François Anneessens, hero of the resistance to despotism
Where does this well-known place in Brussels get its name from? To answer this question, we need to recall that in 1713, following the War of the Spanish Succession and the Treaty of Utrecht which ended it, the provinces of the Southern Netherlands, including the former Duchy of Brabant, passed from Spanish dominion to Austrian dominion. Six years later, our compatriot's life was tragically cut short.
"Never! I die innocent! May my death atone for my sins and may it be useful to my country!", exclaimed François Anneessens in front of his judges, who demanded atonement while condemning him to death. What was he accused of? Having led a revolt in 1717. At the time, the Nations (all the deans of the 49 guilds of the city) refused to comply with the tax requests addressed to the States of Brabant. These refusals were based on documents laying down the privileges of the city, including a declaration from 1481 prohibiting compliance with orders which were contrary to these privileges. Riots broke out, and the Marquis de Prié, a plenipotentiary minister acting as governor on behalf of Emperor Charles VI of Austria, initially backed down due to the intensity of the riots, which had the effect of prompting the poorest sections of the population to loot and pillage. Thanks to troop reinforcements and the support of a section of the bourgeoisie that had become alarmed in the face of the insurrection, the imperial troops regained control of the city. The repression was harsh, various people were arrested and banished, some were branded with irons, while looters were hanged. The deans were obliged to pay the tax.
Even after his sentencing, Anneessens continued to proclaim his innocence. He was beheaded in the Grand Place in September 1719, a few metres from No. 19, the house of the Corporation of the Four Crowns, of which he was the dean (the patron saints of stonemasons, referring to four Christian martyrs who were executed in the 4th century after they had refused to sculpt a statue of Aesculapius which had been commissioned by the Emperor Diocletian).
A square in Brussels, between the Bourse and Midi Station, bears his name and is home to his statue. The square on which the statue stands was built in 1639: initially called "Vieux Marché" (Old Market), it was enlarged in the 18th century and took its present appearance between 1867 and 1871, when the "Boulevards du Centre" were created following the works to cover the Senne. In 1873, the "Vieux Marché" or flea market was transferred to the Place du Jeu de Balle, in the Marolles district. The square took the name from the Liberal minister Joseph Lebeau. In 1889, the square was rechristened with the name of François Anneessens, and the sculptor Thomas Vinçotte (designer of the 'Quadrige du Cinquantenaire') erected a statue as a tribute to the dean of the stonemason's guild. The hero is depicted standing with his hands bound, listening to the judgement condemning him to death. As a historical footnote, the sculptor, not having an image of the hero at his disposal, used a local seller of caricoles* as his model.
*caricole (from the Brabant word "karikol", "karrekol", "karakol", etc.) was the name used by itinerant traders to sell winkles and whelks in Brussels.
© Photo: Wikipedia / EmDee