 1451 and brought also Gheel, Diepenbeek and Duffel into the possession of the family. Through these and other marriages the Merode family became one of the most important noble families in the duchy of Brabant.

In 1626, the title of Marquess of Westerloo was granted to Philip I of Merode by King Philip IV of Spain. His great-grandson Jean-Philippe-Eugène (1674-1732) would become field Marshall and Knight of the Golden Fleece.

In the 18th century, the branch of Merode-Westerloo gained great wealth and power due to the extinction of other side-branches of the house (Merode-Houffalize, Merode-Deinze, Merode Montfort) and a few more advantageous marriages. Through marriage they acquired the domains and titles of 'Prince of Rubempré', 'Prince of Everberg', 'Prince of Grimbergen' and Marquess of Trélon.

Charles Guillaume Ghislain of Merode-Westerloo (1762-1830) had been active as a minister under Austrian rule from 1787 and would hold several other important political posts under successive regimes, such as Mayor of Brussels from 1805, and Senator of the French Empire from 1809. In 1815, he became Grand Marshall of the court of King William I of the Netherlands when the Belgian provinces were part of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands.

Frederic of Merode was the first member of the high Belgian nobility killed during the Belgian revolution, and as such is considered a national hero. His brother, Felix of Merode, became an important member of the Provisional Government of Belgium and the Belgian National Congress.

Although the Merode have been Princes of Rubempré, Everberghe and Grimberghe since 18th century, the title of Prince of Merode was only created in 1929, and extended to all family members in 1930.

House of Ursel

Arms of the House of Ursel Official family website

The Ursel descend in direct line from the Schetz, a German family from Hesse established in Hasselt and Maastricht in the 15th century, and in Antwerp the following century.

Erasmus Schetz (1480-1550) quickly became a leading merchant in the city , dealing in things as diverse as metals, Brazilian sugar, and cereals. He was ennobled in 1527, and acquired the seigneury of Grobbendonk in 1545.

His eldest son, Gaspar Schetz (1513-1580), became officer of the King, then general treasurer of The Netherlands. This lucrative position, combined with the family business, allowed him to purchase more land in Wezemaal, Heyst and Hingene. His second wife was Catherine van Ursel, daughter of the mayor of Antwerp, Lancelot van Ursel.

Their first son, Conrard Schetz (1553-1632), Lord of Hingene, obtained the title of baron of Hoboken in 1600. He was adopted by his maternal aunt and changed his surname to "van Ursel" (or d’Ursel in French) in 1617. His son, Conrard d'Ursel (1592-1659) was created count of the Holy Empire in 1638. Two generation later Conrard-Albert (1665-1738), governor of the county of Namur, was made Duke of Ursel (1716) and Duke of Hoboken (1717). He married Princess Eleonore of Salm, from the influencial House of Salm.

The second duke served as a military governor of Brussels, while the third was a general. The 4th Duke of Ursel was mayor of Brussels under Napoleon, then minister and Grand Master of the Queen’s House under King William of the Netherlands, and ended his political career as senator of the newly founded Kingdom of Belgium. All the present members of the family are descended from the 4th Duke and his wife Louise-Victoire-Marie-Josèphe-Françoise Ferrero-Fieschi, Princess of Masserano.

Note that only the head of the Ursel family bears the title of duke, while other family members are counts.

Ducal and princely castles of Belgium

List of castles and palaces belonging or having belonged to the following families.

Arenberg

Palace of Arenberg/Egmont, Brussels

Palace of Egmont, Brussels

The Palace of Egmont was built as the residence of the Arenberg in Brussels. It now houses the Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Castle of Aigremont

Castle of Aigremont

Castle of Beersel

Castle of Beersel

Castle of Bouchout

Castle of Bouchout

Other castles in Belgium

Other castles outside Belgium

  • Burg Arenberg, North Rhine-Westphalia (Germany)
  • Castle of Arlay, Jura (France)
  • Castle Clemenswerth, North Rhine-Westphalia (Germany)
  • Palace of Custozza, Veneto (Italy)
  • Castle Ivanka, Moravia (Czech Republic)
  • Castle Kokorin, Bohemia (Czech Republic)
  • Castle of Menetou-Salon, Berry (France)
  • Castle Meysemburg (Luxembourg)
  • Castle Nordkirchen, North Rhine-Westphalia (Germany)
  • Castle Paschlawitz, Moravia (Czech Republic)
  • Castle Pesch, North Rhine-Westphalia (Germany)
  • Castle of Raismes, Nord (France)
  • Castle Salzburg (Austria)
  • Castle Schleiden, North Rhine-Westphalia (Germany)
  • Castle Stadl, Steiermark (Austria)
  • Castle Wedde, province of Groningen (Netherlands)
  • Palace Wien (Austria)

Beaufort-Spontin

Castle of Fre˙r

Castle of Freyr

Main residence of the Beaufort-Spontin from 1410 to 1836.

Castle of Spontin

 Spontin Castle

Other castles outside Belgium

  • Castle Becov nad Teplou (Czech Republic)
  • Caraman-Chimay

    Castle of Chimay

    Castle of Chimay

    Cro˙

    Castle of Le Roeulx

     Le Roeulx Castle

    Castle of Chimay

    Castle of Chimay

    Castle of Solre-sur-Sambre

    Solre-sur-Sambre Castle

    Other castles in Belgium

    Castles outside Belgium

    • Castle of Aarle-Rixtel, North Brabant (Netherlands)
    • Castle of Azy, Nièvre (France)
    • Castle of Bellignies, Nord (France)
    • Castle of Calvières, Gard (France)
    • Castle of L'Hermitage, Nord (France)
    • Castle of Porcien, Ardennes (France)

    Ligne

    Castle of Beloeil

    Castle of Beloeil

    Castle of Antoing

    Castle of Antoing

    Looz-Corswarem

    Castles in Belgium

    Castles outside Belgium

  • Castle of Occoches, Somme (France)

    Merode

    Castle of Rixensart

    Rixensart Castle

    Castle of Westerlo

    Castle of Westerlo

    Castle of Beersel

    Castle of Beersel

    Castle of Crupet

    Castle of Crupet

    Castle of Haltinne

    Castle of Haltinne

    Castle of Horst

    Castle of Horst

    Castle of Jehay

    Castle of Jehay

    Castle of Lavaux-Sainte-Anne

    Castle of Lavaux-Sainte-Anne

    Castle of Grimbergen

    Ruins of the princely castle of Grimbergen

    Castle of Solre-sur-Sambre

    Solre-sur-Sambre Castle

    Other castles in Belgium

    Other castles outside Belgium

    • Castle of Borgharen, province of Limburg (Netherlands)
    • Castle of Fournes, Nord (France)
    • Castle of Guignicourt, Ardennes (France)
    • Merode Castle, North Rhine-Westphalia (Germany)
    • Castle of Serrant, Maine & Loire (France)
    • Castle of Serrigny, Burgundy (France)
    • Castle of Trelon, Nord (France)

    Ursel

    Castle of Durbuy

    Castle of Durbuy

    Other castles in Belgium

    Other castles outside Belgium

    • Castle of Tilburg, province of North Brabant (Netherlands)


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