Duchy of Brabant  

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Hieronymus Bosch hailed from Brabant
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Hieronymus Bosch hailed from Brabant

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The Duchy of Brabant was a historical region in the Low Countries. It consisted of not only the three modern-day Belgian provinces of Flemish Brabant, Walloon Brabant and Antwerp as well as the Brussels-Capital Region, but also the present-day Dutch province of North Brabant. In Roman times, Brabant was situated in the Roman provinces of Belgica and Germania Inferior and inhabited by Celtic tribes, until Germanic peoples replaced them and made an end to roman imperial rule. Its most important cities were Brussels (Brussel), Antwerp (Antwerpen), Leuven, Breda, 's-Hertogenbosch, Lier and Mechelen. The region's name is first recorded as the Carolingian shire pagus Bracbatensis, located between the rivers Scheldt and Dijle, from bracha "new" and bant "region".

Contents

Cities of Brabant

The Duchy of Brabant was historically divided in four parts each with their own capital. The four capitals are Leuven, Brussels, Antwerp and 's Hertogenbosch. Before 's Hertogenbosch was founded Tienen formed the fourth capital.

The unwalled cities did not have the right to construct walls. Trade was allowed in these areas and usually this right resulted in a larger population and the development of major villages and later cities. The unwalled cities had also the right to hold markets which they held on large market squares. This distinguishes them from surrounding villages who were not allowed to hold markets and did not possess market squares. Being unwalled also meant that some of these places suffered heavily in war and during the Dutch Revolt.

Quarter of Leuven

Walled cities

  • Leuven: the capital city of the original region from where Brabant expanded. It has been a university town since 1425.
  • Tienen: east of Leuven. Historically, it was, along with Lier, Diest and Tienen, one of the bigger cities after the four regional city capitals.
  • Zoutleeuw: east of Tienen. It lies near the boarder of Brabant. In its day, it was a wealthy merchant town. It was also the biggest garrison site near the border with Liege. A swamp separates Zoutleeuw from Liège.
  • Landen: south east of Zoutleeuw; a small garrison town. But many known people lived to the near south-west of it: Pepin of Landen, St. Gertrude, St. Bavo, St. Ida and St. Begga.
  • Hannut: south of Landen. like Landen, it was a small garrison town.
  • Aarschot: north east of Leuven. It was once the capital of the Duchy of Aarschot. It is famous for its fine architecture in the "Demer" gothicstyle, which uses a local type of red stone for its churches and other important buildings.
  • Scherpenheuvel: east of Aarschot. It was, and is, the only baroque town in the Netherlands. As such, it is still an important place of pilgrimage.
  • Zichem: north of Scherpenheuvel. The city was destroyed during the Dutch Revolt, which left it with a 'rural undeveloped character' ever since. The church and the Maagdentoren (tower of the Virgin) in local red stone are impressive buildings from Zichem's past. Zichem was once part of the Barony of Diest.
  • Diest: east of Scherpenheuvel. It was one of Brabant's biggest cities, after the four capitals, and was an important brewery town. The city still counts numerous monuments of its past as attractions today. Like Zichem and Breda it is a Nassau city. Diest was also the capital of the Barony of Diest, and its lands.
  • Halen: A small garrison city where the "Battle of the Iron Helmets" took place during World War I: a victory for the Royal Belgian Cavalry.
  • Jodoigne: south of Tienen. The city and the surrounding area is known for its white stone, which gives the whole countryside a picturesque character. Many battles have taken place in this region, and other parts of Walloon Brabant.
  • Gembloux: south west of Jodoigne. Is known for the fine buildings of Gembloux Abbey.

Unwalled cities

  • Dormaal: south of Zoutleeuw. Although it holds city rights it never really developed into a city and could be considered a village.

Quarter of Brussels

Walled cities

  • Brussels: the capital city of this part of Brabant. Also former capital of the Seventeen Provinces, and of the Southern part of the Seventeen Provinces; today it is the capital of the Kingdom of Belgium. Once known as the 'city of nobles' because of the presence of the Royal Court.
  • Vilvoorde: north of Brussels. The first prison of Belgium was built here when the region was under Austrian rule.
  • Nivelles: south of Brussels. Known for its beautiful church and as the birthplace of Saint Gertrude of Nivelles; who played an important role in the early history of Brussels and the local region.

Unwalled cities

  • Braine-l'Alleud: south of Brussels. The famous Battle of Waterloo, where the Duke of Wellington of Great Britain defeated Emperor Napoleon I of France, took place near this small city. The church functioned as a hospital at the time for the many casualties of the conflict.
  • Genappe: east of Nivelles; a small city with a charming old town centre developed around a market square.
  • La Hulpe: north east of Braine Alleud. Could be considered a village, although it was allowed to hold markets and held justice in its own small domain. It has become more wellknown lately as the residence of Solvay.
  • Overijse: south west of Brussels. Historically more important, as it held its own trade market Béguinage and cloth hall; but the city never expanded beyond the large market square.
  • Tervuren: east of Brussels. Tervuren was the country residence of the Dukes of Brabant, and continued as such when the Habsbourgs took over. Stately homes of the old noble families characterise Tervuren. Also, the more recent Congo Museum is situated in the Park of Tervuren.
  • Duisburg: south east of Tervuren; was ruled by the Abbey of Coudenberg. who never allowed it to develop into a city.
  • Merchtem: north west of Brussels. A rather small unwalled city, with pretentions, but it was larger than the towns of La Hulpe or Duisburg.
  • Asse: West of Brussels. Next to Genappe and Braine Alleud, it was one of the bigger unwalled cities of the Brussels quarter. Today it has an old hospital and market square.
  • Wavre: west of Jodoigne and today the capital of Walloon Brabant

Quarter of Antwerp

Walled cities

  • Antwerp: the capital of this quarter. Also the Episcopal see for this part of Brabant, which included the Barony of Breda and the Margravite of Bergen op Zoom. Antwerp today is a city of business and trade with many fine merchant palaces still standing in the old town.
  • Lier: south east of Antwerp. Known as the wedding site of the parents of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, an event which led to many future political changes.
  • Herentals: east of Lier. A city located in a forested area.
  • Zandvliet: north of Antwerp. A garrison city built to defend the Southern Netherlands.
  • Bergen op Zoom: north of Zandvliet. Old fortified port town.
  • Steenbergen: north of Bergen op Zoom; also an important port town.
  • Breda: north east of Antwerp. One of the Nassau trade cities.

Unwalled cities

  • Turnhout: north of Herentals. The largest of the unwalled cities of Brabant.
  • Geel: east of Herentals. Known for its early and present health care facilities.
  • Hoogstraten: north east of Antwerp. Capital of the county of Hoogstraten.
  • Duffel: south of Antwerp. More illustrious in the past then it is today. An important barony of the later Middle Ages which was largely destroyed by wars. Its name has been remembered, and is now used as the common military name for a small clothes carrying bag.
  • Walem: part of the barony of Duffel; never became more than a village.
  • Arendonk: east of Turnhout. Famous for training falcons and eagles for use in the Hunt.

Note: the city of Mechelen formed an independent state along with the Land of Heist-op-den-Berg and Gestel. Willemstad, Geertruidenberg and Klundert were part of the County of Holland; whose name in turn was later used to describe or label large areas of the Netherlands.

Quarter of Bois-le-Duc

Walled cities

  • Bois-le-Duc ('s Hertogenbosch): regional capital city and Episcopal see of this part of Brabant.
  • Heusden: north west of 's Hertogenbosch. It was said to be an "untakeable city" (in the military battle meaning term), and it lies close to the boundaries of the old Counties of Holland and Guelders.
  • Helmond: built as a military counterweight barrier to the counts of Guelders. It has a massive water fortress of historical interest.
  • Ravenstein: east of 's Hertogenbosch. Became part of the Duchy of Cleves in 1396, along with Meghem (Megen) and Grave. A later Duke of Clives sent his sister, Anne of Cleves, to England to become one of the two surviving wives of King Henry VIII.
  • Meghem (now called Megen): north-west of Ravenstein.
  • Grave: south of Ravenstein: These three smaller garrison towns of the north-east side of Brabant, later became part of the Duchy of Cleves, as the Barony of Ravenstein.
  • Eindhoven: was granted city rights in 1232 shortly after starting out as one of the very first 'planned' new cities in Europe. Its magnificent walls were demolished in the Eighty Years War, and were never to be rebuilt.

Unwalled cities




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