BRABANT ~ Duchy
The former Duchy of Brabant covers much of central and northern Belgium and the central southern Netherlands, but Brabant was originally the name of a much smaller district, which lay to the east of Flanders, roughly between the Rivers Delder and Dijle. It was an old Frankish name, which probably meant new land region, and may hark back to the settlement of the Salian Franks in lands south of the Rhine as foederati of the late Roman Empire. Louvain, the capital of the County whose Counts later took the title of Duke of Brabant, stands on the Dijle, in the east of the original district, while Brussels lies in the middle.
The Duchy itself was a leftover of the Duchy of Lower Lotharingia (or Lower Lorraine), first formed in 959 when the ruler of all Lotharingia, Bruno, Archbishop of Cologne, divided that great region into two. The Duchy of Lower Lotharingia was never particularly strong and was sometimes left vacant. About 1100 the Emperor Henry IV appointed the Count of Limburg as Duke, and then in 1106, the year in which his father died, the rebel Henry V appointed Count Godfrey I of Louvain instead. In 1128 Godfrey was replaced with the son of the former Limburg Duke by the recently elected King, Lothar III, but in 1139 restored by the newly elected Conrad III.
The two Counts continued to dispute the title for several years until in 1155 a compromise was reached by which Duke Godfrey III, Count of Louvain, remained Duke of Lower Lotharingia, whilst Count Henry of Limburg became Duke of Limburg. By 1190 Duke Henry I was using the title of Duke of Brabant, from the land his forefathers had ruled as Counts of Louvain, in place of Lower Lorraine.
The Duke of Lower Lotharingia may not have had much power, but the small Marquisate of Antwerp had become associated with the Duchy in the later 11th century and possession of the title had also helped the Counts of Louvain to establish authority in the region known as Toxandria, the lands south of Rhine and Maas. The Duchy of Brabant was therefore quite extensive, and became more so when the Duke bought the rights of Count Adolf of Berg to the Duchy of Limburg, which lay mainly to the east of the Meuse below Liège, in 1283. He made good his claim in 1288 by force of arms. The Duke and the Count of Flanders were the two most powerful of the Netherlands princes, and on the whole the Duke had much less trouble with his subjects.
The line of generally very able rulers died out in the male line in 1355, when Duke John III was succeeded in the bulk of the Duchy by his elder daughter, Joanna, who was married to Wenceslas of Luxemburg, half-brother of the Emperor Charles IV, though her sister, wife of the Count of Flanders, received the Marquisate of Antwerp. It was from the accession of Wenceslas and Joanna that the Joyous Entry, the statement of the rights of the people of Brabant, stemmed. Joanna, a childless widow, abdicated in 1404, and was succeeded briefly by her niece, Margaret of Flanders, on whose death in 1405 the Duchy of Brabant passed to Antony, her second son by Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy. By 1430 Duke Antony and his two sons were dead and Brabant had been added to the growing Netherlands empire of Duke Philip the Good of Burgundy, which was to pass to the Habsburgs in 1477/82, and to the senior Spanish branch in the 16th century.
The effect of the Dutch revolt was to divide the lands of Brabant. The south, with many of the most important towns, was held by the Spanish Habsburgs, passing to the Austrian Habsburgs in 1714. The north of the old Duchy (States Brabant) was occupied by the Dutch (in the west before 1607, in the east from 1629 onwards) and was recognised as belonging to the Dutch Republic in the Peace of Westphalia, 1648. States Brabant did not form a separate province but formed the largest part of the Lands of the Generality, the territory that was under the authority of none of the Dutch provinces in particular but of them all together in general.
The southern Netherlands were occupied and annexed by France in 1794, the Brabant lands forming the Departments of the Dyle and the Deux-Nèthes (the more northerly of the two). In 1810 northern Brabant became part of the French Empire with the annexation of Louis Bonaparte’s Kingdom of Holland. Most of the former States Brabant became the Department of the Bouches-du-Rhin, but the district around Breda in the west was added to the Deux-Nèthes and the westernmost area, including the town of Bergen-op-Zoom, was placed in the Bouches-de-l’Escaut.
In 1813-15 a new United Netherlands was formed. The Dutch lands were brought together again to form the province of Noord Brabant; the departments of Deux-Nèthes (without Breda) and Dyle became the provinces of Antwerpen and Zuid Brabant (South Brabant). These two became Belgian provinces in 1830.