EGMONT & HOORN
Statuary Ancestral Mystery of Brussels
I don’t normally write about statues in parks. There are so many. When you’re traveling in far away places, strolling through a park or along a city boulevard, often you’ll come across a statue and wonder who that is. The locals may know very well who their local personage is, or some may not, just another lost bit of history. On a recent European trip, I found my way to Brussels, partly to find one particular statue. Part of a personal journey and a mystery - a genealogical mystery. When my father died a few years ago, my mother produced a long forgotten family genealogy fan chart, produced by whom in the family she did not know for sure - likely her grandmother's handwriting, though. For those unfamiliar, the chart traces ancestors back through multiple generations, with the “fan” the shape of ever widening mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers, greats and great-greats and whatever they’re called when so far back, math comes into the equation, 2xgreat-great squared. This particular remarkable document traced one line of the family back ten generations to the first Dutch settlers of America of the 1600s. One of the distant relatives was a Van Egmont. And hence the mystery.
Following one’s heritage in a family journey of genealogical exploration is perhaps as good a reason as any to travel to a far away land, to discover the path of those who felt compelled to get on a ship, leave home and make their way to a new land, on their own search for a future. Seekers of family cultural heritage who travel to find something of a relative’s past may through the use of genealogical research sources like Ancestry or Rootsweb find a ship, a neighborhood, or even an address where a key ancestor departed the “old country”. Going back 400 years is a little more difficult.
Which brings me to the statue in a park in Brussels. National heroes of Belgium and the Netherlands. I would have thought having Dutch ancestors would take me to Holland rather than Belgium, but in the long past, the origins of Belgium are in the Dutch speaking “Low Countries”, Flanders, Hainaut and Holland. Count Lamoral Egmont (also spelled Egmond) was a descendant of one of the oldest families of the lowlands. His grandfather John (or Jan) was the first Count Egmont, holding a castle in Noord Holland near Amsterdam. Lamoral was born in Hainaut the second of three sons. When his older brother died he inherited the title, though he resided in Flanders. Count Lamoral Egmont, a military hero and married to the daughter of the German Prince Elector of the Palatine, Frederick III (see Speyer Cathedral), was educated in Spain and headed one of the country's richest families. Still Catholic at a time when the Reformation was sweeping through Europe (see Martin Luther at Worms), he at first refused to join Prince William of Orange against the Spanish and the house of Burgundy overlords in the 1500s (see Friday Market Square Ghent), but protested along with his fellow royal and cousin, the Landgrave of Hoorn against the Spanish church bringing the Inquisition to Flanders. Egmont and Hoorn were arrested by the Spanish Duke of Alva, held in the castle of Ghent (see Counts Castle Ghent) until they were beheaded in Grand Place Square in Brussels on the 5th of June, 1568. Seen as the last straw, the anger of the populace to the unjust execution ultimately brought about revolt which expelled the Spanish in the Eighty Years War of succession and the rise of the protestant House of Orange.
So, why am I standing in front a statue in Brussels? After the execution, the properties of the Egmonts were confiscated and the family and scattered. About 40 years later, in the mid 1600s, a Van Egmont set sail for the newly discovered land of America with his son, settling on an island in the Hudson River just outside of present day Albany, one of the first permanent lasting settlements in the New World.
Much debate and conjecture has been made on the connection between the noble Count of Egmont and the Van Egmonts who settled in America. The royal Egmonts later regained some of their property and rights and traced a lineage, including the Count's cousin being married off to Henry III, the King of France, before that family eventually met equality and fraternity at the end of a sharp blade. Another Egmont line traced to Mary Stewart, Queen of Scots (see Westminster Abbey). While the Van Egmont who settled in America may have only come from the confiscated estates of the Egmonts and its decimated abbey, perhaps he was wary of the family's difficulty keeping a head on straight and decided to lay low. The record is a little foggy. The ancient castle of the Egmonts in Holland was destroyed in 1573, five years after the Count's death, on order of William of Orange to keep it from falling into the hands of the Spanish, and those who lived on that land dispersed to nearby towns and farm lands. The nobleman in the statue not be a blood relative after all, but the personal connection to history is well worth the journey.
The Zavel Park in Brussels, located just in front of where Count Egmont's residence once stood, with the statue atop a water fountain commemorating the Counts of Egmont and Hoorn is quite lovely in a park of curly-cue hedges and people of Belgium and the Netherlands for whom the beheaded counts are national heroes, come to sit on benches and contemplate. Now, if you find yourself strolling through a park in Brussels and see this particular statue, you won’t have to wonder “who’s that?” © Bargain Travel Europe
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