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Brunehaut (Municipality, Province of Hainaut, Belgium)

Last modified: 2007-11-03 by ivan sache
Keywords: brunehaut | laplaigne | scallops: 3 (white) | shells: 3 (white) | ligne |
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[Flag of Brunehaut]

Municipal flag of Brunehaut - Image by Arnaud Leroy, 25 March 2006

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Presentation of Brunehaut and its villages

The municipality of Brunehaut (7,712 inhabitants on 1 January 2007; 4,610 ha) is located on the border with France, 10 km south of Tournai. The municipality of Brunehaut was created in 1976 by the merging of the former municipalities of Hollain, Laplaigne, Bléharies, Rongy, Lesdain, Howardries, Wez-Velvain, Guignies and Jollain-Merlin.

The new municipality was named after the Brunehaut's Stone (pierre de Brunehaut), a monolith located in the village of Hollain. The Brunehaut's Stone is one of the several places in the north of France and Belgium named after the Frankish Queen Brunehaut.
In 511, the Frankish Kingdom of Austrasia was founded in Metz, and lasted until 751. Austrasia spread from the left bank of the river Rhine to the North Sea. King Sigebert I (561-575) and his wife Brunehaut (534-613) developed a brilliant civilisation and preserved the Latin culture in their kingdom. They faught against the neighbouring Kingdom of Neustria. Frédegonde, Queen of Neustria (545-597) married King Chilpéric I (561-584) after he had strangled his wife Galswinthe (540-568). Brunehaut was Galswinthe's sister and fought against Frédegonde, who murdered Sigebert. Chilpéric was also murdered and his son Clothaire II (584-629) captured Brunehaut. The old queen was tortured for three days and tied by her hair to a horse put into a gallop.
The chronicler Jean d'Outremeuse wrote in 1398 that Brunehaut had built in 526 a big paved road, of course in one night and with the devil's help. This was the beginning of the legend of the chaussée Brunehaut, Brunehaut's road. The Belgian historian Vannérus noted that all roads known as Brunehaut's roads in the early XIIIth century were located in Artois and Picardy, where Brunehaut never reigned. The legend might have came from the poem Huon de Bordeaux, in which Julius Caesar builds several roads, helped by his mother Brunehaut. The Brunehaut's tradition spread all over Wallonia and even in the German countries, with a confusion between Brunehaut and the walkyria Brunehild, associated with a confusion between Sigebert and the hero Siegfried. Other traditions say that the queen rebuilt the ancient road destroyed during the Great Invasions or that she was martyrized there. The Brunehaut's roads are indeed very ancient, rectilinear roads built by the Romans to facilitate conquest and colonization of the northern territories; the Romans were forgotten and it was necessary to find a supernatural origin to these big and straight roads.

Source: L'étrange histoire de la Chaussée Brunehaut by J. Lestoquoy, 1946

Hollain is located on the river Scheldt. Its name, meaning "a marshy cavity", refers to the right bank of the river, which was often flooded. The Bruhenaut's Stone is located on the left bank of the river, on the plateau once crossed by a Roman way. The stone is 4.40 high and is believed to have been erected c. 2000-2500 BP. Its meaning is still unknown, and several, more or less sounded, hypotheses have been proposed: a monument, a war trophy, a milestone...
In 979, Godefroid le Captif ceded Hollain to the St. Peter abbey in Ghent. Expelled by the lord of Mortagne around 1100, the monks reestablished their rule over the village in 1290; a chart stated that the Abbot had the privilege to appoint and fire the Mayor and the Municipal Councillors. The abbey was awarded 1/16th of the rights on all the local productions (wine, beer, grain). During the Religious War, the church of Hollain was sacked by the Iconoclasts in 1556. The village was further depopulated by the black plague in 1668 and floods in 1745.
In 1768, it was noticed that the Brunehaut's Stone had started to lean, but nothing was done; in 1820, the stone made an angle of 20 degrees and the municipal administration invested 500 francs to set it upright.

Laplaigne is located on the right bank of the Scheldt; it was known as Le Plaigne in 1186 and its modern written form was fixed in the XVIIIth century. An abbey was founded in a then desert and marshy area after a donation by King Charles le Chauve in 847. Sailing up the Scheldt, the Vikings sacked the abbey in 882. Later rebuilt, the abbey owned in the beginning of IXth century lands in Laplaigne, Espain and Flines. In the XIIIth century, Walter de La Plaigne and his accomplices scoured the area located between Tournai and Mortagne; they were eventually arrested in 1274.

Bléharies was already a crowdy rural settlement in the Neolithic. Huge tabular stones made of the same sandstone as the Brunehaut's Stone have been found in Espain. In the Xth century, Aybert was appointed Provost of a small monastic community founded in Bléharies by the St. Amand abbey. After 25 years, he retired as an hermit and was appointed priest in 1113 by the Bishop of Cambrai. After his death, his relics were venerated and the village church was dedicated to him. However, there was no church in Bléharies in 1700 and the village was nothing but a hamlet depending of Espain. In 1713, France ceded Tournaisis to Austria but kept Saint-Amand: accordingly, Espain became Austrian whereas Bléharies remained French. The treaty signed in 1779 fixed the borders and the so-called "Franco-Austrian" boundary stones were placed. At the same time, it was decided to suppress the church of Espain, often damaged by floods, and a new church was built in Bléharies.
After the independance of Belgium in 1830, a customs post was set up in Espain. In 1882, the railway linking Saint-Amand to Tournai via Bléharies was inaugurated. In 1918, the Germans dynamited the bridge built in 1902 between Blé:haries and Laplaigne, as well as the railway station, the mill and the church. The new church was built in 1926 in Cubist style by Henri Lacoste; the bridge was rebuilt only in 1953 and the railway line was replaced by a bus line.

Rongy was known in 1201 as Rungies. The origin of this name is obscure: there is a French neigbouring village called Rumegies and there existed the written forme of Runchia, recalling a bramble (in French, ronce, in Romance, roncine or runcine). Rongy belonged to the Barony of Roisin; the Baron de Roisin went on the First Crusade with Godefroid de Bouillon. After the religious persecutions, several French protestants emigrated to the Low Countries; in 1720, there was in Tournai a Dutch garrison whose members were mostly protestants. The protestants still in France went to church in Tournai using a less-known path crossing Rongy and known as the Gueux' Path. In 1781, Emperor Joseph II promulgated the law tolerating the Protestant religion; a temple was built in Rongy in 1785, which was rebuilt in the beginning og the XIXth century.
The church of Rongy was destroyed by the Germans on 20 October 1918 and rebuilt in 1924. During the Second World War, Rongy was the first village in Belgium liberated by the Belgian brigade commanded by Colonel Piron.

Lesdain was known in 977 as Ledinium or Lesdinium. This seems to be a corruption of Landinium, formed after landa, "a plain covered with scrubs". In 1314, the village was mentioned as Lesdeng on the map of Notre-Dame of Tournai. Lesdain was originally located in a big forest, and became once the capital of nurserymen. This activity probably started in the XVIIth century due to the proximity of the forest; in 1830, the production became industrial and the nurseries specialized in the production of fruit trees. The nurserymen diversified the production after the 1930 crisis, creating strawbeey fields and orchards. In 1978, 25 nurserymen founded the Nurserymen's Organization in order to promote and improve their production. They organize every year a rose festival during which more than 10,000 flowers are shown.

Howardries is still a mystery for the etymologists. Some say that the name is derived from Hoch ward, referring to the higer guard located there by the local lords; other say it comes from ovaria, in Latin "a sheepfold". The most probable hypothesis is related to the name of the first lord called Huart or Huard (derived from Hugues). The village was known as Hovardia in 1093 and 1379, Ovaria in 1166 and Hovardrie in 1589. Excavations made in 1953 in one of the woods surrounding the village have yielded remains from a big Gallo-Roman village dating back to the IIIrd century; the current village church is built on remains of an older church dated back to the Vth century. In the Middle Ages, the domain of Howardries belonged to the family of Chastel and was an enclave of the châtellenie of Lille, in France; however, the church belonged to the chapter of Tournai. By the treaty signed in Brussels on 18 November 1679, Howardries was ceded to the Austrian Low Countries.

Wez-Velvain is made of two hamlets named after the Latin word vallis, "a valley", and fel vain, meaning "a fertile plain". The written form Wez-Velvain existed in 1012 but was later altered as Guiez, Wes-Velvein, Weesh and Velvaing. In 979, Godefroid le Captif ceded the farms of Neufville to the chapter of the St. Peter abbey in Ghent. The local fortress was burnt down by the Flemings in 1288. In 1302, Wez was sacked by Gossuin d'Antoing after his enemies had been welcomed there by Anselme d'Aigremont. The fortress was besieged by the Burgundians in 1478 and in 1521 by Baron de Ligne on Charles Quint's behalf. It was later bought by the bishops of Tournai and eventually demolished in 1820. The church of Wez-Velvain, built in 1775, was one of the few in the region that was not destroyed by the Germans during the First World War.

Guignies was known in 1107 as Guinginoe, which means "Gui's (or Guonus, Guyon) estate". In 1109, the village was listed as Guenehem, which has the same meaning, on a document belonging to Pope Pascal II. This name evolved as Guegnies (1197), Guignies (1202, on an act mentioning Egidium de Guignies), Goegnies (1209, on a document from the Bishop of Tournai); the form Guignies was fixed in 1263. In 1477, the Burgundians burnt down the castle. The domain was owned in 1485 by the family of Montmorency and included then 16 houses inhabited by 50 adults. In 1521, Charles Quint gathered his army on the plain of Guignies before assaulting Tournai; in 1566, Philippe de Noircames was sent by Marguerite de Parme to Guignies in order to get rid of the Huguenots.

Jollain, then called Ideland, is listed as one of the villages ceded by Godefroid le Captif to the St. Peter abbey in Ghent in 979. Ideland might have meant "unfertile land" in Celtic. The village is said to have been renamed Jollain, after lord Jolanus of Jollun, in 1175. Merlin is said to have its name derived from mergila, the name givern to marl in Latin. Until 1715, Jollain and Merlin had the same lords. The castle of Jollain, built around 1160, was suppressed by Prince d'Espinoy in 1583 and rebuilt by the Fourmanoir family in 1620; it was still inhabited by Guillaume I, Count of Jollain, in 1826 and his descender Ferdinant Levaillant in 1880. Members of the anti-German resistance hid in the castle during the Second World War and the castle was demolished at the end of the XXth century.

Source: Municipal website - Research made by Bernard Dubuisson using documents available at the public library of Bléharies

Ivan Sache, 25 March 2006

Municipal flag of Brunehaut

The municipal flag of Brunehaut is yellow with a red bend charged with three white scallops.
According to Armoiries communales en Belgique. Communes wallonnes, bruxelloises et germanophones, this flag was proposed by the Heraldry and Vexillology Council of the French Community, with the following description:
Jaune à une laize diagonale descendante rouge chargée de trois coquilles blanches posées à plomb.
The flag is a banner of the municipal arms, D'or à la bande de gueules chargée de trois coquilles d'argent (Or a bend gules three scallops argent).

The municipal website states that the municipal arms of Brunehaut are the arms of the former municipality of Laplaigne, based on the arms used in 1653 by Michel de Ligne, lord of La Plaigne.
According to the Armorial of Hainaut, available on the Heraldus website, the arms of Laplaigne were granted by Royal Decree on 16 October 1926.
"Or a bend gules" are the arms of the family of Ligne.

Arnaud Leroy, Pascal Vagnat & Ivan Sache, 4 June 2007