Verbanck-Piérard Abstract Prince Charles Alexander of Lorraine and Hercules

Annie Verbanck-Piérard

Prince Charles Alexander of Lorraine and Hercules: a political emblem between tradition and innovation

From 1713, after the War of the Spanish Succession, the Southern Netherlands (most of the later Belgian territories) were transferred to the Austrian Habsburgs. In 1744, Empress Maria Theresa (reigned 1740-1780) appointed Prince Charles of Lorraine, her brother-in-law, as governor of the Austrian Netherlands. Under his rule (1744-1780) these provinces enjoyed a period of prosperity, peace and stability. Charles innovated by sponsoring cultural life, being an ardent urban planner and being very interested in new technical and scientific experiences. His promotion of science and trade, particularly, was deeply influenced by the achievements of Enlightenment. At the same time Charles was also a very traditional Ancien Régime governor, especially with regard to his own political power and references to Antiquity comprised the main symbolic language he used to legitimate his authority. This chapter explores how the figure of Hercules contributes to the ideological program of Charles of Lorraine, between tradition and innovation, and how the Prince developed his personal interpretation of the Herculean paradigm.

The Exemplary Hercules – chapter 4