Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Eugène de Ligne

Prince Eugène de Ligne was a major figure in the early history of the modern Kingdom of Belgium. His was grandfather was the famous Prince Charles-Joseph de Ligne, an Imperial Field Marshal and close friend of Austrian Emperor Joseph II. The Prince's father was so involved in the agitation for Belgian independence (earlier on) that his famous father was asked to take charge of the movement, but he declined because he simply was not the revolutionary type. Eugene, the 8th Prince de Ligne, inherited the title from his grandfather (not his father Prince Louis-Eugene) in 1814. When he was born (in 1804) the area of his birth was legally part of the French Empire of Napoleon. His parents were Prince Louis-Eugène de Ligne and Louise van der Noot. When Prince Eugene inherited the title he became master of a magnificent 6000 hectares estate in Belgium.

The Prince was a leading liberal figure in Belgium, in the movement building towards independence from Netherlands. When the Belgian Revolution began in 1830, as someone widely respected, by some in both independence and Orange factions, he tried to convince the Prince of Orange not to enter Brussels at the head of his army but without success. He was afraid this would only intensify the situation and he would prefer that the problems be solved peacefully. He was so respected that in February of 1831 the Belgian National Congress offered him the throne as King of the Belgians but he refused the honor. However, he was easily able to serve in the Belgian parliament and was honored by the man who did become king, Leopold I. Because he was a noted liberal but also a Prince of the (late) Holy Roman Empire he was able to be accepted in a wide variety of social circles across Europe and this also made him appear valuable to the new kingdom as a diplomat.

In 1838 King Leopold I sent him to London to represent him at the coronation of Queen Victoria (with whom the King was very close of course). Later also the Prince de Ligne served as Belgian ambassador in Paris at the court of King Louis-Philippe I from 1842 until his overthrow in the Revolution of 1848. The Prince was the only man for this job because the position of ambassador required one to live a rather lavish lifestyle (going to elite parties, receptions and such things where the government officials and royals gathered) and the Kingdom of Belgium, still very young, simply could not afford such expenses and so the Prince de Ligne, with his large estates, was an ideal choice because he was wealthy enough to pay for this himself. The post was also extremely important because the King of the French had been instrumental in intervening on behalf of the Belgians, during the revolution, and helped ensure the winning of independence from the Netherlands.

After coming back to Belgium in 1848 the Prince became a senator and for 27 years from 1852 to 1879 was chairman of the Belgian Senate and became dean of the Presidents of the Upper House. In 1856 the Prince was sent to represent King Leopold I at the coronation of Czar Alexander II in Moscow. This was appropriate since his grandfather and predecessor had been friends with Czarina Catherine the Great in her time and visited the Crimea with her so there were family ties of friendship with the Romanovs of Russia for the Prince. For all of his service, in 1863 King Leopold I awarded him the honorary title of Minister of State. By his estates experience he also served as chairman of Belgian agriculture. He was also a Knight of the Order of Golden Fleece, probably the most elite order of knighthood in the Catholic world. He had always been a supporter of the Liberal Party and he supported the liberal constitution but when the liberals began supporting anti-clerical policies the Prince moved himself away from them. He died in 1880 at the age of 76.

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