Sunday, September 19, 2010

Robert the Bruce and His Flemish Antecedents By Dr. Paul Belien

The tireless polymath Dr. Paul Belien kindly came to the rescue of both Mr. Gaylan Lane and myself in response to yesterday's blog posting. First, to kindly inform me that there is - as Gaylan suspected - a connection between the Scottish armorial lion and the Flemish. Second, to provide the article below. My grateful thanks to Dr. Belien not only for his permission to reprint this article (and for corrections to my translation) but also for providing some excellent pictures of the castle and lion emblem that is part of the castle construction.

July 11 is the date in 1302 when a militia of Flemish burghers defeated an army of French knights at the Battle of the Golden Spurs in a town called Kortrijk/Courtrai. The Scottish equivalent of Courtrai in 1302 is the Battle of Bannockburn which took place on June 24, 1314. At Bannockburn Scottish farmers defeated an army of English knights. Thus Scotland won its independence and the Scottish leader, Robert the Bruce, proclaimed himself king of Scotland.

Robert was born on July 11 (the date of the Battle of the Golden Spurs!) in 1274 to a Scottish family that originally came from Yorkshire England. His father, Adam Bruce, followed in the wake of William the Conqueror (the Norman duke who conquered England in 1066) from Normandy to Yorkshire. Adam’s grandson settled in Scotland. This grandson eventually became the “Father of Scotland”.

Historians recently discovered that Adam Bruce was not a Norman, but a Fleming. His father, Robert de Bruges, was a native of Leuven who in 1046 became mayor of Bruges. He was also not just any native of Leuven, but the younger son of Count Lambert I of Leuven (1015) and therefore an uncle of Geoffrey I, the first Duke of Brabant.


The connection with Leuven, Brabant is shown in the blue lion that the family "de Bruce " originally wore on their shields. The blue lion was used as an armorial symbol since the mid- eleventh century. It was used by the younger sons of the House of Leuven, Brabant. Robert brought this armorial crest with him to Bruges, and the city of Bruges today still retains a blue lion in the city’s armorial shield . His descendants took the lion of Louvain to England.

In 1154 Joscelijn of Leuven, the youngest son of Duke Godfrey I of Brabant was married to Baroness Agnes of Percy, a wealthy English-Norman heiress. Joscelijn adopted the name Percy and settled in England . Because he was more closely related to the line than his cousins in Brabant , the Bruces , who bore the blue lion as their armorial symbol, took another armorial sign, the red cross of St. Andrew. The latter as an armorial device was worn by the sheriff of Bruges in the early twelfth century. However, the Earl of Elgin, the head of the clan Bruce, still sports a blue lion on the top left of his armorial shield, above the red cross of St. Andrew's.

In England, the blue lion is found on the arms of Joscelijn’s descendants, the Percys. The Percys became the earls of Northumberland, played an important role in the Wars of the Roses (always on the losing side) and were – in an irony of history - entrusted with guarding the northern border of England against their Flemish Brabant distant cousins, the Bruces.


The lion in the Percy shield has a name. He is called "Brabant" and is listed as such in the records of the College of Arms in London. This proud Brabant lion, carved in stone, adorns the numerous castles of Percy's past along the English - Scottish border: from Egremont and Cockermouth in Cumbria to Warkworth and Alnwick in Northumberland . Especially at Warkworth one can see the impressive and massive Brabant on the castle wall facing Scotland . Warkworth is the stronghold of the most famous knight of his time, Henry Percy Hotspur, who on July 21, 1403 was killed in an attempt to take the English throne for himself. The oldest sons (and heirs) of the Dukes of Northumberland have a title which also refers to their ancestral origins; they retain the proud title of "Lord Lovaine" – Baron of Leuven.

When England became a Protestant nation in the sixteenth century, many Percys fled their country . One branch (the oldest ) returned to their ancestral home and settled in Aarschot, in Flanders. Another branch fled to Ireland and still later to the state of Mississippi in the southern United States . The famous American Catholic author Walker Percy (1916-1990) is a descendant of this line. The youngest, Protestant branch of the Percy family inherited the English titles and possessions, but died out in the male line at the death of Joscelin Percy, eleventh Earl of Northumberland, in 1670.

Joscelin Percy’s granddaughter , Elizabeth Seymour, married one Hugh Smithson , a favorite of King George III. Smithson cheated on his wife (his illegitimate son was a scientist who poured his fortune into the United States, and from which came the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.), but due to his wife's esteemed lineage, was anointed with the title of Duke by George III in 1766. Smithson asked for the title "Duke of Brabant, " but this was met with protest from the Austrian Emperor (Brabant was an Austrian possession at the time). Hence, Smithson, who took the surname of Percy, became the Duke of Northumberland. His son was known as the Viscount of Leuven ( Louvain Viscount ). His descendants still are known by that title.

Direct Descendants

The House of Leuven Brabant, alongside a Scottish (Bruce) and English (Percy) branch, also has a German branch . The youngest son of Henry V, Duke of Brabant (born1248) was the Count of Hesse, Germany. This is the reason that the graves in Hesse have a lion emblazoned on the outside. The lion of Hesse is not blue, but the background is, while the lion is white with red horizontal bars – precisely the opposite of the armorial shield of Bruges . Again, this is the lion of Brabant. The blue lion even today shines on the armorial shield of the Grand Dukes of Hesse and also in that of a younger branch of this family, the Princes of Battenberg. The Battenberg Princes, after their emigration to England, took the the name Mountbatten. The Dukes of Hesse, the Princes of Battenberg and the Mountbattens are all direct descendants in the male line of the Counts of Leuven and Dukes of Brabant.

This article was originally published in Dutch and appeared in the Flemish weekly magazine "Pallieterke" in 2004. The Dutch version (which is slightly different from this English text) can be found here:


  1. I used to work as a heraldic artist. The subtle differences between a Flemish lion and a British one are the details I used to love about the tiny work done on shields 2 x 2 inches.

  2. There is a small error in the article, Duke of Brabant Henry V is not correct, it should be Duke Henry II of Brabant (1207- February 1, 1248). There has never existed Henry V, the last duke named Henry was Henry IV. Because he was mentally and physically handicapped, his brother Jan I was in his place Duke. The Count of Hesse mentioned in the article was the son of Duke Henry II of Brabant and his second wife Sofia von Thüringen, he was also named Henry (1244-1308), nicknamed "The Child". How do I know all this? ...... Duke John I is a direct ancestor of mine.

  3. Today 17 th of november is holy day of mother of sophia von thuringen... saint elisabeth of thuringen whom was daughter of king of hungary
    SOPHIA herself was founder of what is known now as Hesse , main city is Frankfurt
    Dirk Hertveldt connexion facebook