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 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.
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: