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Torhout (Municipality, Province of West Flanders, Belgium)

Last modified: 2015-07-28 by ivan sache
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[Flag of Torhout]

Municipal flag of Torhout - Image by Filip van Laenen, 10 November 2001

See also:

Presentation of Torhout

The municipality of Torhout (locally known as Toeroet; 19,539 inhabitants on 1 January 2007; 4,523 ha) is the capital of Houtland, a region located in the center of West Flanders.

Torhout was mentioned for the first time in the VIIth century and was already famous in the IXth century for its monastery. Bishop Anscharius left the monastery with his disciples Rembert; Anscharius and Rembert were the first bishops of Hamburg-Bremen. In the XIth century, Torhout became one of the main towns of the emerging County of Flanders. The Count of Flanders set up in the town a chapter, a yearly market and a private residence ('s Gravenwinkel). Outside the town, the Count built the waterbucht (fort protected by water) Wijnendale (see below) Themost famous leader of the Chapter of Torhout was Priest Jacob Obrecht (1499-1506), a polyphonist musician portrayed by the painter Memling.
Until the French Revolution, Torhout was a free town, one of the seven courts of the Country of Wijnendale, itself part of the Brugse Vrije. Countess Johanna of Constantinople set up the hospital of Torhout in 1229; after a short period of abandon during the Wars of Religion, the hospital was resettled in 1666 by Augustinian nuns from the hospital of Menen. Its XVIIth-century chapel is the oldest building of Torhout.

The castle of Wijnendale was built by Count of Flanders Robert of Friesland in the late XIth century, according to a later chronicle. The oldest contemporary source mentioning the castle is the diary of Gaalbert of Bruges, dated 1127. The castle was often used as a residence by the Counts in the XII-XIIIth centuries; Count Philip of Alsace stayed there with his Council in 1168, while a chaplain, and thus a chapel, was mentioned for the first time in 1187. In 1297, Count Gwijde of Dampierre set up in the castle an alliance with King of England Edward I.
In 1298, the castle of Wijnendale was transferred to the Counts of Namur, a junior branch of the House of Dampierre. The castle was severely damaged after the Battle of the Golden Spurs (1302) and the Coastal Flanders Uprising (1325), but it was rebuilt, so that the family of Namur often stayed in the castle until 1366. In 1407, Count of Namur John III sold the castle to Duke of Burgundy John Fearless, who transferred it three years later to his son-in-law, Count (and Duke in 1417) Adolf II of Cleves.

Wijnendale was transferred in 1463 to the junior branch of the House of Cleves, the lords of Ravenstein. Philip the Handsome described the castle as "the most beautiful vacation residence in Flanders". During a hunting party in Wijnendale, Countess Mary of Burgundy fell down from her horse and died. Her successor, Maximilian of Austria, caused a revolt in the Low Countries; after Philip of Cleves had taken the insurgents' party, the castle of Wijnendale was sacked by German soldiers in 1488. The pride of the domain, the wealthy horse stables, were completely burned. Philip rebuilt the castle immediatly. After 1528, Wijnendale was reincorporated in the possessions of the senior branch of the House of Cleves; the Dukes of Cleves did not stay there permanently but welcomed several guests, including Emperor Karl V and Governor of the Low Countries Mary of Hungary.
In the second half of the XVIth century, the Dukes of Cleves progressively abandoned the castle of Wijnendale; after the Wars of Religion and the uprising against the Spanish rule, the castle was plundered in 1578 and its donjon was burned down. The oldest known images of the castle dates from that period, that is a detail on the map of the Brugse Vrije made by Pieter Pourbus in 1568 and an anonymous drawing dated 1612, once (mis?)attributed to Jan Bruegel.

The retarded Duke Johan Willem of Cleves died in 1609 without a heir. Several German princes competed for his succession. In 1614, the Agreement of Xanten granted the domain of Wijnendale to Duke Wolfgang Willem van Palts-Neuburg. However, Emperor Rudolf II had awarded in 1610 the domain of Wijnendale to Christian II, Prince-Elector of Saxe. Christian II lived in the castle until 1634, when the Court of Brussels definitively allocated Wijnendale to the Dukes of Palts-Neuburg. They kept the domain and the castle until 1669, and again from 1690 to 1795. The castle was seized by the French troops in 1668 and 1675, and then by the Spanish troops in 1676, 1689 and 1690. The same year, the French seized again the castle, burning the bridge, the chapel and the prison. The whole was rebuilt in 1699-1700.
On 28 September 1708, the battle of Wijnendale opposed the French and Spanish troops (with 4,000 killed) to the Allies' troops, commanded by the English General Webb (with 900 killed), but the castle was, that time, hardly damaged. In the XVII-XVIIIth centuries, the castle of Wijnendale was settled most the time by a local governor, while the Dukes of Palts-Neuburg stayed in Germany.

After the French Revolution, the castle was used as an inn and eventually destroyed by Napoléon's troops in 1811. In 1833, the banker and insurance broker Josse-Pierre Matthieu, from Brussels, purchased the domain and completely rebuilt the castle, from 1837 to 1852. His son Joseph Louis Matthieu commissioned in 1877 the architect Felix Laureys to rebuilt the castle in romantic, pseudo-medieval style, as we can see it today. On 25 May 1940, King Léopold III had his last meeting with his main ministers (Prime Minister Hubert Pierlot, Minister of the Foreign Affairs Paul-Henri Spaak, Minister of the Interior Arthur Vanderpoorten and Minister of the Defense General Denis). The government decided to flee the country to carry on the fight; however, as the head of the armies, the King decided to stay among the troops and was captured. A controversy broke out after the war, known as the Royal Question, which led to the abdication of the King in 1951.

Torhout is the birth town of Karel Steyaert , better known as Karel "Koarle" Van Wijnendale, who founded in 1913 the Tour of Flanders. A journalist, Van Wijnendale founded the newspaper Sportwereld, later incorporated into Het Nieuwsblad. He was also the manager of the Belgian team in the Tour de France and the coach of several Belgian cyclists. Van Wijnendale coined the word Flandriens (Flandrians) to designate the Flemish cyclists who never gave up.


Pascal Vagnat & Ivan Sache, 5 December 2007

Municipal flag of Torhout

The municipal flag of Torhout is vertically divided black-white-green.
According to Gemeentewapens in België - Vlaanderen en Brussel, the flag, "used for long", was adopted by the Municipal Council on 2 July 1981, confirmed by the Executive of Flanders on 3 December 1984 and published in the Belgian official gazette on 8 July 1986.
The colours of the flag are taken from the municipal arms.

According to Servais, the arms of Torhout were granted by (Dutch) Royal Decree in 1819 and confirmed by (Belgian) Royal Decree on 25 January 1842. The oldest known municipal seal, from the late XIIIth century, shows a canting tower (in Dutch, toren) with a fleur-de-lis and a ball. A seal dated 1302 shows the tower flanked by two canting trees (in Dutch, hout means "a wood"). Yet another seal, dated 1369, shows two keys flanked by two oak branches and a bird. The most recent seal of Torhout, dated 1557, shows a tower flanked by two keys. The arms use, therefore, elements both from the older (tower and trees) and newer (tower and keys) seals. They are "Argent a castle sable on a terrace vert flanked by two trees of the same, the whole flanked by two keys sable".

Pascal Vagnat & Ivan Sache, 5 December 2007

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