County of Loon

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County of Loon
Grafschaft Loon (de)
Graafschap Loon (nl)
Comté de Looz (fr)
State of the Holy Roman Empire
Coat of arms
Coat of arms
The Low Countries around 1250, Loon (Looz) in yellow
Capital Borgloon
Languages Limburgish
Religion Roman Catholicism
Government Principality
Historical era Middle Ages
 •  First mentioned 1040
 •  Gained Rieneck 1106
 •  Acquired Chiny 1227
 •  To Heinsberg 1336
 •  Annexed by Liège 1366
 •  Incorporated by
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Image missing Lower Lorraine
Prince-Bishopric of Liège Liège

The County of Loon (Dutch: Graafschap Loon, French: Comté de Looz) was a province of the ancien regime Holy Roman Empire, mainly lying west of the Meuse river (Dutch: Maas) in present-day Flemish-speaking Belgium, and east of the old Duchy of Brabant. Its territory once it reached its maximum extent corresponded closely to that of the current Belgian province of Limburg. The most important cities (bonnes villes) of the county were Beringen, Bilzen, Borgloon, Bree, Hamont, Hasselt, Herk-de-Stad, Maaseik, Peer and Stokkem. Like other areas which eventually came under the power of the Prince Bishop of Liège, Loon had many links with the rest of Belgium, but was never formally part of the unified lordship which united much of the Benelux before the French revolution when the ancien regime came to an end. Under various new names, and joined with other territories in the region, it first became part of France, and then of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands, before finally spitting out to join the new Kingdom of Belgium definitively in 1839.

The original chief city of this county before it expanded was Borgloon, originally just called Loon (French: Looz), now in the southern part of modern Limburg. This part of the county is geographically in the hilly Belgian region along the Dutch-French language border known since Merovingian times as Hasbania or Haspinga in Latin documents French: Hesbaye, Dutch: Haspengouw. It's lordships also stretched to the Meuse valley from an early time, an area ("Maasgau" which had contained two counties in the 870 treaty of Meersen), and later expanded northwards into the low-lying Dutch-speaking Kempen region French: Campine which had been part of the county of Toxandria in the early Middle Ages, a name going back to the Roman empire. Loon's overlords, the Prince-bishops of Liège, indeed saw themselves as the spiritual leaders of a diocese descended from the large Roman jurisdiction, the Civitas Tungrorum. Loon started as a closely allied county near Liège, and then grew to become their largest Dutch-speaking secular lordship.

This map shows the medieval County of Loon in red, behind modern provincial borders. The light red zones were under Loon and another lord jointly.


Map of the Bishopric of Liège with 't Land van Loen), Joan Blaeu, Atlas Maior, 1645

Very little is certain about the origin of the county. A starting point is that in the treaty of Meersen (870), during the Carolingian period, the greater region is described as having four counties in the Hesbaye, along with an upper and lower Gau on the Maas, a county in Toxandria, and territories belonging to the church of St Servaas in Maastricht, and St Laurent in Liège, and Liège itself.

The names of the counties and lords in 870 are not known for sure anymore, and it appears that the names and borders of such counties were not very stable. It is likely that some of these counties were already not contiguous geographical areas, but conglomerations of personal possessions.[1] Furthermore, in this period families still often split their inheritances in various ways, among different children. However, Loon did eventually unite various parts of Hesbaye, with parts of the Maas and Toxandrian territories.

In the 10th century, a single dynasty already seems to have united some of the same territories as Loon, particularly two areas under the administration of Avernas and Hocht. A document of 946 refers to "villa Lens in comitatu Avernas temporibus Rodulphi comitis" showing there was a count Rudolph who held a county called Avernas.[2] In the same period, records also show a count Rudolf held Aldeneyck (near Maaseik) in a county named Huste, modern Hocht. The seats of these two early counties are in the southwest and northeast of the Loon area. Hocht is in modern Lanaken which like Maaseik is on the Maas river, so probably originally part of one of the 2 Maasgaus mentioned in the treaty of 870.[3] Avernas is in modern Hannut in French speaking Wallonia, and its territory must have overlapped the later county of Duras. This Rudolph is known, but it is also known that he lost power, and that his family only recovered that power later.

According to the most widely accepted hypothesis, developed by Leon Vanderkindere, Loon seems to have been formed by the coming together in the 11th century of two related groups of families referred to today as the House of Reginar, and the House of Balderik. The Reginars or Rainiers are the modern name given to the family that count Rudolf who held Hocht and Avernas seems to have belonged to, before they lost power for some time after losing in conflict with Bruno the Great. This family had Carolingian links and held many titles in the region of modern Belgium in the 10th century, including the County of Hesbaye, Leuven-Brabant and Hainault. The Balderiks were a family with links to Betuwe (in the modern Netherlands) and the Ottonian dynasty, and the family held the powerful bishoprics in Utrecht and Liège. Vanderkindere for example specifically proposed that the male line of the counts of Loon were descended from another Rudolf, known to be a brother archbishop Balderik I of Liège, a member of the Balderik family. Both Vanderkindere and Baerten believed that this Rudolph's county must have been in the Loon area, making him a likely father to the three brothers. This theory is attractive because their mother seems to have been a sister of the earlier count Rudolf of the Reginars who had apparently held Hocht and Avernas, and their uncle was Archbishop Balderik I of Utrecht.

The first certain Count (Dutch graaf, Latin comes, French comte) of Loon was named Giselbert (Dutch Gijzelbrecht, equivalent of modern English "Gilbert"). Exactly what territory he held is still uncertain, and his brother Arnulf is also mentioned as a count in various records. Although many of the charters which describe the brothers as siblings of archbishop Balderik II of Liège are dubious, in 1031, Bishop Reginard, Balderic II's successor, describes a grant made in the previous generation where Gislebert was named as both brother to Balderic and count of Loon. In 1036 there is mention of "count Giselbert in the territory Haspengouw". In 1040 comes mention of a "county of Haspinga in the pagus Haspengouw", but this time mentioning the count Arnold, understood to be the brother of Giselbert, Arnulf, leading some to think that Giselbert had died, and his brother had taken over, while others think that the two brothers ruled together during their lifetimes, and yet others believe they ruled two different parts of Haspengouw. According to later claims by the archbishops, Giselbert held his county under Arnulf's.[4]

That count Giselbert and his brothers count Arnulf and bishop Balderik II were related to the Reginars and Balderiks, is clear from the biography (Vita) of Balderick II, which says that he had common ancestry with Arnulf of Valenciennes (fr). This Arnulf's mother was a sister of the above-mentioned Rudolph and bishop Balderik I of Liège, so Vanderkindere's proposal fits this information. However, the proposal of Vanderkindere is not the only one.

In some reconstructions, such as that recently of Hein Jongbloed,[5] the father of Gislebert, Arnulf and Balderik II and first count of Loon is Count Otto, who Jongbloed proposed to be a brother of Arnulf of Valenciennes, and grandson of the above-mentioned Nevelong of the Balderiks. Otto is the only father ever named in an old document concerning Giselbert, but it is from a much later document of the Abbey of Saint Truiden. In that document he is named as husband of Liutgarde, daughter of Ermengarde, a countess of Namur, and they were named as parents of both Baldric II, Bishop of Liège and Giselbert.[6] However, not only does this record give difficulties concerning Ermengarde's position in the family of the Counts of Namur, which Jongbloed addresses, but also, as Baerten wrote, if we accept information about the next generation from the biography of Bishop Arnulf of Soisson, it would mean two closely related Lutgardes from Namur married a father and son in Loon, in a way which would normally be forbidden in this period. So this Otto may stem from a misunderstanding of the connection between the counts of Namur and Loon.[7] Souvereyns & Bijsterveld 2008 and Jongbloed both list other authors who have accepted the St Truiden account of Otto as father of Giselbert, but proposed that he must be an unknown member of the Renier and Balderic families, for example a son of the above-mentioned Rudolph proposed by Vanderkindere (which does not remove the consanguinity problem coming from the Vita Arnulfi).

Not only is the parentage of Giselbert, Arnulf and Balderik unknown, but also their connection to the next two count brothers, Emmo and Otto, is considered somewhat uncertain. They are thought to be the sons of either Giselbert or Arnulf. While Giselbert is the obvious proposal, and he is explicitly called father of Otto at least in the above-mentioned St Truiden records, Souvereyns & Bijsterveld 2008, p. 117 favour Arnulf, noting that Emmo named his son and heir Arnulf, not Giselbert.[8]


In 1040 Emperor Henry III treated the County of Haspinga as land held under the Prince-Bishopric of Liège, and this may have included Loon. But it appears that the count's various powers included some which were held under other overlords including the Emperor himself.

Emmo became the next count of Loon itself while Otto was count of Duras, in the western part of Haspengouw. The county of Duras was held as a fief of the Duchy of Brabant, and was inherited by Otto's son Ghiselbert, and in turn by his son Otto. It eventually became part of Loon, under Count Gerard around 1194.

In 1106 Count Arnold (or Arnulf) I, the son of Emmo, was able to strengthen his position, when he acquired the possessions of the extinct Counts of Rieneck through his marriage. In Loon, the enduring conflict with his Liège overlords culminated in an 1179 campaign by Prince-Bishop Rudolf of Zähringen, whose troops devastated the county's capital at Borgloon (Loon Castle, French name: Looz).

The son and heir of Arnold I was Louis (Dutch Lodewijk) I. He founded Averbode Abbey by charter dated 1135, and was count of Loon, Stadtgraf of Mainz, and count of Rieneck, both in modern Germany. He added Brustem and Kolmont to the territory of Loon, donating charters of freedom to those towns in return.

Count Gerard (sometimes called Gerard II, and sometimes Gerard I), the next count of Loon and Rieneck, moved the seat of the count to Kuringen, which is today in Hasselt (the modern capital of the region). In 1190 he also inherited the county of Duras from his relatives, but had to accept Brabant's suzerainty over that territory for the time being. This area gave power over church land in Sint-Truiden, Halen, and Herk de Stad, effectively defining what is today still the southwestern border of Belgian Limburg. His son Gerard III was heir, and he in turn passed Loon to Arnold IV, but Rieneck to another son, Louis.

Count Arnold IV by marriage acquired the French-speaking County of Chiny in 1227, and brought the main line of the counts of Loon to the high point of its territorial expansion. The comital male line became extinct with the death of Louis VI of Loon in 1336 and the Loon and Chiny estates were at first inherited by the noble House of Sponheim at Heinsberg with the consent of the Liège bishop. In 1362 Prince-Bishop Engelbert III of the Marck nevertheless seized Loon and finally incorporated it into the Liège territory in 1366.

The county remained a separate entity (quartier) within Liège, whose prince-bishops assumed the comital title. When the bishopric was annexed by Revolutionary France in 1795, the county of Loon was also disbanded and an adjusted version of the territory became part of the French département of Meuse-Inférieure, along with Dutch Limburg to the east of the Meuse. After the defeat of Napoleon, the département became part of the new United Kingdom of the Netherlands in 1815, and received its modern name of Limburg as a way for the kingdom to preserve the old title of the medieval Duchy of Limburg, which was nearby. However, in 1830, Belgium was created, splitting the Kingdom, and the position of Limburg and Luxemburg became a cause of conflict between the two resulting Kingdoms. In 1839, under international arbitration, it was finally decided to split Limburg and Luxemburg into their two modern parts. The western part of Limburg, corresponds roughly to the old County of Loon, and became part of Belgium. Both parts kept their new name of Limburg.

Counts of Loon[edit]

  • Count Otto? Named as count of Loon in a much later record of his son Baldric II's installation as Bishop of Liège in 1008. His existence is doubted, for example by Baerten.
  • Giselbert (count at least 1015-1036), he and his brother Arnold were both referred to as counts in Haspengouw, and Giselbert was specifically referred to as count of Loon.
  • Emmon (d.1078), clearly called "count of Loon" in own lifetime. His brother Otto was count of Duras, but the brothers were collectively called counts of Loon also. His father is likely to have been Giselbert.
  • Arnold I (count at least 1090-1125), son of Emmo, married Agnes, daughter and heiress of Count Gerard of Rieneck, Burgrave of Mainz. (His contemporary, another Giselbert, the son of his uncle Otto, was count in Duras.)
  • Arnold II (count in 1135), son of Arnold I. Founded Averbode Abbey.
  • Louis I (1139–1171), son of Arnold II, married Agnes, daughter of Count Folmar V of Metz
  • Gerard (1171–1191), son, married Adelaide, daughter of Count Henry I of Guelders
  • Louis II (1191–1218), son, married Ada, daughter of Count Dirk VII of Holland, also Count of Holland 1203 - 1207, followed by his brothers as guardians of his minor nephews Louis III and Arnold IV:
  • Henry (1218), another son of Gerard, died soon after.
  • Arnold III (1218–1221), another son of Gerard, also Count of Rieneck, married Adelaide, daughter of Duke Henry I of Brabant.
  • Louis III (1221–1227), grandson of Gerard, son of Gerard, Count of Rieneck, also Count of Rieneck 1221 - 1243, renounced Loon in favour of his younger brother.
  • Arnold IV (1227–1273), another grandson of Gerard and son of Count Gerard of Rieneck, married Joanna, daughter of Louis IV the Younger, Count of Chiny, also Count of Chiny (as Arnold II)
  • John I (1273–1279), son, married Matilda, daughter of William IV, Count of Jülich, secondly Isabelle de Condé
  • Arnold V (1279–1323), son, also Count of Chiny 1299 - 1313, married Margaret of Vianden
  • Louis IV (1323–1336), son, also Count of Chiny (as Louis VI) since 1313, married Margaret, daughter of Duke Theobald II of Lorraine

Male line extinct, succeeded by:


  1. ^ Souvereyns & Bijsterveld 2008
  2. ^ Lens is probably not Loon but Lens-St-Servais (fr), near Avernas in the modern french speaking commune of Geer. See for example Revue Belge de Numismatique 1948.
  3. ^ Baerten 1965, part 2
  4. ^ Souvereyns & Bijsterveld 2008, p. 115. Some primary sources are listed in English at the MEDLANDS website.
  5. ^ Jongbloed (2008) "Flamenses" Bijdragen en Mededelingen Gelre p.50
  6. ^ The primary source cited by all secondary sources is given as Gestorum Abbatem Trudonensium Continuatio Tertia 1007, MGH SS X, p.382.
  7. ^ Baerten 1965 part I. The primary source is Vita Arnulfi Episcopi Suessioniensis I.3, MGH SS XV.2, p.879. Apart from Baerten, secondary sources include Souvereyns & Bijsterveld 2008, p. 114.
  8. ^ Souvereyns and Bijsterveld cite K. Verhelst, "Een visie op de omvang en indeling van de pagus Hasbania" as their source for this position.


External Links[edit]

Coordinates: 50°48′N 5°21′E / 50.800°N 5.350°E / 50.800; 5.350