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Chimay (Municipality, Province of Hainaut, Belgium)

Last modified: 2016-04-02 by ivan sache
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Flag of Chimay - Image by Arnaud Leroy, 9 June 2005

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Presentation of Chimay

The municipality of Chimay (9,852 inhabitants on 1 January 2007 - Chimaciens; 19,711 ha; municipal website) is located in the heel of the Boot of Hainaut, 10 km from the border with France. Chimay is mostly known for its castle and princely lineage, its Trappist abbey and its beers, and its racing circuit. The municipality of Chimay is made since 1976 of the former municipalities of Bailleux, Baillièvre, Bourlers, Chimay, Forges, L'Escaillière, Lompret, Rièzes, Robechies, Saint-Rémy, Salles, Vaulx, Villers-la-Tour and Virelles.

The castle of Chimay has been existing for around 1,000 years and was destroyed seven times during its history.
A donjon was probably built around year 1000 on a rocky spur dominating the valley of Eau Blanche. The donjon was a safe place for merchants and travellers in an isolated and wooded region. A village, later the town of Chimay, probably developed around the donjon, from which nothing has remained but mentions of the lords of Chimay in 1050, 1065 and 1070 and mentions of a castrum in 1119 and 1151. The local tradition says that a fortress protected by "six or seven towers" was built in the 13th-14th century; here again, nothing specific is known on this castle, but the mention of a castial a Chymay in 1362, acts written in 1391 and accounts of the chapel of the castle in 1418 and 1422. The castle is said to have been besieged, to no avail, by King Louis XI in 1477, visited by Archiduke Philip the Handsome in 1500 and by Emperor Charles V in 1549; the castle was bombed, burnt and plundered in 1552 and 1554.
The first precise descriptions and plans of the castle of Chimay date from the late 14th century; according to accounts from 1567, the castle looked then like a manor in style Renaissance. The cadaster and the albums of Croÿ (1590-1598) show pictures of the castle.
In 1606, the castle is described in detail in La Description de la terre, chasteau, ville, principaulté et payrie de Chymay by Charles III de Croÿ (1606), and was then a trapezoidal fortress protected by five towers. The new castle did not exist for long: the French seized it in 1637 and abandoned it in 1640 after having looted and burnt it and suppressed two towers.
The castle was rebuilt from 1648 onwards, and progressively lost its military attributes. The last remains of Charles de Croÿ's fortress were demolished in 1750 and the moats were filled up.
From 1805 to 1845, the inner and outer design of the castle was dramatically modified, for instance with the building of a copy of the theater made for Louis XV in the castle of Fontainebleau. The castle was rearranged in neogothic style near 1870. During the night of the 5 to 6 May 1935, a short-circuit caused a blaze in the attic of the castle; the fire spread to the whole building, which was nearly completely destroyed. The only preserved places were the guardroom with its beautiful pavement made of 45,000 slates and its old fireplace, the dining room with its ogival vaults, the theater and the big tower from the 15th century housing the chapel. This was the seventh destruction in the history of the castle.
The restoration of the castle was directed by Pelgrims de Bigard, President of the association Les demeures historiques de Belgique, who came back to the 1607 military architecture. The facade was rebuilt with old stones in its original Henri IV Renaissance style.

The Circuit of Chimay (website) was founded in 1926 by Jules Buisseret, who created the Grand Prix des Frontières. Buisseret prefered to attract amateur and young drivers than overpriced professionals; Chimay was the second hotspot of racing in Belgium after Francorchamps. The Grand Prix included a race for motorbikes in the morning and the main car race in the afternoon. The circuit was opened up on normal roads and had to be abandoned by the modern cars in the 1970s for safety reasons. However, the circuit of Chimay organizes every year motorbike and car competitions for oldies but goldies.

Ivan Sache, 9 June 2005

Flag of Chimay

The flag of Chimay is red with a white sword with a yellow hilt placed diagonally, pointing towards the upper hoist. According to Armoiries communales en Belgique. Communes wallonnes, bruxelloises et germanophones [w2v03], the flag is a banner of the municipal arms, following the proposal made by the Heraldry and Vexillology Council of the French Community, as Red a sword argent hilted or placed in diagonal and pointing upwards towards the hoist.

According to Servais [svm55], the arms of Chimay were granted on 30 June 1838 by Royal Decree as "Gules a sword argent hilted or per bend pointing upwards".
A legend claims that in 57 BC the local inhabitants, the Pleumosiens, acquired in a battle against the Roman army the sword of Julius Cesar, and ever since the sword supposedly was the symbol of Chimay. Most likely the arms were created in the late Middle Ages based on this legend. The sword appeared for the first time on a seal dating from 1552. Previous seals showed the arms of the Croÿ family, Lords of Chimay.

Arnaud Leroy, Pascal Vagnat & Ivan Sache, 5 June 2007

Banner of the castle of Chimay

[Banner of the castle]

Banner of the castle of Chimay - Image by Ivan Sache, 15 May 2007

In 1486, Emperor Maximilian of Austria made of the County of Chimay (official website) a Principality. Maximilian's chart stated that, in the absence of male heir, the title and the land of Chimay would be transfered by the daughter of the deceased prince to her husband; Chimay was never sold. Philip III de Croÿ, 4th Prince of Chimay, Duke d'Aarschot and Knight of the Order of the Golden Fleece, died in 1595 without heir. Chimay was transfered to his sister's son, Alexander de Ligne Arenberg, whose family owned Chimay until 1686. The next owner was the family of Alsace d'Hénin Liétard; Thomas d'Alsace, 13th Prince of Chimay, died in the battle of Minden in 1759, and his wife, Madeleine-Charlotte, lady-in-waiting of Queen of France Marie-Antoinette, was guillotined in 1794. After the Revolution, Princess Anne-Gabrielle d'Alsace married Marquis Victor Maurice de Caraman, whose lineage still owns the castle. The current, 22nd Prince of Chimay is Philippe de Riquet, also Prince of Caraman. The Riquet family is descended from engineer Pierre-Paul Riquet (1604-1680), the builder of the Canal du Midi, linking the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, made Prince of Caraman by Louis XIV. The prince's wife, Christine, is a musician of international repute. Their elder son, Charles de Caraman Chimay, is a landscape architect; he plans to recreate the park of Chimay as described by his ancestor Charles de Croÿ in his famous treatise Le Besogné de Chimay. The family of Chimay organizes in its castle a Baroque Musique Festival since 1957 and a Baroque Singing Competition since 2000. Those events, patroned by the Queen of the Belgians, are twinned with the Baroque Musique Festival of the abbey of Saint-Michel-en-Thiérache, located a few kilometers across the French border.

The chronology of the Princes of Chimay is the following:

I. Charles I de Croÿ, 1483-1527
II. Philippe II de Croÿ, 1527-1549
III. Charles II de Croÿ, 1549-1551
IV. Philippe III de Croÿ, 1551-1595
V. Charles III de Croÿ, 1580-1612
VI. Alexandre de Croÿ-Chimay-Aremberg, 1612-1629
VII. Albert de Croÿ-Chimay-Aremberg, 1629-1643
VIII. Philippe de Croÿ-Chimay-Aremberg, 1643-1675
IX. Ernest de Croÿ-Chimay-Aremberg, 1675-1686
X. Philippe d'Alsace, 1686-1688
XI. Charles d'Alsace, 1688-1740
XII. Alexandre d'Alsace, 1740-1745
XIII. Thomas d'Alsace, 1745-1759
XIV. Thomas II d'Alsace, 1759-1761
XV. Philippe II d'Alsace, 1761-1804
XVI. Francis-Joseph de Riquet, 1805-1843
XVII. Joseph I de Riquet, 1843-1865
XVIII. Marie Joseph de Riquet, 1865-1892
XIX. Joseph II de Riquet, 1892-1937
XX. Joseph III de Riquet, 1937-1945
XXI. Elias de Riquet, 1945-1980
XXII. Philippe de Riquet, 1980-

A forked, vertically divided red-blue banner is hoisted over the big square tower of the castle. This is, undoubtedly, a banner with the colours of the Caraman-Chimay family, whose arms are "Quarterly, 1. and 4. Gules a sword argent hilted or in bend, 2. and 3. Gules a bend or overall an escutcheon azure a bend or in chief a demi fleur-de-lis of the same in base three roses of the same in orle", that is, "Quarterly, 1. and 4. Chimay, 2. and 3. Alsace de Hénin-Liétard overall Riquetti".

Ivan Sache, 15 May 2007