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Philippeville (Municipality, Province of Namur, Belgium)

Last modified: 2017-12-03 by ivan sache
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Flag of Philippevile - Image by Arnaud Leroy, 21 September 2007

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Presentation of Philippeville

The municipality of Philippeville (9,239 inhabitants in 2017; 15,671 ha; municipal website, unofficial website) is located 30 km south of Charleroi. The municipality of Philippeville was established in 1976 as the merger of the former municipalities of Philippeville (2,687 inh. in 2009), Fagnolle (213 inh.), Franchimont (373 inh.), Jamagne (270 inh.), Jamiolle (172 ing.), Merlemont (360 inh.), Neuville (1,238 inh.), Omezée (67 inh.), Roly (632 inh.), Romedenne (597 inh.), Samart (112 inh.), Sart-en-Fagne (247 inh.), Sautour (388 inh.), Surice (452 inh.), Villers-en-Fagne (235 inh.), Villers-le-Gambon (661 inh.) and Vodecée (149 inh.).

Philippeville is located in the Entre-Sambre-et-Meuse ("Between [the rivers] Sambre and Meuse") region. In the 16th century, Entre-Sambre-et-Meuse, little inhabited and still covered with woods, was the weak link in the defense system of the Spanish Low Countries against a French invasion. The region was divided into several domains shared by the Count of Hainaut, the Count of Namur and the Prince-Bishop of Liège. In 1546, Charles V and his sister, Maria of Hungary, the Governor of the Low Countries, ordered the building of the fortress of Mariembourg, near Frasnes.
In 1554, King of France Henri II, resuming the war unsuccessfully fought again Charles V by his father François I, commissioned three armies to invade Entre-Sambre-et-Meuse, or, at least, to weaken its defenses. Heading to Namur, the two armies, powered with a strong artillery, destroyed all the medieval fortresses; the first army suppressed the castle of Orchimont and occupied the left bank of the Meuse while the second one scoured the region of Chimay and eventually seized the fortress of Mariembourg. Aged 54 and sick, Charles V decided to stay north of Namur and to protect the town, while the French armies carried on destruction, suppressing the old castle of Montaigle and plundering the towns of Florennes, Fosses, Binche and Le Rœulx.

The mercenary Van Rossem was commissioned to lead the Spanish army to the Meuse and to expel the French from Givet. He partially succeeded but got a letal disease and had to come back to Antwerp, where he died. He was succeeded by a 23 year-old commander, William of Orange, aka the Silent (the very same William would later take the arms against Charles V's son, Filip II, and obtain the independence of the Netherlands). Charles V ordered the destruction of the fortress of Fagnolle, located close to Mariembourg, to prevent the French to use it, and commissioned William of Orange to build a brand new fortified town.
After a few visits, William of Orange ordered the building of a the new fortress on the site of the village of Écherennes, a height rich in fresh water. At that time, spoiled water was a main cause of epidemics and fresh water was required to maintain big concentrations of soldiers in good health. It took only four months to built the new town designed by the architect Van Noen. The town was an irregular pentagon with bastions, surrounded by dry ditches and protected by two gates watching France, westwards, and the valley of Meuse, eastwards. During the building, Henri II's troops destroyed all the neighbouring villages, whose inhabitants moved to the new town and contributed to its building. The Spanish garrison settled the fortress on 17 January 1556. Charles V named the town Philippeville after his son Philip, who would succeed him the next year as Philip II. At the same time, the French built their own new fortress in Rocroi.

Lazar of Schwendi (1522-1583), a Swabian who studied at the universities of Basel and Strasbourg and served Charles V as a diplomat and a colonel, was appointed the first Governor of Philippeville in 156. He entered the town with a regiment of 2,500 German landsknechts, which faught in the battles of Saint-Quentin (1557) and Gravelines (1558). Schwendi then "retired" to Antwerp, where he supported the local nobles in their struggle against Cardinal Granvelle. Sent by the Emperor to Hungary, he seized from the Turks the fortress of Tokay on 11 February 1565, bringing back 4,000 barrels of local wine. This historical event is the base of a famous Alsatian legend saying that Schwendi brought back to his domain of Kientzheim the famous Tokay grapevine. Unfortunately, the Hungarian Tokay wine was elaborated more than one century later. The Alsatian Tokay has been a matter of long dispute with the Hungarians, who claimed that it has nothing to do with the genuine Tokay and should not be called Tokay. It was eventually decided that the Alsatian Tokay would be called Pinot Gris. Schwendi's recumbent statue is still kept in the church of Kientzheim.

In 1659, peace was settled between France and Spain by the treaty of the Pyrénées; Philippeville, like other border towns, was allocated to France. The engineer Vauban revamped the fortress in a starry design and increased its defenses. On 20 November 1815, the second Treaty of Paris transferred Philippeville to the reestablished Kingdom of the Netherlands. Partially decommissioned in 1820, the fortifications were totally suppressed in 1853. The arrangement of the streets of the town and the toponymy are the only aboveground remains of the big fortress of Philippeville.

Ivan Sache, 2 December 2017

Municipal flag of Philippeville

The flag of Philippeville, a banner of arms proposed by the Heraldry and Vexillology Council of the French Community, is "Blue, charged with a yellow Cross of Burgundy cantonned with four white crowned letters 'P'".
[Armoiries communales en Belgique. Communes wallonnes, bruxelloises et germanophones [w2v03]]

The arms of Philippeville were granted by a (Dutch) Royal Decree (date not given) as "A shield azure charged with a Cross of Burgundy cantonned with four letters 'P' argent crowned of the same. The shield surmounted with a crown or". The Cross of Burgundy recalls the remote Burgundian origin of Philip II via Mary of Burgundy, mother of Philip I of Castile, himself the father of Charles V. Even after the end of the "Burgundian" rule on Belgium the Cross of Burgundy remained a popular charge, for instance in brotherhood and guilds' banners.
Borel d'Hauterive's Armorial of Flanders ascribes to Philippeville "Azure a letter 'P' argent crowned of the same". Dumont's heraldic map (1774) ascribes to Philippeville a shield azure with a big "V" or encompassing a smaller "P" of the same, crowned. The seal used in the 18th century by the Philippeville Provostship shows an oval shield, with the arms of France, crowned and surrounded by the collars of the orders.
[Armorial des provinces et des communes de Belgique [svm55]]

Arnaud Leroy, Pascal Vagnat & Ivan Sache, 21 February 2007