display | more...

The origins of the Duchy of Brabant

Within the duchy of Lower Lorraine lay the 'pagus Brachantensis' or the district of Brabant which at the end of the ninth century comprised the counties of Aalst, Chives, Brussels and Halle. Nearby lay the small county of Louvain or Leuven whose rulers spent most of the tenth and eleventh centuries extending their authority over Brabant as well as the port of Antwerp.

In 1106 the Holy Roman Emperor Henry V conferred the title of Duke of Lower Lorraine on one Godfrey, the Count of Louvain. Although challenged by the counts of Limburg, Godfrey and his descendants were eventually able to establish their hold on this title. It was this Godfrey's son, known as Henry the Warrior who, having established his right to the title of Duke of Lower Lorraine, effectively abandoned it in 1190 in favour of that of Duke of Brabant.

Henry the Warrior was followed by a sequence of dukes named Henry. Of this sequence of dukes the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica says the following - "These were all able rulers. Their usual place of residence was Louvain" - and no more. We can however say that Henry the Warrior was responsible for the conquest of Maastricht in 1204 and his son Henry the Magnanimous acquired the neighbouring county of Daelhem in 1244 and that the Dukes of Brabant therefore were engaged in the standard policy of territorial expansionism.

John the Victorious

The sequence of four Henries continued until the accession of John in the year 1267 who proved to be one of the most succesful rulers of Brabant. In 1282 the succession in the neighbouring duchy of Limburg was in dispute between Reinald I, Count of Guelders and one Adolf of Berg. This Adolf II Count of Berg apparently unable to make much headway against Reinald's defacto hold over Limburg, sold his rights to John. War then followed until the year 1288 when through his victory at the battle of Woeringen, John was able to add Limburg to his territories and earn himself the name of John the Victorious.

In contrast his son John II who succeeded in 1294, is known as John the Pacific or John the Peaceful and is most noted for issuing a charther of liberties known as the Charter of Cortenberg. He was succeeded by his son, John III, or John the Triumphant who appears to have earned his name as a result of his stubborn maintenance of his position despite internal revolts in both Louvain and Brussels and frequent challenges from his near neighbours.

Since his only legitimate son Henry had died in 1349, on John's death in 1355 the duchy passed to his eldest daughter Johanna. Although she had first been married to William IV, the Count of Holland, after the death of William in 1354 she remarried Wenzel or Wenceslas I, Duke of Luxemburg, and younger brother of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV. Duke John celebrated the marriage of his daughter by issuing another charter of liberties to the citizens of Brabant, known as La joyeuse Entree or the 'Joyous Entry' as it was formally proclaimed on the formal entry of the happy couple into Brussels in 1356.

Practically speaking the charter was probably the price John felt he had to pay to win public support for Wenceslas, and although Wenceslas did indeed assume power in Brabant, he faced a challenge from Louis of Male, the Count of Flanders who had married Johanna's sister Margaret and felt he should have a share in Brabant. (Or at least a greater share than Antwerp, which he had received in 1347 as Margaret's dowry.)

War therefore broke out between the two sides, both of whom were able to draw support from different factions within Brabant. Other interested parties natually intervened and Wenceslas was taken prisoner in 1371 by the Duke of Gelderland, and had to be ransomed. Wenceslas died in 1383 and Louis of Male similarly expired in the following year, at which point the conflict fizzled out and Johanna assumed authority over Brabant.

The House of Burgundy

Since Johanna's marriage with Wenceslas had produced no offspring the succession remained in doubt. This matter was settled in 1390 when Johanna appointed her niece, Margaret of Flanders, (the daughter of Louis of Male and her sister Margaret) and her husband Philip the Bold of Burgundy as her heirs.

Philip the Bold died in 1404 as did Margaret of Flanders in 1405, therefore when Johanna died in 1406 the succession passed to the children of her nominated heirs. Philip and Margaret had three sons; the eldest John the Fearless succeeded his father as Duke to Burgundy, whilst Brabant passed to the second son, Anthony of Burgundy. This Anthony was killed at the battle of Agincourt in 1415 and followed by his son, John who most notably married Jacoba, Countess of Holland in 1418 and so became involved in the protracted dispute over the succession in Holland.

John died in 1427 without issue, and was followed by his brother Philip of St Pol who similarly died without direct heirs in 1430. The duchy of Brabant therefore passed into the hands of the senior line of Burgundy in the form of Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy. As it happens much of the rest of the Netherlands also passed into the hands of Philip by fair means or foul, who bequeathed it to his son Charles the Bold who subsequently died in battle at Nancy in 1477 leaving everything to his only child a daughter named Mary.

Mary married Maximilian the Archduke of Austria and thus Brabant passed into the hands of the Habsburg family, under whom Brussels, by then the chief city of Brabant, became the the capital of the Netherlands. As a consequence of the Revolt of the Netherlands, the old duchy of Brabant was partitioned, with a portion being ceded to the United Provinces, with the remainder being retained by Spain and forming part of the Spanish Netherlands.

The Dutch share of Brabant is now the province of North Brabant, whilst Belgian Brabant has since been divided into the four provinces of Antwerp, Flemish Brabant, Walloon Brabant and Brussels the capital.

The Modern Dukes of Brabant

In 1830 Belgium became an independent kingdom with its own monarchy where the crown prince and eldest son of the king of the Belgians also holds the title Duke of Brabant. (Much in the same way as the heir apparent to the British throne is known as the Duke of Cornwall.)

Some sources show the infant son of Leopold I, Louis Philippe as holding the title during his short life (he died in 1834 before his first birthday) but the title was certainly granted in 1840 to king Leopold's oldest surviving son Leopold Louis who subsequently became Leopold II in 1865. The title was then held by Leopold II's own son Leopold Philippe Charles until his premature death in 1869. It was subsequently held by Leopold Philippe Charles (eldest son of Albert I) and then his son Baudouin, later king Baudouin. The title of Duke of Brabant is currently held by Philippe Leopold Louis, son of the reigning king of the Belgians, Albert II.

The allocation of ordinals to the medieval Dukes of Brabant is subject to some variation depending on whether they are viewed as a continuation of the Dukes of Lower Lorraine or not. The sequence of Henrys is thus sometimes renumbered to include the Henry of Limburg who was Duke of Lower Lorraine between 1101 and 1106.


Medieval Dukes of Brabant

House of Louvain

House of Luxemburg

House of Burgundy

now also Dukes of Burgundy

Modern Dukes of Brabant

  • Louis Philippe (1833-1834)
  • Leopold Louis later Leopold II (1840-1865)
  • Leopold (1865-1869)
  • Leopold Philippe Charles later Leopold III (1909-1934)
  • Baudouin (1934-1951) later Baudouin I
  • Philippe Leopold Louis (1960-to date)


  • The Duchy of Brabant http://users.telenet.be/GenealogieVanElsacker/DucyofBrabant.htm
  • The 1911 Encyclopedia Brittanica entry for BRABANT
  • Philosophy of History: Francia Media, Lorraine http://www.friesian.com/lorraine.htm
  • Charles Arnold Baker The Companion to British History (Longcross Press, 1996)
  • Stirnet Genealogy at http://www.stirnet.com/HTML/genie/genfam.htm

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.