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Morlanwelz (Municipality, Province of Hainaut, Belgium)

Last modified: 2015-07-28 by ivan sache
Keywords: morlanwelz | mariemont | lozenges (red and yellow) | warocque |
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[Flag of Morlanwelz]

Municipal flag of Morlanwelz - Image by Arnaud Leroy, 11 May 2007

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Presentation of Morlanwelz

The municipality of Morlanwelz (-lz not pronounced; 18,723 inhabitants on 1 January 2007; 2,026 ha) is located 10 km west of Charleroi. The municipality of Morlanwelz is made since 1976 of the former municipalities of Morlanwelz-Mariemont, Carnières and Mont-Sainte-Aldegonde.

Morlanwelz was already settled in the prehistoric times, as proved by three flint axes found there in the late XIXth century. In the Roman times, Morlanwelz was crossed by the way, later known as Chaussée Brunehaut, linking Bavay to Maastricht and Cologne via Tongeren. In 1879, a Roman villa was found north of the road, as well as a tumulus.
The etymology of Morlanwelz is disputed. Whereas -welz alludes to wet lowlands (a valley, a plain or a ford), the exact meaning of morlan- remains conjectural. The ancient chroniclers have popularized a probably wrong, early name of Mortuorum Vallis, the Deads' Valley, recalling a bloody battle supposed to have taken place there in the first century AD. In 1889, Petau de Maulette claimed that the Celtic word morlo means "fossile coal" and recalls the very old history of coal picking (since some veins outcrop) in the region.
The medieval history of Morlanwelz is not known in detail either. The village was probably a free domain of Trazegnies, which probably developed around a feudal fortress built maybe in the IXth century. The village was located on the border of Hainaut with Fontaine-l'Evêque, then fiercely disputed between the bishops of Cambrai and Liège. It was ruled by the lords of Le Rœulx until the end of that lineage and then transferred to the County of Flanders and incorporated to the Provostship of Binche.

In 1545, Maria of Hungary, Charles V's sister, then Governor of the Low Countries for some 15 years, was granted the Provostship of Binche by her brother. The architect Du Brœucq, from Mons, built for her a Renaissance castle in Binche; in 1546-1547, she asked the same architect to build a hunting lodge and a farm in Morlanwez, suppressing the old fortress, already reported as ruined in 1443. The architect kept only the donjon, which was used as a pigeon house and a jail, but was eventually suppressed in the XVIIth century. Maria's lodge is the origin of the Royal domain of Mariemont. A famous festival was given in the castle in August 1549; it was reported that 20,000 took part to a banquet and the simulated siege of the castle by "salvages", which were "repelled" by troops commanded by Princes of Piedmont and Ligne. The festival was considered as "the most picturesque and animated ever". In 1554, Binche and Mariemont were raided and burnt down by the troops of King of France Henri II; the castle was revamped but Charles and Mary abdicated and went back to Spain in 1556, where they both died two years later. During the reign of Philip II, the castle of Mariemont was hardly inhabited and close to fall into ruins.

Coal had been picked up from outcrops and dug out in the park of Mariemont since the XIV-XVth century. Charles V and his successors prohibited further coal digging and wood picking in the park to protect it, but illegal exploitation did not stop. The ban was aimed at preventing the inhabitants of Morlanwelz to use the Governor's park as a coal and wood supply. In 1738, however, the architect J.A. Anneessens proposed a plan of coal exploitation in the park; nothing was really done in spite of several studies and reports until Charles of Lorraine was appointed Governor of the Low Countries. He built a new castle in Mariemont in 1756 and started coal extraction in 1759. It took seven years to reach an exploitable vein and in 1769 Charles of Lorraine gave up because of a deficit of 30,584 guilders.
After the French conquest in 1794, the castle was burnt and the park was sacked; quickly, several captains of industry competed for the concession of the park, whose coal potential had not been forgotten. On 20 Messidor of the Year X (9 July 1802), Isidore Warocqué, Charles Duvivier, J.B. Hardempont, P.F. Tiberghien and Nicolas Warocqué, founders of the Société de Mariemont, were officially granted a 11,500-ha concession. Nicolas Warocqué (d. 1835) became the executive director of the colliery and increased it under the Dutch rule; he was elected Mayor of Morlanwelz in 1805 and rebuilt in 1830 a castle in the park, surrounded by a landscaped garden. His descendants increased the family wealth so that the last of them, Raoul, died in 1917 as "the richest man in Belgium". Nicolas' son, Abel Warocqué (1805-1864) invented the warocquère, a device that increased the safety and efficiency of mining; he was fond of land speculation and art. His son Léon Warocqué (1831-1868) had a very sad personal life and contributed to the social development of the village of Morlanwelz; he was fond of tree cultivation and promoted practical classes in his domain's orchards. His brother Arthur (1835-1880) succeeded him as the director of the colliery; he followed the tracks of his brother, promoting several philanthropic and workers' societies and transforming Morlanwelz into a modern town. After his death in Brussels, his body was brought back to Mariemont by a special train that stopped in the middle of the colliery yard; all the streets were decorated with black flags and the 6,000 miners were kneeling along the route of the funerary convey. The last Warocqué, Raoul, became one of he most famous art collectors in Belgium; he bequeathed the domain of Mariemont to the Belgian state. The castle was destroyed by a blaze in 1960 but the art works were preserved and housed in a modern building. The Musée Royal de Mariemont is owned today by the French Community.

In 1740, Maria-Elisabeth, Governor of the Low Countries, decided to create in Mariemont a spa, on the model of Spa. She commissionned three professors from the University of Leuven to study the water of the fountains located near her castle. The professors acknowledged the value of the waters and pointed out three sources: the Archduchess' Fountain "for the kidney and bladder diseases", the Roidemont Fountain "for the tuberculosis sufferers", and the Montaigu Fountain "for the people in delicate health". The architect J.A. Anneessens drafted the building of the new spa in 1741 and Doctor Delval, from Leuze, was appointed director of the spa. The water should also be sold in bottles. The unexpected death of Maria-Elisabeth in Mariemont in August 1741 did not stop the project, which was encouraged by Empress Maria-Theresia. However, the War of Austrian Succession restricted the funds allocated to the spa, which was much more modest than planned. To advertize the spa, the director invited high rank nobles, the most famous of them being Count of Calenberg, the son of the King of Poland and Saxe Elector's Chamberlain; he stayed in 1743 in the royal castle where he drank 4 liters of water per day. In 1741, 27 took the waters in Mariemont; this number was increased to 57 in 1744, but the bottles did not sell good. Delval claimed several miraculous healings, such as the release of more than 3,000 worms within 18 days! After the return of peace, the spa was revamped in 1748 and 1752, when Ministers were invited to stay at Mariemont. However, the spa was not successful and the sources dried out because of coal-mining. Delval was not appointed a successor after his death and the Accounting Chamber proposed the suppression of the position of surgeon, which was maintained by the Governor. The spa did not survive the French Revolution.

Mont-Saint-Aldegonde is located on the top of a hill, 190 m asl. Dame Marie of Mont-Saint-Aldegonde was the mother of Philippe of Marnix (1540-1598). Marnix studied in Leuven, Dôle and Padova, and, after his conversion to the Reformed Religion, in Geneva. Back to the Low Countries, he promoted the Reform and exiled to Emden during the rule of the Duke of Alba. He wrote there his pamphlet De Byencorf der H. Roomsche Kercke in 1569 and moved to Heidelberg, where he served the Palatinate Elector Friedrich III. William of Nassau, Prince of Orange, commissioned him for diplomatic, religious and military missions, for instance the gathering of the exiled synode of the Reformed Churches of the Low Countries in Emden in 1571. Marnix was captured and jailed by the Spaniards, who allowed him to write a Dutch verse translation of the Psalter. In 1583, he was appointed Premier Mayor of the Calvinist Republic of Antwerp, besieged by Alexander Farnese. He capitulated in 1585 and retired in his castle of West-Souburg in Zeeland. Maurice of Nassau called him back and sent him to Queen of England Elisabeth I and King of France Henri IV, who appointed him Conseillier du Roy. The synode asked him to translate the Bible in Dutch; he died without having completed his work. Marnix is considered as the author of the national Dutch anthem, Het Wilhelmus.

Source: Municipal website, including Histoire de Morlanwelz, by Maurice Vanden Eynde

Ivan Sache, 11 May 2007

Municipal flag of Morlanwelz

The municipal flag of Morlanwelz is horizontally divided yellow-red with two interlaced, voided lozenges touching the upper and lower edges of the flag, forming a red "M" letter inside the yellow stripe and a yellow "W" letter inside the red stripe.
According to Armoiries communales en Belgique. Communes wallonnes, bruxelloises et germanophones, the flag follows the proposal made by the Heraldry and Vexillology Council of the French Community as:
Deux laizes longitudinales jaune et rouge avec deux grands losanges évidés se prolongeant l'un dans l'autre, touchant les bords supérieur et inférieur du tablier et formant la lettre capitale M en rouge et la capitale W en jaune.
The image in the source book erroneously shows the "W" in black.

Yellow and red are the Walloon colours. The flag is based on the emblem of the Royal Museum of Mariemont, a red square with a white "M" letter off-set and only partially shown so that it evokes also a "W". The letter "M" recalls Morlanwelz, Mariemont and Mary of Hungary, whereas the letter "W" recalls Raoul Warocqué and Wallonia.

Arnaud Leroy, Pascal Vagnat & Ivan Sache, 11 May 2007

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