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Famous people from Belgium

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Belgium was only founded in 1830 and the country is so small, there aren't so many world-famous Belgians. The following list includes people born in what is now Belgium, regardless of which country it belonged to at the time, as well as ethnic Belgians born abroad (Pierre Minuit, Christian De Duve, Amélie Nothomb, etc.), and people who lived and worked in Belgium in case the place of birth is unknown (e.g. Jan van Eyck).

Monarchs (and pretenders)

Belgians were often at the center of European politics. Here are a few renowned monarchs and military leaders :

  • Merowig (411-458), legendary founder of the Merovingian Dynasty of Frankish kings, and grandfather of Clovis I. Born, raised and buried in Tournai, Wallonia
  • Clovis I (466-511), king of the Salian Franks who later united all the Franks and conquered most of Roman Gaul. Born and raised in Tournai, he is considered to be the first king of France (the French equivalent of William the Conqueror for the English)
  • Charles Martel (686-741), stopped the Islamic conquest of Europe from Spain at Poitiers in 732. He is also the founder of the Carolingian dynasty. He was born in Herstal, near Liège
  • Pepin the Short (714-768), son of Charles Martel and father of Charlemagne. He was born in Jupille near Liège
  • Charlemagne (742-814), son of the above. He is the founder of the Holy Roman Empire, which last until 1806 (the longest running European empire). He was born in Jupille or Herstal, both suburbs of Liège
  • Duke Godfrey of Bouillon (1060-1100) was the knight who led the first European crusade to Jerusalem. He refused the title of king of Jerusalem and became defender of the Holy Sepulchre instead.
  • Baldwin IX (1172-1205), Count of Flanders & Hainaut, was the leader of the 4th crusade and became the first emperor of the Latin Empire of Constantinople.
  • Emperor Charles V (1500-1558), Europe's most powerful Renaissance monarch, was born in Ghent and educated there in French. He accumulated. among others, the titles of Holy Roman Emperor, ruler of the Netherlands, King of Spain (including Southern Italy), and Duke of Milan, and oversaw the Spanish colonisation of the Americas. Charles was a descendant and heir of all the great ruling Belgian families (Houses of Brabant, Flanders, Hainaut, Namur, Limburg and Luxembourg)
  • Charles VII (1697-1745), Holy Roman Emperor. He was a member of the Wittelsbach family and was born in Brussels
  • Clemens August of Bavaria (1700-1761), member of the Wittelsbach dynasty of Bavaria (brother of the above) and Elector and Archbishop of Cologne, was born in Brussels
  • Leopold I (1790-1865), first King of the Belgians and Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. He was the uncle of both Queen Victoria of England and her Consort Albert
  • Leopold II (1835-1909), second King of the Belgians, created a private empire in Congo with the help of famous Welsh explorer Stanley (who said "Dr Livingstone, I presume"). Leopold II is remembered for constructing numerous public buildings around Belgium, but also for was his responsibility in the death of an estimated 5-21 million Africans during his ruthless enterprise to extract rubber and ivory.
  • Henri, comte de Paris, duc de France (1933-), claimant to the French throne, was born in Brussels (Woluwe-Saint-Pierre).
  • Michael Lafosse (1958-), a.k.a. HRH Prince Michael James Alexander Stewart, 7th Count of Albany, the legitimate Jacobite claimant to the throne of the former Kingdom of Scotland, was born in Brussels (Watermael-Boitsfort)

Scientists & Mathematicians

  • Gerardus Mercator (1512-1594), inventor of the world-map projection that bears his name. The term "atlas" also comes from him.
  • Louis De Geer (1587–1652), industrialist considered the father of Swedish industry for introducing Walloon blast furnaces in Sweden.
  • Adolphe Quetelet (1796 -1874), astronomer, mathematician, statistician and sociologist who introduced statistical methods to the social sciences.
  • Andreas Vesalius (1514-1564), author of the first complete collection of books on human anatomy; one of the fathers of modern surgery.
  • Ernest Solvay (1838-1922), chemist and industrialist who established the world's first plant for making soda.
  • Leo Baekeland (1863-1944), chemist who invented Velox photographic paper (1893) and Bakelite (1907), an inexpensive, nonflammable, versatile, and popular plastic, which marks the beginning of the modern plastics industry.
  • Georges Lemaître (1894 -1966), astronomer and professor of physics. He was the first person to propose the theory of the expansion of the Universe (Big Bang).
  • Albert Claude (1899-1983), biologist, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for describing the structure and function of organelles (lysosomes and peroxisomes) in biological cells.
  • Christian de Duve (born 1917), cytologist and biochemist, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for describing the structure and function of organelles (lysosomes and peroxisomes) in biological cells.
  • Pierre Deligne, Fields Medal mathematician known for his work on the Weil conjectures.


See Works by Flemish Painters

  • Jan van Eyck (1385-1441) & Hubert van Eyck (1366-1426), late-medieval Flemish painters
  • Roger van der Weyden (1399/1400-1464), late-medieval Flemish painter
  • Quentin Matsys (1466-1530), Flemish painter and founder of the Antwerp school
  • Bernard van Orley (1491-1542), Flemish renaissance painter
  • Lambert Lombard (1505-1566), Walloon renaissance painter
  • Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1525-1569) & Pieter Brueghel the Younger (1564-1638), Flemish renaissance painters
  • Jan Brueghel the Elder (1568-1625),& Jan Brueghel the Younger (1601-1678), Flemish baroque painters
  • Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), Flemish baroque painter
  • Sir Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641), Flemish baroque painter and leading court painter in England
  • Jacob Jordaens (1593-1678), Flemish baroque painter
  • François Duquesnoy (1597-1643), Walloon baroque painter
  • Antony Francis van der Meulen (1632-1690), Flemish painter
  • André Grétry (1741-1813), Walloon classical music composer
  • François-Joseph Navez (1787-1869), Walloon neo-classical painter
  • Jean Baptiste Madou (1796-1877), painter and lithographer
  • Baron Gustave Wappers (1803-1874), romantic painter
  • Antoine Wiertz (1806-1865), Walloon romantic painter
  • Adolphe Sax (1816-1896), Wallon inventor of the saxophone
  • César Franck (1822-1890), Walloon classical music composer
  • Constantin Meunier (1831-1909), painter and sculptor
  • Félicien Rops (1833-1898), Walloon painter, engraver and caricaturist
  • James Ensor (1860-1949), expressonist and surrealist painter
  • Victor Horta (1861-1947), architect and main founder of the Art Nouveau
  • Henry van de Velde (1863-1957), neo-impressionist painter, architect and interior designer and main founder of the Art Nouveau
  • Théo van Rysselberghe (1862-1926), Flemish neo-impressionist (pointillist) painter
  • Leon Spilliaert (1881-1946), Flemish symbolist painter and graphic artist
  • Constant Permeke (1886-1952), Flemish expressionist painter
  • Paul Delvaux (1897-1994), Walloon surrealist painter
  • René Magritte (1898-1967), Walloon surrealist painter
  • Georges Simenon (1903-1989), Walloon novelist (Insperctor Maigret)
  • Marguerite Yourcenar (1903-1987), novelist
  • Georges Remi, a.k.a. Hergé (1907-1983), creator of world-famous comics "Tintin"
  • Maurice de Bevere, a.k.a. Morris (1923-2001), creator of the famous comic strip "Lucky Luke"
  • André Franquin (1924-1997), creator of the comics "Spirou et Fantasio", "Gaston Lagaffe" and "Marsupilami"
  • Pierre Culliford, a.k.a. Peyo (1928-1992), creator of the "Smurfs" and other comic strips
  • Jacques Brel (1929-1978), singer
  • Audrey Hepburn (1929-1993), actress, was born in Brussels of an English father and Dutch mother.
  • Julos Beaucarne (1936-), singer
  • José van Dam (1940-), one of the world's most prominent and sought-after interpreters of the baritone-bass repertoire
  • Salvatore Adamo (1943-), singer
  • Jean-Pierre Dardenne (1951-) and Luc Dardenne (1954-), filmmakers (writers, producers and directors). Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 1999 and 2006
  • Philippe Geluck (1954-), comedian, humorist and cartoonist, best-known forhis comic strip Le Chat
  • Jean-Claude Van Damme (1960-), Hollywood actor
  • Elvis Pompilio (1961-), fashion designer specialising in hats
  • Olivier Gourmet (1963-), actor, winner the Best Actor award at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival
  • Benoît Poelvoorde (1964-), actor, best known for his first movie Man Bites Dog (C'est arrivé près de chez vous in French)
  • Amélie Nothomb (1967-), writer
  • Helmut Lotti (1969-), singer
  • Lara Fabian (1970-), singer
  • Sandra Kim (1972-), singer
  • Cécile de France (1975-), actress
  • Marie Gillain (1975-), actress, model for Lancôme


  • Jacky Ickx (1945-), racing driver and 6 times winner of the 24h of Le Mans and of several F1 races
  • Eddy Merckx (1945-), cyclist who won 4 times the World Championship, 5 times the Tour de France, and 5 times the Giro d'Italia among others
  • Enzo Scifo (1966-), footballer
  • Jean-Michel Saive (1969-), table tennis champion
  • Stefan Everts (1972-), 10x Motocross World Champion, including 6 consecutive times from 2001 to 2006
  • Muriel Sarkany (1974-), 4x world-champion of wall-climbing
  • Kim Gevaert (1978-), sprint athlete (100m & 200m gold medal at the European Championship in 2006)
  • Tom Boonen (1980-), cyclist, World Road Race Champion in 2005
  • Justine Henin (1982-), tennis champion, WTA No 1 and winner of 7 Grand Slams as of 2006.
  • Kim Clijsters (1983-), tennis champion, former WTA No 1

Other famous Belgians

  • Ambiorix, Gaul chief, prince of Eburones, who resisted the invasion of Julius Caesar
  • Pierre (Peter) Minuit (1589-1638), Walloon who purchased the island of Manhattan from the Native Americans in 1626. He founded and served as first governor of New Amsterdam (a.k.a. New York City) and Director-General of the Dutch colony of the New Netherlands (forerunner of the State of New York) from 1626 until 1633, then founded the colony of New Sweden (in Delaware) in 1638.
  • Father Damien (1840-1889), Flemish Catholic missionary who dedicated his life in service to the lepers of Molokai in Hawaii
  • Hercule Poirot, fictional character of Agatha Christie's novels
  • Alexandra David-Néel (1868-1969), Franco-Belgian explorer, anarchist, spiritualist, Buddhist, opera singer, journalist and writer. She was the first Western woman to visit to Tibet, in 1924
  • Sir Adrian Carton de Wiart (1880-1963), Belgian-born British Lieutenant General and figure of legend
  • Maurice Grévisse (1895-1980), author of the famous French grammar Le Bon Usage

  King Clovis I

Emperor Charlemagne

Duke Godfrey of Bouillon

Emperor Charles V

King Leopold I

Gerardus Mercator

Andrea Vesalius

Ernest Solvay

Pieter Brueghel the Elder

Peter Paul Rubens

 Anthony van Dyck

Adolphe Sax

Victor Horta

René Magritte

Peter Minuit

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