Charles of Lorraine


Charles of Lorraine
(1712-1780)
   Governor-general of the Austrian Netherlands, Prince Charles-Alexander of Lorraine was born in Lunéville in Lorraine on 12 December 1712, the 12th child of Leopold I, duke of Lorraine and Bar, and Elisabeth-Charlotte d'Orleans. In 1744, he married Archduchess Marie-Anne, the younger sister of Empress Maria Theresa of Austria, and she appointed the two as governors in Brussels. Arriving in March 1744, Charles was recalled to military duties in May in taking command of the Imperial Army of the Rhine. He left his wife in Belgium, where she died in childbirth. Charles never remarried. Returning to Brussels in April 1749, he remained in the country for the rest of his life, except for a short period in 1757.
   Charles wielded considerable autonomy in governing the Austrian Netherlands, and, under his rule, Brussels enjoyed a long period of prosperity and stability. He was widely popular, in part because, unlike most of the past governors, he spoke French as his native language. He established a brilliant court life that made the city one of Europe's cultural and artistic centers. The local aristocracy flocked to his court, and artists and intellectuals played a prominent part in life there.
   Charles's court followed the seasons in lodging in three residencies. Winters were spent in Brussels at the Palais de Nassau, which he purchased in 1756. Spring and fall found the court at Mariemont, in a chateau built by Charles. Summer quarters were established at a country home in Tervuren, where he set up artisan workshops in which skilled craftsmen produced luxury items, such as porcelain, fabrics, and braid, largely to adorn his residences.
   Charles sponsored musical and theatrical productions in Brussels, traveled widely through Belgium, and assembled a large number of machines and scientific instruments at the Palais de Nassau, where he himself would conduct experiments in alchemy, a favorite passion.
   An ardent urban planner, Charles sought to secure uniformity in architectural style, for which detailed plans were drafted. He oversaw the layout of the place Royale and the Parc de Bruxelles. Development of much of the Royal district in the upper town was completed by the 1770s.
   Charles died at Turvuren on 4 July 1780. He is interred in the Cathédrale des Saints-Michel-et-Gudule. A lavish spender, he left many debts and most of his possessions were sold. A statue of the governor is found on the place du Musée. A statue had been raised on the place Royale on 17 January 1775 in the presence of the governor. It was pulled down by French revolutionaries in 1792, and, after being restored when the Austrians returned, it was removed and melted down in 1794 following the arrival of the French once again.
   See also Austrian Regime.

Historical Dictionary of Brussels. .

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