Belgian nobility

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Portrait by Frans Pourbus the Younger, depicting the union of Charles of Arenberg and Anne of Croÿ, members of two of the most ancient and powerful houses among the Belgian nobility

The Belgian nobility comprises individuals and their families recognized by the Kingdom of Belgium as members of a class of persons officially enjoying hereditary privileges, which distinguished them from other persons and families.

History[edit]

Because most old families reside in Belgium for hundreds of years, their members have belonged to various nations. A major part of Spanish nobles resided in Flanders in the 15th and 16th century and married to local houses, techicaly seen in this period the nobility belongs to Spain. Amongst these houses we find de Peňaranda, ,Coloma, De Evora y vega, Perez, de Castro y Lopez, de San Estevan,de Horosco, Franco y Feo, Santa Cruz, Gallo de Salamanca, Gerardi, Sant Vittores de la Poitilla.

In the Holland period, the nobility formed an important factor in the independnce. After the independence of Belgium the Kingdom of the Netherlands lost an important part of nobles: all the high families lived in the south and became part of the Belgian nobility.

Although most old families are older and reside much longer in the country then the Royal House, they are lower in rank. At court the nobility played a major role and was strongly Connected to the royal family. In some old families the heads of the house have the right of multiple titles. Today, most important families pass these old titles still only in male line. In the Ancien regime the noble ladies could pass their titles and rights to their children, as occurred with the Marquess of Assche when the House of Coutereau died out, and was inherited by the Count van der Noot.

A part of the nobility lost their land to France, originally belonging to Flanders the Marquess of Morbecque had lost his land after the Battle of Cassel. During the Spanish period many noble houses received titles and privileges, some of those titles still exist today.

When King Leopold III renmarried to Liliane de Rethy, the majority of the old houses did not accept this commoner at court. In the Second world war many members of the Nobility joined the resistance. Dozens of Noble houses lost family members in Concentration camps and on the battlefield. Famous is the sad history of the Knight Armand de Menten de Horne, who was arrested by the SS at the funeral of his son when the Brabanconne was played too loud. He was released from prison and died soon after.

Some old important and old houses have died out: the House of Glymes, Von Cobenzl,Coloma, of Bette, Rockox, Rubens, Goubau, Gruuthuse and the House of Baillet.

Characteristics[edit]

The House of Lannoy
The house of Lalaing
the House of Udekem d´Acoz
the Castle of the Prince de Merode.
Vêves castle is the residence of Count de Liedekerke Beaufort
Kasteel van Ooidonk, residence of the House of t'Kint de Roodenbeke
Walzin Castle, residence of the House of Limburg-Stirum

The modern Belgian nobility is known to be mostly traditionalist, and royalist. Living in a bilingual Dutch and French-speaking country with a majority of Dutch-speaking people, historically the mother tongue of most is French, although many are also fluent in Dutch and other languages. All the noble old houses are Roman Catholic.

In the Kingdom of Belgium there were as of 2013 approximately 1,300 noble families, with some 20,000 members. The noble lineage of only approximately 400 families dates back to the 17th century or earlier. As Belgium is a democratic constitutional monarchy there are no legal privileges attached to bearing a noble title or to being a member of the aristocracy. According to article 113 of the constitution, "The King may confer titles of nobility, without ever having the power to attach privileges to them".[1]

Wealth[edit]

Most nobles in Belgium still belong to the elite of society. They sometimes own and manage companies, or have leading positions in Catholic Church, Cultural society, business, banking, diplomacy, NGOs etc. Many of the older families still own (and reside in) important castles or country houses (see: Castles in Belgium).

The fortune of the nobility is impressive: only 11 % of the 500 wealthiest families in Belgium is member of the nobility, however: they have more than 56% of this wealth, 79,85 bilion of Euro. [2] Most of the new noble families make great fortune, like the noble families of Boël, Frere, Colruyt, Janssens and Solvay. Old houses however are in minority and have sold lots of their lands and estates. The house of Merode has sold during the ages thousands of hectares of their own private lands.[3] Other houses have still immense lands and grounds, but most houses have lost much of their historic wealth. The Marquess of Douro still has 1,083 hectares of farmland in Belgium, gifted by the King of Holland after the battle of Waterloo.[4]

The exception is the old House of Spoelberch, possessing 46,18 billion of euros and still on the top of the Belgian economy.[5] The old families famous for their wealth are de Pret Roose de Calesberg, van der Straten Ponthoz, Cornet de Ways Ruart en Baillet Latour.[citation needed]

Surname of the House, and division of the families[edit]

Normally the name of the family or House cannot change, however it used to be possible. A famous example used to be Conrad III Schetz: he had himself adopted by his aunt and changed his surname, for him and all his descendants from Schetz to van Ursel.

Today Belgian nobles can easy be recognised by their typical family surname. They are different fom most common surnames in Belgium. Most noble surnames are very long and have the particle de (French for of/from) or the Dutch van as a prefix. This is written whitout capitals and considered a typical characteristic of old families. Large families have different branches and their family name can evoluate in history, after Royal permission. A wel known example is the permission that Victor, Baron van Strydonck received to add the extension to his surname of Burkel, after the famous Charge of Burkel. After centuries houses grow different branches, with their own heritage and sometimes different titles. Every noble family has its own crest and titles both are legally protected from copyright. People who not belong to the house, are forbidden to use the titles or the crest. Therefor a noble House of the Belgian nobility can have cadet branches in different families.

  • House of Selys → divided into de Selys Longchamp and de Sélys de Fanson
  • House of Janssens → divided into Janssens de Bisthoven and Janssens de Varebeke.
  • House of Udekem → divided into d´Udekem d´Acoz and d´Udekem de Gentinnes.
  • House of Coppens → changed into Coppens de Houthulst.
  • House of della Faille → divided into della Faille de Leverghem and della Faille de Waarloos.
  • House of Cornet → divided into Cornet d´Elzius and Cornet d'Elzius du Chenoy.
  • House of Outryve → changed into van Outryve d´Ydewalle.

Legal identity[edit]

In Belgium the title forms part of the identity of the noble person,[6] and is mentioned on the ID-card. This gives some people frustration when their name is abbreviated for practical reasons, on the small ID card there is not enough place for a long legal name like Philippe de Riquet, Prince of Chimay and of Caraman.[7]

Ennoblement[edit]

Belgium is one of the few monarchies in the world in which hereditary ennoblement still occurs regularly. Hereditary titles are conferred by letters patent, which are annually issued by the King of the Belgians.

Belgian citizens distinguished in business, politics, science, arts, sports, etc. or for extraordinary service to the kingdom may receive noble status or noble titles.

The opposite is too possible: Families can lose their rank and title, what happened after the WWII, when some families lost their titles due to collaboration. A famous example is Thomas Nicolas Fernand Werner de Spoelberch, who lost the title of Viscount when he was convicted for murder.

By royal decree the monarch can extend, change or upgrade the rank of members of a noble house or change the rank of the whole family. This happened recently to Amélie Nothomb, created baroness in her own right by royal decree. She was already of noble birth, she is a niece of the Marques of Trazegnies.

Other examples include :

Structure of the Belgian nobility[edit]

Élisabeth, Countess Greffulhe, "queen" of Parisian society during the fin de siecle, was a member of the princely family of Chimay.
The Viscountess Vilain XIIII, who had great wealth had her portrait painted by Jacques-Louis David.
Wolfgang Willem of Ursel (nl), the third duke of Ursel 1750-1804
Albert Lantonnois van Rode
Prince Emmanuel de Mérode, Director of Virunga
The high Reverend Canon van Outryve d'ydewalle (left)
Stephanie, Countess of Lannoy
The ambassador Bertrand de Crombrugghe de Picquendaele

Characteristically the Belgian nobility is structured and ranked very formally. These ranks are still important in social life and ceremonial life at court.

The royal house does not belong to the Belgian nobility, it is not of Belgian origin and is considered to be above the social class that is the nobility. Most royal houses do not form part of the nobility, exception is made for the imperial house of Habsburg, incorporated by King Baudouin.[when?] The Belgian royal house has four family members that married into the imperial family: Charlotte, Empress of Mexico, Leopold II of Belgium, Stephanie of Belgium, Archduchess of Austria and Astrid of Belgium, Archduchess of Austria -Este.

Princes in the Belgian nobility[edit]

The title of Prince (Prince in French, Prins in Dutch) title is the highest noble title in use in Belgium. They are ranked under the princes of royal blood and members of the royal family. Princes were received with protocol at the royal court by the king in the Salon Bleu of the Royal Palace of Brussels, henceforth being referred to as members of the Noblesse du Salon Bleu (Nobles of the Blue Salon). Still today these families have high ceremonial ranks in the Belgian order of precedence. New princes are not created, though they can be recognised or incorporated by the king if their members do prove to have bounds in Belgium and live here. This procedure is very rare and has occurred only with important old noble houses that de facto are Belgian.

Families[edit]

Most members of the families listed below have the right to be referred to in Belgian government documents as "Prince" or "Princess" in combination with their family name and most, though not all, are entitled to the style of Serene Highness. Some principalities have disappeared, when the house died out and the title went to another related family, this happened to the Prince de Grimberghen, who went to the Duke of Luynes after the extinction of this branche of the House of Glymes .

  • Prince Swiatopelk-Czetwertynski, Prince Michel Czetwertynski, Prince Alexandre Czetwertynski, Prince Tinko Czetwertynski recognised in 2007
  • Prince Carl of Sweden, Duke of Ostergotland (1911–2003), brother of Queen Astrid of the Belgians, having wed Countess Elsa von Rosen in 1937 in defiance of Swedish law, forfeited his Swedish succession rights and royal titles; received from his brother-in-law King Leopold III of Belgium title "Prince Bernadotte" for life in the Belgian nobility on the same date, Count/ess Bernadotte for his male-line descendants.
  • Prince de Béthune-Hesdigneul, princely title descends by male primogeniture, cadets have no title
  • Prince de Habsburg-Lorraine, Archdukes Rudolf (1950) and Carl Christian of Austria (1954), and their legitimate male-line descendants, were incorporated into Belgium's nobility as HSH Prince/ss de Habsburg-Lorraine in 1978 and 1983, respectively
  • Prince of Ligne, Imperial Count 1549, Imperial prince 1601, mediatized 1803, 1923 Belgian recognition of title "Prince d'Amblise et d'Epinoy" by male primogeniture and of HH for each family member, each of whom also bears the princely title
  • Prince de Lobkowicz, mediatized family of Bohemia whose 1624 Imperial princely title and HSH was recognized in Belgium for a member of the family who became a Belgian subject
  • Prince de Merode, Imperial Count since 1622; Heads of the house bore the titles Marquis of Westerlo since 1626 and Prince of Rubempré and Everberg since the 18th century, title of Prince of Grimbergen inherited by primogeniture from Marie-Josephe de Mastaing-Oignies in 1842; each member is prince/sse de Merode since 1929. Famous is prince Emmanuel de Merode, director of the Virunga National Park.
  • Riquet, Prince de Chimay in 1824 and Prince de Caraman 1856 by primogeniture; uniquely, since 1889 each male bears the title Prince de Caraman Chimay, while each female born in the family is a countess
  • Princess Stéphanie de Windisch-Graetz (1909–2005), great-granddaughter of King Leopold II of Belgium. She was born into a mediatized Austrian family who were Imperial Counts since 1658, Imperial Princes since 1804, became a naturalised Belgian subject and was incorporated into the Belgian nobility with HSH

Dukes in the Belgian nobility[edit]

Members of the following houses bear the title of Duke (Duc in French, Hertog in Dutch). The ducal title has never been granted outside the Royal Family in the Kingdom of Belgium. The origin of such titles for Belgian families thus pre-dates the current monarchy, having been conferred or recognised by sovereigns of other jurisdictions.

Examples[edit]

  • the Duke of Arenberg,[9][10] princely Imperial count 1576, Imperial duke 1644, sovereign 1803-1811, mediatised; although all family members, male and female, are both duke and prince, Belgian recognition of "prince" and HSH for all members 1953, duke for Head of the House only, 1993
  • the Duke of Beaufort-Spontin,[11] 1746 Austrian Netherlands title of marquis with rank of prince by primogeniture, duke in 1782 and 1876, Imperial Count 1789; family members are Count/ess de Beaufort-Spontin, Head of the House is Duke and HSH
  • the Duke of Croÿ, Imperial prince 1486, 1594 and 1664, French duke 1598 and 1768; each member is prince/sse de Croÿ and HSH, while the Head is also the Duke
  • the Duke of Looz-Corswarem, 1734 Austrian Netherlands dukedom; mediatised, cadets are HSH prince/sse de Looz et Corswarem
  • the Duke of Ursel, Imperial Count 1638.
  • the Duke of Hoboken, since Conrard-Albert, 1st Duke d'Ursel became 1st Duke of Hoboken.

Marquises in the Belgian nobility[edit]

Only eleven families bear today the title of Marquess. In most of these families, the title descends by masculine primogeniture.

Historic Marquisates include:

Current Marquesses[edit]

Counts in the Belgian nobility[edit]

The titles Count of Hainault and Count of Flanders, historically associated with major provinces of what is now Belgium, are used as dynastic titles for members of the Belgian Royal Family. Bearers of these titles derive their royal rank at court from their place in the order of succession rather than from the precedence associated with the comital title.

Count is the highest-ranked title still granted by the Belgian monarch. There are approximately 90 families in Belgium at least one of whose members bears the title of count or countess. Sometimes the title descends to only one person by male primogeniture, sometimes to all members of the family in the male line, and occasionally to a specific branch of a noble family or only to the children of the head of the family. A famous family was the House of Baillet. A living famous family is the House of Lannoy, family of Stephanie de Lannoy, current Hereditary Grand Duchess of Luxembourg. A famous countess in her own right is Isabelle de Borchgrave d'Altena.

Examples[edit]

An incomplete list of families bearing the comital title can be found on the list of noble families in Belgium.

Viscounts in the Belgian nobility[edit]

There are approximately 45 families in Belgium at least one of whose members bears the title of Viscount in Belgium (vicomte in French/Burggraaf in Dutch).

Examples[edit]

A famous family is the House of Spoelberch, titled for all members Viscount de Spoelberch. An incomplete list of families bearing the title of Viscount can be found on the list of noble families in Belgium.

Barons in the Belgian nobility[edit]

More than 300 individuals bear the title of Baron or Baroness. The title may descend either by masculine primogeniture or to all legitimate descendants in the male-line of the original title-holder.

Examples[edit]

Originally the house of udekem was ranked Baron, until the wedding of the Duke of Brabant with Mathilde d'Udekem d'Acoz, the house was promoted Count by royal Decree. Members of some families bearing the title of baron can be found on the list of noble families in Belgium.

Knights in the Belgian nobility[edit]

In Belgium there are roughly 200 knights (chevalier in French/Ridder in Dutch). The title descends by masculine primogeniture and there is no female equivalent. A knight's children bear no title per se.

Examples[edit]

An incomplete list of families bearing the title of knight can be found on the list of noble families in Belgium.

Jonkheer/Jonkvrouw[edit]

Jonkheer (Dutch, originally meaning 'young lord') is the lowest Belgian title recognised by the arrest of the court of cassation. Jonkheer is ranked higher than Ecuyer.[14] Many cadet members of important houses are styled with this title, this happens when the head of the family is styled higher.

Men are styled form birth Jonkheer , ladys are styled Jonkvrouw, whereas the wife has no honorific and is usually titled Mevrouw ("Mrs."). Écuyer has no feminine equivalent for daughters or wives. One of the most famous examples is Queen Mathilde, former Jonkvrouw before her marriage and Delphine Boël, the daughter of baroness Sybille de Selys Longchamps, mistress of King Albert II.

Noble families without a title[edit]

Noblemen without a title may be referred to as Écuyer (French for squire or shield bearer) or It is used only as a written suffix to the full name in formal communications, replacing Mr. (Monsieur).

Most noble families in Belgium, as on the European continent generally, are untitled, and most female or cadet members of those families whose head is titled are untitled, although there are many exceptions. Most hereditary titles descend by masculine primogeniture. Other families, however, were recognised as noble (by Holy Roman Emperors, French kings, or other jurisdictions) prior to the creation of the Belgian kingdom and never received or assumed a title. Prior to the 19th century, nobles also occasionally relinquished their title voluntarily in order to "derogate", i.e., to engage in commercial enterprise forbidden by tradition or law to the titled nobility, as described above. Belgian monarchs have also raised individuals to noble status without conferring a title on them.

Examples[edit]

An incomplete list of families bearing the title of écuyer can be found on the list of noble families in Belgium. Old houses include Rubens, Goubau, Rockox, Schetz...

Foreign noble families residing in Belgium[edit]

The house of Alcantara is from Spanish origin, and belongs to the high nobility

Another legal concern is that people who have the Belgian identity are forbidden by law to have noble title from another country. This implicates that the children of princess Astrid never will be recognised as archduke of Austria or Prince of Bohemia. The titles they received form their father are not recognised by the Belgian state, and only are used privately in context of the house of Habsburg.

However, to have foreign titles recognised is not impossible. It is only possible after formal incorporation or recognition by the King of the Belgians.

In addition to the families mentioned above, a number of noble families originated from outside Belgium, but have since obtained Belgian nationality after residing (sometimes for many generations) in Belgium. Most of these families have come from neighbouring European monarchies (France, the Netherlands, Germany) at various stages of history. These have usually (but not always) asked for equivalent nobility titles within the Kingdom of Belgium, which were typically granted.

A few noble families residing in Belgium emigrated from beyond the current European Union's borders, e.g. Russia or outside Europe, e.g. Korea or Japan. Many of these families formerly held titles of nobility in their country of origin, which have not always been converted into official Belgian nobility titles. Some families did not pursue a Belgian title because they hoped their stay in Belgium would be only temporary. This was the case for many Russian émigrés who came to Belgium in exile after the October Revolution.

Other families did not conversion either because of pride or because of cultural differences.

The Prince of Napoleon lived in Brussels, and was married to the daughter of Leopold II. They were a well known part of the Belgian society. Some families like the Counts of Komorrowsi fled their own land and married with high Belgian aristocracy. For the Belgian state however, the title of Count Komorowski does not exist.

Many of these families have been in Belgium for so long, intermarrying with Belgian nobility, that they are more Belgian than foreign in blood (e.g. de Lobkowicz, de Radiguès de Chenneviere, Arrazola de Oñate).[15] Moreover, the family names have often been frenchified by adding particles such as de (e.g. Shin de Pyeongsan, originating from Korea's Pyeongsan Shin clan).

References[edit]

Further reading[edit]

Footnotes[edit]