County of Loon

County of Loon
Grafschaft Loon (de)
Graafschap Loon (nl)
Comté de Looz (fr)
State of the Holy Roman Empire

Coat of arms

The Low Countries around 1250, Loon (Looz) in yellow
Capital Borgloon
Languages Limburgish
Religion Roman Catholicism
Government Principality
Historical era Middle Ages
   First mentioned 1040
  Gained Rieneck 1106
  Acquired Chiny 1227
  To Heinsberg 1336
   Annexed by Liège 1366
  Incorporated by
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Lower Lorraine
Prince-Bishopric of Liège

The County of Loon (Dutch: Graafschap Loon, French: Comté de Looz) was a province of the ancien regime Holy Roman Empire, lying west of the Meuse river in present-day Flemish-speaking Belgium, and east of the old Duchy of Brabant. The most important cities (bonnes villes) of the county were Beringen, Bilzen, Borgloon, Bree, Hamont, Hasselt, Herk-de-Stad, Maaseik, Peer and Stokkem. Its territory corresponded closely to that of the current Belgian province of Limburg. Like other areas which eventually came under the power of the Prince Bishop of Liège, Loon did not become formally linked with the rest of Belgium until the French revolution, but these events also brought the county to an end. Under various new names it first became part of France, and then of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands, before finally joining the new Kingdom of Belgium definitively in 1839.

The original centre of this county before it expanded was Borgloon, originally just called Loon, in the southern part of the county. This part of the county is geographically in the hilly Belgian region known as Hesbaye in French or Haspengouw in Dutch. It later expanded northwards into the low-lying Campine or Kempen region which was known as Toxandria in the early Middle Ages.

This map shows the medieval County of Loon in red, behind modern provincial borders. The light red zones were under Loon and another lord jointly.


Map of the Bishopric of Liège with 't Land van Loen), Joan Blaeu, Atlas Maior, 1645

Very little is certain about the origin of the county. Already in Carolingian times there were four counties within Haspengouw, mentioned in the treaty of Meersen. Though their names are not known for sure anymore, and it appears that the names and borders of such counties were not very stable, one of them may have been Loon, or a precursor to it. A document of 946 refers to "villa Lens in comitatu Avernas temporibus Rodulphi comitis" which seems to place Loon, still only a villa, in the older county of Avernas, under a count named Rudolph. In the same period, a records also show a count Rudolf held a county named Hocht in the same general area.[1]

All these areas seem to have been under the control of two related groups of families referred to today as the House of Reginar and the House of Balderik. The Reginar family were possibly earlier Counts of Hesbaye. They were a Carolingian family that had held the counties of Leuven-Brabant and Hainault. The Balderiks were a family with links to Betuwe (in the modern Netherlands) and the Ottonian dynasty.

The first reference to anyone as a count of Loon is Otto, but he is only referred to this way in a much later document of the Abbey of Saint Truiden. In that document he is named as husband of Liutgarde, daughter of Ermengarde, countess of Namur, and they were named as parents of Baldric II, Bishop of Liège.[2]

The first known Count (Dutch graaf, Latin comes, French comte) to be found in records from his own time was named Giselbert. Exactly what territory he held is still uncertain, and his brother Arnulf is also mentioned as a count. In 1015, Giselbert and Arnulf were referred to as "my brothers the counts" by Bishop Baldric. In 1016 a charter mentions count Arnulf the brother of count Giselbert. In 1018 a place is mentioned as being "in the pagus Haspengouw in the county of count Giselbert". In 1036 there is mention of "count Giselbert in the territory Haspengouw". In 1040 comes mention of a "county of Haspinga in the pagus Haspengouw", but this time mentioning the brother of Giselbert, Arnulf, leading some to think that Giselbert had died, and his brother had taken over, while others think that the two brothers ruled together during their lifetimes, and some believe they ruled two different parts of Haspengouw.[3][4] 1040 was also when the first clear mention of the county of Loon appeared, with Emperor Henry III treating it as land held under the Prince-Bishopric of Liège.

There are several theories concerning the ancestry of Giselbert, Arnulf, and Baldric II. As mentioned above, one record from later names their father as Otto (or Odo). But that document is not fully accepted, given that another records Liutgarde as the mother of Emmo and Otto, discussed below. Making her the mother of Baldric (bishop from 1008), Giselbert, Arnulf, as well as Emmo and Otto, creates chronological difficulties. Furthermore, the records about Ermengarde the countess of Namur are also in disagreement. It is however considered correct that one or more men in this family married a daughter of the counts of Namur, and that their own ancestry is probably connected to the so-called Reginar and Balderik families.[5]

The next generation is again of two brothers, Emmo and Otto, who are thought to be either the sons of Giselbert or Arnulf. Souvereyns & Bijsterveld 2008, p. 117 favours Arnulf, noting that Emmo named his son and heir Arnulf, not Giselbert.[6] Emmo became the next count of Loon itself while Otto was count of Duras, in the western part of Haspengouw. The county of Duras, in the southwest of Haspengouw, was held as a fief of the Duchy of Brabant, and was inherited by Otto's son Ghiselbert, and in turn by his son Otto. It eventually became part of Loon, under Count Gerard around 1194.

In 1106 Count Arnold I, the son of Emmo, was able to strengthen his position, when he acquired the possessions of the extinct Counts of Rieneck through his marriage. In Loon, the enduring conflict with his Liège overlords culminated in an 1179 campaign by Prince-Bishop Rudolf of Zähringen, whose troops devastated the county's capital at Borgloon (Loon Castle, French name: Looz).

The son and heir of Arnold I was Louis (or Lodewijk) I. He founded Averbode Abbey by charter dated 1135, and was count of Loon, Stadtgraf of Mainz, and count of Rieneck. He added Brustem and Kolmont to the territory of Loon, donating charters of freedom to those towns in return.

Count Gerard II, the next count of Loon and Rieneck, moved the seat of the count to Kuringen, which is today in Hasselt (which is the modern capital of the region). In 1190 he also inherited the county of Duras from his relatives, but had to accept Brabant's suzerainty over that territory for the time being. This area gave power over church land in Sint-Truiden, Halen, and Herk de Stad, effectively defining what is today still the southwestern border of Belgian Limburg. His son Gerard III was heir, and he in turn passed Loon to Arnold IV, but Rieneck to another son, Louis.

Count Arnold IV by marriage acquired the County of Chiny in 1227, and brought the main line of the counts of Loon to the high point of its territorial expansion. The comital line became extinct with the death of Louis VI of Loon in 1336 and the Loon and Chiny estates were at first inherited by the noble House of Sponheim at Heinsberg with the consent of the Liège bishop. In 1362 Prince-Bishop Engelbert III of the Marck nevertheless seized Loon and finally incorporated it into the Liège territory in 1366.

The county remained a separate entity (quartier) within Liège, whose prince-bishops assumed the comital title. When the bishopric was annexed by Revolutionary France in 1795, the county of Loon was also disbanded and an adjusted version of the territory became part of the French département of Meuse-Inférieure, along with Dutch Limburg to the east of the Meuse. After the defeat of Napoleon, the département became part of the new United Kingdom of the Netherlands in 1815, and received its modern name of Limburg as a way for the kingdom to preserve the old title of the medieval Duchy of Limburg, which was nearby. However, in 1830, Belgium was created, splitting the Kingdom, and the position of Limburg became a cause of conflict between the two resulting Kingdoms. In 1839 it was finally decided to split Limburg into its two modern parts. The western part, corresponding to the old County of Loon, became part of Belgium. Both parts kept their new name of Limburg.

Counts of Loon

Line extinct, succeeded by:


  1. Baerten 1965, part 2
  2. The primary source cited by all secondary sources is given as Gestorum Abbatem Trudonensium Continuatio Tertia 1007, MGH SS X, p. 382.
  3. Souvereyns & Bijsterveld 2008, p. 115.
  4. Cawley, Charles (24 June 2012), Lower lotharingia, nobility: Giselbert, son of [Comte OTTO & his wife ---] (-[1044/46]), Medieval Lands database, Foundation for Medieval Genealogy,
  5. The primary source is Vita Arnulfi Episcopi Suessioniensis I.3, MGH SS XV.2, p. 879. Secondary sources include Souvereyns & Bijsterveld 2008, p. 114, and Baerten 1965, Part 1
  6. Souvereyns and Bijsterveld cite K. Verhelst, "Een visie op de omvang en indeling van de pagus Hasbania".


Further reading

Coordinates: 50°48′N 5°21′E / 50.800°N 5.350°E / 50.800; 5.350

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