The name Ursel comes from two words: "uras" and "lauha". It meant "little forest on high sandy ground".
In the Roze quarter a burial mound from the Bronze Age (2000 BC) was found. In the Rozestraat (Rose Street) 68 graves from the Iron Age were found with artefacts in earthware and metal. In the Konijntje (Little Rabbit) quarter Gallo-Roman graves were found.
Ursel belonged to several Seigneuries during the Middle Ages: the Wessegem Seigneury had the south-eastern part of Ursel; part of the Berken (birch trees) belonged to the Oudburg (Old Fortress) of Ghent, the central part belonged to the Freedom of Bruges and a small region north-east of the church belonged to the Wulfsberge Seigneury whose main farm is situated in Oedelem-Zeldonk.
Wessegem is a very old settlement. It belonged to the 15 tenancy farm domains owned by the Earls of Flanders and in the 16th-17th Centuries it belonged to the King of Spain, which is why it then received the name of Royal Estate.
Wessegem is mentioned for the first time in the year 970 and again in 979 as Wessingim or Vuessingim which means dwelling ("haim") of Wasjo's or Wessi's people.
The earliest known lord was a certain Walter van Wessinghem. That was in 1264. In 1363 Wessegem was confiscated and thus became the property of the Earl of Flanders: in that year the tenant Gerard de Moor was condemned for crimes of common law and his possessions were siezed for the crown.
In 1365 Louis van Male let the estate for life to Boudewijn (Baldwijn) van Praet. But in 1372 Boudewijn died without legal heirs and Louis now let several estates including Wessegem to his bastard son, Louis de Haze.
And now in order to respect the chronological order of things we have a short parenthesis: on 12 June 1381, the rebels from Ghent furious because of their defeat at Nevele took revenge also on Ursel and burned the town down. (See Nevele for more details.)
Louis de Haze, Van Male's new tenant, died in 1396 in the battle of Nicopolis. (In this engagement against the Turks the Crusaders recklessly charged up a hill to scatter the Turkish cavalry and infantry but Sultan Bayezid had another army waiting for them and they were too exhausted to also fight that second army. The minority who were not slaughtered on or near that hill were almost all captured on the banks of the Danube and summarily executed.)
The estates were now handed back to Philip the Bold who had to find another tenant and so in 1399 the estate went to Victor van Vlaanderen (of Flanders), another bastard son of Louis van Male.
The first known ancestor of the d'Ursel family was a knight called Renier d'Ursel and his son Jan (John) was alderman of Antwerp in 1428. But it was Lanceloot d'Ursel who made his family famous. He was married thrice and had four sons and four daughters. Katharina, his eldest daughter from his marriage to Barbara van Liere, was married off to Gaspard Schetz, lord of Grobbendonk. (This is a town near Herentals well beyond Antwerp.)
Katharina's half-sister, Barbara, from Lanceloot's third marriage to Adriana Rococx, didn't marry. Lanceloot died in 1577 while attempting to defend Antwerp against the Spaniards who in a murderous raid known as the Spanish Fury killed well over 7000 civilians. His sons had no male descendants. Barbara adopted Koenraad Schetz, the son of her half-sister to give him her estate on condition that he adopt her family name.
And so, on 22 January 1638 Koenraad van Ursel was raised to count of the Holy Roman Empire with the titel of Count of Ursel and Hoboken. Hoboken (for those American readers who ventured this far into Flemish history) is a town just south of Antwerp which is since 1830 in Belgium.) And from then on they spoke of the Ursel county. In the early 17th Century Koenraad van Ursel obtained the judicial authority over the Seigneuries of Ursel, Wessegem and Knesselare.
In 1700 the parish was promoted to county and in 1781 when Wolfgang Willem d'Ursel was lord of Ursel the Seigneury became a duchy and the lords of Ursel all came from the d'Ursel family until all that was swept away by the destructive forces of the French Revolution.
Now we go back in time a little: during the religious troubles in the 16th Century Ursel suffered badly. There were the "geuzen". This meant "beggars", an insult used to designate the fanatical protestants. There were also marauding bands of freeloaders and pillaging soldiers. Yet Ursel was one of the first towns where the reformed faith managed to penetrate and take root. In August 1566 the inhabitants went to listen to Protestant sermons in Eeklo. Even Ursel's parish priest, Adriaan van Malderghem adopted the new faith. But he would pay a hefty price for this because on 26 September 1568 he was captured and on 5 November next he was burned at the stake in Bruges. In 1578 Ursel Protestants asked the governors of the Freedom of Bruges to allow them to freely preach the new faith in their church.
In 1829 Ursel had a population of 2319 souls. More than 10% of the population was employed in the textile industry. On its territory there was also a brickmaker and two mills, one to make oil and a windmill to grind grain.
At the beginning of the 20th Century Ursel was a junction for the local railways
(trams) with connections to Aalter,
Eeklo, Ghent and Bruges. They hauled the town
out of its not so splendid isolation.
The source for most of the above is the excellent "Streekgids Meetjesland", 1998 pp. 83-87 by Willy Stevens. See also: Our Sources.
|We went to see|
the 2007 edition of
"Wings and Wheels"
on Ursel Airport.
See here for a few pictures.
Most recent update: 27 April 2017
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