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Awans (Municipality, Province of Liège, Belgium)

Last modified: 2008-06-21 by ivan sache
Keywords: awans |
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[Flag of Awans]

Municipal flag of Awans - Image by Arnaud Leroy, 6 June 2005

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Presentation of Awans

The municipality of Awans (8,717 inhabitants on 1 January 2007; 2,710 ha) is located in Hesbaye, north of Liège and close to the border with Flanders. The municipality of Awans is made since 1976 of the former municipalities of Awans, Fooz, Hognoul, Othée and Villers-l'Évê;que.

Awans is mostly famous for the vendetta which decimated the nobility of Hesbaye from 1297 to 1335. The conflict opposed for nearly 40 years two lineages in a private war. The protagonists challenged their suzereign, the Prince-Bishop of Liège, who was equally challenged by the increasing merchant class in Liège and Huy. Accordingly, the Principality was completely ruined; at the end of the war, the nobility of Hesbaye had nearly died out and never recovered, abandoning the power on Liège to the Prince-Bishop and the burghers of the town.

The historian Jacques de Hemricourt, whose family was involved in the conflict, wrote around 1390 a treatise called Miroir de la noblesse de Hesbaye, in which he detailed the noble lineages of Hesbaye; the last chapter of the treatise is called Traitiez des Werres d'Awans et de Warous. It is written in the old French language spoken at that time in Liège, and therefore hardly readable for modern people not specialized in linguistics. A modern French title would be Traité des guerres des Awans et des Waroux (Treatise on the wars of the Awans and the Waroux - in French, the same word traité is used both for a treaty and a treatise). Since then, the conflict has been known as the War of the Awans and the Waroux.
Hemricourt's works were made available to the general public in 1931 by Borman, Bayot and Poncelet (Lamertin Publisher, Brussels), in the original text with footnotes. Beforehand, some historians have summarized with more or less details the War of the Awans and the Waroux, for instance De Gerlache (in Histoire de Liège depuis César jusqu'à Maximilien de Bavière, M. Hayez Publisher, Brussels, 1843), M.L. Polain (in Histoire de l'ancien pays de Liège. Volume II, J. Ledoux Printer, Liège, 1847), Coussement (in Résumé des guerres et description des batailles dont les provinces de la Belgique ont été le théâtre, depuis Jules César jusqu'à nos jours, E. Guyot Printer, Brussels, 1859), J. Hanaux (in Histoire du pays de Liège, 3e édition, J. Desoer Printer, Liège, 1874), and Joseph Daris (in Histoire du diocèse et de la principauté de Liège, Volume II : Pendant le XIIIe et le XIVe siècle, Demarteau Publisher, Liège, 1890). All the texts mentioned above (all in French) can be read on an excellent website dedicated to the history of the Principality of Liège, apparently anonymous.

In order to summarize the very complicated story of the Awans and the Waroux, I am using here the record of the war given by Coussement, which is much shorter but more synthetic than the other sources.
The War of the Awans and the Waroux opposed two neighbouring noble families (Waroux is today located in the municipality of Amay), which were also not too distantly related. In the beginning of the XIIth century, the French knight Rais of Dammartin, banished by King Philippe I, set up in Huy and married Alix de Warfusée, daughter of a local lord. Some 200 years later, Humbert Corneau, lord of Awans, and Guillaume, lord of Waroux were 6th/7th cousins.
Humbert decided to marry his young vassal Adoule to his cousin Gérard Pélage. Hanneceau, a squire and parent of Guillaume, abducted Adoule and married her. Humbert clamoured for the return of Adoule to Awans, to no avail. In 1297, the Awans decided to settle the dispute by force and invaded the Waroux domains, looting the castles and burning the mill. At that time, feudal laws derived from ancient Saxon laws defined the feth as a private conflict among noble lineages. In a feth, every nobleman was expected to avenge his relatives or allied killed during the conflict. Accordingly, the noble families allied to the Awans and the Waroux were dragged into the struggle, which turned into a bloody vendetta.
The lord of Awans was killed in 1298, which paradoxically strengthened his party, since all the members of his lineage had to join the vendetta. Due to complicated genealogic links, different members of the same family joined the two opposed parties. It was decided that each fighting would be followed by a 40 day truce in order to sort the genealogical mess and to allow every noble to choose his party.

The bishop of Liège attempted to stop the conflict but the two protagonists did not care. Moreover, the bishop was suspected to support the Waroux; the Awans presented themselves as the champions of the oppressed burghers. The vendetta turned into a generalized conflict and spread all over the principality. In the same time, a conflict broke out in Huy among the weavers and the drapers; the Mayor of Huy refused to hear the plaintiffs, manhandled them, and was eventually expelled from the town. The people of Huy, out of control, rushed out the town and scoured the region. The bishop, who had ceded the rights on the town of Mechelen to the Duke of Brabant, was excommunicated by its Chapter; the Pope transferred him to Besançon and replaced him by Adolf de Waldeck, who died prematurely and was succeeded by Thibaut de Bar and later by Alphonse de la Marck (1313).
La Marck was young and fearless, but inexperienced. He decided to get rid of the vendetta, the murders and the troubles which devasted his principality. Using his ancient right of arsin, he ordered the demolition and burning of the houses belonging to known murderers and looters. Unfortunately, this was again perceived as a support to the Waroux, who were already hated by the burghers. Upon the pressure of the burghers of Liège, supporting the Awans, the bishop had to leave Liège for Dinant in 1315. On 18 June 1316, the peace of Fexhe recognized the rights of the burghers and reestablished the power of the bishop.

However, the Awans and the Waroux did not lay down their arms. After several non-conclusive skirmishes, they decided of a solemn challenge, scheduled on 25 August 1325 in the plains of Dommartin, near Huy. The 270 Awans knights, led by Guillaume de Waremme, defeated the 350 Waroux knights, led by Henry II de Hermalle. Peace was signed in Vihogne on 5 June 1326.
Two years later, the conflict between the burghers of Liège and the bishop resumed. The bishop, allied with the Counts of Gelderland and Berg, won a series of fightings and the peace of Vottem was signed in 1331.
On 15 May 1335, the Awans and the Waroux signed an agreement in the St. Laurent abbey in Liège. The agreement forbid private wars and sentenced to banishment the noblemen taking part to a vendetta.
The War of the Awans and the Waroux war lasted 38 years and killed more than 30,000. At the end of the war, the son of the leader of the Awans party, Thiry de Haneffe, married the daughter of the leader of the Waroux party, Wathy de Warfusée, and a church dedicated to the twelve apostles was built to honour the victims of the war. There is no historical record of what happened to Hannucée and Adoule, whose forbidden love was the source of the war. However, the power of the local nobility was definitively suppressed. The later history of the principality of Liège was mostly a struggle between the burghers and the bishop.

Ivan Sache, 6 June 2005

Municipal flag of Awans

The municipal flag of Awans is made of four rows of six pieces vair white and blue.
According to Armoiries communales en Belgique. Communes wallonnes, bruxelloises et germanophones, the flag was adopted by the Municipal Council on 27 March 2001 and confirmed by the Executive of the French Community on 17 July 2003.
THe flag is a banner of the municipal arms.

Arnaud Leroy, Pascal Vagnat & Ivan Sache, 6 June 2005

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