About the Merode family

The Origins of the Merode family

The Merodes are one of the 5 princely families of the high Belgian aristocracy. They acquired their noble status by playing an important role in the history of the Spanish Netherlands as well as during the Belgian Revolution, which lead to the creation of modern day Belgium.


The Merode coat of arms derives from the one of the Counts of Barcelona. This coat of arms then became the one used by the Crown of Aragon, and today it is employed by many different states. The Merode coat of arms, or ‘Les quatre pals,’ is commonly known as the ‘Quatre barres’ or the ‘Sang et Or.’ All the current Merodes descend from Pierre-Béranger, the third brother of Alfonso II the King of Aragon.


The Merode family moto is ‘Plus d’Honneurs que d’Honneurs.’


History of the Merode family


The Merode family is originally from Rhénanie. Werner descends from the youngest branch of the house of Aragon and was a minister of the German Empire. Around 1174 Frederik Barberousse (Emperor of Germany from 1122-1190) gave Werner the Echtz property near Duren in Germany. Werner removed all the woodland on the outskirts of the property to construct a dungeon which took the Latin name ‘de Rode’, in medieval German ‘vamme Rode’ and finally ‘de Merode.’


A branch of the Merode family still lives in this Castle which bears their name and is situated in the Langerwehe commune in North Westphalia.


Originally, the Merode family held the title of Baron of the Holy Roman Germanic Empire. At the start of the 13th Century their influence in the Cologne region was particularly important. In 1267, Werner II de Merode, son of Werner I, married Gertrude d’Arenberg. Jean I was born of this marriage, the founder of the Merode Scheiffart branch (branch that would die out in 1738) and father of Wener III. The descendents of Werner III were at the origin of all the other branches of the family. The most well known of these is the Merode-Westerlo branch, who are in fact better known today under the title of Prince de Merode.


From the 14th century onwards, this branch gained power and influence in the West, in the Duchy of Brabant and the Principality of Liège (modern day Belgium.) At that time these territories, today known as Belgium, belonged to the Burgundian Netherlands then the Hapsburgian Netherlands and then the Spanish.


The marriage of Richard de Merode with Margareth de Wesemael was a turning point in the history of the family. In effect, thanks to this marriage, the Merodes inherited important territories in Brabant, such as Westerlo and Olen. Later, in 1451 his great grandson, Jean II de Merode married Adelheid van Hoorn. This marriage transferred the Gheel, Diepenbeek and Duffel estates into Merode possession. Through this marriage as well as other alliances, the Merode family quickly became one of the most important families of the Duchy of Brabant nobility.


Furthermore, Jean II de Merode had very close ties with the house of Habsburg. He even became Lord Chamberlain and special advisor to Phillip le Beau (Phillip de Hapsburg, the first King of Castile and son of the Emperor of the Holy Roman Germanic Empire.) After his death in 1551, his descendents commissioned Cornelis Floris, the famous sculptor from Antwerp, to carve a great tomb. This tomb was positioned in the church at Gheel in 1554. 


At the start of the 80 years War, also known as the Beggar’s Revolt (1568-1648) many of the Merode family assets were destroyed. After the 12 year truce (1609-1621) during the second part of the Beggar’s Revolt, the family’s lot improved. The Merodes, represented by Phillip I, were given the title of Marquis of Westerlo from King Phillip IV of Spain.


The grandson of Phillippe I de Merode, Jean-Phillipe-Eugène de Merode, Marquis of Westerlo, subsequently became one of the family’s most emblematic figures. Nicknamed the ‘Field-Marshal’ de Merode, Jean-Phillipe Eugène was an important military player of his time. He fought alongside some great names such as the Duke of Marlborough. He was one of the youngest knights of the order of the ‘Toison d’Or.’ The Field-Marshal had a significant impact on the Castle’s architecture as well as the Westerlo site and region.


In the 18th Century, the extinction of the Merode-Houffalize, Merode-Deinze and Merode-Montfort branches as well as some strategic alliances allowed the family to reaffirm its power in the region that would from now on be known as Belgium. Through certain alliances the family received certain properties and titles such as ‘Prince of Rubempré’, ‘Prince d’Everberg’ ‘Prince de Grimbergen’ and ‘Marquis of Trélon.’


During the French Revolution, the Austrian Netherlands were invaded by republican troops and were incorporated within the French Republic. Certain Merode family dwellings were confiscated and privileges abolished. Westerlo was ‘repurchased’ by a friend of the family in order to avoid direct confiscation. It wasn’t until Napoleon came to power on the 18th May 1804, that the Merodes were able to return from exile in Germany to recover their assets and some of their titles. However, the privileges of the nobility were never reinstated which urged certain members of the family to take up active roles in diplomacy and politics.


Charles-Guillaume-Ghislain de Merode Westerlo was a minister under the reign of the Austrians dating back to 1787 and he then held different posts under different regimes such as Magistrate of Brussels from 1805 to 1810, Senator of the French Empire from 1809 onwards, Field Marshall of the court of King William I of the Netherlands at the time when the Belgian provinces were part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.


His children, Henri, Félix, Frédéric and Werner, have subsequently played a key role in the Belgian Revolution and then later in the political life of the young kingdom of Belgium. Joining combat near to Berchem, during the Revolution, Frédéric was even elevated to the status of a new national hero, while Félix played an important role as a member of the Provisional Government and the National Congress. After the initial legislative elections of this young democracy, Henri de Merode took up the position of Senator while his brothers Félix and Werner sat in Parliament.


All the current Merodes descend from Henri, Félix and Werner. Some continue to play an important role in Belgian politics and diplomacy.


More recently, in 1913 following his father Henri de Merode who was President of the Senate, Count Charles de Merode, (Marquis of Westerlo, Prince of Rubempré and Grimbergen, Count of the Holy Roman Empire), became the mayor of Westerlo at the age of 25. He married Marguerite-Marie de Laguiche in 1919, daughter of the Marquis of Laguiche. He stayed however without descendents until 1946, when he adopted Prince Philibert-Albert de Merode and his wife who was born Henriette de Vogue. Prince Philibert-Albert de Merode died accidently in 1958 in a car crash in Cortenburg. His widow married Count Geoffroy Budes de Guébriant in 1961. She still lives in Westerlo Castle.


In 1930, on the anniversary of 100 years of Belgian Independence, all members of the Merode family were elevated from the title of Count de Merode to Prince de Merode. The eldest child of the family still holds the title of “Prince de Merode, Marquis of Westerlo, Prince of Rubempré and of Grimberge, Count of the Holy Roman Empire.” The current head of the house of Merode is Charles-Guillaume the son of Prince Xavier de Merode, the eldest brother of Prince Philibert-Albert de Merode.


Prince Simon de Merode (1981) has been responsible for Westerlo Castle since 2006.


Thanks to the non-profit making organisation the “Freinds of Westerlo Castle,” major renovation and maintenance projects have started in 2013, to ensure that the castle reflects its magical and fascinating history and that of the surrounding region.