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The Ireland-Leuven Link

Irish Footsteps in Belgium

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The Partners

Objectives & Outcomes

FULS visit to Leuven

Leuven visit to N. Ireland

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The Agreement (Extracts)


Spanish Leuven

Presentation by Kristiaan Magnus


Kristiaan Magnus

First of all, I want to make clear that the period the Low Countries were living under Spanish rule is not to be considered as being a country under siege; you cannot say the Spanish have invaded the country and occupied it a few centuries. The only three times the country was really invaded by a foreign army was under French rule and then twice in the 20th century by the Germans. They all three installed an occupation government that made up the laws.

In other centuries, and also the Spanish times, the local governors (counts and Dukes) stayed in place but had to pay taxes to the highest level.

That is how things were going. We had to bow for a foreign King or Emperor, but we kept the daily governance to our own Earls and city boards.

Historical Timeline

Another way to overlook our country's history is this timeline of who possesses the land in which centuries:

-54 -   Before Common Era - Julius Caesar invaded Belgica

800 - Common Era - Charlemagne or Carolus Magnus is Emperor of Europe

843 - when he dies, we resort under the Duchy of Lorraine, we call it Lotharingen

884 - Vikings visiting (and defeated in Leuven 891)

1003- Leuven's first count known is Lambert the Bearded

1106- Brabant becomes a Duchy: the first Duke being Godfry the Bearded

1430- now under the Duke of Burgundy

1477- Maximilian of Habsburg Holy Roman Emperor and Margaret of Austria

1515- his son Charles V (Charles I of Spain) and Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire

The ceremony of installation of Charles as Duke of Brabant (Blijde Inkomst, Joyous Entrance) has left this account in the city archives

1549 - Philips II of Spain

1598-1621 - Albert and Isabella of Spain

who installed the Irish friars in the Irish college

1655 - Charles II of Spain was in so bad physical condition due to incestuous marriages between Habsburgers, that it is uncertain to say more about him, but since he was the only male in the family, he got important anyway: after his death, the struggle for the legacy broke out (the Spanish succession war, ending with a win for the Austrian Habsburg branch)

1691 - Meanwhile, Willem van Oranje also known as King William III of England, or Good King Billy for Irish protestants and orange protest marchers, but also at the same time stadholder of the northern Netherlands, he married Mary Stuart

1740 - Maria-Theresia of Austria

1780 - Joseph II of Austria, the enlighted despot

1797 - French Directoire: Brabant becomes the département de la Dyle

1803 - Napoleon Bonaparte

1815 - Willem van Oranje, King of the Unified Lowlands

1831 - Belgium's first King: Leopold I

But let us focus now on some more important people than just Kings and Governors.

In the arts, let us start with this scheme:

  • in the 15th century Flanders is powerfull with Van Eyck, Memlinc and Vander Weyden
  • in the 16th century economy switches to Brabant and also the art business with Bosch, Brueghel, Rubens and Van Dijck
  • in the 17th century we have Holland's golden age with Rembrandt, Vermeer, Hals

Focussing on Leuven again. Here we talk about

Rogier Vander Weyden (1400-1468): Descending of the Cross in Prado, Madrid

This painting was made for the crossbow guild who had their chapel near Tiensepoort that was called OLV van Ginderbuiten: Our Lady way back outside the (first) city wall. It is considered as one of ten greatest masterpieces in the Prado Museum in Madrid: if you want to study it, ask Google Earth for Prado, Madrid. How did it get there? Filips II, Spanish King, had seen the painting that was bought to embellish the castle of his governor in the Netherlands, Mary of Hungary. So the painting was shipped to Espana, but the ship was hit by a storm in the Gulf of Biscay and sunk. The painting was well wrapped in waxpaper and into a strong box, so it came ashore and survived with little damage.

In WWII when the art pieces of Prado Museum were sent by train to Switzerland, the train was bombed but the painting was not damaged.

The reason why this Flemish Primitive painting is so important is that it is the first painting showing lots of emotion, while in other paintings figures are staring more and not showing any emotion at all. Many painters came to look at this painting for this and many copied the style, even 100 years later. Also to be mentioned in this painting, made for the Leuven Crosbowguild, is that the way Christ's arms are bending, make us think you can see a bow in this position; this is repeated with Our Lady and a third time with Maria Madelaine at the right side; also in the upper corners there is a minuscule cross bow to be seen if you zoom in at the Prado Masterpieces webside. Amazing details, typical for these not so primitive painters from Flanders to be found in all of the world's museums!

Roger de le Pasture (his original name): Portrait of a Lady, Louvre, Paris

Chronologically next in line is:

Gossart (=Mabuse, from Maubeuge) (1478-1532): Adoration of the Kings, National Gallery London

This painter too made paintings ordered for Spanish cloisters and Kings, works to be found in Prado Museum also. e.g. he painted Eleonora of Castile, sister of Emperor Charles V, but also Mary Tudor.

Next in line is our most famous and living in Leuven

Dirk Bouts (1410-1475): Saint Christopher and the Infant Christ

His Last Supper in St Peters church in Leuven is an example for painters that made the trip to Leuven especially to see how he worked out the vanishing point in his perspective. It was made for the Brotherhood of the Holy Sacrament, and that is exactly what you see when you trace the diagonals, at the crossing you do not find Christ, but the holy Host.

About the history of this painting I want to tell you about two tense moments in its history:

  1. The first one was a few hundred years ago when this kind of art wasn't liked so much any more and the painting was taken out of the church into the chapter room for the canonics. There it was installed with the painting to the wall and they added some hooks in the wooden panel so it could serve as a robehanger. Afterwards it was displayed for sale on the fleemarket, where but saved by a priest, who brought it back to the church.
  2. The second occasion was when the Germans took the painting "to save it from the war scene" but in the Treaty of Versailles, signed in 1918, provided that it had to be given back to the city of Leuven. In WWII the triptique was sent to the saltmines of Alt-Aussee to be put in Hitler's World Museum of Art, planned in his home town of Linz, Austria after winning the war. It was returned safely.

Continuing the art gallery we meet:

Kwinten Messijs, Matsijs (born in Leuven 1466-1530): The Money Lender and his wife, Louvre, Paris

It is possible that he learned to paint from Dirk Bouts. While he painted mainly religious themes, I wanted to show you a non-religious item which is a very fine elaborated work, look in the mirror, notice all these details.

I must admit this and the last painter had no direct connection with Spanish upper class people ordering their work. But this painter's sister Katrien surely has a connection: she is the one you saw in the city hall being condemned to be buried alive on Grote Markt for having read and explained the Bible!

Also I have to admit my top artist from these days is not in this list because he has no direct connection with Leuven, but he sure was living in the Spanish Netherlands.

Pieter Brueghel The Elder (1525-1569),famous for painting ordinary people instead of the rich. He was not afraid to paint in his work Killing of the innocent children a platoon of Spanish soldiers carrying out this horrible business. He was never caught or put in prison for doing this!

After the arts, let us enter to the Sciences: the University of Leuven founded in 1425 (Bologna 1088, Paris 1150,Oxford 1167, Cambridge 1209) and the oldest University in Benelux.

Famous names from the Humanist period:

Erasmus (1466-1536),Erasmus by Quentin Matsijs

Erasmus is the best known name of Leuven celebrities, since he spent his life travelling and meeting interesting people. That is the reason why the European University students exchange program is called the Erasmus-Project. It is to be extended so that any University student must take courses in a different country at least during one semester of his studytime.

Thomas More and Erasmus visiting the children of Henry VII

More being one of his friends, he lived for a period in London. More's book Utopia was dedicated to his friend Erasmus, and by the way was printed in Antwerp. Also More invented the word itself, meaning non-topos, non-existing-land, maybe Neverland?

Erasmus' book Praise of Folly, which read in Greek is 'Morias Enkomion', that can also be translated as 'In Praise of More', to whom he dedicated the book.

The Spanish translations of this book were widely spread in Spain, where Charles V was a fervent adherent.

Thomas More

People having visited Leuven will remember this City Hall monument with Erasmus right at the main doors, speaking to the citizens going in.

Nullam hodie lineam duxi

Erasmus being the one that collects a whole book with latin sentences and proverbs, and this is my favourite one, because it tells something about the man:

today I didnt fetch one line.

Erasmus'importance for Leuven comes from his founding of the College of the three tongues, Collegium Trilinguae, Drietalencollege. He wanted to study the oldest texts in the original languages, Latin, Greek and Hebrew. At first, University officials were not happy with his initiative, so he founded an independent college, which the officials of University denigrated, saying that in this college you learned only the "Latin of the Fishmarket", since the building was fronting the Vismarkt. Later on, when many students in Trilinguae made it famous, the college was incorporated into University colleges.

His humanist way of thinking meant that he was open to both protestant and roman catholic points of view, but he never condemned either one, which is why he was considered a dangerous person to both sides and finally he had to flee Leuven and died in the city of Basel, Switzerland.

Andreas Vesalius (1514-1565), also called Andries Van Wesel, is top professor in the medical faculty.

His contribution to science is that he wrote seven Books on the Human Body, dissecting cadavers of poor people found in cemeteries.

He published a lot about all of the human bodies systems.

He also moved to Spain to become imperial physician to Charles V and to his sun Philip II.

Gerard Mercator (1512-1594), originaly Geert De Kremer (marskramer meaning merchant), the outstanding mapmaker, the global pioneer.

His contribution to the science of mapping is important. Eyecacher in this is the invention of the name Atlas for a book with maps of all over the world. He also invented the name America that he used for the first time on his map of the America's, but most of all, world maps all over the globe still have a footnote calling the map the Mercator Projection: he invented a way of making maps that seamen could use to draw out their course to sail, so they could even cross an ocean! Not many scientists can say their invention is still standing strong after 500 years.

While you folks were visiting our Lowlands, there was an exhibition to commemorate Mercator's birthday 500 years ago, born 1512.

I then showed you the new book edited then, with this map of Hibernia.

We know Mercator originally was making world globes, one of them was ordered by Emperor Charles V. He was living in Leuven at the times of religious wars between roman catholics and protestants. We know he was arrested and put in prison for being too friendly to protestant points of view. He esaped from his prison and went to Duisburg, which was free of war, where he elaborated most of his maps. The good man is so important for mapmaking, maybe because he lived for 82 years!

Vivez (1492-1540) was a Spanish professor at universities in Paris, Bruges, Oxford (teaching Mary Tudor) and finally Leuven (he was private teacher to Willem van Croij, who later became bishop of Kamerijk - Cambray and later archbishop at Toledo); his nephew, also called Willem van Croij, was Charles V private secretary and also owner of the castel in Heverlee (Leuven) that some of you have seen from nearby.

He lived in Diestsestraat in a house with a garden with two wells: he therefore called his house Tweebronnen, that he was pointing the two languages Greek and Latin. Our city archives and library therefore is called the same.

When he was teaching in Leuven, he was offered a professorship in a Spanish University, which he did not accept. I will explain why.

His parents were Jews. Because the catholic Kings were strictly against other religions, they had to switch to roman catholic religion. But inquisition found proof they secretly kept practicing their Jewish religion and they were sentenced to death. Since his mother already died earlier, her body was exhumed to be burned in public.

Now you understand he preferred to stay in the northern part of the empire, where people are more understanding and have more respect.

From 1520 to 1550 a lot of Spanish students came to the University at Leuven to study. They found a less hostile attitude towards protestants and it is known they were discussing religious themes. When officials in Spain found out, students were forbidden to go and study abroad, except for Italian universities.

Adrianus VI (1459-1523)

He came to Leuven as a theological student and left as rector magnificus. That is why he was nominated as private teacher to the future Charles V. When he became King of Spain at the age of 15, he asked Adrian to join him to Spain, which he could not refuse. He became chancellor of the King, replacing him on top of government for years when he left to be crowned as Emperor in Aachen.

King Carlos I de Castilia y Aragon came back as Charles V, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire.

Meanwhile in Rome the Pope died. Since there was a collision between two groups of cardinals, one being under influence of the French King, and the other defending the candidate of the Medici in Florence, they decided to elect a third party, being Adrian.

Festivities in Leuven en Utrecht, where he was born, but less festivities in Rome, where they were used to enormous parties. But this Pope was not attending festivities, it was told that he was praying all the time. So he was not loved by the Roman, this nordic, too-rational Pope.

Pity for him, he only survived Rome for one year. If he would have ruled longer, he might have found a solution for the protestant movement and a reconciliation at that time was still possible. History shows it went different.

Left over eyecatchers that I will not talk about:
  • capilla flamenca (1515-1637) being the Flemish choir, singing for the Spanish Court, under direction of a Flemish chapelmaster;
  • the pilgrim road to Compostella passing by Saint Jacob or St James of Leuven with the oldest church in town (13th century, romanescue style tower) and one of the Seven Wonders of Leuven: the bell outside the tower;

  • the Duke of Alva, fully don Fernando Alvarez de Toledo who brought such a mess and misery with his very strict rule expelling all protestants out of the country, who all fled to the northern Netherlands and to Germany, protestant countries;
  • the Duke of Parma, Farnese who is responsible for rewinning in 1585 the city of Antwerp for the Spanish, the last protestant city in the southern Netherlands; <li>the Council of Trente, taking mesures to re-establish the catholic church, where the theology professors of Leuven had a large part because most of the texts they prepared for it, were accepted and implemented;
  • Jan Van der Linden, abbot in Saint-Geertudis, another tower mentioned in the Seven Wonders of Leuven;

  • and his brother Karel Vander Linden (abbot in Park Abbey1558-1576)


impossible for me not to mention the role of the Park Abbey in the Spanish episode of Leuven's history.

1486: Erasmus as a student is working in the Park Abbey Library, since the University itself has no library yet. He finds out that texts in Latin, Greek and Hebrew are not exactly telling the same. Here is growing his idea for a Trilangual College he has set up in 1517.

1515: Charles V receives the right to approve appointments in the church by Pope Leo X

1515-1543: the new abbot Ambrosius van Engelen (De Angelo) leads a coalition of abbots fighting this right of the sovereign

1527: Ambrosius van Engelen as instigator of this revolt is sent on a diplomatic mission to Copenhagen

1543-1558: abbot Lodewijk Vanden Berghe is responsible for gathering the amounts (pecunia) to be paid to assist the Council of Trente

1558-1576: under Philips II, abbot Karel Vander Linden is ready to fight, his brother, abbot of St Gertrudis Abbey is rather stubborn.

1571: the Duke of Alva hangs the Mayor of Zoutleeuw for delivering food to the protestant general Willem of Orange, this happens in the orchard of the Abbey, where Alva resided; when Duke Alba leaves Leuven, the abbot issues orders to cut down this tree of shame immediately.

1576: abbot Karel Vander Linden is in the delegation sent to Philips II in Spain to pray him to soften his governance, ending in the Pacification of Gent

1577-1583: abbot Ambrose Loots supporting Willem of Orange has to flee the country and finds refuges in Liege. Reconciliation in 1580 brings him back to his Abbey.

1583-1601: abbot Francis Van Vlierden sets up a theological centre within the Abbey, being part of the theological faculty of Leuven

1601-1634: abbot Drusius is nominated as vicary-general, responsible for all Norbertine Abbeys in Brabant

1606: abbot Drusius is the official inspector for the University

1617: abbot Drusius is also installed as official visitator for the University of Douai in French-Flanders

1619, 1628: Drusius having proposed new order rules for the Norbertines, is sent to Spain to enforce these in the order. He did this well, since King Philips IV donated him a ring in remembrance, which is still kept in the Abbey

1648-1682: abbot de Pape involved in the wars with French King Louis XIV who is invading Flanders

1674: abbot de Pape has to accept quartering Spanish and Dutch troops into the Abbey grounds

1702-1717: Abbey plundered during abbot Van Tuycom's ruling when the Spanish succession war is going on

2012: the Abbey of Park is under cover!

Thank you for your attention.

14 September 2012