British Generals of the Napoleonic Wars  1793-1815

The Duchy of Arenberg and the Dukes and Princes Who Fought during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, 1789-1815

By Daniel Clarke

A History of Arenberg

The House of Arenberg (sometimes Aremberg) first appears in history during the early part of the 12th Century. The family took their name from a village in the Eifel mountain range on the boarder between Germany and Belgium, where the ruins of their first castle still exist. By the late 13th Century the male line of the family had died out, but on the female side the very young Mathilda of Arenberg married Engelbert II, Count of La Marck, and they had two sons together, before she died at the age of 17. Their first son inherited the Countship of La Marck, while their second son, Engelbert III, inherited the Lordship of Arenberg. He married Marie of Loon (Looz), a daughter of the Count of Loon who owned lands in northern Belgium. The Lordship of Arenberg remained in the La Marck family until the mid-16th Century, when, again, after the male line died out Marguerite of Arenberg married Jean of Ligne, Baron of Barbancon, who was intimate with Charles I, King of Spain and who later became the Archduke of Austria in 1519, and also the ruler of the Holy Roman Empire.

Jean of Ligne, Baron of Barbancon, upon marrying Marguerite of Arenberg decided to take the name Arenberg and the family coat of arms as his own. By this time Arenberg had become a Princely County, which meant Jean was the first prince of Arenberg. Their son, Prince Charles of Arenberg, managed to increase the lands he had inherited by marrying Ann of Cröy-Aarschot, which meant the Duchy of Aarschot in the Netherlands became part of the Arenberg domains. As such their eldest son, Philippe-Charles, Prince of Arenberg, also took the title of 6th Duke of Aarschot. He was a leading figure in the Spanish-Netherlands in the early 17th Century, but during a diplomatic mission to Madrid in 1633-1634, he was accused of being part of a plot to overthrow Spanish rule in the Netherlands and Belgium. Philippe-Charles admitted he had knowledge of such a scheme, but denied being a conspirator. He was put in prison until December 1634, when he was released to live under house arrest in the city. His wife and son, Prince Philip-Francis, were only allowed to join him in 1637, but he contracted an illness and died in 1640. He was told days before his death that the investigation into the plot had found he had been telling the truth. As such no harm came to his son or reprisals against the lands that the Arenberg family now owned.

Perhaps due to these unfortunate circumstances, Philip-Francis was made a Duke in 1644 by Ferdinand III, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. This meant that Arenberg was now referred to as a Duchy and not a Principality. In 1642 he also married into a powerful Spanish noble family, by taking Magdalena de Borja (Borgia) y Doria as is wife. She was the youngest daughter of Francisco Diego Pascual de Borja Aragon y Centelles, 8th Duke of Gandia. They had one son who died shortly after his birth, so when Duke Philip-Francis died in 1674 the Duchy of Arenberg passed to his stepbrother, Charles-Eugene. He died in 1681 and his son, Philippe-Charles-François, became the 3rd Duke of Arenberg and 9th Duke of Aarschot. He was a general officer in the Austrian army of the late 17th Century, and died of wounds in August 1691 after fighting at the Battle of Slankamen (Stari Slankamen, Serbia). He had married the daughter of an Italian marquis, and their eldest son, Léopold-Philippe, became the next Duke of Arenberg. He, like his father, joined the Austrian army, and rose to become a Feldmarschall in 1737, becoming the commander of all forces in the Netherlands. During the War of Austrian Succession, 1740-1748, he led the Austrian contingent at the Battle of Dettingen on June 27, 1743, where the French were defeated. He then became Governor of Hainaut, and died on March 4, 1754 at Arenberg Castle near Leuven, Belgium. His heir, Charles-Marie-Raymond, 5th Duke of Arenberg, also followed a military career, and attained the same rank as his father. He also fought in the Austrian War of Succession as a regimental commander, where he was promoted to General-Major in 1747. During the Seven Years’ War of the 1750s and 1760s he fought at the Battle of Prague in 1757, and was promoted to Feldzeugmeister in 1758. In 1759 he led an independent command and was defeated by a Prussian force at Dresden on October 29. A year later he fought at the Battle of Torgau on November 3, 1760, where he was badly wounded. This wound meant that he could no longer campaign actively and he retired from the service, although he was given the rank of Feldmarschall in 1777.

Charles-Marie-Raymond had several children with his wife, Louise-Marguerite of La Marck. The eldest of his sons was Louis-Engelbert, who became the 6th Duke of Arenberg, while their second born son was Auguste-Marie-Raymond (1753-1833), who became the Count of La Marck. It was Louis-Engelbert who controlled the lands of Arenberg when the French Revolution began in 1789. At this time the Duchy of Arenberg consisted of around 32 square miles of land in Belgium, and the Lordships of Kerpen-Kasselburg; Gillenfeld and Fleringen; Saffenburg; and Schleiden on the west bank of the River Rhine. Combined this totalled about 163 square miles of land with a population of about 15,000. When these possessions were overrun by the French armies in the campaigns of the 1790s, Louis-Engelbert was compensated in the Treaty of Luneville, 1801, with land on the east bank of the river. These lands were the Lordship of Dülmen, the County of Meppen, and the Lordship Vest Recklinghausen, formerly part of the Archbishoprics of Cologne and Münster, plus those lands the family held in Belgium. This totalled about 1,200 square miles with a population of close to 60,000.

In 1803 Duke Louis-Engelbert handed the duchy to his eldest son, Prosper-Louis (1785-1861), who became the 7th Duke of Arenberg and 13th Duke of Aarschot. The Duchy of Arenberg also became part of the Confederation of the Rhine and was required to provide 340 men for its defence. As well as this commitment Prosper-Louis was given permission to raise a light cavalry regiment—the Chevau-Légers Belges du Duc d’Arenberg—around the city of Liege. To further protect his lands, Prosper-Louis married Marie-Rose-Françoise-Stéphanie Tascher de la Pagerie in 1808, a niece of Empress Josephine, Napoleon’s wife. However, none of these acts helped to save the Duchy of Arenberg from being swallowed by France in 1810 and 1811, when without warning Napoleon issued two decrees to the effect that the domains in Germany had been annexed to the Empire. Prosper-Louis was captured by the British in Spain during November 1811, and when he returned to Belgium in 1814 he found that Prussia and Hanover had divided his German possessions between them. After the Congress of Vienna both Hanover and Prussia made Duke Prosper-Louis a peer, so that he was still recognised in some manner as the owner of those territories. In the 1820s Hanover went further and renamed the land it had gained the Duchy of Arenberg-Meppen. Since the dislocation of their domains the Arenberg family have remained a prominent family in Belgium, and are still called the Princes of Arenberg. The current prince is Leopold-Engelbert, 13th Duke of Arenberg and 19th Duke of Aarschot.[1]




[1] Chisholm, Hugh, ‘Aremberg’, Encyclopaedia Britannica Eleventh Edition, Volume II, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1911, pages 452. For information about the princes and dukes of Arenberg and the territories that they owned the website of the Arenberg Foundation is a good place to start. Some of the articles include: Portrait Gallery: The Dukes of Arenberg,  The Old Duchy of Arenberg, The New Duchy of Arenberg, Arenberg in the Former Low Countries, and ‘Important Dates. All accessed 11/12/2017.


Placed on the Napoleon Series: December 2017 - February 2018


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