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Rixensart (Municipality, Province of Walloon Brabant, Belgium)

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Municipal flag of Rixensart - Image by Arnaud Leroy, 29 October 2007

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Presentation of Rixensart

The municipality of Rixensart (21,426 inhabitants on 1 July 2007; 1,754 ha; municipal website) is located 25 km south-east of Brussels, on the linguistic border between French and Dutch and the administrative border between Wallon and Flemish Brabant. The municipality of Rixensart was established in 1976 as the merger of the former municipalities of Rixensart, Genval and Rosières.

Rixensart (898 ha) was originally a cleared place in a forest (sart, in ancient and regional French, essart), named after its old lord (Rixo / Rixo) or after the brook Ri that waters the sart. The village, whose name appeared in 1224, belonged to the domain of Limal until the 14th century and to the parish of Limal until 1802. Until the middle of the 19th century, the village was made of a few big farms and several smaller ones. The building of the Brussels-Luxembourg railway and the industrial revolution dramatically transformed Rixensart. The set up of "workers' trains" in 1870 allowed the workers from Rixensart to go to Brussels every day; later, the "vicinal" trains opened up the countryside. Since housing was cheaper there than in Brussels, several employees and small private incomes settled in Rixensart and the neighbouring villages; accordingly, urbanisation progressively ate away at the rural lands and the woods. In slightly more than one century, the population of Rixensart increased from 3,377 (1876) to 20,616 (1988), while agricultural lands represent today only 13% of the total area of the municipality.
The castle of Rixensart, the seat of the domain of Limal, was sold in 1536 to Eustache de Croÿ, Bishop of Arras, who transferred it to his brother Adrien de Croÿ, Councillor of Charles Quint. In 1586, the castle was transferred by marriage to Charles de Gavre, Count of Frésin, whose daughter married Philippe Hippolyte Spinola, Count of Bruay, who revamped the castle (1631-1662) as we know it today. The castle of Rixensart, inhabited by the Princes of Merode since 1715, is considered as one of the most beautiful castles in Belgium. The gardens of the castle are said to have been designed after a drawing by Le Nôtre, Louis XIV's famous garden designer.

Genval (451 ha) was originally "the lower valley", from jusenne, shortened to gen, "lower", and val, "valley". The lower valley is probably the valley of the river Lasne, which has been the limit between the villages of Genval, Rixensart and Rosières for ages. The hamlet of Maubroux developed near Lake Genval; the railway station opened in 1889 on the Brussels-Luxembourg line was used by tourists and by workers heading to Brussels or to the Lannoye paper mills. Auguste Lannoye developed Maubroux, building a church and housing estates for his workers. The Papèteries de Genval were closed in 1980.
Founded in 1945 in Genval, RIT (Recherche et Industrie Thérapeutiques) produced antibiotics and then vaccines (1963, anti-poliomelytis vaccine); a new factory was purchased in Rixensart in 1958 to produce new vaccines. In 1968, RIT became a fully-owned subsidiary of SmithKline Corp. In 1995, the site of Rixensart was deemed to small and another two sites were opened in Wavre (production) and Gembloux (scaling up). Following mergings with Beecham (1989) and Glaxo (2000), the group was renamed to GSK Biologicals in 2000.

Rosières (416 ha) was probably once a place planted with reeds (in French, roseau) rather than with roses; reeds are still very common in the marshy neighborhoods of the river Lasne. Rosières belonged in the past to the domain of Issche, which is the origin of the Flemish municipality of Overijse, from which is separated during the French rule. The ancient history of Rosières is recalled by Dutch toponyms.

Ivan Sache, 29 October 2007

Flag of Rixensart

The flag of Rixensart is horizontally divided yellow-chequy white and red-yellow with a flower-like spine stuck in the central stripe.
Armoiries communales en Belgique. Communes wallonnes, bruxelloises et germanophones [w2v03a] describes the flag as a banner of the municipal arms.

According to the municipal website, the arms of Rixensart were granted by Royal Decree on 10 April 1954. They were borne by Philippe Hippolyte Spinola, Count of Bruay and lord of Rixensart in the 17th century.
The spine is, for sure, canting for Spinola. The Rietstap Armorial gives the arms of Spinola as D'or, à la fasce échiquetée d'argent et de gueules de trois tires, accompagnée en chef d'une épine en forme de fleur-de-lis de gueules, fichée dans la fasce.

Spinola was a famous Italian lineage, with members playing a significant part in the history of the Low Countries in the service of the King of Spain.
The name of Spinola was mentioned for the first time in 952, while the oldest known member of the lineage, Guido Spinola, fought in the Holy Land at the end of the 11th century and was appointed several times Consul of Genoa between 1102 and 1121. Allied with the Doria, the Spinola ruled the Ghibelline party, supporting the German Emperor, while the two other main families of Genoa, the Fieschi and the Grimaldi, ruled the Guelph party, supporting the Pope. Genoa was initially a Guelph stronghold but the power of the Spinola increased after the set up of the Republic of Genoa: the lineage gave 10 doges and 127 senators to the Republic.
In the 16th century, Genoa was mostly under Spanish influence; in 1602, Ambrogio Spinola (1569-1630) raised 1,000 infantrymen for the service of the King of Spain, while his brother Federico set up a fleet. While Federico was killed during a battle with the Dutch fleet in the Channel in 1603, Ambrogio marched against Flanders. After the successful siege of Ostend in 1604, Spinola was appointed Commander-in-Chief by the Archdukes Albert and Isabelle, and captured several fortresses from his main opponent, Maurice of Nassau. Back to Spain, Spinola carried on using his personal wealth to fund the Spanish wars. After the Twelve Years' Truce, war with Holland resumed in 1621 and Spinola seized Breda, defended by the Prince of Orange, on 5 June 1625. The famous painting by Vélasquez ("The Surrender of Breda") recalls the heights of fame of Spinola, who died in 1630 after having wasted the whole family wealth for the kings of Spain.
[La monete di Tassarolo]

The lords of Rixensart do not seem to be directly related to Ambrogio Spinola, but they are clearly from the same lineage. In 1585, Gaston Spinola became lord of Bruay (today Bruay-la-Buissière, formerly Bruay-en-Artois, formerly Bruay-les-Mines, in northern France) by marrying Marie de Renty. His descendant Philippe Hippolyte Spinola (1612-1670) is the lord of Rixensart whose arms have been reused by the municipality.
Another famous Spinola was Philippe Hippolyte Charles, Count of Bruay (maybe Philippe Hippolyte's son), who was appointed Governor of Namur by the King of Spain and defended in 1667 the fortress of Lille against Louis XIV. The siege of Lille is an example of the so-called "war in lace" of the time; Spinola asked Louis XIV in which castle he wanted to stay during the siege, promised not to shoot on his headquarters, and "requested His Majesty not to find bad that he defended the fortress very fiercely for the service of the Catholic king, his lord, the King of Spain". Louis XIV thanked him and told him that the strongest the resistance would be, the glorious his own victory would be. Lille surrenderred after nine days; Louis XIV entered the town and met the Count of Bruay, telling him: "Sir, I was unpleased by your misfortune because your are a gentleman, who did his duty for the service of his lord, and I have you therefore in even higher esteem". Spinola died in Brussels in 1709 while the last heir of the lineage, Gabriel Spinosa, died during the siege of Douai in 1713.
[Histoire de Ch'tis, 29 May 2005]

The arms of Spinola, and, therefore of Rixensart, are shown in several sources:
- The crowned arms of Spinola are shown in the upper left part of a color print showing the castle of Rixensart in early 18th century .
- Arnaud Bunel (Héraldique Européenne website) shows the arms of several Spinola: Doges (elected for two years): Battisto Spinola (1531), Lucca Spinola (1551), Simone Spinola (1567), Tomaso Spinola (1613), Andrea Spinola (1629), Alessandro Spinola (1654), Agustino Spinola (1679), Lucca Spinola (1687), Domenico Mario Spinola (1732), Nicola Spinola (1740), Ferdinando Spinola (1773); Knights of the Golden Fleece: Ambrogio Spinola (1569-1630), Knight in 1605, grant #304; Philippe (1596-1659), Ambrogio's son, Knight in 1631, grant #386; and Philippe-Hippolyte (1612-1670), Count of Bruay and Lord of Rixensart, Knight in 1667, grant #473; Knight of the Annonciade: Francesco Spinola, Knight in 1609, grant #147.
- The Spinola arms are shown on the Koffie Hag Nederland Album as # 271, "Ambrogio Markies v. Spinola".
- The Spinola arms were borne by Giambattista Cardinal Spinola, Jr. (1646-1719), Chamberlain of the Holy Roman Church (1698-1719). Quoting John Paul Adams: "The nephew of Giulio Card. Spinola and Giambattista Card. Spinola, Sr., he was Governor of Rome and Vice-Chamberlain of the Holy Roman Church between July 28, 1691 and December 12, 1695, when he was created Cardinal Deacon of San Cesareo in Palatio. He became Camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church on November 24, 1698, and held the office until his death on March 19, 1719."

Arnaud Leroy, Pascal Vagnat & Ivan Sache, 29 October 2007