- The lignages (clans) were voluntary groupings of the great patrician families of Brussels. Chronicled for the first time in 1306, members primarily consisted of the city's wealthy residents, who acquired their status by various means—through land ownership, service with the ducal court, and investment of earnings in business enterprises. Some were descendants of thrifty or fortunate yeomen who purchased the title to the land they tilled. Theoretically, members had to prove paternal or maternal descendence from an office-holding alderman although, as membership was not fixed, many members were not direct lineal descendants. Some members claimed descent from more than one lignage and, to curtail abuses, a ducal act of 19 June 1375 decreed obligatory registration in the city's books of all male members aged 28 years or more who were married or widowed. They were obliged to designate affiliation with one particular lignage.As a body they were well-to-do, although some were poor. Many lived in luxury on rents that rose as the city's prosperity grew, on revenues secured by farming state taxes, on banking, and on commerce. Well-off members of the guilds could secure admission.The seven lignages of Brussels were Coudenberg, Sleeus, Sweerts, Steenweghe, t'Serroelofs, Robenbeke, and t'Serhuygh-skints. The last was replaced in the 14th century by Clutinc, according to certain sources.Members adopted the manner of living of the feudal aristocrats, many of whom they absorbed or drove away. They built great stone houses and they formed the civic army. They grew more exclusive and overbearing over time, although they did build and endow hospitals, orphanages, and especially churches.By 1421, the lignages governed the city exclusively, together with the amman, through the seven aldermen, one per lignage, based on the act of 12 June 1306. They held the two posts of treasurer. Each family held a key to one of the gates along the second town wall. Each boasted its own coat of arms and livery.The lignages quarreled among themselves over representation in the governing of the cloth guild in the 14th century and over city offices in the 15th century. They lost their monopoly in the college of aldermen in 1476, and patricians began to withdraw increasingly from trade and municipal affairs. They were gradually absorbed into the ranks of the territorial aristocracy. Emperor Charles V deprived them of their last political prerogatives in decreeing, in 1532, that any nobleman, whether or not a member of a lignage, could be eligible to hold city office. The great family clans were abolished officially at the end of the 18th century.
Historical Dictionary of Brussels. Paul F. State.