House of Merode

House of Merode

The princely house of Merode is one of the most important houses belonging to the Belgian nobility. The surname of the family and the name of the House is mostly written de Mérode in (French) but was originally von Merode in German due to the German descend of the House. The name is spelled van Merode in Dutch. The House of Mérode played an important role in the history of the Southern Netherlands and the Kingdom of Belgium. The House of Mérode is related to other important European noble families. The Coat of Arms of the house of Merode is described as: "Or, four pales gules, a border engrailed azure". The motto of the house of Merode is "Plus d'honneur que d'honneurs" in French and "Meer eer dan eerbetoon" in Dutch.

The origins of the house of Merode

The family stems from the village of Merode in Germany. Merode is located in the vicinity of the city of Düren which lies between Aachen and Köln and was part of the Duchy of Julich. Today it is part of the municipality of Langerwehe in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. A branch of the Mérode family still owns the castle (Schloss Merode) from which their name was derived.

Originally the Merode family had the rank of Baron or Freiherr of the Holy Roman Empire. During the Middle Ages the family had possessions and influence in Köln and in the Rhineland and belonged the 'reichsunmittelbar' aristocracy. They favoured the monastery of Schwarzenbroich which was also the burial place for the deceased members of the family. From the sons of Werner III von Merode (+1278) two different branches of the house descended. The oldest branch was called 'Sheiffart von Merode'. The 'Sheiffart' or 'German' branch became extinct in 1738. The younger branch are the descendants of Werner IV von Merode (+1316). This house also split into different branches of which the branch of the Marquess of Westerlo, called 'de Mérode-Westerloo' would become the most successful. The present-day 'Princes de Mérode' in Belgium descend from the latter branch.

The House Mérode-Westerloo

From the 14th century onwards a branch of the family gained power and possessions more to the west, in the Duchy of Brabant and the Prince-Bishopric of Liège on the territory of present-day Belgium. At that time these territories belonged to the Burgundian Netherlands and later to the Habsburg Netherlands.

The marriage of Richard von Merode with Margareth van Wesemael marked a new age in the family’s history. Due to this marriage the house of Merode inherited important seigniories in Brabant, such as Westerlo, and the County of Olen. Jean II de Mérode married with Adelheid van Hoorn in 1451 and brought also Gheel, Diepenbeek and Duffel into the possession of the family. Through these and other marriages the Merode family became one of the most important noble families in the duchy of Brabant.

Jean II de Mérode held the position of Lord Chamberlain and councillor of Philip the Handsome. After his death in 1551 his heirs ordered a monumental sepulchre for him and his wife that was made by the Antwerp sculptor Cornelis Floris and stands in the church of Gheel. It was erected in 1554.

The Eighty Years War greatly damaged the possessions of the Mérode family. In the more prosperous era after the Twelve Years' Truce the family's fortune grew again. In 1626 the title of Marquess of Westerloo was granted to Philippe I de Mérode by King Philip IV of Spain. It was his great-grandson Jean-Philippe-Eugène de Mérode, Marquess of Westerloo, ( see article in German) who would become one of the most illustrious descendants of the house. He is known as the 'Feld-Maréchal' (field Marshall) de Mérode and became a knight in the order of the Golden Fleece. He served as an important military commander.

In the 18th century the branch of Mérode-Westerloo gained great wealth and power due to the extinction of other side-branches of the house (Mérode-Houffalize, Mérode-Deinze, Mérode Montfort) and a few very interesting marriages. Through marriage they acquired the domains and titles of 'Prince of Rubempré', 'Prince of Everberg', 'Prince of Grimbergen' and Marquess of Trélon.

During the French Revolution the Austrian Netherlands were invaded by French republican troops and were incorporated into the French Republic. The domains of the family were confiscated and noble priviliges were abolished. The family fled to Germany for a while. It was only after the declamation of the Empire des Français by Napoleon in 1804 that the family could regain their domains and some of their titles. A re-introduction of the noble priviliges however would never be achieved. As a result members of the Mérode family became very present in politics and diplomacy. Charles-Guillaume-Ghislain de Mérode-Westerloo had been active as a minister under Austrian rule since 1787 and would hold several other important political posts under successive regimes, such as Maire (Mayor) of Brussels since 1805, and Senator of the Empire des Français since 1809. In 1815 he became Grand -Marshall of the court of King William I of the Netherlands when the Belgian provinces were part of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands.

His sons, Henri, Félix, Frédéric and Werner would play an important role in the Belgian revolution and in the political life of the Kingdom of Belgium. Frédéric de Mérode became a new national hero when he was killed in the battle near Berchem during the Belgian revolution, while Félix de Mérode became an important member of the Provisional Government of Belgium and the Belgian National Congress. After the first Belgian legislative elections Henri de Mérode became a Senator, while his brothers Félix and Werner became both parliament members.

The descendants of Henri, Félix and Werner de Mérode would form different branches whose descendants would continue to play an important role in Belgian politics and diplomacy. See recent genealogie in Wikipedia in French: link

See also

*Maison de Mérode on Wikipedia in French.
*Alexandre de Merode
*Antoinette de Mérode-Westerloo
*Emmanuel de Merode
*Castle of Westerlo
*Mérode Altarpiece by Robert Campin, formerly owned by the family.
*Maison de Mérode on Wikipedia in French.
*Recent genealogie of the House of Mérode on Wikipedia in French.
*Frédéric de Mérode on wikipedia in French.
*Jean-Philippe-Eugène de Merode-Westerloo on Wikipedia in German.
*Jean-Philippe-Eugène de Merode-Westerloo on Wikipedia in Dutch.

External links

* [http://www.kasteel-westerlo.be Official website of the Castle of the Princes de Mérode in Westerlo]
* [http://www.merode.com Website of Schloss Merode, recently damaged by fire]
* [http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/10209a.htm Article on Frédéric-François-Xavier-Ghislain de Mérode, Archbishop of Melitene (1820-1874)]

Sources

*Georges Martin, "Histoire et généalogie de la maison de Mérode", Lyon, 1999.

*Hans J. Domsta, "Geschichte der Fürsten von Merode im Mittelalter", Beiträge zur Geschichte des Dürener Landes Düren, 16, Düren, 1981.


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