On the first Thursday of July and the previous Tuesday every summer, the Ommegang lights up the magnificent of Brussels.
The secular setting stages the glorious and majestic procession in Brussels of Emperor Charles V Guests of honour sit at the delicately worked windows of the Town Hall to watch the reconstitution of this historical meeting from the beautifully decorated balconies. The Prince of Orange, who would become William the Silent, many ladies in waiting, city councillors, the emperor’s bulldog and other hounds, his fal conry train with ladies carrying skittish birds perched proudly on their hands–all accompany the Emperor. Accompanied by his son Philip, Crown Prince of Spain and Duke of Brabant, and his sisters Eleanor, Queen of France and Mary of Austria, Queen of Hungary and Regent of the Netherlands. This majestic pageant strides along the proud façades that once housed the guilds and the elegant architecture of the Town Hall, one of the handsomest gothic monuments in Belgium.
Guests of honour sit at the delicately worked windows of the Town Hall to watch the reconstitution of this historical meeting from the beautifully decorated balconies. The Prince of Orange, who would become William the Silent, many ladies in waiting, city councillors, the emperor’s bulldog and other hounds, his fal conry train with ladies carrying skittish birds perched proudly on their hands–all accompany the Emperor. The host is the mayor of city of Brussels. All the town’s nobles, rich tradesmen and curious townsfolk were graciously invited to the centuries-old Grand Place.
The pageant winds its way on foot and on horse, flying banners and pennants, in a colourful but solemn token to the opulence of the Renaissance city on display for all to see.
This was in 1549. And not hing has changed since then, except that today the Ommegang is a theatrical representation of this historical event.
Charles V was the son of Philip the Handsome, Archduke of Austria (son of Maximilian of Austria and Mary of Burgundy) and Joan the Mad (daughter of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile).
Charles’ father died when he was just six, leaving him his Burgundy estate, Flanders, Artois and Franche-Comté. The Flemish then called on his paternal grandfather, Maximilian of Austria as regent. In 1516, when his other grandfather, Ferdinand of Aragon, died he became Charles I of Spain with its enormous empire: Castile, Aragon, Navarre, Sardinia, Sicily, Naples… and the American colonies.
At the death of Maximilian in 1519, the throne of the Empire fell vacant. Elections were organised, and Charles was elected in preference to Francis I, thanks to the financial assistance of the banker Fugger.
He had become Charles V…
The start of a difficult reign(1519-1521)
His first problem was to gain recognition of his authority in Spain.
In Aragon, the people wanted to maintain their special rights in those provinces; the Castilians recognised his mother, Joan the Mad, as their legitimate sovereign, and generally speaking, the Spanish feared that as emperor, Charles would be overly preoccupied with central Europe.
So when he left to visit Germany in 1520, revolt broke out in Toledo. It was repressed, but Charles’ power continued to be challenged until he returned in 1522.
The struggle with France and the sixth Italian war(1521-1526)
Conflict with France began in 1521. The French invaded Navarre, but were unsuccessful in the Netherlands. As the war dragged on, a congress was held in Calais, an English possession.
The mediation of King Henry VIII of England was a failure–on the contrary, the English King concluded an alliance with the Emperor–France was attacked from both Picardy and Spain. In the meantime, the war around Milan continued. By means of a pact with Leo X in 1520, the imperial forces recovered Milan (1521). Parma and Piacenza were returned to the Church. The rout of the French continued after they lost the battle of Bicocca and after the Pope died in 1522
The following year, Charles V decided to invade France. An imperial army commanded by a French traitor, the High Constable Charles de Bourbon, attempted a sally in Provence but it was stopped. In the north, the English were humiliated, in Burgundy the Germans were pushed back and in Guyenne, the Spanish were stopped. Francis I took these victories to heart and marched on Milan. But the campaign was disastrous–it ended in Pavia where the king was captured (1525).
He was transferred to Spain, where he was humiliated and cruelly treated by Charles V. Francis I threatened to abdicate, which would have foiled Charles’ victory. In the end, the French king was forced to sign the Treaty of Madrid in exchange for his freedom (January 1528), but it was never applied.
Charles V’s allies change sides–the seventh Italian war(1526-1529)
The all-powerful Charles V had his allies worried. Henry VIII made overtures to Francis I and Pope Clement VII took the head of a league of Italian states. The league was defeated, and Charles de Bourbon, who had his troops to pay, sacked Rome (1527). The Pope was imprisoned in the name of the emperor, causing indignation in all Europe.
As the war drew on and on, it became expensive. Francis I and Charles V signed the peace of Cambrai (August 1529) by which the emperor definitively renounced his claim to Burgundy. He visited Italy the following year, re-establishing the Medicis in Florence and was crowned the King of Lombardy and Emperor of the Romans by the Pope.
The crusade against the Turks
Francis I had signed a Capitulation with the Turks, and Venice preferred to negotiate its own interests peacefully. Charles V was thus on his own in opposing the Ottomans. He had to watch the Hungarian border and the Mediterranean. In the east, the Turks took Belgrade in 1521, followed by Rhodes. They were not stopped until Vienna in 1529.
The Turks were also making headway in the western Mediterranean with the help of their corsairs (including Barberossa and Dragut). They notably took Tunis in 1534 (recaptured by Doria the following year), Algiers (1541), Tripoli (1551), Penon (1564) and Bougie (1555). Indian gold: In 1503, the Casa de Contratacion centralised the American possessions.
But their riches did not begin to flow before the discovery of the precious metals in upper Peru in 1545. But as no campaign can triumph without money, Charles V would certainly have been more successful had this discovery been made a few years earlier. By 1545, the Turks had been successful in the Mediterranean and France had not give up an inch of territory.
The end of the reign: the decline of the Hapsburg
In addition, the money came through Spain, but did not stay there. It created opportunities for other powers, hastening the decline of the Habsburg reign. Charles V had to deal with the Protestants throughout his reign. In 1538, he signed a truce with the Smalkalde league supported by Francis I. In 1547, he overcame the Lutheran princes at the battle of Mühlberg and required their return to the Catholic church in a regulation called the Augsburg Interim.
But the Protestants claimed allegiance with the new King of France, Henry II. Charles V was nearly taken prisoner at Innsbruck and faced with that show of force, he negotiated the Passau Treaty authorising the exercise of the Protestant religion.
But the trouble continued until the death of the main cause, Maurice Elector of Saxony, and in 1555 the Peace of Augsburg was signed, recognising the Protestant faith throughout the empire according to the principal of “cujus regio, ejus religio”. Weakened and disappointed, Charles withdraw to the Netherlands and cut them off from the Empire.
|Phillip of Spain|
Phillip of Spain
Son of the Emperor Charles the Fifth and the Empress Isabella of Portugal.
They aim to make him recognised by the population of the
The disorders of the
|Mary of Austria|
Mary of Austria
The fourth daughter of Philip the Handsome and Joan of Castile, Mary was born in Brussels at the Coudenberg Palace, on September 15, 1505. Despite an unhappy childhood and adolescence, she was famed for her abundant energy, which stood her in good stead when she later became regent of the Netherlands. Losing her father at the age of one, she was taken in by her paternal Aunt Margaret, the Governor of the Netherlands, as her mother, Joan of Castile, had been incarcerated as a result of her insanity.
At seven years of age she became engaged to the heir to the Kingdoms of Hungary and Bohemia. They were wed in 1522. Four years later, the young monarch was killed in a battle against the Turks. The young widow was inconsolable and decided never to marry again, but to remain in Hungary as regent until her brother, Ferdinand, became King of Hungary and Bohemia. He converted the hereditary crowns into hereditary possessions of the house of Habsburg, and so they remained until 1913.
In 1528, the Queen returned to Mechelen. Two years later, Margaret of Austria suddenly died, thus leaving the post of Governor of the Netherlands vacant. Charles V immediately thought of his sister Mary, who hesitated before accepting the position, for fear of “putting a cord around her neck”, at least for a temporary period. The temporary period was to last for 25 years.
As Duchess of Burgundy, Margaret of Austria enjoyed some degree of independence during time she governed, unlike Mary of Hungary, who turned out to be an obedient regent. She ruled in a zealous and conscientious manner, always ready to agree with her brother. She surprised everyone by displaying sophisticated financial skills and becoming adept at developing military strategies.
The Lady On Sablon’s Church
This tertiary ogival building, that lasted more than one century, had an unusual chancel: without columns and ambulatory. This absence of side parts in front of the eleven lanceolated windows (14 m high) gives it an outstanding slenderness.
The restoration began in 1864 with the chancel, and in 1878 the sides of the nave were cleared from parasitic houses. The restoration was led by the architect Schoy, followed by J. and M. Van Ysendyck. In the right transept, under a superb rose-window, a carving of the XVIIth century represents the boat carrying the miraculous statue.
The expression “Ommegang” meaning “procession” is derived from the old Flemish words “omme” (around) and “gang” (walk).
Several Belgian cities had an Ommegang particularly in Flanders. They were always characterised by fervent religious faith, and also included a large, opulent secular participation of the guilds, crafts, and chambers of rhetoric.
With the name of Beatrice Soetkens and the construction of the church Our Lady of Sablon It all began in 1348, under the reign of Duke John III of Brabant.
At that time, Brussels was beginning to flourish and was learning how to become a major city. The population of some forty thousand inhabitants was comparable to that of London. The city was surrounded by massive walls four kilometres long, topped with a parapet and boasting fifty towers. Brussels opened seven doors to the world through which goods poured to its markets from the surrounding Brabant countryside and foreign lands. Barges, too, slowly inched their way along the Senne to the heart of the city laden with important loads from other towns.
The cloth industry had made Brussels rich and tradesmen consorted with the best of society under the supervision of the Amman, an officer of the Duke of Brabant. He owed his authority and competence to the fact that he presided the City Council, saw to the execution of orders and commanded the sergeants at arms.
But back to our famous Beatrice Soetkens. As tradition would have it, she, the wife of a poor workman in the cloth industry, heard voices one day. She learned that the Virgin Mary, Mother of God, wanted to reward the town of Brussels, and particularly the Crossbow-men’s guild for having built a chapel in her honour on the hill at the Sablon. Beatrice was given the mission to go to Antwerp and bring back the miraculous statue of the Virgin venerated there as Our Lady of the Branch (O.L.V. op ‘t Stokske).
These voices totally upset Beatrice–she could do nothing but obey. She hurriedly rowed to Antwerp with her husband, and ran to the cathedral to get the statue. The Sacristan tried to stop her, but how could he resist divine will?
He was petrified on the spot, voiceless and motionless!
Beatrice returned to the boat in her haste to get back to Brussels. But her husband quickly tired of rowing against the current and the wind. Fortunately the Lord was watching–the boat floated upstream to Brussels on its own volition and landed on the spot where the crossbow-men of the guild were practising.
Intrigued by the arrival of this tiny craft glowing with an unearthly light and piping sweet music, they questioned Beatrice who recounted the cause and circumstances of her expedition to Antwerp.
The event was deemed a miracle. Even the townsfolk of Antwerp who stormed to Brussels, agreed that it was extraordinary. They consented to leave the statue at the Sablon to be venerated there in the chapel. In addition, a solemn promise was made to erect a church worthy of the event and to organise an annual procession to carry the Virgin around the church under the protection of the Great Crossbow-men’s guild.
So the Ommegang was born!
The origin of this famous procession was indeed the expression of religious fervour supported by a military authority. Gradually the Ommegang became a great town event. Civil authorities, the crafts, chambers of rhetoric and the guilds took their place in front of the clergy.
It became the magnificent pageant celebrated through the centuries to modern times. Like every year, the ” Ommegang Oppidi Bruxellensis” Royal Society continues in the tradition of these centuries-old pageants with historical reference, in the incomparable setting of the Grand-Place of Brussels.